The Canadian Art Database

Victor Coleman

Gar Smith at the Isaacs Gallery (1978)
with Robert Fones

Only Paper Today, 1978.
[ 819 words ]

See the man who is taller than himself. He is looking over the roof of our house. I can almost imagine him looking over the treetops and the top edge of the blackboard. The man is rich. When he walks along money falls through the holes in his pockets. Money falls on the keys of the typewriter and he tells us about his personal vision, in keeping with his own expenses. See Gar's Myth, a heart of lead, a river of copper, a glass of mercury in his hand. He must be taller than you or eye to have written such things. A red light shines through this man's lead heart. The heart is hung scrotal on a wire from the ceiling. We see it plumb, at first, until encouraged to engage it. Unlike Mark Prent's victim of the electric chair the lead heart beats red light. The code of the pun/dit is the hundred yard dash, a hundred camels in the courtyard, a hundred unread faces of Berger in light Arab drag. The words on the walls are mostly small and forgettable. The larger, like signs, in this kindergarten pig-pen, big puns:


The writing's on the wall.

The writing's tunnels to walk thru, seeking a path thru the enchanted forest / quicksand and possessive roots, to the beating papier maché heart beating in the sunset over the tundra. There is a lot of money scattered under your feet. You can collect bucketfuls but it won't last. This kind of fortune always melts the instant you leave the place. What one wants another cherishes. These puns are the tunnels leading to the secret of how he kept the heart beating outside the body, how he kept the river flowing.

It is a mystery how those stencil animals could ever be anything but recognizable shapes. Most of us were afraid to learn how to write. There were complicated knots a river's sense of gravity would never get itself into.

See the critic wander through the tubular metal letters. He is relearning the alphabet. He begins, again, with A. Walk through. Your legs will make it. But you'll need your heart. The critic lost his heart when he decided he could describe the artist and his works. The artist works. The critic is a sponge, belabouring his own particular interests like a small child in kindergarten needing attention. The artist needs attention. The critic diverts it from him.

The dues the critic pays are pennies (from heaven?) scattered on both banks of the Mackenzie. We must not go too near the copper river. The last spike is driven into the lead heart, a red light, spiked, as in 'mickey'.

The artist maintains incredulity. He confuses it with content. Art is not art if it has no thread. Art weaves, in the heart, in the earth, in the silence of letters in a (s)pun. The sense of fun the artist evokes is called process.

We were afraid to learn possessive pronouns. They tried to make all the letters grey, but they weren't grey at first, they were copper and gold, the pricelessness of a word, signaling to us, a piece of sparkling glass on the banks of the (for example) Mackenzie River.

For example there were large letters that carried small letters in their bellies. Sometimes they were the same and sometimes they were not. They didn't give us any clues as to which was which.

A critic was guiding us.

The letter A, you will notice, is an isosceles triangle, two sides leaning against each other. We can find triangles, sprinkled generously in the Mackenzie delta, as generously as coins on dream beaches pecked by birds seen only in silhouette. They said it was easier to see pieces that did not overlap. Each bird innocently stamped on the obverse side of its own coin. It was the critic's duty, as guide, to explain all the methods by which corners could have been cut, portages could have been avoided. It was the guide's job to name everything before us, so that we would not stumble over clumsy metaphors. Now they're trying to tell us that the birds are black triangles, that the heart begins and ends with the alphabet.

But the explorer is the historian's ultimate victim; the empiricism of the critic binds the artist's intent in its own unclear warp, the pat on the back with its implicit knife. We wove out from the art into res/ponse, the implication of watchers watching, waiting for the word to drop. Mr Isaacs was noticeably worried about sales. 'First Mark Prent, then this! People will think I'm bananas.'

But the artist is impeccable in his revelation of process. The 'show', incomplete at the 'opening', continues to develop for at least a week. There was nothing on the walls that didn't come off.

Only Paper Today, 1978.

Text: © Victor Coleman. All rights reserved.

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