Thursday, July 1, 2010

Canada Day: McMichael Gallery

Bay of Islands, By Frank Carmichael (1931)

I had nothing planned for this Canada Day blog post but as I sat on my deck early this morning enjoying a coffee I couldn't help but think of where I wish I could be at that moment.  If I could chose anywhere in the entire world to be on any day in July, without a doubt, that place would be on a waterside dock at a cottage in Muskoka, Ontario, just a couple hours north of Toronto.  While I was sipping my coffee, I was browsing thru a book from my coffee table - the cover of which happens to be a landscape painting of that same region in Ontario, the granite rocky shoreline of georgian bay with tall pine outcroppings.  This painting has become one of those iconic images of Canada that I certainly can relate to.

The Jack Pine, By Tom Thomson (1916-1917)

"We define ourselves as citizens and as a country by the images we think of when we describe our place in the world - what we call 'here'.  Although there are no towering firs on the prairies, no majestic mountains in Nova Scotia, nor borbidding icebergs in Vancouver, and no tidal flats in Ontario, we relate to the iconic paintings of these natural aspect of our country as being part of who we are as Canadians.  We are mostly an urban people now, yet we continue to think of ourselves in terms of geography.

The images created by the Group of Seven represent a Canadian sensibility, which means that they contain in the choice of their subject, and in the means of expressing it, an essential reflection of who we are as individuals brought up in this particular part of the world.  These images, which were created by Tom Thomson and the members of the Group of Seven in the early twentieth century, have been adopted by us as signifying the country when we imagine it.

At a certain point, if images are strong enough and profound enough, and if they are sufficiently broad in their appeal, they achieve the status of a symbol.  That is, they come to stand for something more complex and comprehensive than what they simply describe or depict, and they evoke emotions and responses that are powerful.  National anthems are musical examples.  Thomson's great paintings The Jack Pine (above) and The West Wind (below) are the visual equivalent of a national anthem."

The West Wind, By Tom Thomson, (1916-1917)

Just like these images alone don't reflect the varied landscape of Canada, these particular Group of Seven paintings don't depict the varied subject matter and locations that make up the collection of their work.  Its safe to say I'll never be fortunate enough to own any one of these pieces but we do own a nice collection of Canadian art books and many of them are on the Group of Seven.    

  The text above is the forward from a book called 'The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson' by David P. Silcox, published by Firefly.  It has a beautiful cover and is always prominently displayed in either my floor to ceiling wall of shelving or on my coffee table, I move by books around a lot!

One of my other favorite art books that I always have on display is simply called 'Thomson' by Dennis Reid and Charles C. Hill.

Although I've provided the Amazon links to the books above, I'll also add them to my sidebar (eventually),,,,,,my favorite Toronto source for art books is D & E Lake Ltd.  This little shop on King Street East in Torontno is like stepping into the past, its filled to rafters with with over stuffed bookshelves with towering piles of inventory stacked on the floor.  If your lucky enough to walk in on a day when Donald is there, you're in for a treat!  He's the proprietort and he's an authority on Canadian Art and art books, he owns an impressive art collection himself and I imagine he must own the largest and most valuable rare book collection in the country (?).  He carries unique and sometimes contraversial books you won't find at the big chain retailers, in addition to art books, he has a vast selection of design, architecture, food and wine books.  Just tell him what you're interested in and he'll happily make recommendations for you...... but you'll have to stop him at some point because he could go for hours pulling one book after another, he's a walking encyclopedia who not only knows the content of each book but he'll also tell you about the author and the publisher.  Its an experience you'll enjoy as much as the books you'll come home with, you'll even get an old fashioned hand-written receipt.

So just like that, a beautiful sunny Canada Day morning brought images of Muskoka to my head, in my heart that's where I wish I was at this very moment but sadly, I'm not.  I had intended on spending this day working but on whim, after browsing thru the art books, we've decided just moments ago to head up to Kleinburg for the day to visit the McMichael gallery and enjoy the Group of Seven collection in person.  If I can't be lounging on a dock today, then I can't think of a better way to spend this day than enjoying these iconic Canadian images in person.

Click here for info on The McMichael Gallery and its collection.

Happy Canada Day!!

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