Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Making Your Unknown Known

“Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant. There is no such thing.
Making your unknown known is the important thing –
and keeping the unknown always beyond you.”
- Georgia O’Keeffe

“I found I could say things with color and shapes that I
couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.”
- Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O’Keeffe has always been one of my favourite artists, despite the fact that I misspelled her name for decades. Her use of colour and deceptively simple lines appeals to me strongly, as does her life story. The hermit-like isolation she sought in New Mexico resonates with my introverted psyche. (Personally, I’d have wanted air-conditioning, WIFI, and cell phone service along with the isolation.)

A Georgia O’Keeffe tribute exhibit is currently running (until August 31) at the John M. Parrott Art Gallery in the Belleville Public Library. Its theme: “...things I had no words for – Georgia O’Keeffe revealed in the work of 20+ regional artists”. The Parrott’s resident curator, Susan Holland, plus Belleville artists Lisa Morris, Peter Paylor, and Bernard C. Noel, worked together to organize and hang this excellent exhibit. It runs in tandem with the Art Gallery of Ontario’s wondrous Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit, which, sadly, closes on July 30.

Bill and I were flattered to be among the artists invited to create works for the Parrott Gallery exhibit - Bill as a quilt maker and me as a photographer.

Let me start with Bill. I love how Bill’s fertile brain works – he is so intuitive and energized when he is creating, often using music to inspire and propel him. When he first saw O’Keeffe’s “Winter Road” painting, he was impressed by the abstract power of her road. It reminded him of Joni Mitchell’s song, “I wish I had a river I could skate away on” – and that became the title of his quilt.

His riff on O’Keeffe’s painting is brilliant – full of life and passion, just like him. His quilting collaborator, Deanna Gaudaur, enhanced Bill’s design with her magical quilting – two artists joining forces to honour a third.
Georgia O'Keeffe's "Winter Road" (1963)

Bill Stearman's "I wish I had a river I could skate away on" (2017)
Quilted by Deanna Gaudaur

Bill and his quilt at the Parrott Gallery.

My contribution to the exhibit took a different direction. It was sparked when Bill and I were leaving the Sydney Opera House in April of this year. We had exited the SOH from the foot of the escalators leading to the lobby area underneath The Monumental Steps (their official name). Bill gasped and said, “Look up!” And there was the most amazing set of symmetrical concrete ribs – the dramatic structural underbelly of The Monumental Steps. Click! Click! Click! A photographer’s dream.

Prior to our trip to Australia, I had been researching Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings in anticipation of the Parrott Gallery’s exhibit, so I was familiar with her urban abstract paintings and her fascination with dynamic architecture. The concrete ribs underneath the SOH’s Monumental Steps had O’Keeffe’s name written all over them.

However, when I returned to Canada and had the photo printed, I was a little disappointed – it looked very stark and monochromatic. Meanwhile, I had been further exploring O’Keeffe’s abstract architectural work and discovered her 1932 painting, “Manhattan”, complete with its three New Mexican flowers. This sparked another idea: I could take my photo of The Monumental Steps and use Photoshop to play around and create an homage to O’Keeffe’s “Manhattan”. Several hours later, an image emerged from my computer monitor that combined four versions of the original photograph, flipped 90 degrees, but definitely NOT monochromatic! I had this image printed the same size as the original so that the images could be hung next to each other in the Parrott Gallery’s exhibit. The flowers that I added were not from New Mexico, however – instead they came from the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens in Hobart. I trust the spirit of Georgia O’Keeffe won’t mind the liberties I took in her name!

Georgia O'Keefe's "Manhattan" (1932; photographed at The Brooklyn Museum)

Sydney Opera House - The Monumental Steps

Larry Tayler's "Sydney Opera House, Monumental Steps From Below, Part 1" (2017)

Larry Tayler's "Sydney Opera House, Monumental Steps From Below, Part 2, O'Keeffed" (2017)

I hope you enjoy these images. If you are in the Belleville area, please visit the exhibit in the Belleville Public Library’s John M. Parrott Gallery. It is brimming with energy and creativity – a fine tribute to an amazing artist from an impressive group of fellow artists.

The Parrott Gallery is located at 254 Pinnacle Street, Belleville, and is open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9:30 am to 5 pm, Thursday from 9:30 am to 8 pm, and Saturday from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm. The exhibit ends August 31. Check out the Parrott Gallery’s website here.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Illuminations, Part 2

“...I am in love with the photograph and all its astonishing capacity,
as a tool, to tell stories, to spark the imagination, to leverage
empathy in the human heart and create change.”
- David duChemin,
The Soul of the Camera, Rocky Nook Publishers, 2017

Last week, I wrote about the beauty of the illuminated Saint John’s Bible, two volumes of which are currently on display at St. Jerome’s University at the University of Waterloo. This week, I want to focus on a secular approach to the same sense of illumination. The Canadian photographer David duChemin nicely summarizes my evolving appreciation of photography in the above quotation from his new book, which I am currently reading. He has a profound respect for the power of a photograph to transcend and – yes – illuminate both the viewer and the photographer. I highly recommend the book.

The photos that follow represent my attempts to be illuminating and transcendent in my photography. I recorded all these images on Saturday, July 15, when I was in Toronto for the day. Regular readers will already know about my love of Toronto and its photographic potential. On Saturday, however, I was in a particularly reflective mood. I had been invited to attend the wrap-up event for the 29-year-old Self-Help Resource Centre (SHRC), a small organization devoted to the creation and support of self-help groups in Ontario, especially around issues of health and advocacy. My late husband, Spencer Brennan, worked at the SHRC for many years and found it to be an immensely rewarding and nurturing workplace. Alas, the SHRC, which always struggled financially, has finally succumbed. It is a significant loss to the community, but its legacy lives on in its many client groups that continue to flourish, which means that Spencer’s legacy also lives on. His spirit was palpable on Saturday afternoon at the 519 Church Street Community Centre, the location of SHRC’s farewell event.

These photos reflect the sense of gratitude that I always feel when I think of Spencer and the 29 years that we spent together. I dedicate them to his memory.


Bird of Spring, by Inuit artist Etungat

Monday, 10 July 2017

Illuminations, Part 1

“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”
- Anne Frank

“Just as a prism refracts light differently when you change its angle,
each experience of love illuminates love in new ways,
drawing from an infinite palette of patterns and hues.”
- Sharon Salzberg,
Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection

Cristina Vanin is one of those people that you just know is a blessing to humanity. She is Associate Dean at St. Jerome’s University, a Roman Catholic college affiliated with the University of Waterloo. And this year she is the official keeper of two volumes of the renowned Saint John’s Bible, currently in residence at St. Jerome’s.

I first encountered Dr. Vanin in a beautiful episode of the CBC Radio program Tapestry. (link) In that program, Mary Hynes, Tapestry’s wise and insightful host, takes her audience on a journey through the creation of The Saint John’s Bible. Commissioned in 1995 by Saint John’s University in Minnesota, the seven volumes of The Saint John’s Bible comprise the first hand-written, illuminated Bible to be created in the last 500 years. It took 23 artists and six calligraphers fifteen years to complete the 1127 pages of the Bible. And it is fabulous – a feast for the mind, the heart, and the soul.

The idea of creating an illuminated Bible to mark the millennium came from the famed British artist and calligrapher, Donald Jackson. He approached the Benedictine monks at Saint John’s University with his idea. A remarkable men's Catholic university, Saint John’s readily agreed – and fifteen years of trans-Atlantic collaboration began.

Check out YouTube videos about The Saint John's Bible here and here.

Side note: I visited the campus of Saint John’s last July when I attended the annual Quaker Gathering at the nearby College of Saint Benedict, a Catholic women’s university that partners with Saint John’s. The campus of Saint John’s is dominated by the impressive Abbey Church and Bell Banner, designed by the modernist architect Marcel Breuer in 1954. Its brutal beauty is a bold affirmation of faith and mission. It does not surprise me that the Benedictine monks who commissioned the Abbey Church would also commission the equally bold Saint John’s Bible.

Back to the Bible: The original seven volumes of The Saint John’s Bible (SJB) remain on the Saint John’s University campus. To help share the SJB, a heritage edition was published that emulates each feature of the original. It is two volumes of the heritage edition (The Pentateuch; Gospels & Acts) that are in residence at St. Jerome’s this year. The Gospels & Acts volume is on display in the atrium of St. Jerome’s Academic Centre; each Wednesday morning at 11:45, there is a page-turning ceremony.

And it is this page-turning ceremony that Bill and I attended on July 5 at Cristina’s invitation. Such a warm, welcoming, and knowledgeable host she was. When I first saw the SJB, my breath was literally taken away. It was awesome to directly experience its beauty and physical presence. Imagine my delight when Cristina invited me to be the page turner! Afterwards, she took the volume out of its glass case and set it up on a nearby table, at which time she showed us each page, allowing me to photograph many images.  It was a memorable experience, as I hope the photos that follow will affirm.

Bill and I plan to return in November for events marking the end of the SJB’s year at St. Jerome’s, including a presentation by Father Michael Patella, chair of the Committee on Illumination and Text that shepherded the project, and a performance of Handel’s Messiah at Kitchener-Waterloo’s Centre in the Square that will feature large-scale projections from all seven volumes of The Saint John’s Bible.

About these photos: from the beginning of this blog, I have written about photography as a spiritual practice. I hope I don’t sound precious when I say that my camera is an extension of my soul. But it’s true, just as The Saint John’s Bible is an extension of the souls of its creators. In that spirit, I offer these photos - illuminations for the journey. Next week, I plan to write about the same spirit of illumination in my own photography.

All images used with permission. The Saint John's Bible (Heritage Edition), Saint John's University, Collegeville, Minnesota, USA. (link) Individual artists as noted below.


Peter's Confession, Matthew 16:13-23 (Donald Jackson)

Dragonfly Marginalia, Matthew 10 (Chris Tomlin)

Matthew 22:37-40 (Hazel Dolby)

Beginning of The Gospel According to Mark (Aidan Hart)

John the Baptist, Baptism of Jesus, Mark 1:1-29 (Donald Jackson)

The Sower & the Seed, Mark 4:3-9 (Aidan Hart)

The Birth of Christ, Luke 2:1-20 (Donald Jackson)

Dinner at the Pharisee's House, Luke 7:36-50 (Donald Jackson)

Luke 23:46 (Donald Jackson)

The Road to Emmaus, Luke 24:13-36 (Donald Jackson)

The Resurrection, John 20:1-23 (Donald Jackson)

Pentecost (Detail), Acts 1:6-11; 2:1-47 (Donald Jackson)

Life of Paul, Acts 9:1-22; 15:1-35; 17:16-34; 22:17-21; 25-28 (Aidan Hart)

To the Ends of the Earth, Acts 1:8, (Donald Jackson)