Viewpoints

At Home in the World

 

1 At Home in the World

Our relationship with the world that surrounds us is the theme of this selection. If there were an undercurrent present or rather a notable undertone it would have to be one of longing and nostalgia. Longing for a time that has only too recently passed, nostalgia for a time less commercialized, less consumerized. But still it is amazing how at home we can become and how quickly we can adapt to just about anywhere in “our world.” For the most part, the selections are more historical than contemporary and though they may transcend a sense of time they leave me with the impression that nature eventually overcomes mechanical laws. Our home in the world needs care and attention, and with the world getting smaller and smaller still we need to care for our home. Biography Marc Siegner is a printmaker and artist living and working in Edmonton, Alberta. He completed his Masters of Visual Arts from Norwich University, Vermont College in 2003, as well as an undergraduate degree from the Ontario College of Art in Toronto in 1979. His print and installation works have been exhibited across Canada: Walter Phillips Gallery, Banff (2004); Edmonton Art Gallery (2004, 2005); Keyano Art Gallery (2003); Muttart Public Art Gallery (1997); Latitude 53 Gallery (1996); Truck Artist Run Gallery (1996); and internationally in Germany, Thailand, Mexico, Brazil, Slovenia, Poland, Japan and London. He is co-founder of the Society of Northern Alberta Print-Artists (SNAP) and an important contributor to the arts community of Edmonton and Alberta. The Alberta Foundation for the Arts collects his work as well as the Canada Council Art Bank and several corporate collections both in Canada and internationally.

2 March: Wesleyville from Bennett's High Island

March: Wesleyville from Bennett's High Island
March: Wesleyville from Bennett's High Island,
David Blackwood

This print by David Blackwood is both stark and humbling. The image shows our relationship with nature and how overwhelming it is and the immensity of the elements. Blackwood’s work demonstrates through scale the sheer power of the forces of nature that surrounds us. And yet here we are continuing to try our best to tame, adjust, ignore and admire the place or places in which we live. Blackwood always leaves me awestruck with his portrayal of our ongoing dialogue with this place we call home.

3 The Floating Dock, Mamalilicoola

The Floating Dock, Mamalilicoola
The Floating Dock, Mamalilicoola,
Walter Joseph Phillips

W.J. Phillips portrays for me the somewhat typical summer scene, perhaps more idyllic than actual, but certainly full of melancholy and nostalgia. The boat house and the floating dock are images rich with metaphor and symbolism, making reference to time passing, a kind of suspension of the demands of the world, a longing for what once was, for those languid, lazy and carefree days … those anticipated vacation times. The great thing about this kind of nostalgia is that it is so hard to grasp but so potent when there is so little to be had.

4 Lake of the Woods

Lake of the Woods
Lake of the Woods,
Walter Joseph Phillips

Here W.J. Phillips captures one of the most enigmatic images of summer: a lake, a tree in its full seasonal splendor and time itself. Something to look back upon when it is cold and snowing, at the opposite end of the seasons. As one who lives where the seasons change so radically I appreciate these images of warmth and yearning. I also appreciate the reference he makes to Ukiyo-e prints of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Though Phillips’ work is sparser, he still captures the dreamy nature of some of the works typical of this significant historical period.

5 Pom Poms

Pom Poms
Pom Poms,
Walter Joseph Phillips

This feels more like part of a larger work; perhaps that is what Phillips meant by including this print in a portfolio, it seems like a study or a sketch. Regardless of his intent, the print has merit on its own and integrity as a work of art. Though he was more influenced by the British manner of landscape study, in my mind this image casually comments on the work of Karl Blossfeldt by quietly acknowledging the beauty of nature in its simplest form.

6 Tree Shadows on Snow

Tree Shadows on Snow
Tree Shadows on Snow,
Walter Joseph Phillips

Another exceptional print by Walter Phillips, this image shows the subtle coloration of the winter landscape. I appreciate the warmth of an afternoon winter sky that is contrasted by the cool blue of the lengthening shadows growing behind the still dormant trees. As with Lake of the Woods and The Floating Dock there is a peaceful quietude here that enhances the poetic narrative and sense of melancholy. For me there is a deep understanding and appreciation of nature here that has grown and developed through years of patient observation.

7 Movie Producers

Movie Producers
Movie Producers,
Henry Eric Bergman

There have been so many movies of late made in and around Alberta that I can’t help but appreciate this print by H. Bergman. I appreciate nostalgia and this image has it all. But even more so the composition and point of view includes me as an active participant in this venture. The technology and equipment may have changed since then but somehow the enterprise and the telling of a story still intrigues me and always will.

8 Untitled [Trees]

Untitled [Trees]
Untitled [Trees], no date
Frederick Stanley Haines

Trees have always fascinated me, and I have included this print by F.S. Haines as a companion to Lake of the Woods by W.J. Phillips. Nostalgic to a degree, the overwhelming attraction to this image has more to do with our relationship to these majestic sentinels. Regarded for their ability to filter our ever-worsening atmosphere, trees also are the havens of creatures both on the ground and in the air, and as such they are indiscriminate and entirely welcoming. Trees give shelter, shade, nourishment and warmth and yet it seems we recklessly exploit their bountiful resource at will and without regard. You only have to look towards Easter Island and the Middle East to see what may come if care is not taken – can we live without them?

9 A Little Temple Gate

A Little Temple Gate
A Little Temple Gate, no date
Hiroshi Yoshida

This quaint image by Hiroshi Yoshida, a contemporary of Walter Phillips, can be considered as a modern version of the ukiyo-e method. Wonderfully sophisticated yet almost decorative and casual the image is arresting and successfully avoids becoming postcard art. Yoshida’s colour palette exhibits a full and vibrant range, demonstrating a great depth of understanding and appreciation of his subject matter commensurate with great talent and ability. His Eight Scenes of Cherry Blossoms (1935) and numerous views of the Taj Mahal, 1931 are further examples of his attention to rustic detail and experimentation in depicting different moods through shadow detail and embossing. All in all, an inviting and peaceful scene exquisitely depicted.

10 Boathouses and Mount Norquay, Banff

Boathouses and Mount Norquay, Banff
Boathouses and Mount Norquay, Banff,
Margaret Dorothy Shelton

Margaret Shelton successfully depicts a tranquil scene in the mountains – one not unfamiliar, I hope, to many Albertans. Though I have not observed such a boathouse, I have regarded with satisfaction many similar mountain scenes in Alberta. For me the image presents an interesting play on differing kinds of time: the time of nature and of events glacial and tectonic, a longer kind of time as opposed to time that is closer to us; a time of building and manmade things, a shorter kind of time. And still there is this sense of nostalgia and of longing that is present in many of the previous selections and especially in Walter Phillips’ The Floating Dock and to some smaller degree in Yoshida’s A Little Temple Gate. All are inviting passageways, leading us through the landscape, through these portals, through our own experiences and memories.

11 Inside of Boat House

Inside of Boat House
Inside of Boat House,
John Jones

Like The Floating Dock, A Little Temple Gate and The Dreaming Bears, Untitled [Interior of Boathouse] is an image that beckons the viewer to come in and take a closer look. The opening at the far end of the room invites you to join in the remembrance of things past, almost as if you are in this large camera that is loaded with film and pictures from before are projected out onto the lake and into the world to watch and share. There is a poetry about this form of transportation where the vehicle is a stationary building, a room, and the boat is a kind of time piece that you have to wind by hand – a clock that if left untended stops altogether. There are memories here. The room is full of memories, of summers, of boating and fishing and swimming and letting the time drift away.

12 Manitoba Farmstead

Manitoba Farmstead
Manitoba Farmstead,
Walter Joseph Phillips

The quality of light is what attracted me initially, and then the artist’s sense of colour held me fast. The orange in the foreground plays wonderfully off the yellow in the background, illuminating an otherwise “bleached by sunlight” pastel. The light grey in the foreground next to the woman with the orange scarf helps to situate the viewer in the shade, providing a comfortable point of view and giving a hard lifestyle a dimension of satisfaction and pleasure.

13 Pickle Herring Street, Southwark

Pickle Herring Street, Southwark
Pickle Herring Street, Southwark, ca.1928-29
Sybil Andrews

There is a graphic quality that makes reference to the abstract that contrasts nicely with this industrial streetscape. The shadows cast by the strong light of the midday sun symbolize perhaps the end of this particular era, especially with a lack of any human presence. The walkways and shadows become almost skeleton-like, overshadowing whatever laborers once worked the factory floors. The scratchy hand drawn quality of this image also helps to establish the mood, one of a stark and impersonal loneliness.

14 Untitled [Bride]

Untitled [Bride]
Untitled [Bride], ca. 1843-47
Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III)

Always refreshing, like a cool drink on a hot day, this is a beautiful and lush image so typical of the ukiyo-e prints of that time. I am amazed by the patterns of the bride’s costume, the contrasting textures present in the groom’s clothing and how well all of this contrasts with the negative spaces of the blossoms on the tree and the organic structure of the tree branches. The drama of the struggle with her task is enhanced nicely with the activities taking place in the background. The narrative, composition and colour are rich, and the use of text adds yet another dimension to an exquisitely accomplished and timeless work of art.

15 Royal Scot

Royal Scot
Royal Scot, ca. 1928
Sybil Andrews

I consider the Royal Scot to be a companion piece to Andrews’ Pickle Herring Street, Southwark. It is both stark and impersonal, utterly devoid of the human element. Here the diagonals draw attention to the cargo hanging precariously above the massive hull of the ship. In contrast to the vertical and diagonal lines are the curving lines of the clouds above, a welcome respite from the ongoing and ever-present labors of commerce. Like Pickle Herring Street, Royal Scot is a fine example of an era not long past yet still very much alive.

16 The Dreaming Bears

The Dreaming Bears
The Dreaming Bears, no date
Joan Hassall

I love this piece because it reminds me of some of the bookplates I saw as a youth in the library where my father worked. The storyteller (the sage) depicted with people and animals alike, spins a yarn or sings a song that captivates and enthralls all who come near. How much of this is still the case today? We love a good story and a good tune, it naturally brings us together and makes us forget our troubles if only for a moment. Settled in a small wood, sheltered from the elements, this is the comforting space Bachelard talks about in his Poetics of Space, embracing and warm, familiar and safe, melancholy and filled with longing.