Post #1373 • July 6, 2009, 11:08 AM • 58 Comments
Two Fridays ago we had lunch at the home of Peter Barrett in Woodstock, where we shared a lot of fine conversation about food (including his recently acquired dried bonito filet, complete with traditional Japanese grater), painting, and how not to make yourself crazy in the art world. We spent an uneventful night in Oneida, NY. On Saturday we slowly crossed the border. (New immigration policies now make it harder for for potential terrorists, most of them trailing tiny aluminum prams with outboard motors, to wreak chaos upon the fishing stocks of Canada, one rod cast at a time.) We crossed over the North side of Lake Ontario, stopping Belleville for lunch at a café, where I had to decline an offer to play Go so we could make a timely arrival at our final destination: a massively extended family reunion of my in-laws, on the fifty-acre property just south of Lake Simcoe where biologically removed but consummately hospitable relatives make their beautiful home. Rose-breasted grosbeaks, goldfinches, and red-wing blackbirds availed themselves of the feeders while chipmunks rooted in the grass for spillage. That evening, in the sunroom, as ruby-throated hummingbirds zipped around in the light of dusk, nipping sugar-water put out for them right on the other side of the window, I finally got a Go game in against my brother, who wiped the board with me. He was playing at 3 Kyu at one point in his life, and against him I accept a 2:1 loss with a nine-stone handicap as an honorable outcome. Hell, I'm grateful to finish with live stones on the board.
We spent the night in a tent, something I have not done often and don't much relish. The next afternoon we packed up and drove into Toronto for a good long look at the Art Gallery of Ontario. On Monday, acting on a tip from sculptor and Modernist provocateur Ryan McCourt, we drove to nearby Kleinburg to see the McMichael Collection of Canadian Art. We partook of Soma afterwards. (Hat tip to Necee for that recommendation.) On our way back home, the US border guard, noting the car's Massachusetts license plate, refused to let us pass until I conceded that the Yankees are going to crush the Red Sox this season. On principle, I ostentatiously mulled it over before relenting. You don't prolong an argument about baseball with a New Yorker carrying a sidearm.
I have long admired the Group of Seven and associated Canadian modernist painters, but I have finally spent enough time with them for that admiration to grow to real fondness. In particular, I got grabbed by David Milne. The AGO has a Milne Study Centre with several rooms of his paintings, drawings, and a bit of ephemera. Imagine, if you will, Bonnard, living somewhere that snowed five months out of the year. Milne drew a similar sort of line, quivering with sensitivity, breaking off into rough trails as they meandered through the rectangle. But instead of modulating forms with a thousand variations of hue, Milne put down colors in thin slabs and left them that way. Instead of the eternal spring of the Mediterranean that sometimes yields to cold, in Milne we have the eternal winter of northern New York and Ontario that sometimes yields to warmth. Barely-tinted canvas would stand in for snow in his landscapes, which he filled with delicate, scratchy brushstrokes. You can't find a lot on Milne on the Web, even on the AGO site, which is a pity. But if you can afford it, the museum produced a catalogue for its 2006 exhibition of his watercolors, which subsequently went to the Met and got a review from Grace Glueck.
At the McMichael I discovered Tom Thomson. Thomson produced admirable larger canvases, but his oils on panel, painted cigar-box size, compare favorably with Constable's. The McMichael has a room dedicated to them, and they combine luscious, goopy paint with a palette that amalgamates Impressionism, Fauvism, and Expressionism. You won't find them online either, except here and there.
We overnighted in Buffalo and stopped in bewildering Utica for lunch. (You know that you're in a real Italian-American town when the daily special at the pizza joint is Chicken Riggie.) We rolled back into Beantown in time to get rained on with one last springtime dumping from the New England heavens.
(Explanation of post title here. I had this song stuck in my head for much of the trip.)