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August 29, 2011

A Brush with War in Victoria

Reflections of broken glass in Vancouver's Chinatown.
About a week ago or so when I was in Victoria for the day, I dropped in at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. I had finally made a visit to Emily Carr House and from there discovered that their was another exhibit of 50 Emily Carr paintings at the gallery.  I was pleasantly surprised to see more than a couple paintings there that I hadn't seen before so that was interesting. I've gained a much greater appreciation of Emily Carr's work after learning about her life through her writing and other books about her.

While I was standing looking at some of the work, a slightly older than middle-aged couple who looked like they might be on a date came in. They did a whirlwind tour and the first words out of his mouth were, "I really hate Emily Carr. I really don't understand how some of this can be considered important and I'm not one to just wander around a gallery like so many others pretending that I think it's good." As you can imagine, it took everything I had to keep my mouth shut. So, you come to an exhibit of Emily Carr as a little pre-date entertainment and yet you hate her. Alright. Idiocy has no boundaries.

Moving on from Emily Carr, what I hadn't expected and what turned into the highlight was the exhibit entitled, A Brush with War: Military Art from Korea to Afghanistan.  Did you know that there is something called the Canadian Forces Artist program (2001 - present)?

One artist, Gertrude Kearns really stood out for me. When I passed the painting she did in 1996 of a Canadian Soldier torturing a teenager in Somalia, I was riveted. I'm not sure a painting has ever caused such a visceral, instant reaction as this one did for me.  I'm not sure where I was or why I wasn't paying attention when it was first shown but I was stunned by Somalia 2, Without Conscience, a painting that was done from a photograph.

The exhibit consists of 30 post WWII paintings from the Canadian War Museum and other venues. Most of the paintings have never been see prior to this exhibit which was first shown in 2010 with 50 paintings.

The diversity of the work on display ranges from famous historic paintings by Alex Colville, A.Y. Jackson and Pegi Nicol MacLeod to contemporary artists including Kearns, William MacDonnell, Allan Harding MacKay Scott Waters and others.

If you're in Victoria, even if you think you couldn't possibly like art that depicts war, just put away all  preconceptions and be a wide-eyed, sponge-like observer. You could even schedule in a special talk by Canadian Photographer Ted Grant on September 1  that's taking place at the gallery at 7 pm.