No one paints losers like Michael Harrington. They can be seen alone, or in pathetic groupings, mumbling and grumbling, stuck in some pseudo-macho past, out of synch with the present and definitely with no happy future in sight.
Harrington’s canvases tend to be small. So all these aging monosyllabic nerds are like tiny impressionistic figures seen hazily through a telescope. We are voyeurs peering into their club houses, pool halls, bars and campgrounds. Their only female companionship: Playboy centrefolds pasted to the walls of their dreary abodes. Those centrefolds are as close as these guys will ever get to beautiful women unless their favourite spit-on-the-floor beer parlour happens to hire a cute waitress.
A new show of Harrington’s haunting works has opened at Galerie St. Laurent + Hill in the Market and continues until May 15. Harrington’s work is addictive. His fans are many.
We are simultaneously repelled and attracted to these pictures of a certain underbelly of society — the aging bachelors, the funny uncles and the luckless unemployed we all have in our neighbourhoods and in our extended families.
Upon arriving early for the vernissage of Harrington’s show, about half or more of the works had already sold. Ottawa residents do buy some art, although gallery owners are usually complaining that this town is not kind to artists. Complaints like that are often from Guy Berube, owner of another Byward Market gallery, La Petite Mort. The night of the Harrington opening, Berube was in the midst of hanging a new exhibition by Andrew Salgado, a Canadian ex-pat living in London who is making waves internationally with his unusual portraits of handsome, virile young men – definitely not the men in Harrington’s paintings.
“Sold out,” Berube said. “That’s the first time that has ever happened.”
All the works in the Salgado exhibition were sold online before the show even opened. The purchasers tended to be foreign. Salgado, like many a Canadian artist, first found fame abroad.
Back at the Harrington show, talk turned to two recent deaths within the Ottawa art community. Potter Jim Thomson, lord of the Gatineau Hills retreat called Lolaland, died recently of cancer and will be missed by many. The other death was that of Margaret Lunt. That name may not be familiar. That is because Margaret, as everyone called her, was the mother of the artist Evergon. Margaret was very much his muse and his model for many of his elaborately staged photographs. (Remember Ramba Mama in the Ram Boys series? That was Margaret). A full-frontal nude photograph of 80-something Margaret almost made the front page of The Ottawa Citizen a decade ago. But that’s a story for another day.