By PAUL GESSELL
John Marok calls painting “a sublime activity.” This experienced artist from the Wakefield area has developed his own, unique visual language that tells stories combining the contemporary with the medieval.
Marok has a solo show, 4 Strong Winds, at the Shenkman Arts Centre running until Jan. 6. The following is a partial transcript of an email interview conducted with Marok.
Describe the body of work in 4 Strong Winds.
The paintings I’ve chosen for this exhibition are reflective of my interest in four themes: Still life, figures, landscape and cityscape. I’ve been compelled by these themes since I started painting 35 years ago and, over the years, they’ve become less disparate and I’ve recognized the interrelationships between them, the similarities rather than the differences.
Why the title of 4 Strong Winds?
I was originally going to title the exhibit four strong seasons but I thought that was too prosaic and possibly misleading, so I decided on 4 Strong Winds because it’s suggestive, poetic and open to interpretation. 4 Strong Winds alludes to four different directions, but it also has a sense of singularity or oneness to it because wind is, well, just wind, no matter what direction it’s blowing.
Many of the people in your paintings over the years are reminiscent of characters from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance or some other past era. Who are these people and what is your fascination with them?
I’ve often wondered why my figures seem to harken back to the medieval and early Renaissance. I don’t have a rational explanation for this. Perhaps I was reincarnated from that period. Mostly, however, I appreciate the idiosyncratic and quirky modus operandi that was reflected in the work from that period. It turns my crank.
When looking at your work, whether of people, still life or cityscapes, I get the feeling that you are showing us a world that is familiar yet is strange, being the kind of world one might discover upon walking through the looking glass. How would you describe this world your paintings inhabit?
I look at the world, am fascinated, intrigued and aroused by the world, but I’m impartial to create an illusion of the world. So, I’m informed by people, cities, still life, landscapes but, once I begin a painting I’m compelled to paint an image that exists only as a painting, — not as a proxy or substitute of the world. I strive to make a painting that ultimately is its own world, whose vitality originates from colours, shapes and composition.
You have been an artist for many years. What gives you the most satisfaction in the process of creating art?
As a painter, I’m involved in two distinct enterprises: making a painting and looking at a painting. Both are meaningful to me for different reasons, and I get pleasure, satisfaction out of both. The act of painting is a sublime activity that transcends the limitations I have in everyday life. Questions such as “Why am I doing this” or “What does this mean” don’t exist, rather, I simply do it without question. There is a good reason to occasionally behave without reason. Contemplating a painting is a wholly different activity, obviously less physical, but equally exhausting and rewarding. Looking at a painting over an extended period of time is a rigorous activity, akin to experiencing and learning the nuances of a deep friendship. A wondrous activity.
1867 Rebellion and Confederation
Anyone who thinks Canadian history is dull should visit the new exhibition, 1867 Rebellion and Confederation, at the Canadian Museum of History. (On until Jan., 2016) Most people believe Confederation in 1867 came about because Sir John A. Macdonald and his Fathers of Confederation had a few congenial, gin-soaked meetings at public expense. Well, there is much more to the story and the curator of the exhibition, the museum’s Jean-Francois Lozier, must be congratulated for doing a super job.
The story really begins in 1837, the year Victoria became Queen. That was also the year rambunctious reformers in Ontario and Quebec, unhappy with the authoritarian attitudes of their colonial overlords, took up arms to press for more control over their own affairs. (Preston Manning, when he started his own reform movement last century, likened his followers to the reformers of 1837. It’s a debatable point, but one worth considering.)
Anyway, the 19th century reformers, far too polite to engage in an all-out American-style War of Independence, were defeated. But they caused enough of a fuss that the British rulers slowly began to introduce responsible government in the Canadian colonies. That all led to Confederation between Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, even though Nova Scotia had to be carried along kicking and screaming.
The history museum exhibition does not tell us anything new. But it puts every bit of the story into context, mixes in some social history and then colours it all with carefully chosen artifacts. We see the sashes and powder horns carried into battle by the Lower Canadian (Quebecois) rebels. We see the handcuffs used on captured rebels. We see the very table and inkstand used by the Fathers of Confederation at the 1864 Quebec Conference. We see the diary of Lady Agnes Macdonald, wife of Sir John A., who has told us as much about the real history of that period as any roomful of historians. (I’ve read much of her diary. Fascinating stuff.) There is even the British North America Act of 1867, a document that remains to this day the how-to manual for running Canada. This is an exhibition that every Canadian schoolchild should see.
The major corporate sponsor of the show is the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, with their pals in the oil sands. Good for them. The association inappropriately got involved in an energy exhibition a few years ago at the Canada Science and Technology Museum. Conflicts of interest abounded. This time, there is no risk of that.
Ebb & Flow — Meaghan Haughian
Meaghan Haughian’s art came to my rescue one day two years ago. I was sitting in a doctor’s office, awaiting what I thought would be some bad news. As usual, the doctor was very late so I was left to count the ceiling tiles five times. And then I noticed one of Haughian’s distinctive collages pinned to the wall.
The collage was a life-affirming creation. A long figure stood, literally rooted to the ground, looking skyward most optimistically. I knew that particular work from an exhibition the artist had recently had at La Petite Mort Gallery. The collage felt like an old friend, metaphorically holding my hand, offering me comfort on a distressing day.
Well, the doctor arrived and conveyed good news. I’m sure Haughian’s magical art was at least partially responsible.
Haughian has a new exhibition of collage work at La Petite Mort running until Jan. 4. It is called Ebb and Flow. I’ll let Haughian explain her new work:
“I didn’t set out to make this exhibition about my Mom but she kept emerging. Last year she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. After emptying her Toronto home of its contents, I was left with a pile of boxes that I still don’t know what to do with but can’t throw out. Hundreds of photos capture elements of my mom that I will never know.
“Ebb and Flow continues my exploration into collective human experience, personal history and the dualities of life, but with a different approach to the content and materials. In these mixed media collages, I have let the photographic and painted areas exist as they are rather than blending them together. They are absent of the partially legible handwriting typically layered in my work. And most significantly, they are not narrative-driven.
“This recent body of work reflects upon the unfathomable: the tangible and ethereal; the past and future; the vastness of the sky and the minuteness of neurons. Contemplative and intimate, each piece captures a moment in time and a state of being. My mom is preserved in the early stages of her adult life while thoughts and emotions revolve and drip around her, attempting to connect. Like the images that are depicted – a wreath, a cloud, an ambiguous space – these artworks have no beginning or end. They are meditations on grief, understanding and acceptance. How do you mourn a life that isn’t over?”