counter on blogger

Pickle Me This

March 12, 2018

Yoko Ono, “The Riverbed,” at the Gardiner

I loved Yoko Ono’s “The Riverbed”, which we went to see yesterday at The Gardiner Museum. An exhibit whose first part is “Stone Piece,” an arrangement of river-worn stones which we are invited to pick up, and contemplate, and (for some of them) to discover words written on their bottoms, and then replace the stones in a different arrangement, the exhibit ephemeral and ever-changing, always moving, like a river itself. Cushions around the display invite viewers to sit down and watch the scene, the way we might want to sit by the side of the river, and the effect is similar—relaxing, interesting, and insightful. It’s a scene where adults and children alike are excited to be taking part in the exhibit, to be a part of things, and watching this is interesting as well.

Next we move on to “Mend Piece”, where broken crockery has been placed on the table and we are invited to put the pieces together using tape, and string, and glue. A fascinating process for so many reasons—because the pieces we’re “mending” weren’t necessarily put together in the first place, the idea that to mend is a creative act, to make something too, how mending is restorative and generative at once. About how out of broken things there can be made something new, and strangers sitting together at the table connect as they share materials, and also as they’re served coffee from the coffee stand that is part of the exhibit. When the “mending” is done, the new object is placed on a shelf or hung on the wall, and thereby viewers now have a piece on display at the Gardiner, which is kind of incredible.

Everything is white, and there is so much light, which, when coupled with the creative acts taking place, allows for lots of thinking—but the soundtrack is the racket of nails being driven into a wall. Which was meaningful to me, being required to think over the noise, which is important. The noise too a reminder of work, the necessary parts of building anything. And the work that’s being done is in “Line Piece,” where viewers can hammer a nail into the wall and tie a string from one point on the wall to another. Which has created the most fascinating space, cushions on the floor again where you can look up and think about the web of string above, the web that would have been different if you’d never come, the web that will be something else different tomorrow. And to stand up too, pop my head up through the web and contemplate the networks of string from above… It’s about connection, and shelter, creativity and possibility.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the exhibit. Conceptual art can go all kinds of ways, and making the viewer a participant in the process doesn’t always succeed in being meaningful. But I still remember the story of John Lennon falling for Ono back in the 1960s’ when he went to her exhibit and climbed to the top of a white ladder to see a word through a magnifying glass, and the word he saw was YES. After our experience yesterday at “The Riverbed,” now I see how that could happen.

July 17, 2016

Chihuly at the ROM


The summer is flying by, as summers do. I spent last week in my hometown of Peterborough visiting my parents, which was lovely, hot and fun. And now back in the city, we went to the ROM yesterday to see the Chihuly exhibit.


I’d never heard of Dale Chihuly before the ROM magazine arrived awhile back with images of his work, although it occurs to me now that he’d been the artist behind the golden tree I’d photographed in Montreal a few weeks ago. And that perhaps encountering Chihuly’s work out in the world is most striking way to experience it, but the ROM exhibit itself was pretty stirring.


My favourite thing about the exhibit was that it’s the rare thing that all four of us—whose ages range from 3 to 37—could appreciate on the same level. The same things I loved about it and was struck by were what struck the children too, and we were all of us in awe of the colours, the light. The spectacle.


And like nearly everybody else, my favourite part of it was the Persian Ceiling, under which we laid down and just looked, and there was so much to see, and how the light from the ceiling transformed the world all around us.


September 11, 2014



I don’t know if there is a better exhibit than Alex Colville (now on at the Art Gallery of Ontario) to take your five year old and one year old to, because the latter will be gripped by all the images of dogs, while the former sees her own world reflected in the paintings, but rendered just unfamiliarly enough to warrant another look. We note people and animals suspending in space, captured in motion—horses, dogs, a little girl with her skipping rope. “What do you think’s going to happen next?” Which is the very point. Plus the defiance of gravity. And the strange ugly beauty, hydro corridors, overpasses and smokestacks. The sky’s enormity. We found it fascinating to learn that Colville’s art was so informed by his commute to work, that same stretch of road,  a seemingly dull track. And also the sea pictures, all that blue.

Andrew Hunter’s new book, Colville, designed to accompany the exhibit, gives a marvellous sense of the artist and his power, and just as the exhibit does, of his context as well. In his essay in the book, Hunter posits Colville as a place, and finds connections to that place not just in geography, but also in literature, music, film and  popular culture. As befitting a man whose own life was so often his subject, the book embraces Colville’s biography as well, and more than 100 reproductions of his work. It’s a really wonderful complement to an extraordinary show.

August 25, 2013

Mary Pratt: On Blogging, and Preserving Light and Time

Smears of Jam, Lights of Jelly.

MARY PRATT Smears of Jam, Lights of Jelly. 2007. oil on canvas 40.6 x 50.8 cm

It is not a huge leap to look at Mary Pratt’s paintings and have thoughts turn to ideas about the containment and preservation of time. Not least of all because of her paintings of preserves, jams and jellies. Or because she shows that jam jars are containers of not only condiments, but also of light. In the essay “A Woman’s Life” by Sarah Milroy, part of the Mary Pratt book, Pratt recalls early inspiration in her mother’s jars of jelly: “Oh they were gorgeous… she would arrange them along the window-ledge–they were west-facing windows with the light coming through–red currant jelly, highbush cranberry jelly, raspberry jelly, blackberry jelly–all as clear as glass.”

In her work, Pratt also includes more prosaic containers, such as tupperware, and ketchup bottles, as well as preservation agents that capture light with a different kind of beauty–tin foil, saran wrap. Underlining this idea of preservation is that Pratt’s paintings themselves have been painted from photographs, that with a camera Pratt has been able to stop time and preserve a moment in the whirl of domesticity–a supper table that will soon be cleared away, for example. In Sarah Fillmore’s essay “Vanitas”, Pratt notes that “The camera was my instrument of liberation. Now that I no longer had to paint on the run, I would pay each gut reaction its proper homage. I could paint anything that appealed to me… I could use the slide to establish the drawing and concentrate on the light, and the content and the symbolism.”

Whilst reading the Mary Pratt book, which has been created to complement the exhibition of Pratt’s work that will be moving across the country in the coming months, I kept drawing parallels between her work and the womanly art of blogging. This precludes any arguments about amateurism of course, however much some may insist that “blogger” and “amateur” are in fact synonyms. Because Pratt is no amateur, and neither are the bloggers who make art of the form, who craft their posts themselves in order to “pay each gut reaction its proper homage.”

“…it comes from a longing to hold truth in your hands, to feel something of your own existence–a longing to feel alive… The painting of the jelly jar is really about the way that light shines through the glass, the way that light is preserved, like jelly, for all time.” -Sarah Fillmore, “Vanitas”

MARY PRATT Supper Table (detail) 1969 oil on canvas 61.0 x 91.4 cm

MARY PRATT Supper Table 1969 oil on canvas 61.0 x 91.4 cm

Pratt captures the domestic, the seemingly mundane. And yet behind her rich but also simple and familiar images lie deeper stories. Her painting “Kitchen Table”, the first she created from a photograph in 1969, is at first a quiet scene, a table at once empty and yet crowded with the remains of a meal–a ketchup bottle with its cap off, a hotdog left uneaten, crumbs on a plate, drinking glasses in varying states of emptiness (or fullness, perhaps?). And yet, as Catherine M. Mastin points out in her essay “Base, Place, Location and the Early Paintings”, “Pratt’s postwar-era family table is a site of constant labour, meal after meal–which all fell to Mary, with no foreseeable end.” On a more personal note, Pratt’s “Eggs in an Egg Crate” was the first work she completed after the deaths of her infant twins, a painting whose symbolism wasn’t clear to her until somebody else had pointed it out–that the eggs in the carton were empty.

MARY PRATT Eggs in an Egg Crate, 1975 oil on Masonite 50.8 x 61.0 cm

MARY PRATT Eggs in an Egg Crate, 1975 oil on Masonite 50.8 x 61.0 cm

For all their luminosity and the domestic focus, Pratt’s paintings are also wonderfully subversive. Her eggs are usually broken, is what I mean, the cake half-eaten and cut with a big sharp knife, the bananas in the fruit bowl are just a little too ripe. The meat in her “Roast Beef” is a charred hunk (and Pratt recounts in Milroy’s essay, “I can remember when I first showed it in a gallery [and] I heard a woman say, ‘Well, I guess she can paint, but do you think she can cook?'”). Milroy is correct that “In this day of highly stylized food photography…, Mary Pratt’s work seems ahead of the curve,” and yet Pratt’s food paintings are always just a little “off”–the leftovers from a supper of hotdogs, for example, or the casserole dish in the microwave. This is food that people eat, instead of a lacquered sandwich intended for a magazine cover. Hers is a messy, imperfect domestic scene, and yet there is beauty in these scenes that are captured precisely as they are.

MARY PRATT Split Grilse, 1979 oil on Masonite 56.1 x 64.0 cm

MARY PRATT Split Grilse, 1979 oil on Masonite 56.1 x 64.0 cm

Her images of meat and animal carcasses suggest something basic and bodily about domestic life, a suggestion echoed vaguely in the images of her model “Donna”. “That’s what women do,” Pratt recounts in Milroy’s essay. “They wrap things up, or unwrap them, or cut them open, or chop them, ready for the oven.” Fish are also a recurring image in her work, not surprising considering she’s based in Atlantic Canada, but here is the rarely seen flip-side of maritime life–“Salmon on Saran”, “Trout in a Ziploc Bag” or “Fish Head in Steel Sink”. They don’t write shanties about this kind of sea. And then there  is the fire, Pratt’s burning dishcloth on her “Dishcloth on Line” paintings. That same agent used to wipe down the table of dinner-after-dinner is annihilated into a glorious flame which captures the light as intriguingly (and eternally, now that Pratt has preserved the image) as do the far more innocuous jars of jam on the window sill.

Whoever thought the kitchen was a scene of mundanity probably wasn’t looking…

In her essay “Look Here”, Mireille Eagan writes that “Ultimately, [Pratt] asks the viewer to see; she tells us: “Look, here.” Which is what the very best bloggers do too, instead of “Look at me!” using their blogs to implore their readers to, “Look at this!” The result of this being the “sideways autobiography” that Eagan refers to of Pratt’s work. There is no over-arching narrative here, and instead we come to understand the depth of these writers’ lives from the objects, moments and stories they choose to include in their blogs, each individual post its own still-life. Like Pratt, these bloggers are curating their lives, crafting something permanent out of the whirl of the ephemeral. As Eagan writes of Pratt: “Her images reveal a pattern of privacies, of things half-visible, half-said–but articulated, nonetheless. They represent a lifetime of looking closely, an intimation of the buzzing pause before one turns and continues.”

Between the Dark and the Daylight, 2011 oil on canvas 50.8 x 76.2 cm

MARY PRATT Between the Dark and the Daylight, 2011 oil on canvas 50.8 x 76.2 cm

Mary Pratt is available from Goose Lane Editions. Read more about this stunning book here.

October 25, 2010

El Anatsui and Margaret Drabble, via Heather Mallick

Photo courtesy

When I Last Wrote to You About Africa, the retrospective of Ghanian sculptor El Anatsui now on at the Royal Ontario Museum, was one of the most exciting, beautiful and powerful exhibitions I’ve ever seen. So you can imagine my delight upon reading Heather Mallick’s column last weekend, as she draws a parallel between the show and Margaret Drabble’s ideas as expressed in her latest book The Pattern in the Carpet. Marvelous worlds colliding!

Mallick writes of the exhibit:

I visited this weekend for the second time, for the pleasure of being shocked by beautiful acreage. The possible meanings leap out at me, what El Anatsui is saying about the way we live now.

I like to tell fellow ROM visitors (strange how they back away from me) about my theory, borrowed from the novelist Margaret Drabble, about why people are so angry and unhappy now. Suffering from the illness known as “affluenza”, they are told to view life as an economic ladder, a vertical clamber to success. But people are falling off the ladder now, or are stalled mid-rung, and it hurts.

Drabble says life is not a ladder but a jigsaw. It moves sideways and around, no one event knocking you into the abyss. Suddenly a job loss or a sick child or a bad divorce is just another piece in the broad jigsaw, part of a pattern in the carpet. No section of the jigsaw is more important than any other. This is a comfort when the wheels come off.

That’s what El Anatsui’s metal curtains say. The bigger ones do look like Canada, well-assembled and prosperous, with random wrinkles representing our national miseries.

March 4, 2010

franny and zooey by colleen heslin

franny and zooey by colleen heslin, as seen in issue 32.3 of Room Magazine. Image used here with permission of the artist. Because I love it.

July 25, 2009

Barren Ground Caribou

Order my Latest Novel


Sign up for Pickle Me This: The Digest

Best of the blog delivered to your inbox each month! The Digest also includes news and updates about my creative projects and opportunities for you to work with me.

Stop Wondering about Blogging, and Build a Blog That’s Wonder-Full:

Get My New Free Download: 5 MORE Prompts to Bring Back Your Blogging Spark!

Photo Kerry Clare with her Laptop

My Books

The Doors
Twitter Pinterest Pinterest Good Reads RSS Post