Entertain Me?

I’ve heard art described as many things, but never as a game. Glenn Brown’s lecture at Emily Carr last Thursday night changed that.

Emily Carr University of Art & Design

He chooses titles that play games, that aren’t clear at first. The visual elements in his paintings play games too. He purposefully chooses colours that don’t match (like reds and greens) because “visual clashes animate a painting. They create an exciting game.”

Spearmint Rhino by Glenn Brown

When asked about his heavy use of religious symbols, he openly concedes his indebtedness to religion and how it has influenced the history of painting, but, in the end, “religion is just an interesting game played by society.”

Later in the talk, Brown said a good painting makes your eyes play ping pong, causing them to bounce from one corner of the canvas to another. You can see this in A Sailor’s Life, an upside-down and distorted version of Van Gogh’s Marguerite Gachet at the Piano. Brown’s version has a random black dot near the tip of the hands for no other reason than to draw the eye and deflect it.

A Sailor’s Life, like War in Peace and the majority of Brown’s paintings, have objects “lost in space and time–a state I like my paintings to be in,” he says.

War in Peace by Glenn Brown

Brown is a British painter who does reproductions, meaning he takes other people’s work and manipulates it in some way. I immediately thought of the quote about how good artists copy and great artists steal other people’s work, and he even mentioned it during his talk. “That statement is obviously something I’ve taken to heart.” The audience laughed.

After showing a bunch of paintings done in green, he said, “I once heard green paintings are the least popular to buy. So I started making a bunch of green paintings. I always wanted to do the opposite of what was popular.”

Star Dust by Glenn Brown

This desire to be different permeates Brown’s work. He’s also done sculpture, and what are you not supposed to make sculptures out of, he asks? “Paint. So what do I make my sculptures out of? Paint.”

Woman by Glenn Brown

This mindset explains why he paints old men instead of young female nudes, and why, when he began painting in the 1980s, he did the opposite of what was popular at the time, which was expressionism. His work hangs in the balance between figurative and non-figurative, female and male, beauty and the grotesque (but mostly grotesque).

Brown loves the idea of tension (the glorious and grotesque; beauty & decay; visual tension, clash of different centuries and sensibilities, etc) and I can’t help thinking about how his own work embodies it. Painting upon painting depicts his credit towards the art that’s come before him (much “high art” from his time working in the Tate Gallery in London, but also “low art” from sci fi illustrators), and so he says of his work, “This is my way of saying I can’t have an original thought. None of us are really individuals.” He brings this up in the context of poststructuralism. And yet he wants to do something different than other artists. He himself alluded to this tension during the question and answer period, and I appreciated his thoughtful reflections on why he does what he does.

There is often so much mystique about artists’ creative processes and what they want to say, but Brown was candid about how and why he creates. He manipulates images on Photoshop first before sketching them out and painting, and he even showed us some of these preliminary images. This honesty extended to his articulation of what he wants his work to do: to make people look at paintings; to make people interested in art (his approach to doing this is to make people feel a bit awkward and unsettled). His role as artist is to provide entertainment, which he says shouldn’t be such a dirty word in our society.

Zombies of the Stratosphere by Glenn Brown

His photorealistic surfaces and their ‘lost in time and space’ look are not that far from sci fi or fantasy novels, which also entertain us by helping us escape. And yet other paintings of his are very “this-worldly,” depicting everyday objects in a state of decay. He “just wanted to remind everybody of that,” he says when he showed us Burlesque. Although Brown is not concerned with beauty, he did let slip a couple times about objects being “beautiful in their decay.”

Burlesque by Glenn Brown

Although Brown’s paintings are interesting to look at, I’m not sure the idea of art as a game is ultimately that winsome for me. I think that would get old fast. I want art to do more than move my eyes in a visual game of ping pong. I want it to move me. Body, mind, and soul. To connect the visible with the invisible.

Brown wants to make people to look at art in whatever way they will notice it because “these paintings don’t exist until someone sees them.” This was a really fascinating comment. He’s not one of those painters who paint just for themselves and don’t care what anybody else thinks (if that’s even possible). He frequently discusses his ideas and sketches with others before launching full-speed into a project, and he credits his time at Goldsmith College in London for helping him see art as a collaborative process.

Art needs an audience. What will it say if it has no one to say it to? Even if the picture makes you escape, makes you cringe, makes you feel awkward or makes you feel death, Brown’s work has something to say about being human and being in tension. So . . . entertain me? Move me? Or both?

Going Underground

This was an exciting week, getting to see this piece I began a year ago find its home on the pages of Maisonneuve magazine.

The teaser for it:

As she rides the SkyTrain, Charlene [ . . .] longs for the sounds of the Underground.

To go with this text, here are some images of the Underground I took in the London Transport Museum a few years ago:

The London Transport Museum is located in Covent Garden and is actually a pretty cool museum. It takes you through the history of London’s transport system, from horse and buggy to steam cars and the present-day tube and double-decker buses, with life-sized models of all the various machines.

My Literature and Place class took a field trip here because understanding the history and importance of the tube to London was essential for some of the stories we read, such as Charles Higson’s “The Red Line.” I recommend it if you’re in the mood for a sad read where so many bad things could have been avoided if people thought differently. The way the Underground was marketed highly played into an essay I wrote about it, hence the many photos I took of the ad posters.

Harry Beck’s iconic Tube map makes for some creative interpretations. On the left is a version made from ‘tubes’ of paint. Clever, eh? There’s also a Lego and flower version featured on this blog. The possibilities are endless. I’d put up this map in my apartment.

And because I reviewed The Great Gatsby a few weeks ago and liked it, I’ll leave you with a Gatsby-inspired tube station makeover, courtesy of @LovelysVintage:

If only all tube stations looked this good all of the time!

What I Missed While Running Around Trying Not to Miss Things

“I literally ran in and out of the British Museum.”

These were the words of a friend over lunchtime at Herstmonceux Castle.

Mondays were the days all the students rehashed their weekend excursions to London. With such a short study abroad program of only 6 weeks and many of us never having crossed the Atlantic before, our weekends were packed with sightseeing adventures in the country’s capital. And weekend trips to London here and there were definitely not enough to see everything this fabulous city has to offer.

British Museum in London (Photo from Wikipedia)

Hence my friend’s comment, which I laughed at because it sounds silly to run in and out of a museum that one could easily spend a full day in, and yet totally understandable because sometimes it’s easier to step in and step out of a place just to say you’ve been there.

Turns out in her haste, she had missed the Rosetta Stone – the crucial text in deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and the most visited object in the British Museum. I guess it’s easy to miss what you don’t know is there.

The Rosetta Stone behind glass

“I’ll need to go back now,” she concluded.

I chuckle at this story but I have my own Rosetta Stone that I need to go back for in the British Museum. Except it’s not the Rosetta Stone – it’s something much less easy to miss and therefore that much more embarrassing – the Reading Room.

I even snapped a photo of the outside!

The Reading Room in the Great Court. Kind of invites you in with that stairway . . . (Photo from Wikipedia)

This gigantic dome room sits in the middle of the Great Court, a two-acre public square. Inspired by the domed Pantheon in Rome, The Reading Room is built of cast iron, concrete and glass, and the roof is surprisingly made of papier mâché. Until 2000, it wasn’t even open to all museum visitors. People who wanted to read here had to apply in writing and receive a special ticket by the Librarian to access it. Such people included Karl Marx, Lenin, Bram Stoker, Arthur Conan Doyle, Virginia Woolf, and Oscar Wilde. How I would have loved to step into the space that Oscar Wilde sat in, studied, maybe even penned The Picture of Dorian Gray, one of my all-time favourite books.

Here’s the beauty I missed:

Panoramic view inside of The Reading Room (Photo from Wikipedia)

Sadly, I didn’t know at the time what this room was or else I wouldn’t have walked by it in my rush to see other things. Have any of you had a similar experience with a famous sight you accidentally missed out on?

I’ll leave you with some images I did manage to see:

The Egypt Collection

A larger-than-life Pharaoh bust

Aphrodite caught unawares

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Replica of Parthenon in Greek collection

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Elgin Marbles, East Pediment of Parthenon

The British Museum Reading Room by Louis MacNiece

Under the hive-like dome the stooping haunted readers
Go up and down the alleys, tap the cells of knowledge —
Honey and wax, the accumulation of years —
Some on commission, some for the love of learning,
Some because they have nothing better to do
Or because they hope these walls of books will deaden
The drumming of the demon in their ears.

Cranks, hacks, poverty-stricken scholars,
In pince-nez, period hats or romantic beards
And cherishing their hobby or their doom
Some are too much alive and some are asleep
Hanging like bats in a world of inverted values,
Folded up in themselves in a world which is safe and silent:
This is the British Museum Reading Room.

Out on the steps in the sun the pigeons are courting,
Puffing their ruffs and sweeping their tails or taking
A sun-bath at their ease
And under the totem poles — the ancient terror —
Between the enormous fluted Ionic columns
There seeps from heavily jowled or hawk-like foreign faces
The guttural sorrow of the refugees.

I Said I Would Never Do It

Blog, that is.

Then again, I said I wouldn’t do a lot of things:

  • buy a digital camera
  • get facebook
  • get a cellphone
  • get an e-reader

Yeah, so I tend to dig my heels in when it comes to new technology. I own all of these items now (well, the last one was a gift), so I guess I come around eventually.

In university, my friends joked that I was so behind the times. More than behind the times. Before my brother generously gave me his old iPod a few years ago when he upgraded, I was still carrying around a discman. Well, I didn’t carry it around too often for obvious reasons (i.e. social embarrassment). I ran without music in my ears and struck up a lot more conversations than I do now with people sitting beside me on buses and trains.

My “home” bus station in Ottawa

I signed up for facebook on the last day of undergrad – my attempt at doing something “dramatic” to celebrate this significant day, something that my peers had persistently pressured me to get for four years, and here I was, finally giving in and making it a much bigger deal than it deserved. In hindsight, the timing wasn’t so great either. With two weeks of exams still to study for, I had to fend off a new and highly potent form of distraction that normal students who got fb in first year had already learned to (somewhat) manage.

The next year when I moved to Victoria for my Master’s program, I capitulated and got a cell phone, after realizing my mom, like usual, was right. My landlord would likely not have a phone I could use for long-distance calls and it was time for me to become more “connected.” The Telus guy looked at me incredulously.

“Seriously? You’ve never owned a cell phone before?”

“Nope. Is it really that weird? I’m sure you’ve seen other people like me before?”

“Yeah, I have. It’s just that they’re usually over 65.”

“Oh.”

Considering this history, I suppose it was kind of ironic I chose a title for my blog that has such strong associations with cell phones . . .

textingthecity started a year ago today because of 2 things:

1)   the anticlimactic moment after defending my Master’s thesis and realizing, “hey, I still really love my topic and want to keep talking about architexturewho can I talk to?”

readers, thanks for letting me talk with you!

2)   boredom, needing something to fill my time between sending out resumé after countless resumé

dog days in Victoria

And guess what? I’m really enjoying this blogging thing. For someone who associates the day she got a cell phone with the word “traumatic,” I’ve come a long way. (In my defense, it was a smart phone, okay? to go from nothing to that was mildly overwhelming). And my favourite part? The community of people and their words, art, and interests I’ve been gratefully introduced to.

 

A brief look at where textingthecity has been:

It was born in Victoria in a yellow room

It travelled to Ottawa and New York to follow Mondrian and learn a lesson in expectations and reality.

It relaxed in Hawaii’s pacific waves.

It vicariously went to London through the hopes and heartbreaks of Olympic athletes.

It frequently returns to its home base of Vancouver, through such characters as a feline hotel guest and storytelling windows.

For this coming year of blogging, I hope to feature more examples of urban art, literature, and architecture outside of Vancouver, whether or not I actually travel there myself. So yes, I hope to change it up a bit more on here . . .

That being said, some things will never change. Like my firm resolution to never get twitter.

Great Expectations

The title drew me to Dickens’ novel. I suppose that Charles Dickens should have been enough incentive to pick up this book, but in any case, I was intrigued by the notion of expectations, great expectations . . .

  • whose expectations?
  • expectations for what?
  • did they come true?

expectation: The action of waiting; the action or state of waiting for or awaiting (something) – Oxford English Dictionary

This is the way I understood “expectation” upon opening this book. Pip, the young orphaned narrator, is waiting for something. He’s waiting to be something. A pretty yet heartless girl he falls in love with at an early age calls him “common,” and this word propels him to pursue the life-long task of “making [him]self uncommon.” He wants to get on in life and be somebody.

Luckily, he gets the opportunity to do this due to the “great expectations” of a generous benefactor. And this is when I clued in that Dickens was using “expectations” in a completely different way in the 19th century.

And the communication I have got to make is, that he has great expectations . . .He [is] to be immediately removed from his present sphere of life and from this place, and be brought up as a gentleman – in a word, as a young fellow of great expectations.”

expectations: Prospects of inheritance or of profiting by testament – Oxford English Dictionary

Pip learns of his expectations

So there went my expectations for what I thought the title was referring to. Yet I like the mixture of both these definitions and how they correspond to Pip’s journey in this coming-of-age story (also known as a bildungsroman). With the status and money of a gentleman comes certain social and moral expectations. This story is very much a story of how Pip wants to but doesn’t quite live up to these expectations. These expectations get shattered, in both senses of the word.

Pip leaves his “common” life on the wild Kent marshes for a taste of the “uncommon” life of a gentleman in the big bad city of London.

“Is it a very wicked place?” I asked.
“You may get cheated, robbed and murdered in London. But there are plenty of people anywhere, who’ll do that for you.”
“If there is bad blood between you and them,” said I, to soften it a little.
“Oh! I don’t know about bad blood,” returned Mr. Wemmick; “there’s not much bad blood about. They’ll do it, if there’s anything to be got by it.”
“That makes it worse.”   

Pip sitting with the beautiful Estella and Miss Havisham

“You think so?” returned Wemmick. “Much about the same, I should say.”

Despite my own shattered expectations for the title, I loved this novel. I love books that surprise me in whatever way – like teaching me new definitions for words I take for granted. One critique of Dickens if I may be so bold: he should have stuck with his gut instinct on the ending. Give me a sad but truer ending any day over a more hopeful yet less convincing one.

A Story of Origins

I can’t get London off my mind. After a dazzling opening ceremonies last night that poignantly captured British history and culture, my heart went back to 2009 when I visited the city for the first time.

It was summer of my 3rd year in university. Being an English minor and knowing I wanted to eventually do my Master’s in English Lit, I knew I also couldn’t go further in this field without taking a trip to the birthplace of what I was studying. It may sound silly but I really felt I had to experience the origin of what I loved to love it even more – as if a dark cloud would be hanging over me and my academic future if I didn’t make this trip. I had to go.

I went with so much expectation, hoping to find answers about where I should study for grad school (Canada or England?) and what area I should specialize in (17th century, Romantic, Victorian, or modern literature?) I came back without much clarity on these questions (I’ve learned that when I want a big revelation in life, I don’t get it), but I did come back with a magical summer I like to relive every now and then.

Herstmonceux Castle, England

I studied literature at a castle about 45 min south of London (see pic above) – yes, a castle with sheep baaing out my bedroom window and a Shakespearean garden where I read As You Like ItThe Winter’s Tale, Oliver Twist and Mrs. Dalloway. How much more British can you get? It felt like I was transported into a fairy tale world, or maybe Harry Potter. Not only did I read Shakespeare’s plays but I experienced them in their original form, performed at the Globe theatre in London, where I stood so close to the stage I could see the sweat dripping from the actor’s faces.

front-line view of the Globe Theatre, London

After the six-week program at the Castle was complete, I did my own literary tour through the UK.

With my bucket-list of places to visit that I had only experienced second-hand through books, I traipsed through England, Scotland, and Wales to see places like this first-hand:

Tintern Abbey, Wales

Romantic poet William Wordsworth made this abandoned Cisterian monastery famous in his lyrical poem, “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey.” Did the words ever come alive when I was reading them in the space that inspired them!

How oft, in darkness, and amid the many shapes / Of joyless day-light; when the fretful stir / Unprofitable, and the fever of the world, / Have hung upon the beatings of my heart, / How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee / O sylvan Wye! Thou wanderer through the woods / How often has my spirit turned to thee!

Overlooking the River Wye, Wales

“While here I stand, not only with the sense of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts that in this moment there is life and food for future years.”

Early grey tea and a poem. Couldn’t have been happier

I’m looking back on this trip three years ago and realize there was life and food in it for future years, even though I didn’t see it at the time. I took a course that summer called “Literature and Place” that ended up having a huge influence on my interests in grad school. We took field trips to London to regularly walk the city like a character in a novel, travel the tube, and get to know the city that provides a muse for so many writers.

This London course began in me a fascination with literature and cities that hasn’t ended yet – nor do I want it to. I applied a lot of what I learned in London to my Canadian home context, Vancouver, when I wound up doing grad school (in Canada), and I’m still exploring ideas from the course in my current creative and non-fiction writing. So I guess London hasn’t left me yet, nor left me unchanged . . .

Needless to say, because of this background, I loved the literary references in last night’s ceremonies. Did any part of the long 4-hour ceremony strike a special London memory with you?

Children representing the Great Ormond Street Hospital, the NHS and children’s literature take part in the Opening Ceremony. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)