The Canadian Art Database
 

   
Robert Stacey

Revisiting the Sources: The "Other" Art of Allan Harding MacKay

Published in conjunction with the exhibition Allan Harding MacKay: Source/Derivations, 21 January - 13 March 1994, organized by the Art Gallery of Windsor, Windsor, Ontario.
[ 32,971 words ]



"art grows out of other art "'

       — Robert Hughes, "David Smith, Sculptor'
         (Time Magazine, 1983)


Let us then sum up: Parallelism can be pointed out in the different parts of a single object, looked at alone; it is even more obvious when one puts several objects of the same kind next to each other.

Now if we compare our own lives and customs with these appearances in nature, we shall be astonished to find the same principle repeated....

When an important event is being celebrated, the people face and move in the same direction. These are parallels following each other....

If a few people who have come together for the same purpose sit around a table, we can understand them as parallels making up a unity, like the petals of a flower....


To be simple is not always as easy as it seems....

The work of art will bring to light a new order inherent in things, and this will be: the idea of unity.


       — Ferdinand Hodler, 'Parallelism' (ca. 1900)


This book exists as an attempt to provide the reader with an understanding of the artworks and the nature of their creator. It is hoped that it will offer a point of departure for the consideration of the existential issues to which the artworks refer.

       — Alf Bogusky, Foreword, A Book Of Not Knowing When We Are Going to Die Or Grow Up And Of Only Knowing A Little Bit (1982)


Art
is not life. It is not the river

carrying us away, but the motionless
image of itself on a fast-
running surface with which life
tries constantly to keep up.


          — R.S. Thomas, 'Revisiting the Sources'


Scrawled on the wall in Allan Harding MacKay's downtown Toronto studio is an unattributed maxim:

IF THERE IS NO SELF THERE ARE NO OTHERS.

No source is given. No interpretation, only bald statement.

'Revisiting the Sources' is an attempt to describe, and provide a background for, Source/Derivations III, an installation mounted and exhibited at the Art Gallery of Windsor in January 1994. Allan Harding MacKay (hereafter designated AHM) himself suggested that I augment this verbal rendering with a more extended personal account of the drawn-out process of writing itself: a sort of response to a response to the art of a third party. This second 'take', provisionally entitled 'Journey and Return', was originally to have appeared in the otherwise blank back pages of the textbook-format catalogue of S/D III (acronymed thus in the pages to follow) as envisioned by AHM. However, this invitational set of 'musings' (AHM's term) on the experience of experiencing a complex artwork, both as it evolved and as it revolved in memory, will have to wait for another time and another forum, as it outgrew the occasion and became a book-length meditation on the subject of how the creative encounter helps the self to become other and the other to become self. I'm grateful, however, to a generous and patient artist/collaborator for gently pushing me in the direction of this novel type of thinking about what it is that we are doing when we are looking at, remembering, reading about (and around), attempting to understand, and then struggling to express our thoughts and feelings about, the process of becoming culturally engaged beings. This 'other' text — in effect, a journal that is also an 'artificial fiction' — is my 'return' to AHM, in several of the many senses of that many-layered noun / verb. Though perforce hidden, it still finds echoes and reflections in the present essay, and my seekings underlie much of what is to follow within these covers.

Both parts, the one printed and its silent partner, begin at, with and from the same point of departure: those vaguely familiar yet perplexing words on the studio wall. Among the adventures (and vexations) of exploring so dense and yet so lucid a Gestamptkunstwerk as S/D III was trying, first, to locate not only the exact source of the quotation, but to pinpoint its clear and yet maddeningly elusive meaning, especially as it pertains to the making and receiving of art. And once I had located the source, another puzzle remained: the tracing of the literary quotation adapted by the 'source' artist of the installation — London, Ontario's Ron Benner (RB) — for the title of the work that had sparked AHM's variation-like 'derivations.' (The solution to the second mystery is to be found in the section of 'Revisiting the Sources' entitled 'TRAIN'.)

The quest for the origin and import of the sentence on the wall (revealed in the 'CODA' that concludes this essay) is a running theme of 'Journey and Return.' There, it is couched as a debate about what constitutes the 'other' in art and wherein lies the self without which art mirrors nothing. (As mentioned above, this second set of 'Expendable Chapters' lies in publication limbo but may someday see the 'virtual?' light. And light, I should stress, is a prevailing metaphor of, and for, the search-as-journey, the journey-as-search, the journey as return. The journey / journal of AS = IF.)

For present purposes, let the 'other' of this circular equation be that body of work, dating back to the 1970s, which I have taken the liberty of designating AHM's 'other art': i.e., that aspect of his diverse production that is not so much about other artworks and other artists, as an active response to the fact that no artist, and no art, is an island. This acknowledgment has particular significance for an ex-Prince Edward Islander who had to go to the mainland in order to find a vocation and a voice. All artists are, in a sense, isolated, but there is no such thing as isolated art — despite what certain critics with an axiom to grind might assert. ('Outsider' art may be a different story.)

Though perforce absent from the commentary here, the deeper philosophical implications of that vatic and yet elementary wall-statement of the need for the prior existence of strong selves before the reality of the Other can be admitted (which of course has a vice-versa mirror-image for the Other that is onto itself the Self, to whom, as for ourselves, all others are 'as other') hang in the background of the debate like double reflections in glass-framed portraits: phantoms of presence overlapping and (fore)shadowing the visages in view. We always impose the self (mine, ours) on the other, but the other (you, them) always rises to the surface when we try to reverse the gaze, peer back through the eyes into which we stare. The proposition WITHOUT THE OTHER THERE ARE NO SELVES seems self-evident. But the prior sine qua non of the reverse does not, and yet is. 'The motionless image of itself', as the poet put it.

As AHM's own discursive book-dippings worm their way into the very fabric of his art making, so my account of his 'other art' invites into the discussion the writings I happened to meet with in my own travels of 1994-98 while working on (among other things) both parts of this writing project. Why not, the artist mischievously prompted, reveal rather than conceal the con(text)ual tracks of the readings that accompanied the writing? For how we 'read' artworks depends on what else we might happen to be doing, and reading (and, of course, viewing) at the time — not at the very moment, perhaps, but before and after — especially when those artworks lead us to others that illuminate them and bounce their glimmer back for us.

These literary leakages seem further justified by the fact that we're influenced, whether we admit it or not, by what else is going on in our thoughts and imaginings and feelings, even as we try to concentrate on one particular object of attention. They are like overheard music, which subtly infiltrates the texture of the text, creating unexpected patterns, seemingly coincidental conjunctions of image and idea. For the most part, we screen out these intrusions as irrelevant. But are they always? Do they not sometimes suggest parallels and convergences, that can focus thought, crystallize meaning? What if, rather than censoring these outside voices, we allow them in, make them welcome — in effect, embrace them as collaborators, Malcolm Lowry-esque 'confabulators'? Acknowledge them as our own creative 'others'? Within reason, of course.... So as not to overburden the reader, some of these references have been placed in chapter-following sections headed 're/SOURCEs' [included with endnotes in the online version], according to the Lowry notion of a marginal or (as here) sub-textual 'gloss.'  (1)They are keyed by superscripted, bold-faced, italicized numerals; for ordinary non-glossolalial source-references, consult the endnotes at the end of the essay.

Flipping through this volume, the reader will find that isolated words leap off the page like the titles to shrouded texts, enforcing an idea already manifest in AHM's later waxed bookworks. 'Revisiting the Sources' ('R/S', if you will — or to invent the Foucaultian formula, 'Return and Retreat of Sources') is, after all, a chronological account by RS of AHM's serial S/D sequences, divided into short chapters headed by a key word suggested by the images, by their titles, or by the verbal ghosts swathed within the works like visual whispers: START / CHANGE / PROCESS / OPENING / PROJECT / DOUBLE / PEAK / COUNTENANCE / RIVER / SOURCE / MOUNTAIN / TRAIN / DRAW / SHIFT / CODA

In defence of a freely confessed preference for poetry, fiction and documentary prose over theory and that vulture, 'discourse', cultural studies, as guides to the nature and import of aesthetic experiences, let me cite a chastened Oscar Wilde's response to the witnessed mistreatment of an inmate by the staff doctor of Reading Gaol: 'The doctor is fighting for a theory. The man is fighting for his life. I am anxious that the man should win.' (2) Substitute 'critic' for 'doctor' and 'artist' — or, better still, 'art' — for 'man', then let the trial balloon be launched.


CHANGE

              in a season of detachment
              let us attend to small things
              against the larger drift


              — D.G. Jones, 'Three Cast with the I Ching'


In 1982 the Southern Alberta Art Gallery in Lethbridge published a book entitled A Book Of Not Knowing When We Are Going To Die Or Grow Up And Of Only Knowing A Little Bit, documenting an exhibition of AHM's waxed bookworks. (The curator of the show, Alf Bogusky, subsequently became the director of the Art Gallery of Windsor, which in 1994 played host to S/D III — Alf, meanwhile, like the sacred river, having moved on.)

Acting as a kind of portal / screen into the installation was the actual door opening onto the front room of the artist's home, which at that time was in Saskatoon. By papering over (with photographs of his daughter, Simone) and waxing each of the glass panes in this white wooden door, AHM had made clear openings opaquely translucent — a workable description of conceptual art. The 'statement' was by no means so confrontationally black-and-white as the Fresh Widow — French window lexically elided — by the godfather of Conceptualism, Marcel Duchamp. (3) As a 'real' door is meant to offer passage from one space to another, so AHM's appropriated one both admits and emits light, and so meanings. Note, incidentally, the waxed books on the converted washstand to the left of the entrance / exit. As 'prepared' books, so restored furniture: new contexts, new users. The tool of one age becomes the art(ifact) of another. Is art in the home intrinsically different from an artwork in a gallery or museum? Public and private meet in the vestibule, the door standing ajar.

Despite the thick, tome-like appearance of A Book of Not Knowing, this yellow-buckram-bound slab contained a minimum of text and images; the bulk was made up by several hundred blank pages. Upsetting expectations and guying pretensions (including his own) has been part of AHM's anacro-conceptualist bag of tricks since his student days in the late 1960s.

A Book of Not Knowing opens at an uncaptioned plate reproducing a 1980 work entitled Idealism part three. Below is a quotation from Italo Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveller:

It's not for reading, it's for making. I make things with books. I make objects. Yes, artworks: statues, pictures, whatever you want to call them. I even had a show. I fix the books with mastic, and they stay as they were. Shut, or open, or else I give them forms, I carve them, I make holes in them. A book is a good material to work with; you can make all sorts of things with it.

     The critics say what I do is important. Now they're putting all my works in a book.... A book with photographs of all my works. When this book is printed, I'll use it for another work, lots of work. Then they'll put them in another book, and so on.
[a]

And so, too, one could expect AHM to go on to 'use' A Book of Not Knowing for other works (and so on), just as he may add 'treatments' of the book you're now holding to his growing library of waxed bookworks. This logical progression is spelled out by Bogusky in his catalogue foreword, in which he invites the reader to

Consider this bound book. The format suggests authority, truth, unimpeachable knowledge made accessible — wisdom as resource. Printed text and the investment of formal binding lend gravity and persuasiveness to the words contained within. The well-intentioned may unknowingly set into print factual errors; at worst they might represent dreams or aspirations. Excepting levity, would they publish a book of lies?[b]

'Books', Bogusky continues,

may be made about works of art. Books may be works of art. This book is about art made from books. This book is about an artist who makes artworks from books. The majority of this book is unwritten, open-ended, to be continued. Blank pages invite further inquiry. Will the artist make art from this book?...[c]

The remainder of A Book of Not Knowing consists of ten brief 'chapters' by John Bentley Mays, then known to the Canadian cultural community as a novelist and General Idea sidekick rather than as the newspaper art critic and Emerald City Diogenes (not to mention hater of AHM's 'other art') that he would become.

The first 'chapter', with the Joseph Cornell-esque We Never Know When We Are Going to Die or Grow Up, We Only Know a Little Bit (after a saying of the young Simone MacKay), establishes the scene of the séance:

Outside the brown room, the winter's first snow sifts down through the windless sky of afternoon and gathers on the pavements of Saskatoon, white dust on undusted shelves. Inside the brown, dim room, Allan MacKay and me, these things: a stalk of incense and one candle burning, neither scent nor flame wobbling in the room's winter quiet. And the cloth-shrouded table littered with books and fascicles and sheaves of imagery — these things he has made. And these others, too, which I've come to catch in a bright net of language, and tame, and display in a book of my own making....[d]


Chapter II begins with this admonition:


     Try to find the centre.
     Or, if there's no centre to be found, try to find the unseen thread of desiring that links the scattered sheets, the books frozen in wax, the sound-tracks, the books waiting on his shelves for the isolation in wax or paint. (The work in this room does not mark the end of his activity, which continues now, as you are reading these words.)
     Or, if there is no thread or centre, decide there is no sense to it at all, at all. Decide these works are mere dada doings, this and that, time-killings on other still, winter afternoons in the places Allan MacKay has lived and worked — Halifax, Lethbridge, now Saskatoon.
     Or decide none of the above.
     Decide that these things in the room are only things that happened (which makes them no less important than things which are made to happen) on the way from there to now. Decide they can't be studied, though perhaps they can be known; and if we know them, we are knowing what Allan MacKay knows at the time of the making, which is only the little bit any of us know, at the time of any making, of anything at all.
[e]


Chapter III tells the story of how AHM, at a party in Halifax in 1973, found himself in a room with 'a girl and some scissors' and a paperback copy of Jean Genet's Funeral Rites:

He was pretty drunk, and he cut the book with the scissors, making a deep slice down about one-quarter of the way from the top edge of the book.
     Later on, he sobered up and saw what he had made (or destroyed: the same thing). Instead of making him feel guilty and repent for this sin of desecration, the mutilated book gave him an idea.
     So he made the text of his first book, entitled
Genet Cut, by taking the words on one side of the slice and finding out what they said without their companion-words on the other side of the slice.
     The book called
Genet Cut exists in only one copy. Its texts tell secrets Genet could not have imagined: Allan's scissors cut the ribbon, let loose new texts from the infinite numbers of texts in every book, let the story of that moment with the girl and scissors in the room in Halifax (or wherever it was) be told. And that story is Genet Cut. There could be no other story. Nothing else could happen then. His book tells us what it was; what he knew; what he knows in this moment in the book of change each life is, all history is, without any ending. (Should we wonder that all Allan MacKay has done is tinged with melancholy).[f]




Chapter IV returns us to the 'brown, dim room' and the historical present of the writer-artist encounter. And as I, more than a decade later, found myself in AHM's yellow-walled, brightly-lit but still Francis-Baconish Toronto studio (or, as I like to think of it, The Waxworks), contemplating the statement about the necessity of selfhood as an a priori condition before otherness can be recognized, so, back then, in Saskatoon, JBM casts out his 'bright net of language' and hauls in:

a copy of the Book of Change (I Ching) on Allan's shelf, among the printed books and the books of his own making, and take the coins in my hands, and (the appropriate homages having been made), I inquire of the oracle the nature of the time and season, using coins.

The first is hexagram 28, PREPONDERANCE OF THE GREAT.


I Ching hexagram

[ 'It is favourable to have some goal or destination in view, Success!... The superior man, though standing alone, is free from fear; he feels no discontent in withdrawing from the world.']

     And the hexagram of resolution into which the first one transformed itself is 45, GATHERING TOGETHER:

[ 'Gathering Together — Success!... It is favourable to have in view a goal or destination... The superior man gathers together his weapons in order to provide against the unforeseen.'][g]

'Every book, a book of change': top of Chapter v. 'He draws a line in a nothing-book',
Mays goes on,
and it becomes the something that is written in various ways throughout the book until the book becomes something which starts and stops, though the limits are arbitrary.

All lines are changing lines. This could go on forever.


Then, after a bird-shaped printer's 'flower':

ANOTHER VERSION OF CHAPTER FIVE

I open a nothing-book and there is nothing in it except these words: 'there wasn't enough reason to stop.'
[h]

From JBM's 'FIRST POSSIBLE ENDING FOR CHAPTER SIX:' 'Allan complains in passing of his hunger to read and his difficulty with reading (no paradox); his trouble is most grievous when he comes to the many philosophy texts he collects, but cannot read.'[I]

Further musing on the terrible silence of these 'mute' tome-tombs, these waxen book-sculptures, JBM concludes: 'The work moves like that, in its own ways, quietly moving at the edges of what we think art is, or things are in the world as we think it is.'[j]

Then a reprise of JBM's fortunate cast of the coins (Chapter VII): hexagrams 28 and 45. Followed by:

I go back to the oracle again, making the proper homages in my heart, fearful of the loss of love and strength which comes from wrong asking, and draw the seventeenth hexagram, FOLLOWING, from the total inventory of 64 possibilities:

('Thunder rumbling within a swamp... When darkness falls, the superior

I Ching hexagram

man goes within and rests peacefully.')
Which, in turn, generates the hexagram 63,
AFTER COMPLETION:

I Ching hexagram

('After completion — success in small matters.... Good fortune at the start; disorder at the end.... The superior man deals with trouble by careful thought and by taking advance precautions.... [but this sort of trouble can scarcely last long.]'][k]

And so, hastening past the brief allusion to AHM's Lethbridge tapes (too painfully full of Joycean solitude — 'the soul's wild war music' — to be listened to as concert or supper music), to this final picture:

Inside the brown, dim room, with Allan MacKay and me, these things: small moments of his knowing only a little, which is all he, or any of us, can grasp as we move along the edges, through the long unknowing of our lives here.[l]

Then, after a close-up of Idealism Part Three — the lost-wax candle in the book's gutter would be lit, then snuffed, in AHM's elegiac Self-Portrait — followed by the scissor-stabbed Untitled, Expulsion, and another work also titled Untitled: a blur, a blizzard of blank pages, a wordless whiteout. The intrepid back-and-forth flipper is rewarded with the surprise of Plate X, on a numbered page toward the very back of the book: an SX-70 Polaroid mug-shot of AHM as pie-eyed party boy taken by John Goodwin (then the Mendel Art Gallery's extension officer). An allusion, here, to Man Ray's famous 1924 photograph of Marcel Duchamp as lottery-boy, sporting a shaving-cream 'horn'?  (4)  Good-natured buffoonery, but also a pre-emptive strike against the charge that modern art and the modern artist take themselves altogether too seriously. (Again, on the premise that art is too important a business to be left to the 'serious'.)

In offering up its virgin whiteness for annotations, phone-messages and doodles — it could, of course, be left suggestively 'empty' — this quasi-non-book acquired objecthood, as if in anticipation of Micah Lexier's Book Sculptures of 1993 and its artist-designed catalogue: again, a thick clothbound book consisting primarily of blank pages, with a central gathering of glossy stock on which the photographs and texts were printed.[m]

The ideal copy of A Book of Not Knowing would have been the one doctored by AHM with his usual de-booking materials. Consciously or not, he was both invoking and revoking Stéphane Mallarmé's instructions for the printing of his final poem, Un coup de dés, the influence of which, Susi R. Bloch observes, 'spawns a progeny of innovative works.' For 'Mallarmé insisted upon a recognition of the meaning of format: a recognition which moved against the 'artificial unity that used to be based on the square measurements of the book.''[n] Au hazard, à la gare!


PROCESS

Process... 1. The fact of going on or being carried on; progress, course. 2. Course, lapse (of time).... 3. Course (of a narrative, etc.); drift, tenor, gist.... 4. A narrative; a discourse or treatise; a discussion.... 5. Something that goes on or is carried on; proceeding, procedure.... 6. A continuous and regular action or succession of actions, taking place or carried on in a definite manner; a continuous (natural or artificial) operation or series of operations.... b. A particular method of operation in any manufacture...; in recent use spec. applied to methods other than simple engraving by hand of producing blocks for printing from; ellipt. a print from such a block.... 7. Law. a. The whole of the proceedings in any action at law; the course or method of carrying on an action.... 8. fig. Of action, time, etc.: Progress, advance; development.... b. Logic. The act of proceeding from a term in one of the premises to the corresponding term in the conclusion.... 9. A formal command or mandate.... 10. A projection from the main body of something; esp. a natural appendage, extension, or outgrowth....

— The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.

...process itself seems worth exploring.

— David Markham, Malcolm Lowry's Volcano.


The process is always triangular, even if no work of art gets made.

— Guy Davenport. 'Eros, His Intelligence', The Hunter Gracchus (1996).

One of the ways in which artists traditionally have honoured otherness as a condition of achieved selfhood is through the making of art about, or in response to, other art. Some would say that all art, in this age of image saturation, is about other, previous art. To admit this is to give way to the terrible possibility that the critics are right: capital-A art of the dying twentieth century is élitist, incestuous and exclusionary, unable to deal with daily actuality or to meet the televisually numbed and dumbed-down public half-way. Honest artists know how little truly new art is made, and how even novel-seeming forms and images carry their precursors within them like DNA — or AIDS.

As we make ready for the next non-millennium, we must come to terms with the truth that artists, even more than writers, their fellow sufferers, have been repeating themselves for a very long time, without receiving any answer from the amorphous audience which they still believe is waiting for the signals that will win back their attention, which probably now is so electronically divided that it can never again be recaptured by any one medium....

Within words lie their own beginnings and their ends, as the English poet and artist Charles Tomlinson argues for the defence:

A process; procession; trial.

A process of weather, a continuous changing....

To process: to walk the bounds to lay claim to them, knowing all they exclude.

A procession, a body of things proceeding, as in the unending commerce of cloud with the seamless topology of the ground. Or a procession of waters....

A trial: the whole of the proceedings, including the complication and the unravelling. One accords the process its reality, one does not deify it; inserting among it, one distinguishes and even transfigures, so that the quality of vision is never a prisoner of the thing seen. The beginnings have to be invented: thus the pictograph is an outline, which nature, as the poet says, does not have. And the ends? The ends are windows, opening above that which lay unperceived until the wall of the house was completed at that point, over the sea.
[o]

And so, Procès verbal: 'minutes of a meeting, report.' Tabled here are the minutes of a meeting with the 'other' art of AHM, a report of an encounter, an exploration of what happens when a body of work is approached in this non-linear, non-'interpretive', anti-theoretical, personal way. (Which happens, I believe, to be the way in which most of us 'process' art, even and including 'process art.')

If the ends are windows, are the beginnings doors?

AHM's S/D series — which I distinguish from his other art because it is explicitly 'about' the work of other artists — is based on the premise that there is an outside world to which the observer / artist must respond in order to remain a participant in the communicative process on which our embattled idea of civilization is founded. This is both an old-fashioned and an audacious notion. Why? Because it presupposes a commitment to the concept of democratic process itself, as defined in the Pocket Oxford: the 'State of going on or being carried on, the course of,...; action or experience that goes on, series of connected actions or changes...; method of operation in manufacture &c...; method other than hand-engraving of making blocks for printing from; an action at law, summons or writ; an outgrowth or projection from a bone &c....'

An outgrowth or projection....
Something to look forward through.
A threshold.
A fresh window.
A gambit.
An opening.


OPENING

AHM is an interesting case, but whether we can call him a case in point remains to be seen. A respected sometime gallery director, he has managed, throughout his distinguished artistic career, to produce a substantial body of work uniquely manifesting a mastery of traditional drawing and painting techniques overlaid with conceptual tactics and concerns, and including sound pieces, performances, installations, artists' books, videos, what-have-you.

In this regard, he has an analogue in the British painter Tom Phillips, who contributes to literary periodicals, has had musical compositions performed on radio, and has published a number of bookworks, including an illustrated translation (by his own hand) of Dante's Inferno, an opera, and, most famously, the text from which the opera's libretto was derived, his ongoing 'treated Victorian novel', A Humument, This 'life-long' project was begun by happy accident: the discovery in a furniture repository on Peckham Rye ('where Blake saw his first angels and along which Vincent van Gogh had probably walked on his way to Lewisham') of a popular reprint of the once-popular W.H. Mallock's successful Victorian three-decker, A Human Document.

As Phillips relates (in a self-deprecatory style akin to that used by AHM to explain the adventitious origins of his own waxed-book technique), 'this work started out as idle play at the fringe of my work and preoccupations. I had read an interview with William Burroughs ... and, as a result, had played with the 'cut-up' technique, making my own variant (the columnedge poem) from current copies of The New Statesman. It seemed a good idea to push these devices into more ambitious service.' By 1987 Phillips could announce that, to date, he had extracted from his exceptionally fruitful source 'over one thousand texts, and have yet to find a situation, statement or thought which its words cannot be adapted to cover. To cite an example' — and here Phillips again unconsciously echoes the chance-method alluded to in A Book of Not Knowing:

I was preparing for an exhibition in Johannesburg (May 1974) and wanted to find some texts to append to paintings. I turned (as some might do to the I Ching) to A Human Document, and found, firstly: wanted. a little white opening of thought

and secondly:

delightful the white wonder
to have the sport and grasses.
The ancient dread
judgment now has come
judgment suddenly black from a distance.
expected, hurrying on.

Try a new turn
back to reason.
[p]

Phillips's self-invented method of extracting counter-narratives in his endlessly resourceful found text by isolating individual words and 'rivers' of type through scoring, hatching, painting-over and collaging, finds a fascinating correlative in AHM's more chaste, monochromatic method of coating old books (junk store and rummage-sale pickings, for the most part), exhibition catalogues, and photocopies of art reproductions in successive strata of melted paraffin wax, or layering photographs with tracing paper, then scraping away, incising and curling back these translucent coverings to expose crucial words and phrases. This activity, pursued on and off since 1976, is an important if rarely exhibited aspect of AHM's output, resumed in 1993 in the Toronto Book Series. 'The encrusting of the books', he explained in 1989, 'still satisfied my urge for painting.... It had a lot to do with the scumbling of Impressionism.'[q]

The 'objectification' of the book by artistic means long antedates AHM and Phillips, of course. 'A book done for its own sake, and not for the information it contains': so Dick Higgins — whom AHM got to know during his days as director of the Anna Leonowens Art Gallery of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax — defined this artistic hybrid in the preface to the 1985 'critical anthology and sourcebook', Artists' Books. 'That is: it doesn't contain a lot of works, like a book of poems. It is a work. Its design and format reflect its content — they intermerge, interpenetrate. It might be any art: an artist's book could be music, photography, graphics, intermedial literature. The experience of reading it, viewing it, framing it — that is what the artist stresses in making it.' And, as Higgins hastens to add, 'The illusion is that it is something new. Not so. Blake's most visual books are obviously early artists' books. But probably there have always been some of them being done. But many are lost, and many nearly lost.'[r]

Some — most? — artists' books are perhaps not even intended to be 'read' in the orthodox sense. Indeed, their makers often make impossible the reading of their own or others' words, as if doing so were inimical to the act of visual and tactile reckoning. While tapping into the semi-sacred cachet of the Book, with its lingering charge of biblical or koranic authority, these biblioclasts divert what remains of its auratic energy into the three-dimensional art object which may be held and touched as well as looked at — even smelled, as in the case of the waxed book — but not digested as text, except in fragments. To return lexical symbols from their connotative state as the signifiers of ideas and meanings to their origins as denotative marks is to exult the triumph of the brush / chisel / lens over the pen / keyboard / mouse. The visual over the verbal.

Post-literacy fetishizes the book not as cargo-cultists sacralize First World flotsam, but rather in ironic observance of the unread tome as tomb, to invoke an AHM pun dating from his From Charlottetown to Mogadishu exhibition at Toronto's Extension Gallery in October-December 1993. Ironic, because the less people read — late twentieth-century society reverting to the condition of the fifteenth century, when only five percent of the population could spell their names — the more books become coveted as possessions, conveyors of status, containers of 'hidden values'.

The extreme of this tendency is not the coffee-table book but the non-book, the buried book, the subject of the mock-solemn rite of book-sepulture as epitomized by Marcel Broodthaer's Pense-Bête (Think like an animal], a 1964 construction consisting of books, paper, plaster, plastic spheres and wood. (5)  (Not, of course, that the creators of such virtual objets object to their treatment in conventional read-only formats, so long as the commentators buy into the myth that, in circumventing the commercial gallery system, the artists' book — almost always limited to a minute run, where not in fact unique — is somehow 'democratized', liberated from mercantile fetters. Not so that it can be read, of course, but collected, fondled, so that it can be traded, sold and exhibited.)

Unlike other artistic (de)constructors of written speech, Tom Phillips and AHM  (6)  are true concrete poets of the word-as-image and the imaged word. Although they alter 'found' or 'given' texts to their own ends (much, come to think of it, as Max Beerbohm, Marcel Duchamp and Joe Orton did in their seditious doctorings of photographs and library books), their efforts enjoin us to concentrate on certain words (AHM) or phrases and sentences (TP) which in unveiled or outlined isolation take on new and unexpected yet often revelatory meanings. Meanings which may run contrary to the drift of the books in which they are discovered, but which could be said always to have been latent in the ur-text, waiting for the waxing-brush, scraper, paint-pot, scissors and glue-stick (or, now, the full kit-and-kaboodle of PhotoShop) to free them from their imprisoning contexts. To claim other men's (and women's) books as their own.

Neo-Dadaist bricoleurs both, TP and AHM wittily subvert the ordinary appearances of everyday things — including other art — by probing under the surface to reveal a multi-layered palimpsest of alternate readings, a plurality of worlds beneath the monist mask. But unlike Phillips, who has become increasingly conservative (to the point of having his works acquired and exhibited by London's National Portrait Gallery), AHM remains an inquiring inside-outsider, resolutely experimental in attitude and practice, an abashed idealist who values ideas even when inaccessible to himself.  (7)  And yet, with William Carlos Williams, he finds 'no ideas but in things'. But before Joycean homecoming to the idea must come Joycean exile from the idea of home.

And so, an ex-Maritimer turned urban-prairie mountaineer, surrounded by unreadable but beautiful books, AHM sought in the shuttered night studio the unattainable summit of the non-existent yet ideally real Isolation Peak.


PROJECT

The equivocal room is a window which, conscious of its existence, I see that landscape ...and that landscape, I have known it for a very long time.

— Fernando Pessoa, 'In the Forest of Dreaming Solitude', The Book of Disquiet (ca. 1910-30, tr. Iain Watson).

Picture, then, a solitary Canadian artist seated in a kitchen. Outside the window tower saw-toothed, snowcapped peaks which might be mistaken for the Rocky Mountains but in fact are the Swiss Alps. He ignores the vista, staring instead at a square of white watercolour paper.

Scattered here and there throughout the apartment are his latest waxed bookworks, making up for those he left behind or junked as excess baggage on moving with his then wife, Irene Keim MacKay, to Switzerland. These poetic new works incorporate folded paper boats made back in Saskatoon by his daughter, Simone, an addition that turns a single act of creation into a collaboration. Why boats? Something, perhaps, about being cut adrift at the fogbound top of the world, a stranger in a strange land whose languages he does not speak or read, whose customs and cuisine leave him cold, where his past achievements and future projects count for nothing.... Yet where, after a decade of sporadic production interrupted by the demands of a career in arts administration, AHM is once again channelling his energies into the re-establishment of his identity as an artist. Some new medium, some new method, some new subject is calling. As he will explain a few years later to a Toronto art critic, 'I started to question why I was continuing to do them', — i.e., the doctored book pieces — 'so I bought a watercolour pad and some watercolours and began to do some small landscape pieces on the kitchen table.'[s]

After a ruminative pause, he reaches out to grasp a chunk of chalk pastel and proceeds to do what comes naturally to someone of his inclinations and background: to draw. An accomplishment he has largely suppressed — unlearned, even — during his past decade of serious clowning and dancing through the tangle of chance. Ideas sketched on the sheet of snow-white paper in turn evolve into schemes traced on the snow-white basement-studio wall. As in the tabletop doodlings, the 'model' or 'motif' is not 'from life'; rather, the draughtsman surely and swiftly traces the salient forms of a portrait, a figure or a landscape thrown by a projected colour slide through the mote-thick, smoke-filtered velvety blackness to the picture surface. (Art-historical acid flashback: the magic-lantern headlamp of the first truly modern painting, J.M.W. Turner's Rain, Steam and Speed, with Roy Lichtenstein treading the Ben Day-dotted footplate.)

Though academically unconventional, the studio operation is still that timeless, nationless gestural waltz, drawing. Lines. Outlines. Shadings. Forms. No colour yet. A kind of graphic graffiti, verbless and nounless, yet eloquent of the image-maker's experience of finding himself an isolated, invisible stranger at an unfamiliar alpine altitude in a foreign country, appallingly vertiginous after almost a decade on the sprawling apron stage of the great plains of Alberta and the Saskatchewan prairies. A vertically trapped man is beginning to draw his way out of his cell, crawl his way back into the veil / vale of looking.

Stranded in his equivocal room on the thin-aired rooftop of Europe, far from the sources of his conceptualist mischief-making (though transplanted to the republic whose art once belonged to Dada), our reborn draughtsman reflects on the series of events, accidents, coincidences, brainstorms that have led him to expand his established practice of waxing books and recording sound and performance pieces to include the painting of watercolour landscapes on the kitchen table, a re-enactment of childhood scribbles and dabblings on the same familial surface in his native P.E.I. Drawing had been, after all, a daily practice that conferred a measure of traditional mastery which could be used as a shield, even as a weapon, a defence against insecurity. The kid who can sketch his or her way out of tight spots has a solution to adult problems years before they come to bear. Now, filling a new gap, drawing takes on a new urgency and assumes a new pertinence, serving to connect through graphic reflection.

He begins tentatively, with portraits of Irene, drawn many times life-size from projected slides, a method of which he makes no secret and for which he feels no need to apologize. The projection, for AHM, is 'a shorthand' to replication, not a post-Lichtensteinian exposed secret. Electronic technology, by his account, provides 'structural fidelity' to the postmodern draughtsman, just as the camera lucida did to his eighteenth-century precursor. The traced slide is to the completed artwork as the Group of Seven oil sketch on pine panel was / is to the finished studio canvas.

At some point it has occurred to the alienated artist that Canada, however hostile to original statement, however lacking in Gertrude-Steinian 'thereness', is where he has to come to terms with the image and the self. Not Europe, supersaturated field of older cultures, sources, art. So he returns, and his gaze fixes again on an art history that he had temporarily evaded by shifting his base to the Old World.

The self — one's own, those of others — is an entity whose physical evidence can be drawn, drawn from, drawn out, drawn into, drawn together. For an artist like AHM, to draw is to be; to be is to draw. To draw conclusions may be the art historian's indulgence, but the conclusion of drawing is a fixed image that fuses its media on the page with even more bite (mordida) than that of light on the emulsified film and exposed plate. Matrix: mother lode.

It is hardly surprising that, encircled by domineering mountains, the self-imposed exile should have turned inward, to the roots of his own identification as an artist. The sole member of his family to seek higher education, the only one to choose (or be chosen by) the creative arts, AHM was last to leave behind the red clay of The Island for parts west — and now further east. It is equally logical that a process of intense self-reflection should next invoke the muses of memory and autobiography.

The idea of ranging back to his home turf and finding out what had become of his teenage buddies — and to himself — was planted in AHM's mind during a flying visit to Charlottetown in connection with some now-forgotten cultural chore. In conversation with Mark Holton, then chief curator at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery and Museum in the P.E.I. capital, he came up with the concept of an exhibition of large portraits of five families, four of them local. This entailed a summer's work gathering the necessary pictorial and photographic material and conducting interviews, which served as the basis for the large worked-up drawings completed back in Bern. The results, dedicated to the artist's deceased father, sister and brother, were exhibited at the Confederation Centre in the spring of 1986. Characteristically, the dedication concluded with a citation from the I Ching: 'Coming back is in accord with Keeping Still.' Homage and respect may have been intended, but — AHM being who he is — an element of absurdity could not be prevented from creeping in.

The critic and curator Bruce Ferguson observes of this series that

by addressing the friends and families from his adolescence in Charlottetown, he is addressing the similarities of their present conditions (married with families, same age, etc.) but also difference as represented by choices of partners, new genetic combinations in the children, physical aging, etc.).

On first glance, these new portraits are not flattering (including MacKay's self-portrait with a nose resembling a Swiss mountain). But closer inspection (the scale, the materiality) releases to us not the attempt to be representations reproduced faithfully, but rather desires — strong desires for the lived experience of these bodies through time to be communicated. Knowing the body to be that 'connective tissue' (of community, of memory, of the 'home-sickness'), MacKay has constructed larger-than-life portraits which conceptually try to grasp importance: the importance of relations, of family members, of the artist to his childhood and his present. They are exaggerations, but necessary ones for a feast of the forgiving body, acceptance of reality as a principle of nourishment (like MacKay's 'deep voice' on audio tapes — an exaggeration of voice which is at once authoritative and equally pokes fun at itself.
][t]



One could almost describe such works — signs as they are of 'the kind of homesickness one always has for the known and the secure' — as evidence of a 'nostalgia for others', a hunger for knowledge about other lives as well as about one's self (which remains, like all those others', all those others, profoundly unknowable).

This occasion gave AHM the opportunity to include himself in not one but two of the Five Families series: The MacKay Family and the exhibition's centrepiece, entitled Five Guys: 'Juddie', 'Preacher', 'Lunker', 'Jack', 'Rick.' (The artist, in the middle, but also in the background, is 'Lunker', his sister's closest approximation of the name 'Allan.'), the other four being the male-bonding paterfamilii of The Hancock Family, The Hynes Family, The MacMillan Family and The Rowe Family.

If, as for most figurative artists, self-depiction is the beginning of the investigation, for AHM it is never the end. Interestingly (and revealingly), his self-portraits never portray the subject in brooding isolation — the usual tactic of practitioners of the autoritratto — but as a social, filial and familial being.  (8) However, AHM most often places his quizzical and self-questioning visage in the background, peering as if from the sidelines. In the case of Five Guys, he uses this distancing device to comment on the convivial bond shared by those who stayed behind, who 'kept still', who conformed rather than broke away, and whose contentment, bonhomie and camaraderie alike are denied the exiled rebels who, Stephen Dedalus-fashion, must escape the domestic circle and the strictures of local and national cultures to paint the uncreated consciousness of their home-bound kindred. At the same time, AHM expresses regret at the exclusion from old acquaintance and old habits resulting from that physical, spiritual and temporal remove upon which the production of art is predicated. In so doing, he acknowledges the irony that the very calling which conferred the ability to make these testaments of sorrow, love and anger — interrogations, if you like, of longing and belonging — has produced the condition it records.

This is not to say that AHM subscribes unquestioningly to the modernist theory of alienation as both the prerequisite and desired result of the artistic life. In his text for the catalogue of Five Families, Bruce Ferguson calls attention to the artist's immersion in an 'oral community' which finds graphic expression in so old-fashioned a medium as portraiture — portraiture executed, more to the point, on a heroic scale, which can sometimes confer upon larger-than-life human forms some of the distorted logic of caricature:

he values (and this incessantly) the physical moment captured, when the communication of imagination is seen in ... the movement of the everyday; the living actors and actresses on the constantly improvised stage of behaviour (when we unconsciously 'give away' ourselves). This is a project of questions and curiosity over answers and full-blown methods of theory.

In short, he is a realist, but of the exaggerated sort; what Bakhtin has elaborated for us as 'grotesque realism'; a producer of an art which begins in the material body and celebrates the lower stratum, the intellectual discourse of the body that eats, drinks, copulates, smells and feels. The body as a ground zero for experience before articulation, before socialization, before all rules (including those of language) governing correctness. In Bakhtin's work, the bodily element in 'grotesque realism' is deeply positive or assertive, as fertility, growth, and a 'brimming-over abundance.'



Bakhtin's 'essential principle of grotesque realism', although it is deliberately 'lowering', Ferguson proposes, 'may be described as a caring for the physical world, and for its possibilities, its desires, its foibles, its weak defence of itself against entropy and death.'[u]

The family portraits, like the Hodler series, (which in turn would lead to the Perfect Mountain sequence), and the Critical Countenances (to be discussed in due course), were all produced more or less concurrently, each idea feeding off, and feeding, the others.  (9) Yet clarity requires that they be discussed separately. Because of the overlaps, this procedure inevitably contradicts chronology, suggesting that developments that were taking place simultaneously and in step with others followed in discrete sequence on the heels of the ones outlined before. Artists working in real time rarely end projects cleanly before beginning new ones; art history prefers that they do, for the sake of neatness and coherence. In the case of AHM, certain ideas and explorations are on-going, first over years and now over decades; other concerns, put aside but not abandoned, are revived according to circumstance and stimulus.  (10)

DOUBLE

One of the principal inspirations for AHM's overlapping portrait series was the Swiss Symbolist painter Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918), the most prolific and pitilessly analytical of self-portraitists after Rembrandt. Initially attracted to his landscapes in the Kunstmuseum, Bern while resident in Switzerland, AHM began an intensive investigation of his figurative work, resulting in the homages that make up the Variations on Hodler series of 1985-86, incorporating both self-portraits and mountain pictures.

In the catalogue of the exhibition of AHM's Hodler Series, mounted at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff, Alberta in March 1986, Elizabeth Brown observed that the Swiss artist's Symbolist paintings

provide MacKay with a vast source of material that he uses as a vehicle for self-definition and problem solving.... These large oil pastels on brown paper chronicle a variety of stances MacKay takes in relation to the master painter; he accomplishes this both narratively and formally. Using as reference the numerous self-portraits (paintings, drawings and photographs) Hodler produced over his lifetime, and taking his own self image from slides, MacKay has described a series of 'dialogues' that occur between himself, Hodler and, occasionally, the viewer.

In some, Hodler is shown as a fellow artist and an equal. Most often, however, he appears as the older, more established painter. While the image of MacKay studies the artist with apprehension or wonder, the bust of Hodler, large, florid and usually dominating the picture, gazes confidently and unswervingly out at the viewer. He seems completely oblivious to us or to the young, anxious artist inhabiting his space. Sometimes MacKay also looks out at the viewer, but quizzically, over his shoulder or pointing to Hodler as though he were wondering what we might make of the two of them.
 (11)


'The metaphor of the artist fledgling "getting into the picture" with the image of an (established) artist, is intended', says MacKay; 'the unknown (MacKay) vying for the attention with the known (Hodler) within the same frame.'

By the introduction of role-modelling or, as MacKay puts it, 'artistic coat-tailing and the corollaries of imitation and practice', he maintains an intellectual parallelism. Like an ever-repeating object in a mirror, mirroring itself, the role of artist as master and student revolves into infinity.[v]

Hodler has never been far from AHM's mind since his discovery of this long-neglected master's work in the mid-1980s. In identifying the pictorial legacy of a predecessor as worthy of investigation and commentary, he manifests a largeness of perspective reach rare in a Canadian artist of any era; for although the postmodernist rhetoric of inclusion, reassessment and appropriation suggests that the past is finally once again accessible, it rarely is 'accessed', except with the ironic knowingness of reactive hindsight. Why? Because, jettisoned by our educational system and abandoned by our media, the past is now generally known only at an archival or museological level. Elsewhere, it is valued largely as 'evidence' of how terribly unenlightened the dead were about everything — their laws, their mores, their beliefs, their sexuality, and, not least, their art.

In the case of Hodler, the attention of the Canadian errant was not aroused simply by the length of the shadow cast by his lingering presence in Switzerland. His fascination with serial imagery, his obsessive self-analysis, his search for symbolic pattern and meaning in the apparent randomness of human existence, his love of symmetry and rhythmic doublings, even the 'chalkiness' of his palette, in which AHM saw a parallel with his own use of chalk pastels, all struck a chord that continues to resonate long after this first encounter of dead and living artists in the contested ground of the museum.

AHM's six-part Self-Portrait with Hodler series is an open and direct confession of the unavoidable 'anxiety of influence'. In each of these large oil and chalk pastel drawings (as in Five Guys), he depicts himself peering over the shoulder of his great exemplar, now 'quizzically', now pensively, now with bemusement. But AHM resists the impulse to place ironic quotation marks around his own not-entirely-uncritical admiration of Hodler, and likewise the temptation to ape (or guy) the expressive excessiveness of Germanic late-Romanticism. Why? Perhaps because, whatever else Hodler may have represented or, like Nietzsche, foreshadowed, he was not a nihilist in art; his faith in the philosophical grounding of constructive, gestural draughtsmanship as the foundation of all (western) art was, like AHM's, unshakable.

In Hodler Self-Portrait: Night Variation, AHM introduces, like floating thought-balloons, three of the sleepers in Hodler's brightly lit Night (1889-90; Kunstmuseum, Bern). The Michelangelo-esque male is a muscular self-portrait; the sinister apparition crouches upon the terrified waking dreamer (again, with the face of the artist himself), only now the nightmare figure is cloaked in white rather than black. Angel of death-in-life (or life-in-death?). The first two will reappear in Landscape: Night Elements after Hodler (1985), transposed into the centre of Hodler's Thunersee or Lac de Thun of 1905, while the nocturnal visitant (whose shape AHM irreverently refers to as 'the erection under the blanket') makes a surprise aquatic return in a found newspaper photograph of the cliff-lined Irish coast, which AHM framed in waxed tracing paper and inscribed with a line from the I Ching, 'THE GENTLE MEANS CROUCHING' — the last word alluding to the way the upflung spray from a wave, rotated thirty degrees to the left, can be read as Hodler's crouching 'ghost'.

Hodler becomes more integrally a part of one of his own pictures in AHM's Requiem for Hodler (1985), his bowed head in profile echoing those of the monkish old men in Eurythmie (1895; Kunstmuseum, Bern), in a procession AHM has 'flipped' so that the file becomes a double-parallelism frozen even more deeply in time and space than the originals. Oddly, he has enlivened these self-mourners through the addition of colour — blue, yellow, red — to their robes, which in Eurythmie are creamy white. Another alteration is the addition of a mountain ridge whose silhouetted peaks repeat the rhythm of the drooping heads of the vieillards en monôme.

'Flipping and symmetrizing' are AHM's terms for this radical extension of Hodlerian Parallelism (itself a theoretical resolution of the problem of how to present bodies in motion). This tactic was given a large-scale airing in the wall-length drawing on heavy-grade brown wrapping paper that dominated his 1985 installation at Halifax's Eye Level Gallery, Beispiel/Example. The central figure — a stooping woman who, back-to-back with her reversed double, forms what AHM refers to as a murky 'cauldron-shape' of charcoal smears, scumblings, stump-strokes and paint-streaks — was drawn from a 'disturbing' photograph found in a book, which itself was waxed for inclusion in this show on a pedestal, surrounded by the dark dance of the images. (12) AHM would carry on this process of selecting for quotation certain isolated features or compositional elements of a picture and inverting, rotating and doubling them. Two years later, in the first of the Source/Derivations sequence, he went to further though less somber extremes.

The suspended Hodler series was revived in 1995, when AHM learned that the Art Gallery of Ontario was to host the travelling survey exhibition Ferdinand Hodler: Views and Visions, organized by the Swiss Institute for Art Research, in the spring of that year, as a kind of one-artist follow-up to the Barnes Collection extravaganza, but one which offered an alternative take on early modernism. In response, AHM produced several new Hodler Variations, two of which were included in the solo exhibition entitled Portrait + Hodler Series Drawings, concurrently held at Toronto's Genereux Gallery in March. In one of these, a 'collaborative' Self-Portraits with Hodler: Revisited, the older artist is positioned behind the younger, who bravely acknowledges his own aging. Both are now staring interrogatively into the eyes of the viewer as if in silent inquiry as to the point of their common enterprise of looking, at the end of this image-ridden yet visually illiterate century.  (13) With this work the implied mentor and disciple become döppelgangers, co-conspirators and secret sharers, both seeing and being seen double. The supposedly penetrative and invasive male gaze turns back on itself, reflectively interrogating while submitting to the viewer's intense, critical scrutiny. Seeing 'double' = double seeing?

Another 1995 work on paper, subtitled Decap, which was not in the show, departs from the earlier variations by superimposing (Shroud of Turin-like) the impression of AHM's own face on the subject's dress in Seated Figure Portrait of Emma Schmidt-Müller.

Reflecting the artist's urban central-Canadian location, these latter-day homages lack the landscape references of their precursors. Like the Toronto Book Series, they are studio creations, indoor meditations on the role of art and the act of art making in the dying days of the twentieth century. Their chiaroscuro elements and monochrome sepia cast denote a sardonic pessimism absent from even the most ambiguous of the earlier Hodler pieces, even though those works were also expressions of professional and personal isolation and deep self-questioning. This said, it must be remarked that AHM is never more humourous than when he is being serious, and vice-versa. This dual voicing, in which dark and light are figuratively and literally mixed and balanced, is especially present in the Perfect Mountain series, which arose from, or evolved in parallel with, the Hodler variations.


PEAK

'I had a particular fascination with mountains, with their majesty and power', AHM told a reviewer in 1988. This admission came at the end of an intense three-year engagement with the alpine theme, as concrete reality, as ideal concept, and as psychological integer. The 'atmospheric changes around them' he found 'equivalent to mood changes.'[w] Mood changes both personal and national, for while studying (if not climbing) mountains, he had the advantage of being able to reflect on European and North American geography, history and culture both at a remove and up close, and in relation to each other. Through that investigation, he affirmed his essential Canadian-ness, ultimately identifying with the Rockies rather than with the Alps, through the medium of a Swiss painter's passionate fixation on his own confederation's landlocked fastness.

Although he could not have known that he would be spending the better part of the 1980s in Hodlerland, AHM had mountains on his mind at least a half-decade before his five-year Swiss sojourn began in 1983. The pyramid-shape resulting from one of the aleatory folding tactics in his Folded Book Piece of 1977 seems, from the vantage-point of retrospect, both prophetic and inevitable: the tentative start of a progression that would culminate, though not necessarily terminate, in 1992.

This one-off project can be seen as both an expansion of the artist's book pieces into the wall-works that came after and a forerunner of such 'extended drawings' as Beispiel/Example and Some Critical Countenances. It was undertaken concurrently with the Abstract Series of oil and chalk pastel drawings, which already were assuming the proportions and 'presence' of full-blown paintings. As Elizabeth Brown explained in her note on the Hodler Series of 1985-86,
MacKay's use of overt, structural elements originates in a series of oil on paper abstracts shown at the University of Lethbridge in 1977. This reinforcing of shapes and lines echoes what he recognizes as an intrinsic order or patterning in all things. The theory is very similar to the principle of 'Parallelism' developed by Hodler in the 1890s. Parallelism was a philosophy of order and beauty based on the observation of the unity and harmony that underlies nature....[x]


Witness, too, the emergent silhouette of a saw-toothed range in one of these transitional abstractions: memory of a distant Rockies vista? As in the Folded Book Piece, the use of Paynes grey in this series itself harks back to AHM's East Coast days with their associations of colour-muting fog and mist. In time, that persistent tonality would heighten in hue, chroma and value as golden yellow came to wash away the headachy grey.

Now, on another continent, the artist felt the sheer unavoidableness of the craggy, snowcapped surroundings crowding in on all sides. The trouble with mountains is that, being physically and metaphysically omnipresent, they can't be ignored. Hence the animus directed toward them by so many writers and artists.  (14) Yet also their attraction for painters and poets in search of reliable epiphanies, on-order OMs and ahhs. AHM, as in so many other areas, takes a stance somewhere between — or rather, to one side — of the two extremes, acutely observing, all ears and eyes.

As it happened, AHM was not forced to react to the overblown perpendicularities of Switzerland by mere accident of propinquity: he again sought refuge in the hermetic darkness and solitude of the domestic basement where he projected selected slides on the wall. Slides this time not of photographed friends and family members, precursors and source/erers, though these presences, too, would soon enough be blended into the mix. Slides, rather, of photographed mountains, which he traced in charcoal and chalk.

The year 1985 may have been emotionally and professionally fallow for AHM, but it was creatively fertile. The Self-Portrait with Hodler and Hodler Variations series coincided with the beginnings of the Perfect Mountain sequence and the mounting, at Toronto's Mercer Union gallery, of Mountain My Yes and other densities, a multi-part, multi-media installation that included two long horizontal drawings of the Alps, a self-portrait of the artist at an invisible piano (inscribed 'KEEPING STILL'), a portrait of Irene Keim MacKay, a waxed copy of James Joyce's Trieste-Zürich-Paris-written Ulysses, and, weaving ethereally through all these components, a half-sung, half-spoken, part-found audiotaped sound-collage. The whole was seen by at least one critic — The Globe and Mail's John Bentley Mays — as a return to, and a confession of, love for the artist's work, the materials this work requires, the skills learned in school and on the job: a hymn, in fact, to the innate spirituality of the material world, and the no-less innate materiality of the spiritual.

The installation's title, as so often in AHM's practice, has a literary source: the phrase 'yes my mountain flower', from Molly Bloom's breathless, (auto)erotic soliloquy at the conclusion of Ulysses, which the artist verbally inverted for emphasis on the mountain: i.e., mountain, my eye(s)? The drawing — the first of the mural-scaled mountain pieces — is based on a composite panoramic view of the Swiss Alps as seen from the balcony of the artist's in-laws, just outside Bern. A hint of the image's origins can be detected in the 'accidental' mountain silhouette in at least one of the Abstract Series. It is a late contribution to the genre of the sierran Sublime that dates from the German Romantics of the early nineteenth century — Kaspar David Friedrich, Carl Gustav Carus et al.  (15) — and was converted into a moral-aesthetic gospel by Ruskin, who proposed Turner (and later, John Brett) as the exemplary celebrant of the mineral expression of Nature's immanent divinity in 'the broken line of the great Alpine battlements'.

The question raised by AHM's post-Romantic meditations on mountain glooms and mountain glories is: to what degree are these treatments of so exhausted a subject ironic or tongue-in-cheek? Are they 'about' mountains and mountain-ness, or about our bankrupt cultural condition, which prescribes emotional and spiritual responses to a natural realm rendered alien by the very art that sought, throughout the last century and into our own, to elevate the sanctity of non-human Creation above human creativity? And which, in so doing, permitted human creativity to be channeled into the 'art' of war (including war on the environment, and the commercial wars its byproducts fuel and feed), rather than into making possible the marriage of Nature and Nurture dreamed of by the Renaissance philosophers?

AHM was not drawing mountains per se. He was beginning to draw the idea of mountains, mountains as metaphors. But for what? Mountains seen at a mediated distance, framed by history, mirrored by memory, tinted blue by the fin-de-siècle spectacles of Ferdinand Hodler. In drawing and painting not the mountains aluminum-framed by the rectangular viewing device of his window, but the peaks of Hodler, AHM was playing with the fact that the Swiss apprehend their native upland and lake scenery through the expansive yet inward-looking anthems of this most national of painters. In so doing, he was also making a sidelong comment about how Canadians similarly perceive the Ontario northland, the Rockies and the High Arctic through the filter of Group of Seven paintings, more often via reproductions than through originals. The Variations on Hodler series of 1985-86, and its subset, the previously discussed Self-Portraits with Hodler suite, could be interpreted in Freudian or Jung(frau)ian terms; the 'missing' father of the Five Families is now paternally influencing a reverent and rebellious son, who would go on to anatomize our lingering dependency on the artistic legacy and subject-vocabulary of the Group.

This quizzical homage includes Perfect Mountain Hodler Variation and Landscape: Night Elements After Hodler, which combines the central figures of Night with the serene far shore of Hodler's Thunersee of 1905. In referencing the latter canvas, AHM was following Lawren Harris, whose Maligne Lake — aptly named in this context — closely parallels the composition of the Swiss master's picture while adding a frozen, crystalline perfection by calming the waters to a glassy (even deathlike) stillness. AHM returned to Thunersee in Der Thunersee Echo, which was reproduced on the cover of the invitation/catalogue of the Variations on Hodler exhibition mounted and circulated by the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in March 1986. By 'doubling' the horizontal canvas, AHM turns Hodler's left-hand half-mountain into a near-perfect triangle which, reflected in the ripple-pleated 'see' of Thun,  (16) unfolds into a parallelogram vainly striving to become a square.

Further geometrizings show AHM groping toward the ideal form that seems to lie at the heart of Hodler's aching visions of a national homeland in the sky: a project this century has revealed as a disastrous illusion. AHM got the idea for this series while in a residency at the Leighton Artist Colony in Banff, Alberta. During the ski-lift descent from a peak at whose summit he purchased a booklet illustrating the mountains of Banff National Park, he photographed selected pages, later combining these glossy images with his own slides of some of the same famous tourist-attractions. Canada by this means came to Switzerland. (How typical of AHM's practice and practicality that he should analyse the Rockies while surrounded by Alps.)

Why this new direction? As AHM told the Toronto critic Linda Genereux in November 1989, 'I'm interested in idealism, which had to do with the perfect mountains I was drawing.... What are the models that we look at, and what are the measures that we have or the ideal that we aspire to, or are burdened by?'[y] The device chosen to represent the burdensome aspiration, the aspiring burden, stands for the platonic dream of flawless form that artists superimpose on defective, changeful nature, yet which they also extrapolate from flawed examples, however debased, incomplete or offensive to the canons of mathematical purity these phenomena may be.

The tentative triangle-trace in Mountainscape after Hodler emphatically announces itself in The Emergence of the Perfect Mountain, both works being rare excursions into verticality. The former is not a Hodler variation per se, but rather what the artist calls an 'approximation', to achieve which he made a pilgrimage to Merton in order to find and photograph (and later to draw) the place from which Hodler painted that particular mountain. This process anticipated that of the second S/D, which entailed an expedition undertaken to the British Columbia Rockies to locate Harris's semi-fictional Isolation Peak.

The triskelion leitmotif becomes a permanent fixture, contrasting its own ghostly equilateral deltoid with the jagged irregularity of the 'real' peak in 1987's Perfect Mountain. The perfect platonic Alp 'haunts' the imperfect mountains very much as Hodler haunts AHM — and the way Romanticism haunts Modernism, and Modernism Post —. Nature, these works seem to say, can never come up to the impossible standards set by geometry and physics; postmodern art, similarly, is a mere foothill in the shadow of capital-A art, whose lofty, rarefied heights our groundling artists no longer dare to scale.  (17)

The Perfect Mountain series, itself an outgrowth of the Variations on Hodler, was briefly interrupted by another opportunity to exhibit in Canada, this time at Calgary's New Gallery (formerly the Off Centre Centre), where in 1987 AHM is handwritten text running along the centre of each wall. Implicit in the 1987 work is the query: is the mountain whose immovability moved Mohammed to come to it conceptual or actual, within the head or outside it?  (18)

A third posing of the phenomenological mountain question occurred in January-February 1988, when, at Regina's Susan Whitney Gallery, AHM exhibited works from the Perfect Mountain series. In the latest-dated installments, skepticism had replaced speculation, as indicated by such titles as Resistance to a Perfect Mountain and, finally, There Are No Perfect Mountains!?. The quest-cycle has come full circle: reality check. The return to Aristotelian down-to-earth sanity is announced by the comparative straight-forwardness of the drawings, their lack of external referentiality or insider jokes. Admitting that the perfect mountain does not — cannot — exist, save as a hypothesis, comes as a relief; the searcher can now concentrate on other interests, pursue other chimeras, explore other influences.  (19)

The work reproduced on the gallery's invitation mailer for Recent Work went so far as to question both the enterprise and its perhaps-too-pat conclusion. In There Are No Perfect Mountains!?, of 1987, lurks an intimation of the dangers inherent in the (Germanic?) pursuit of an absolute ideal: hovering ethereally in the sky, between a foreground fir tree and the very irregular hulk of Banff National Park's Mount Rundle, is the pale spectral triangle, now readable as the artistic equivalent of the radioactive waste warning-symbol. Perfect mountain = toxic mirage. If the classical impulse is denoted in this phantom image, its romantic flip side — the anthropomorphizing of nature — is present in the silhouetted death's head which, as AHM explains, 'found itself' in the horizon-line at the very base of the triangle. Et in Arcadia Ego.  (20) This is as close as AHM gets to making an overt moral or political statement in paint.

True, the various series on view at this exhibition bore inscriptions as 'current' as newspaper headlines about the Black Monday stock-market crash of 18 October 1987 and as 'timeless' as phrases from the novels of Thomas Mann, such as 'Sovereignty of the Void' (in the background of one the Perfect Mountain paintings). Asked to explain his use of these citations, AHM confessed to a reviewer that 'I can't tell you exactly why, other than it's kind of like thinking.... I'm trying to deal with what I find disturbing about it in terms of my own approach.... The image is like a background to the text.'[z] In the case of the Mann quotation running along the base of one of the Perfect Mountains, AHM remarks, 'It sounds profound somehow. But what does it really mean?' — thereby, in the reviewer's words, 'also calling into question the meaning of the mountain.' Magic or otherwise.


COUNTENANCE

Some Critical Countenances: An Extended Drawing, which AHM worked on in his Bern studio from 1986 to 1988, was a project that grew out of these previous and concurrent serial sequences, but which was informed by a different kind of caring than that shown in the Five Families. The work was destroyed by the artist, the destruction itself less an acte gratuite than a conceptualist gamble / gambit. It seems appropriate to discuss it here, as a decade-ending summation, culmination, and turning point. This assessment is a matter of length — physical as well as temporal — and of direction: where the drawing came from, and where it points.

Once again, the motivating spark for this ambitious undertaking was the reflection induced by distance and solitude: reflection about the Canadian art world, of which AHM felt himself no longer a part, despite renewals of his ties and contacts on home visits. Reflection on the narrowness of his European circumstances, and the resemblance of the Canadian art community to an extended (if scattered and basically disfunctional) family.

Reflection on his own absence from the picture: his own radical apartness. At the same time, the scope of the drawing and its diaristic process of creation testifies to AHM's desire to maintain connections, to sustain and revive relationships, to carry forward the communitarian bonding of one project to another, to create some kind of continuing city in this loneliest and least cohesive of nations. (Hence the appearance, among the myriad critical, curatorial and artistic countenances included in the scan, of Bruce Ferguson, as well as of the artist himself, in a bald, reversed version of the character in the right half of Double Self-Portrait, taking the mickey out of the whole edifice even as he constructs it.)

This exercise in mass-portraiture began with the projection and tracing of slides taken by AHM of two people he admires, the now deceased curator Alvin Balkind and the artist / filmmaker / musician Michael Snow. 'The rest just unfolded', he explained. 'I didn't know who would come up from one day to the next. There wasn't any lineage or narrative. The decisions became more formal. The end came because there was a deadline' to complete the work for the exhibition.[aa]

AHM's authorial collaborator in the project, the critic / anthropologist Charlotte Townsend-Gault, described the genesis of this quixotic and inevitably contentious undertaking as follows:

 The specifications inspire awe — 545 running feet of paper, on three continuous rolls, 5 feet high, on which the facial likenesses of many people (the artist lost track of exactly how many), some in multiple versions, are rendered in a popular illustrative style in chalk pastel and oil, at the rate of about one a day. MacKay worked continuously, without deviating from this formula for almost two years. In a cramped studio, the paper could only be unrolled one section at a time, in the manner of an oriental scroll painting; the work has never been seen by the artist, or anyone else, in its entirety. It is intended to be seen in a large space with as much of it unrolled as is practicable....

It is too large to be a group portrait and bears little comparison with those colossal history paintings, for which a key is so often supplied, and where the individuals are in some relationship with one another. Here there is no reference to the co-operation and competition, the gossip and jealousies, the ideological and linguistic barriers, the network of transactions and relationships that holds these people together. Here the juxtapositions along the length of the work are entirely accidental and incidental to its intention.
[bb]


Which is? Despite the lack of an artist's statement, Townsend-Gault felt confident that

the process he has used may be termed a deconstructive one in that the method to which MacKay adhered for two years takes the elements traditionally associated with official portraiture and dismantles them. They are, to adopt a distinction identified by [Ernst] Gombrich, 'effigies' rather than 'portraits'. The essential elements of that traditional formula, which depend on features beyond the frame as much as those within it, may be summarized as: a dominating attention to the role of the subject rather than their individuality which heavily emphasizes the documentary aspect found in all portraiture; a technique to establish social or intellectual distance from the subject through which respect is commanded and control exercised; in response to the social context within which such portraits habitually operate, certain formal constraints are observed: the medium of oil on canvas, the gilt frame, the discreet plaque which rarely gives any information on the artist; the company of other similar objects, the whole institutional paraphernalia which accompanies such portraits. In Some Critical Countenances these elements of the tradition are present in their absence. MacKay has taken them out of context and reversed them with the result that the work is itself critical. It critically examines, deconstructs, the authority of its subjects in as much as its methods deconstruct those conventions of representation that have traditionally reinforced the authority of its subjects.[cc]


Those for whom the work exists only in photographic and published form can't help wondering whether this was, in fact, the impact of the giant drawing when installed in a newly renovated, imposing public gallery space and instilled with the authorizing aura of an officially sanctioned exhibit. It is doubtful, though, that the viewing public would have grasped the subversive nature of this work, which could seem — if only because of its sheer scale — to be celebrating art-saints or at least art-heroes. Did not such authenticating treatment reconstruct those named faces as the rightful occupants of a place on the whitewashed institutional walls?

This reifying effect, which Deconstruction itself induces merely through the process of analysis of a suspect subject, was undeliberate but perhaps not unexpected. After all, AHM's anarchic irreverence is modulated by a pragmatist's grudging respect for the way in which the politics of culture work in small and globally insignificant countries like Canada — and for that matter Switzerland. His sense of humour is an integral part of his professionalism, as can be gauged from the tone as well as the contents of a letter he wrote about his modus operandi to his literary co-conspirator after returning to Bern with his box of portrait slides:
By an extended drawing I mean utilizing a roll of my usual paper of indeterminate length that will accommodate at least one full year of drawing time and whatever number of faces that would result. What this does is provide me with a more open-ended and inclusive format and one that could deal with notation or stylistic alterations or interpretive changes (not quite sure what that means yet) that might occur or be necessary as the project and drawing unfold. Well, what do you think???... Within this format we could still decide which faces are a must but it also allows so many other lips, ears, noses, eyes and blemishes to also attain the oh so sought after status of critical (why even you and I could be included).[dd]


'And so we have been', the recipient of this missive comments; 'MacKay had found a way of dispensing with lists, categories, hierarchies and frames.'[ee]

Introducing this work, which had its first and last public airing at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Townsend-Gault revealed her own relationship to the project:

Needing subjects to paint, MacKay originally intended a series of portraits of art critics, Canadian critics and those whose writing has affected significantly the art made in Canada. Fascinated by the critics' apparent power apparently vested in their control of words, and wanting to use his own authority as an image-maker to challenge or debate it, he decided to collaborate with one. MacKay sees himself primarily as an artist. He thinks of me as a critic, who knows something about anthropology. But is it really words that divide and define our roles? Do words have power over images? Is it words that, in the end, confer authority? He loves words too — guardedly — and is always testing the extent to which words define meaning or are needed to decode what he has done. These of course are some of the oldest philosophical issues.[ff]


While Townsend-Gault admits that Some Critical Countenances 'reflects a mainstream, centrist, still essentially WASP establishment,' being comprised of 'the people whom MacKay could conveniently meet and photograph on his "research" trips to Canada from Switzerland,' and that 'Some of those who aren't here and should have been for the work to be properly representative, may just not have been around when he called or the slides didn't turn out well enough,' her excuse that 'there were simply too many people for a manageable series of discrete portraits'[gg] evades the basic question.

The work is hermetic by virtue of the insular, exclusionary and endemically non-representative nature of the Canadian art establishment itself. While the number of those who got left out, either to their chagrin or their relief, suggests that the community is a tad larger even than this immense gathering of insiders indicates, the discomfort conveyed by this cavalcade of the usual suspects is that the populace these figureheads are supposed to serve is wholly ignorant not only of who they are and what they do but of why. The power invested in the 'authorities' is entirely fictional, a myth agreed upon, like history itself. (Hence, of course, the virulence of the infighting that goes on among this big-little band, the rule being that the nastiness of the conflict is always inversely proportional to the actual size of the stakes and the real-world importance of the players.)

Once again, as with the inscriptions that give theory-hooked criticules something to chew on when dismissing AHM's mountain pictures, the emphasis on words is a red herring. As Townsend-Gault concedes, while 'It may be that an implicit theme of this work is that words give people power, power over art, a suspicion that it is through the use of words that, ultimately, critical authority is constituted', it is art that shows the true impotence of that alleged authority. For against the suspicion that critics use words not to illuminate or clarify but to claim territory and exert clout, 'MacKay draws on the power of the face. Critics having faces, he, given the power of the artist over his subject, has power over them too.'[hh]

Unfortunately, the issue was complicated by AHM's membership in the Toronto curatorial élite, which he renewed on his return to Canada by becoming the director first of Art Metropole, in 1988, and then of The Power Plant, in 1989. Despite its origin as an exile's reassessment of his uncertain position in a remote corner of the international art world, as well as an expression of his perverse commitment to the discredited act of drawing, Some Critical Countenances was suspected, however baselessly, of being a strategy designed to ensure AHM's smooth re-entry into the A-list from which he had removed himself by his impolitic decision to decamp to Switzerland. (Had his choice of locus been Berlin, say, or New York, the story would, of course, have been completely different.)

In his defence, AHM was careful to explain that his intention was not to pay tribute to the powers-that-write but to 'do a portrait series that dealt with people in a community of interests which was the visual arts,'[gg] the stress lying on community. Of which, of course, he was and is an active member, both as an administrator and as a working artist. That we are in the treacherous terrain of autobiography, rather than of 'objective' criticism or art history, is revealed by AHM's revelation that 'These all come from slides. I project the slides and that's how I get the drawings.... The project became a trace of my own connections, of some of the people I know in the arts community.'[ii] If that community is comparatively minute, backbitten and politically irrelevant, and if those connections are demographically limited — well, those are among its governing characteristics, which inflect on the larger cultural nexus and so can't be dismissed.

Not that the average gallery goer (if such a creature exists) particularly cares. AHM, however, saw a kind of democratic leveling in his favourite format of the horizontal wall-drawing or quondam mural, which, like all of his S/D series to date, must physically be scoped in a 360-degree ocular pan of the exhibiting environs for the complete picture to be taken in. His and Townsend-Gault's joint claim that 'There was no hierarchy' in this paper-tiger tapestry of 'critical players in the fabric of the arts community'[jj] sounds disingenuous, but if, as Townsend-Gault insists, the work is inherently deconstructive, AHM did not spare himself in conducting his survey: in the self-portrait he slyly inserted into his critical symposium, the hairline has receded to the back of his head, and his beard is longer, whiter and bushier than that of the AHM of 1986. 'It's actually more of a spoof than a portrait', he told an arts reporter, no doubt with the usual assertion-erasing ruefulness.[kk] In other words, a self-caricature of a caricaturist.

The future of the drawing itself became a subject of speculation, for what, after all, does one do with a 138-metre-long unsellable mass portrait? A reviewer concluded that 'At the end of the run the exhibit will be rolled up and stored in MacKay's studio,'[ll] along with most of the family portraits, Hodler series and mountain drawings. Another queried, 'Will he go that extra quarter-mile and keep working on it?', to which he replied,

'It'll be interesting to see if it's finished or not. After 2 years I was certainly ready and willing to let it rest for awhile....

'But it's one of those things where if my interest in portraiture continues and I have subjects, then it might continue in another form ... it could go on forever.'
[mm]


Such was not — posterity's loss — to be the case. Takers for the entirely justified but unrealistic ticket-price of $10,000 not being forthcoming, AHM decided to resort to the most radical form of inventory control. Not, however, as a nihilistic act of destruction, nor again as an abject confession of having failed to include or refer to the individuals who, Susan Gibson Garvey complained, 'are conspicuous by their absence: those practitioners and writers who may be classed as 'alternative' — the marginalized, the guerrillas, certain feminists, some gays, and all those who, by refusing to participate at all in the games of the art establishment, criticize the critics in quite a different manner from MacKay.'[nn] Rather, as a defiantly realistic gesture, an admission of critical if not creative defeat, which the artist with typical resourcefulness converted into a pyhrric victory, snatched literally from the jaws of the commercial paper-shredder.

In his November 1989 exhibition at Toronto's Grunwald Gallery, AHM balanced the bagged shreddings of Some Critical Countenances with his recent drawings — continuations, these, of the 'large pieces on heavy industrial paper', in which, as John Bentley Mays wrote in his review of the artist's March 1988 Grunwald & Watterson Gallery solo show, he 'continues his evocation in pastel and oil of late-Romantic twilight moods and longings, this time in private homes.'[oo] The unseen remnants slumped disconsolately below a shelf-positioned tableau of waxed pages from the exhibition catalogue, framed by larger-than-life portraits of the two uniformed functionaries who carried out the shredding. .(21) (Query: what became of the burlap bags? The functionaries?)

The mode of erasure was, if exorbitant, characteristic. As Townsend-Gault remarks, 'when MacKay talks, it's as if he erases half of what he says.'[pp] And as Garvey added, 'While more fluid in his visual work, he nevertheless employs some techniques equivalent to erasure.'[qq] This archetypally Canadian diffidence masks a strong streak of determination which sometimes assumes the form of ruthlessness, or, conversely, of Zen-like surrender to the forces of practicality. The cavalier mistreatment of his own oeuvre by AHM — a sign of the artist's dismay at the stubborn refusal of critical respect to translate into steady sales — is the despair of the art historian, who must try to reclaim destroyed evidence and abandoned archives, even when their destruction and abandonment are part of the overall process (and, as such, must also be documented).

However, there was a rightness to the Duchampian obliteration of the Critical Countenances which the critic Dawn Rae Downton acknowledged:

This script, too, shall eventually pass; it's the joke of the moment, the last laugh, which truly endures.

Though his version of it can be extreme and bizarre, it's not a new artist's ploy, this killing time with craft and coursing, careering (de)construction.... In this sense, Allan MacKay, painting himself into history with the vengeance and the whimsy of the damned, has all the time in the world. Departed from currency and obsessed with time, he paints what he wants when he wants all the way back to the role models of Manet and Hodler and Tom Thomson and the Charlottetown gang with whom he grew up, all the way ... into the roll [sic] model of his shredded present with the
Critical Countenances of his working world in Canadian art. That's what makes sense to him, he says, and he knows he's done the right thing.[rr]


By one symbolic display of defiant self-abnegation, the 1980s came for AHM to a perhaps predictable end. But charting artistic careers by decades distorts the course of such long-term unsc(roll)ings. The overlapped serial sequence is a much more useful and accurate index of production (or its cessation) than the calendar, since — to switch metaphors if not homophones — the seeds of later harvests can be sown in one ten-year period and come to sometimes-unexpected fruition in another. Sampling these crops seems to me at least as nourishing an act as debating their contradictions or resolving their differences with accepted lines of critical theory.  ( (2)


RIVER


[H]e suddenly had a glimpse of a flowing like an eternal river, he seemed to see how life flows into art: how art gives life a form and meaning and flows on into life, yet life has not stood still; that was what was always forgotten: how life transformed by art sought further meaning through art transformed by life; and now it was as if this flowing, this river, changed, without appearing to change, becoming a flowing of consciousness, of mind, so that it seemed that for them too ... just beyond that barrier, lay some meaning, or the key to a mystery that would give some meaning to their ways of death.

— Malcolm Lowry, Dark as the Grave Wherein My Friend Is Laid


The first of AHM's Source/Derivations projects arose out of the idea of 'going into' (his phrase) a permanent art collection in a specific city, in search of a painting that interested him, and from which he could extrapolate and manipulate visual and textual meanings. Attached to this excavational concept was the 'panoramic idea' of laying down his impressions — whether of portraits and figures or mountain landscapes — on rolls of cheap brown butcher paper that would hang like tapestries made to fit the wall-length of a specific space. In other words: find an image to comment on, draw out your ideas on the roll, pin the scroll temporarily to the wall. This was working on mural-scale, but not in mural-media. Ad hoc. Permanently impermanent, or impermanently permanent. Either way. Chinese, in a sense, but also related to the collaborative decoration schemes of the Group of Seven — the famous MacCallum cottage panels, now relocated to the National Gallery of Canada, for example, or the J.E.H. MacDonald-supervised mural scheme for St. Anne's Church in Toronto.

S/D I was mounted at the Ottawa School of Art in February-March 1989. Having estimated the length of the room in which the installation was to take place, AHM decided to compose a horizontal response to Tom Thomson's art-nouveauish vertical composition of 1914/15, Northern River, which would explore, through Hodlerian rhythmic replication, the interweaving sinuosities of this canoe-eye-view probe of the Ontario hinterland.

The central work in the installation predated, in concept, the occasion that had been made for it: in 1987, while in Banff for a month-long sojourn as artist-in-residence at the Leighton Artists' Colony, AHM came across the Thomson painting in an exhibition catalogue, photographed it from that source, and brought the slide back to Switzerland. The outcome of the process was Northern River Cauldron, yet another ambitious 'extended drawing' in his usual medium of chalk pastel and diluted oil pigment on paper. The title was inspired by the fact that, as he found after 'flipping and doubling' the image, the S-curved central tree that dominates Thomson's painting assumed the shape of a cauldron — or an inverted heart. .(23)

What AHM is doing in such by-now-familiar turnings and returnings, doublures and doublonnages, inversions and subversions, symmetrizings and rotatings, introduced in Requiem for Hodler and Beispiel/Example? Could they not be described as a visual-art version/revision of Arnold Schönberg's twelve-tone ('dodecuple') system, in which the note-row (Tonreihe) pattern appears 1) in its original form; 2) in its inversion; 3) in the 'crab' (i.e., canon, 'cancrizans', in which the imitating voice gives out the melody backwards); and 4) in the crab inversion? The method applies both horizontally and vertically; all the harmonies are built upon chords in a row, i.e., arranged in the order in which they appear. Hodler: Parallelism.

And, just as the core of the vortex/matrix of the composition contains, or devolves / revolves from, a still centre, so a close examination of the mazy tangles of AHM's unkempt woodland interior reveals a triangular 'viewing device', imbedded in the 'heart of the hearts' at the centre of Northern River Cauldron; hovering above each of these is the vatic apparition of a Fuji-perfect mountain which forms the apex of the pyramid suggested by the symmetrizing of the leftward-leaning dead spruce or hemlock in Northern River. Hence the first half of the title, inscribed below the viewing-device: The Emergence of an Almost Perfect Mountain.

Why, one wonders, has the artist introduced the notion of altitude to a mountain-free central-Canadian landscape, which, despite its ample rondures, strikes far-westerners as monotonously flat? Or is height not the referent but order, stability, regularity in a perspectiveless jungle lacking vantages and clear sightlines? Or, in inserting this aide-vue/aide-mémoire element, was MacKay prematurely anticipating himself, looking forward to S/D II before he had even mounted S/D I, while harking back, of course, to the Perfect Mountain series of 1986-87?

Working on this composition a half-a-continent and an ocean from its place of physical origin, utilizing the same combination of projected reference images and memory that went into the production of the two-year Some Critical Countenances project, AHM conceived the desire of having access to the actual Thomson canvas in order to execute a series of responses to, interpretations of, and derivations from it. Back in Canada, he successfully set about to persuade the Ottawa School of Art's new principal, Ron Shuebrook (an old NSCAD crony), to allow him to stage an exhibition of such works on that venerable institution's By Ward Market premises. An appropriate venue, considering the fact that the school's third headmaster, the American-born Peleg Franklin Brownell, was one of the first painters to work in the newly established Algonquin Park, allegedly the 'discovery' of Tom Thomson and the future Group of Seven a decade later.

Appropriate, too, in that graduates of this institution have not, as a rule, had a warm reception at the National Gallery, which from the outset promoted the Toronto-based Group over other, regional (and local) collectives and individuals as the anointed bearers of the grail of a National Vision. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s — AHM's formative years as an artist — the tendency among the rebellious younger generation was to repudiate or ignore the painted legacy of this unofficial art movement taken up by an official agenda that co-opted cultural-nationalist longings to achieve political, economic and bureaucratic goals. Besides, this was a painted legacy, hence, according to Situationist, conceptualist, photo-textualist and appropriationist dogma, irrelevant. AHM, the covert mark-maker at the eastern edge of the continent, did not float on that anti-limnal tide, thereby doubly marginalizing himself. Yet, he realized, to identify his métier with that of a gang of dead central-Canadian landscape painters was clear career suicide. On the other hand, not to acknowledge their lingering presence, their continuing influence, their dominance of the popular imagination, was to blind oneself to the reality of the void they left in their wake, and the lack of any universally accepted replacement beyond the barricaded confines of the museum, the artist-run space, the arts agency and academe. Like its successor, S/D I can be interpreted as an exercise in coming to terms with the problem of ancestors who refuse to lie doggo in the grave. Like all such rapprochements, it is also an admission that the present soon becomes the past and, as such, may represent a similar dilemma to the future. In other words, 'history.'

For AHM, one way of confronting the quandary head-on was by symbolically populating the wilderness with the urban stakeholders for whom this legacy is still very much alive. Mixing genres as well as time periods has a disorienting effect, as surely was registered by the visitors to the gallery who, on entering the room, found themselves facing, first, Point of Origin, a huge pastel and oil on paper landscape based on Northern River, 'symetricized [sic] and rotated', and then two large portraits, one of Dennis Reid (who had organized the monumental fiftieth-anniversary exhibition of the Group of Seven at the NGC in 1970, and whose pony-tailed head joined the thronged Critical Countenances), and the other of his grey-bearded Edward Lear-lookalike successor in the position at the National Gallery, Charles Hill.

The often conflicting roles of these intermediaries — both guides and gate-keepers — were indicated a) by representations of the documentary tools of their trade, and b) by the reproductive and interpretive distillations extracted from these raw archival materials. Standing on white pedestals were a waxed facsimile of the NGC curatorial file relating to Northern River, a waxed copy of Reid's A Concise History of Canadian Painting (1973), and a waxed, mounted colour postcard of the source painting..  (24) 

The heroic 'critical countenances' of Reid and Hill framed, contextualized and personalized the other components. Tom Thomson (1877-1917) was 'present' in the exhibition only by proxy and by inference, as AHM wisely opted not to intrude a portrait of the artist into the company of the curatorial éminences. Nor was the national art icon that AHM had chosen to investigate physically on hand to play off the variations and verify the impressions. Instead, as the show's invitation mailer implied but did not explicitly state, Northern River was on view in Moshe Safdie's crystal palace, up Sussex Drive to the north; to take in the entire extended installation, one would have to make tracks from the hall of derivations to the shrine of the source. Of necessity comes purpose. As AHM explained, 'this work works only in the context of there being a National Gallery of Canada and an Ottawa School of Art in the same city.'[ss]

And so with the two S/Ds that followed. Locus = focus: modus solus. The ideas introduced in this exhibition were then developed in (to date) four subsequent explorations of the source/derivation motif. Others will follow.

A constant feature of these installments of what may prove to be a life-long process / project is the symbiosis of source and derivations. This interdependence raises the question of what kind of independent 'afterlife' the latter might have, divorced from the former. An answer can emerge only if, and when, the derivations are shown on their own. Is the whole concept entirely 'occasion'-driven? Will AHM's original variations take on a fundamentally different character without the originative themes that inspired them? Or will they serve to invoke in interesting new ways those 'missing' images, which, when displayed in spatial and temporal proximity, are seen in an unfamiliar light that is as revealing of sources as it is of derivations? Certainly I can no longer visualize Northern River without conjuring up Northern River Cauldron and Point of Origin, the heart-shape rising — sursum corda! — from the fount of the founder of the Algonquin School: TT's lonely North turned on its headwaters by the doublings of AHM.

SOURCE

Running around the edge of Point of Origin, the centrepiece of Source/Derivations I, are the handwritten words (or rather word) 'POINTOFORIGIN', repeated without break, run-on, Latin inscription-style. As so often with AHM, the title is a pun, for the drawing is rhythmically divided into three equal sectors by the bars formed by the straight spruce mast at the extreme far right of the source image, Tom Thomson's Northern River. In Northern River Cauldron the symmetrizing of the picture had produced a Hodlerian paralleling at the heart of the resultant heart-shape, which AHM has now elided into a single point or stroke of reference.

According to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, the word 'origin' stems from the French, origine, out of the Latin, originem, origo, beginning, source, from oriri, to rise. 'Source', in turn, derives from the Latin surgere, to go straight up, rise, from sub-, up + regere, to lead, whence the Old French verb sourdre, to rise, spring forth. Out of which pours the Medieval French sors, sourse, and the Middle English sours. Meanings, according to Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary:

1 a : a generative force : CAUSE b (1) : a point of origin or procurement: BEGINNING (2) : one that initiates : AUTHOR; also : PROTOTYPE, MODEL (3) : one that supplies information 2 a : the point of origin of a stream of water : FOUNTAINHEAD b archaic : SPRING, FOUNT 3 a: firsthand document or primary reference work syn see ORIGIN.


The placement of the word 'SOURCE' in large, hand-drawn letters on the verso of Point of Origin, near the right edge (which, when unpinned to the wall, curls to reveal the covert inscription), and below the cropped, oil-highlit, black-and-white reproduction of Northern River on the S/D I mailer, adds a further layer of meaning to the entire complex by reminding us that rivers may rise from underground springs and are replenished by the rain that falls from clouds like those reflected in the mirror-like water of the painting. Because it also signifies 'origin, place of origin, prime cause', source also suggests originality and its partial synonym, singularity.

Thomson's title is generic. Perhaps he thought the name of the actual brook up which he paddled solo in June 1914 — South River — would stamp the wrong impression on the viewer's mind, 'South' having connotations diametrically opposite to those of 'North.' (Even though by no stretch of geographical imagination can this Lake Nipissing tributary be construed as 'northern', except in relation to rivers closer to the Equator: e.g., the Rio Grande, the illegal immigrants' and Maquiladora wage-slave's beckoning Rio del Norte. Maquiladora: 'golden flour'. Across the bitter water from the land of gold.)  (25)

Behind AHM's spin-offs hovers the gouache-on-paper sketch for the 1914/15 canvas which the Art Gallery of Ontario purchased in 1982. As I wrote in 1990, this study 'may have been completed for reproduction, perhaps for a travel brochure or advertisement. Certainly the page-like vertical format was unusual for Thomson, who rarely resorted to it in his essays in 'pure' painting; it was favoured, however, by the Symbolist- and Art Nouveau-influenced Scandinavian artists whose work Thomson knew through international art periodicals.'[uu]

Another possible precedent was Ferdinand Hodler's gracile, rhythmically spaced trees and mazy woodland interiors, for which he was as renowned as for his monumental mountains, lakes and rivers and their figural and facial counterparts. But if the 'source'  (26) of Northern River was a (possible) commercial-art commission, would this fact detract from the painting's aura of site-specific authenticity? Does its debt to foreign art render it less singular than our eyes tell us that it surely is? Because Thomson's inspiration was an actual place to which he had personally travelled through difficult terrain, whereas the non-canoeing AHM produced his homages to it in the studio, is the source, the 'original' (on which our increasingly simulacral culture places so much valuative emphasis) morally superior to the derivation?.  (27)

AHM does not seek to evade the philosophical, aesthetic and, yes, ethical problems posed by his 'other' art-making and art-remaking practices. Instead, he deliberately raises and re-raises them, variously couching and re-couching them in order to make us think harder about what, after all, art is and whether, once created, it is static, or whether, like memory and desire, it evolves over time in accordance with its placements, interpretations, associations and contexts. Three years would elapse, however, before AHM found an opportunity to rephrase the original Mohammedan mountain question posed by S/D I.

In the interim, he had discovered Walter J. Phillips's decorative seven-block colour woodcut print of 1938, The Vapours Round the Mountain Curl'd, as having possibilities for another series of thematic variations, especially as the Glenbow Museum, Calgary, owns not only a strike of the print but the actual boxwood blocks from which the image was assembled, colour by colour. In preparation for an exhibition that would combine these components, AHM photographed each block in sequence. In due course, variations on this image would form the contents of Source/Derivations VI, which opened at the Glenbow Museum in September 1998.


MOUNTAIN


And again, the mountains! the mountains! It was like seeing beyond the farther most abysses of sense, a tremendous rolling green dumbfounding crescendo of all the vast seas and meadows of the mind, inexhaustible, measureless as the human soul, yet seeming to stretch beyond its utmost limits.

— Malcolm Lowry, Dark As the Grave Wherein My Friend Is Laid


Source/Derivations II was presented in January-February 1992 at the Justine M. Barnicke Gallery of Hart House, University of Toronto. This time, the instigating work was a Rocky Mountain landscape by Tom Thomson's friend, colleague and Studio Building landlord, Lawren S. Harris (1885-1970). Because the source, in this case, belongs to the permanent collection of Hart House, host institution and crucial early supporter of the Group of Seven, the work could be exhibited alongside the derivations, rather than, as in Ottawa, at a remove.

Once again, the show was a culmination of earlier treatments of a theme — the ones begun and continued in Banff and Bern. Presumably AHM resorted to Harris for a source for S/D II, rather than to such contemporaries and successors as J.E.H. MacDonald, Arthur Lismer, F.H. Varley, Emily Carr, Jock Macdonald, W.P. Weston and Paul Rand, because of Harris's obsession with the idea of the perfect mountain as a symbol of aspiration of spirit, a theosophical conceit nowhere better exhibited than by the radical pyramidality of Isolation Peak, of ca.1930. But might this choice also have arisen from a subliminal remembrance of the similarity between Hodler's Thunsersee and Harris's Maligne Lake, Jasper Park? The 'elements' of S/D II were close to those of the Ottawa installation, but more varied. Complementing the in-the-flesh Isolation Peak were seven large panels 'after' it in mixed media; twenty-one works on paper; seven bookworks; a freestanding wood and paraffin-wax construction, Viewing Device for a Perfect Mountain (the existence of which 'isolated peek' had been anticipated by the insertion of the triangular viewing device into Northern River Cauldron; and A Waxed Facsimile of the Curatorial File Relating to Lawren Harris' Isolation Peak. To paraphrase Wallace Stevens, among twenty smoking mountains, the only moving thing was the eye of the artist.

The text I wrote for the wall-panel and handout of this exhibition presents an observer's attempt to grasp an appropriative and apperceptive procedure still fluidly in process. It is quoted here, in the re/SOURCEs 'gloss-area' [footnotes in this online version], minus its scene-setting opening paragraphs, because it more or less accurately summarizes the artist's thinking at the time, while the idea of a third installment to the series was gestating. .(28)

Idea: Ideal: Real. Which order?

Although the history of Isolation Peak is very much in the background of S/D II, none of the derivations alludes directly to the genesis or symbolism of the source painting. However, the origins and antecedents of this canvas are relevant to AHM's installation because of the contrast (and occasional parallels) between the two artists' methodologies and philosophical stances. Peter Larisey's account of Isolation Peak succinctly summarizes its evolution and context:

Harris continued his sketching in the Rockies each summer until 1928, always following the same method. He did many pencil drawings of the mountains, often quite detailed and naturalistic. These were followed by oil on board sketches that already reveal the strong sense of simplification and stylization found in the larger oil on canvas works.... I have been unable to find any statement by Harris from this period on the meaning the mountains had for him, but his friend and fellow theosophist, F.B. Housser, writing in 1927, gives us a clue of their meaning for Harris and the theosophical community:

Across the northern regions of Canada and down through the Cordilleran area of the North American continent, that area comprising the ridge known as the Rocky Mountains, are sacred and occult centres of the earth. The most ancient traditions of the North American Indian speak of them.... Some time, if not now, these places will likely become active spiritual centres for the development of the promised new race....[vv]

Such ideas would have been in Harris's mind as he painted his most impressive Rocky Mountain landscape,
Isolation Peak.... Exhibited first in 1930, it was preceded by many drawings and smaller oil paintings, until at last he had the simplified light-flooded version that satisfied him. From the pencil-on-paper version ... through simpler intermediate variations and through the early oil with its aura of layers of deepening blues, Harris has resolutely transformed the initial, complex perception of particulars to which he would call a universal expression....

Isolation Peak is not of an actual site, though to judge by the naturalism of the pencil drawing it began as such. Perhaps it was a peak in the Collins Range, near Maligne Lake, but there is no mountain called 'Isolation' in the Canadian Rockies.  (29)  Instead of reducing the mountain to a triangle, as he had done in Mountain Forms, in Isolation Peak Harris has made it a pyramid with a flat side isolated in the light. The theme of the mountain as the receiver of light is repeated in Mount Lefroy. But here, Harris has pushed the simplification beyond any echo of the particular site to a universal form: not a particular mountain, but all mountains.

There are parallels in the painting to a diagram in C.W. Leadbeater's
Man Visible and Invisible, a theosophical book (1902) that Harris probably knew. The triangular face of Harris's mountain juts above its surroundings into the level where it receives the light. In Leadbeater's diagram..., as the columns of matter representidrich's landscape forms, which he had seen in Germany, were emerging frequently in his imagination. So Isolation Peak suggests a parallel with Friedrich's The Watzmann [Nationalgalerie, Berlin].... Through its simplifications, studied composition and use of light the work has become an expression of Harris's assertion that art should 'convince us that there is eternal clarity.'[ww]


Nearly a decade after painting a possibly real peak as a transcendental pyramid, Harris reverted to the configuration, now even more radically reduced to pure, archetypal form, in Pyramid, which, in Larisey's words, seems, 'incongruously, to float in space.'[xx] (This shape has had a troubled history, never more so than in the last two centuries, during which it has inverted from a Masonic Illuminati symbol to a pink prison-camp badge. .(30))

Some critical questions are/were raised by S/D III: to what degree, for example, did / does AHM subscribe to the sublime agenda of Harris's transcendental geometricizing and to what extent, in his variations and derivations, does he distance himself from what Terrence Heath, in his review of the exhibition, nails as the 'elitist posturing of theosophy,' urged on by the 'universal' doctrine by which Harris 'cultivated the most unassailable of all positions - spiritual symbolism'? For inherent in the transcendental vision, Heath argues, is 'Closure in message: who can challenge arcane spiritual truth discovered through the illumination of devotees? Closure in form: who can challenge the mathematical perfection of geometric form? Harris created disciples or enemies. More recently, he has been ignored.'[yy] (Except, that is, by his devotees, who are more numerous than Heath implies.)

Reporting on the Hart House show for Artforum, Linda Genereux posited that, in AHM's various treatments of his documentation of the rail journey he took in search of the 'exact prototype' of a studio—idealized mountain, he was

 treating nature as a construct, dissecting its parts through the many layers of paraffin, wax and varnish that cover the tracing paper of his studies. Just as the early topographers fabricated an understanding of nature through measurements and mathematical formulas, MacKay is processing Harris's depiction of Isolation Peak — cutting and folding back the same triangular shape used in the 'Viewing Device' — to reveal color as well as black and white photocopies of the mountain.

MacKay acknowledges that, for Canadians, the experience of their country's idealized wilderness is necessarily mediated. Here he reinvents the landscape tradition, examining the mystique of nature and forming a bridge between our cultural past and present environmental realities. Though an authentic experience of nature is irretrievable, we are able to rearrange our detached experiences of it in whatever form we wish.
[zz]


And so, our detached experiences of history and culture, the foreground urban factor against which landscape frames itself as foil. As I write this, in the background the spinning of an obsolete vinyl disc unscrolls the vertiginous trombone-slides and cowbell-avalanches of the Armenian-American composer Alan Hovhaness's rhapsodic Mountains and Rivers without End: a tone-poem described by its author as having been 'inspired by a long Korean painting with the same title. This painting is like a long mountain journey that begins in swirling mists, passes by rivers, mountains, forests, waterfalls, villages, temples and pagodas, finally dissolving into mists and nothingness. Free rhythmless sounds of bird-like canons, misty sounds of bells, bucolic, animal and cloud-like sounds seem to hover in a powerful seven four mantralike melody over drums and bells.'[aaa] And always in the background, like radio static, radio silence, the aerial theme music of mountains piled on mountains. (31)

Against this background of culture, we see how crude is the dictatorial geometry — literally, earth-measurement — that etches confining lines to create hard perfection in a single mountain-triangle. See also how the spyhole-narrowed vision strangles the inspirational. This, too, is in the music: that mathematics is a code, not a language, and that geography can no more be reduced to geomancy than to romance.

TRAIN

Here, from this point of view of sublimity, it was possible to look back upon one's life without too much pain, or triumph, being beyond both: but he would have been inhuman indeed, as sitting together once more, if he had not reflected upon the contrast between this triumphal entry and his ghastly drunken ignominious exit more than seven years before in the Pullman train car named Aristotle....


— Malcolm Lowry, Dark As the Grave Wherein My Friend Is Laid


Courage for these cries of hysterical locomotives and these groanings of tortured wheels.

                 — 'Trains', André Breton and Philippe Soupault, 'Let's Move
                     No More', Magnetic Fields (Les Champs magnétiques) (1920)

With the third of his Source/Derivations installations, AHM moved for the first time from art history (however comparatively recent) to art more-or-less present, from ideology to idyll to elegy, from allegedly 'dead' art to art recent and living, if profoundly about death-in-life. Art premised in the real-time commemoration of dead soul mates. The explosion of variants is even more than before a product of the photographic and electronic processing of the painting on which the work offers a commentary, if not a gloss: that of the observing Self on the observed and yet observant Other.

Ron Benner's massive six-panelled photo-painting of 1975-76, As dark as the grave wherein my friend is laid, is at once a memorial to co-workers killed on the job and a memento mori, a warning to the curious who would wander, if they could, too deeply into the dark heart of the image. Matthew Teitelbaum's analysis of the content and methodology of this monumental piece, in the catalogue of the 1988 Mendel Art Gallery exhibition, Ron Benner: Other Lives (where AHM first saw the work), provides a backgrounding complement to the insights that AHM has so painstakingly extracted from it. Its quotation here serves to remind us that the Source component of each of these installations is as integral to the whole as the Derivations:

As dark as the grave wherein my friend is laid builds on indictment and condemnation to realize a personal memorial. The work takes as its subject a local train crash, an early-morning-after-long-night train crash. It is a guttural scream. Not merely because Benner, then a railway brakeman, was on the spare board at the time and could have been on the train, but because railway workers knew better than anyone how management practices led to the use of diesels which, at the time of the accident, were worn down after twenty-five years of service.
     The work highlights the original, highly publicized newspaper photograph that declared the disaster. The six panels of
As dark as the grave are progressively blackened to a point of almost total darkness. Each image records a previous image, is sequentially obscured through applications of tar, and rephotographed for applications of tar once again. Its resolution, its final image, is a blackened surface revealing only the number of the fire-destroyed train. As dark as the grave is a gravesite and its marker. It is both a testimony to the men who died tragically, and an interrogation of the newspaper photograph that has made spectacle out of grief.
     
As dark as the grave cuts through the edge where form and content may be confused.... The tar in As dark as the grave forsakes its material sumptuousness for its specific identity as a material for railroad repair. It is part of the image — read content — as a material of manual application and healing. It is part of the industrial life of the railroad workers in a job marked by erratic work shifts and constant travel.[bbb]

The incrementally blackened blowup of the news-photo calls forth ghost-memories of similar, earlier images — for instance, of a locomotive dangling from the railway station wall it has abruptly punctured, thanks to the failure of the buffers to stop it when it ran out of track, or of a German troop train blown up by the French near Mézières in August 1870, during the Franco-Prussian War. Scattered throughout the archives, libraries and media-morgues of the world are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of equally disturbing documentations, literary, photographic, filmic and televisual, of spectacular derailments and collisions caused by equipment-failure, metal fatigue, track-debris, human error, crossed signals, sabotage, drunk driving, war, or what are actuarially euphemized as 'acts of God'.

Learning, subsequently, that RB laid the blame for the accident he solemnizes in As dark as the grave on shortsighted management policies had a special pertinence for me as I reacquainted myself with the locomotive-long work in the AGW's new Devonshire Mall gallery space a few hours before the opening of S/D III, for earlier that bitterly cold, snow-blowing day I myself had travelled by Via Rail from Toronto to Windsor. Throughout the duration of the trip, my thoughts had reverted involuntarily to the theme of railway disaster, prompted by the lengthy pauses as our torpid progress was interrupted again and again, usually in the middle of open fields or at the far edges of unidentified sidings. Presumably, because behind time, we were waiting for through-traffic. What if some signalling mistake were to place us on the wrong track at the wrong time? What if, during one of the frequent whiteouts, a snowmobile or truck were to plough into us at a level crossing, still a surprisingly frequent occurrence in this half-wild country? And how long would my ride, kindly provided by the curator of this exhibition, be willing to wait for me at the Windsor station? Would there be enough time left in the day for me to complete all the gallery business I had pencilled into my calendar? Only toward the end of the protracted journey were these unscheduled, increasingly nerve-wracking stops explained by a conductor's overheard remark that the hold-ups could be blamed on a recent spate of layoffs, which forced an undue reliance on automatic switches whose heat-boxes were unable to handle the extreme weather conditions.  (32)

RB's title is derived, of course, from that of the posthumously patched-together Malcolm Lowry novel, Dark as the Grave Wherein My Friend Is Laid — which in turn is taken from a line in an elegy by the Metaphysical poet Abraham Cowley.  (33)   Benner explains in conversation that his interest in Lowry coincided with the choice he made while travelling extensively throughout Canada and the northern United States as a railway worker. He decided to commit himself as an artist to crossing cultural borders, to 'going' — a project facilitated by the purchase of an Amtrak pass and his access to free travel on freights, thanks to his possession of conductor's and brakesman's rail cards.

Spurred by an interest in indigenous New World agriculture and in the revolutionary politics of the 1960s, RB undertook his first trip to northern Mexico in 1973. In preparation for this adventure, he began reading Lowry's Under the Volcano 'as a way of knowing more about Mexico. I wanted to know what's south of the U.S.-Mexican border.' He purchased a second copy of the novel in the bookstore of the Museum of Archaeology in Mexico City and ploughed through it over the course of a month, while staying at a student residence in a rundown quarter of the capital. 'I guess I was ready for it this time', he remarks.[ccc]

After thoroughly acquainting himself with Mexico City through 'walking and walking and looking around', RB then resumed his journey, travelling by rail through Central and South America. As he immersed himself in Meso-American history and culture, he became aware that, whatever his evocative powers, Lowry had had 'very little understanding of the Mexican people and language. He was very Eurocentric. But then, he was that way about Canada, too.' As an illustration of Lowry's linguistic ineptitude, RB cites the episode in Under the Volcano in which the mescal-fuddled protagonist, Geoffrey Firmin, crudely translates a public garden-sign's stern interrogatory directive —


(LE GUSTA ESTE JARDIN?
(QUE ES SUTO?
(EVITE QUE SUS HIJOS LO DESTRUYAN!

— as 'You Like This Garden? Why is it yours? We evict those who destroy!' And then reflects, 'Perhaps the sign didn't mean quite that — for alcohol sometimes affected the ex-Consul's Spanish adversely (or perhaps the sign itself, inscribed by some Aztec, was wrong) — but it was near enough.'[ddd] In her film treatment of Under the Volcano, Lowry's second wife, Margerie Bonner Lowry, provided a more accurate translation: 'You Like This Garden that is yours? See that your children [ hijos] do not destroy it.'[eee] The verb evitar means 'avoid', not 'evict': hence, alternatively, 'prevent your children from destroying it.' In other words, far from being warned against trespassing, the parent is encouraged to accept responsibility for the civic maintenance of a public amenity. The sign is not a hostile challenge but an invitation — which, however, carries with it, as Eden should have done, an admonition: do not transgress!

Some commentators have argued that the garden from which the Firmin is implicity banned / banished is the paradis artificiel of drink, which, when consumed to excess, acts as the agent by which lovers are driven from the bower of bliss. However, the Dantean / Spenserian / Miltonic topos encloses a multitude of plantings besides the literally metaphoric and the psychologically allusive. For by confusing love of intoxication (self-escape) with the intoxication of love (discovery-of-other), the damned / doomed Adam of the epic parable that is Under the Volcano is also enacting the universal human tragedy on earth: by entering the garden, we perforce destroy it, and so ourselves, both individually and as a species. The neglected demesne is, by extension, Mexico, 'the meeting place', in microcosm, for, as Lowry explained in a 1946 letter to his publisher, 'We can see it as the world itself, or the Garden of Eden, at once.... It is paradisial; it is unquestionably infernal.' (Lowry stated in a later letter that 'The Consul has been a cabalist (this is where you get the Garden of Eden). Mystically speaking, the abuse of wine is connected with the abuse of mystical powers.... The implication is that an analogy is drawn between Man today on this planet and a black magician.... The Consul implies his war, as opposed to any Hugh [his half brother] might be involved in, is far more desperate, since it is against the very elements themselves. That is a war that is bound to be lost.')

How we interpret the message, RB concedes, is a matter of 'intonation and semantics, and depends on the viewer's sense of collective or individual responsibility to society.' The product of a colonialist, class-ridden culture on its uppers, Firmin (who scorns as futile and quixotic the revolutionary ideals of his younger sibling, Hugh, a former journalist and now a self-doubting member of the Iberian Anarchist Party) seems to be under the impression that the garden is a private one, like those with which he would have been familiar in England, accessible only to the privileged few who have keys. His phonetic (mis)reading of the sign becomes, in Benner's socialistic interpretation, 'an issue concerning his [i.e., by inference, Lowry's] understanding of the possession of place. Lowry assumes possession rather than questions it.'[fff]

On the other hand, like everything else, the garden had allegorical implications for Lowry, representing not only the lost paradise of love and youth but life itself, which he could have saved but which he elected to forfeit, or from which he had banished himself through his own inebriated (in)actions. Do not transgress! became, in his own experience, a proscription, (fore?—)echoing its Canadian counterpart, the sign which, one late November morning, he and his wife were dismayed to confront, barring them from access to their forest spring at Dollarton, British Columbia (the fictive Eridanus): 'PRIVATE PROPERTY KEEP OFF.'[ggg] Fear of eviction, of expulsion, both symbolic and actual (the fiery sword, soul-drowning firewater, the manuscript-devouring shack-fire), was, after all, one of Lowry's governing obsessions. This 'underground' meaning of the sign is made explicit in the last scene of Margerie Lowry's screenplay, after Firmin has been shot by the pun-addicted Chief of Rostrums as a spy (an 'espider'), on the discovery of his possession of Hugh Firmin's Federaçion Anarquista Iberica membership-card:

     One of the policemen drags the Consul's dying body over to the barranca, and pitches him into the abyss. We see his body falling into the abyss. He screams. Somebody, half laughing, throws a dead pariah dog after him down the ravine. We see the sign in the little garden, beside the barranca:


(LE GUSTA ESTE JARDIN?
(QUE ES SUTO?
(EVITE QUE SUS HIJOS LO DESTRUYAN!

     And now a reverse of the opening shot: from the barranca we ascend: we see the volcanoes, their peaks pure and clear in the evening light above the storm, the great mountain chain, and then a tremendous panorama of sky, with clouds piled five miles high.[hhh]


The first line of the sign gave RB the title of his You Like This Garden?, undertaken in the spring of 1976 after he had come to an impasse with his semi-abstract paintings, which he felt 'weren't working'. In an attempt to find out why, he decided to explore the aleatory possibilities of found photographic images. Having enlarged a close-up photograph of a dense fir forest — public domain, but licensed to private lumber companies — he covered this bush garden with spruce resin; re-photographed the result; coated that blowup; re-photographed it again; and so on, to 'completion.' As reproduced in the catalogue of the exhibition Ron Benner-Tom Benner, mounted by the Sir George Williams Art Gallery of Concordia University in December 1976, each of the five panels bears a section of the above-quoted sign, first in Spanish, then in French, then in RB's English translation, in which the last sentence reads 'see that / your children / don't destroy it!' (Ironically, this important early work, which foreshadows his later eco-political installations and billboard pieces, was destroyed in a studio-flood.)

RB next applied this new approach to You Like This Garden?'s 'counterpart', As dark as the grave wherein my friend is laid, the genesis of which is explained in his own artist's statement concerning the work:

The image in As dark as the grave wherein my friend is laid is from a news photograph [by Sam McLeod, of the London Free Press, taken in June 1975) of a train derailment near Simcoe, Ontario. The train was the Norfolk & Western (Wabash) DN90 bound for Buffalo, New York, from Windsor, Ontario. I worked for the Norfolk & Western from 1971 until 1979 as brakeman / conductor. Two of my fellow workers, Edward Wadley, the engineer, and Ray Merritt, the head-end brakeman, died in this accident. The title of the work refers to Malcolm Lowry's book, Dark as the Grave Wherein My Friend is Laid.

Having obtained a copy of the original news photo, RB cropped it square and had it blown up to near-billboard proportions. In keeping with the industrial imagery, he slathered the photo-murals not with a quasi-natural substance but with teardrop-shaped goops of plastic roofing cement. Despite this change in materials from the organic to the artificial, 'The two works, process-wise, are exactly the same,' the artist remarks. This similarity of treatment is also carried forward in the folding, square-format Sir George Williams Art Gallery exhibition catalogue, in which the five As dark as the grave panels are printed on the verso of those of You Like This Garden?, the title again being divided among the reproduced images, which they underscore like inscriptions. Asked why he had assigned a (slightly but significantly altered) Lowry title to this piece, Benner offers an indirect explanation: 'Twenty years after I made that work, I can say that I don't really like Lowry any more, but at that time I was still reading him. In fact, he so intrigued me that in 1973 I travelled to Vancouver to check out where he'd lived. On the beach near where he'd built his shack I bumped into an old man who had known Lowry.'
.(34)

The title, he says, 'was provided for me. I found it when I needed it', several years after having read the book. As to why he prefixed the phrase with the word 'As', he struggles to recall his thinking and state of mind back in 1976, following the death of his two friends:

Well, the work is about fellow employees, mismanagement, distant ownership. To do that work created a lot of tension. My co-workers kept asking me, 'Ron, why are you doing this?' The way I looked at it, it was a way of getting at the company and of working out my anger at the railway owners for using outdated equipment that should have been junked years earlier, and my anger at the newspaper for using an image that didn't represent those men's lives. Thirdly, it was something very personal. I was responding to the way the news media trivialize tragic events and the way a lot of the art of the 1970s was doing the same thing. Artists kept telling me I was 'doing a Warhol' — you know, all those Disaster Paintings. That was the exact opposite of what I was trying to do.

RB was also, in his own words, 'trying to get rid of this fetish of the machine.' Hence his fear that, because AHM has so prominently featured his — RB's — likeness — in the exhibition, he, too, will appear to resemble a 'fetish.' AHM counters that he deliberately chose not to 'give faces' or otherwise make direct reference to RB's dead workmates, out of respect for their memories, and because to do otherwise would be to intrude upon an observed grief. His object was to invite himself into another artist's imaginative arena (according — unconsciously, perhaps — to the doctrine of Bahktinian 'dialogue'), not to invade a private space. And, despite RB's protestations to the contrary, the 'source-erer' derives from As dark as the grave a strong elegiac feeling — a feeling that is no more RB's province to control than it is in AHM's power to influence, after the fact, the ways in which his own reflections on another's work will be interpreted. For his part, however, RB emphatically insists that As dark as the grave should be seen 'not as a memorial but as an attempt to denounce the representation of two people's lives by a machine. I don't want the machine to represent a person's life and death.' His 'statement' in the 1976 catalogue gives voice to the deceased railwaymen:

WABASH And someone asked why'd he wanna move up & down the same road all the time — boring! — and Jack (?) replied that hell — it wasn't — how you are allowed seconds to see & the brokeness of a second it's finished & no matter how much time you've got — it's so much dross and the next time the same image's seen & the same few seconds to view — only this time it's different — not the split seconds but the images imprinted and as this occurs & re-occurs and is seen and re-seen — a build-up — only additions ... an unending whine. And when the mile posts are indistinguishable from a picket fence an' he's whistling the sound of an overspeed valve — killing time no less (?) — an' this job's gotten your blood — f 'um — 'cause we're out here by ourselves anyways & they don't giva damn. [ii]


If the viewer interprets the work as being commemorative or elegiac in character — well, artists can't control the ways in which an image or construction will be construed after it leaves the studio. At any rate, RB feels that the sincerity of his intentions was confirmed six years after the piece's completion, when the widow of one of the accident victims paid him a visit in order to thank him for making the work. He takes justifiable pride from the fact that, in his words, 'As dark as the grave made a lot of artists think about something other than stupid, frivolous "art."' Somehow, the addition of the conjunction 'As' to Lowry's title metaphorically distances the artist Ron Benner from the catastrophe he commemorates, removing himself from the picture in order that the viewer can concentrate on the image he transforms from a once-timely news photograph into a timeless meditative device. But if the Lowry novel is thus doubly removed from the work that bears a variant of its title, RB affirms the importance of the literary referent and its critical connection with his own development as an artist. (Like former fellow-Londoner Robert Fones, he started out as a poet before turning to art.)

Lowry's posthumously published Dark As the Grave Wherein My Friend Is Laid is a thinly fictionalized account of the author's 1945 bus trip from Vancouver to Cuernavaca, Mexico, where, in 1936, the expatriate English writer had lived with his first wife, Jan Gabrial, and where he had begun his sole masterpiece, Under the Volcano, the expressionist story / fable / allegory / myth whose lightning-struck flame he vainly hoped to rekindle in the form of an 'Under' Under the Volcano. This fitfully dazzling book is a vision of a still-worse abyss than the pit into which the suicidally dipsomaniac Geoffrey Firmin is dumped on the last page of the 1947 epic, but offers a final, fleeting glimpse of a tender blue rift in the pall of sulphurous black cloud that hangs over both novels. For, while the past-seeking quest of the unlikely-named protagonist, Sigbjørn Wilderness, ends with the discovery that the Mexican friend he longs to visit, after nearly a decade of unanswered correspondence, was six years in his alcoholic's grave, the pilgrimage is seen neither as a failed mission nor as a one-way journey. Not, in other words, from Ca(nada) to the Hotel (Cor)nada, whose truncated sign is naturally interpreted as an omen, but from Hell to Eternity. (In Under the Volcano, the inn's name is the Hotel Canada. A name, as Lowry must have known, that is sometimes interpreted as deriving from the Portuguese explorers' notation, Aca nada — 'nothing there.')

Just as Dark As the Grave concludes on a rising note of optimism following a precipitous descent into confusion, disappointment and loss, so RB's As dark as the grave likewise can be 'read' not only from left to right but from darkness to light: that is, from death back to life. Can the Fall be reversed? The descent into Dis turned into an ascent? The film shown backward? Even if life says, unequivocally, No, art says, emphatically, Yes.

Questioned about this, RB agrees: 'As dark as the grave isn't an act of necrophilia. Memory doesn't only work one way. Visual art is never one-way. Allan Harding Mackay, being a visual artist, understands that.' He recalls that the first critic to comment on the piece 'completely misinterpreted it. He described it as reading as a one-way narrative, pointing only to death.' When Benner first showed You Like This Garden? and As dark as the grave in Montreal, he concluded the label text for the latter with the sentence, 'It could go on forever.' The same can be said of the quartet of memorial pieces he produced in 1984, a decade after the demise of his co-worker friends, to mark the deaths that year of four of his political and literary heroes, Ruth Furst, Michel Foucault, Manuel Scorza and Livia Rokach. In the words of RB's companion, the London artist Jamelie Hassan, through such testaments he is 'Making [his] grief valid'.

AHM's respectful, muted but fundamentally sanguine variations on Benner's despairing lament for absent friends (not, as Terrence Heath reminds us, our own, or AHM's) consists of an assemblage of discrete but related elements that bounce echoes off one another as well as off the work to which they allude. They are arranged in no specified order or sequence, so, as a convenient means of discussing them, the descriptive inventory that follows observes a counter-clockwise 'browse' of the 360-degree pan of the installation, as videotaped by S/D III's curator Vincent Varga. This publication's equivalent of these continuous frames is a sequence of scanned and digitized slides taken by AHM to document the show, beginning with RB's six-part piece (viewed, of necessity, from right to left), then moving to the wall with the exhibition's signage and explanatory text panel, which acts as a dividing line between the Source and the Derivations.

This order of observance may in fact be how most gallery visitors take in an exhibition, first standing back to scope the whole and then zooming in on individual works in an effort to identify their contents, then to comprehend their inter-relationships, and finally to figure out the drift of the installation as a single, unified entity. The origin of the title of RB's testimonial / testament is revealed — in typically covert fashion — toward the 'end' of AHM's series of multi-media meditations on As dark as the grave. We will return to that under-source and its significance, for RB and AHM, after naming and describing the parts of the show in the historical present. This task was made easier by a typically tongue-in-cheek diagram faxed by the artist after numerous phone-calls from a confused and bemused commentator.

Presiding over the entire 'dialogue' is a large, shelf-supported, square-format portrait of RB. This work's media are oil, pastel and wax; the source was a projected colour slide of the artist's head, shot by AHM. Tacked to the chrome-yellow wall immediately below its lower-right corner is a photocopy on acetate of a detail of the portrait: the top of the artist's head, the focus being on his right eye. If we follow the trajectory of this sombre, inward-looking gaze (that loaded noun / verb), we find ourselves staring directly into the two black eyelike windshields of the crashed engine across the room. Suddenly the locomotive, with its nasal headlamp and grimacing grille, becomes anthropomorphized. Was this startling linkage between the witnessing survivor and the disaster he commemorates deliberate or accidental?

Yes or no, the effect is electrifying.

We are in the presence here not of the subjective and subjecting male 'gaze', as anatomized by Sartre, Foucault, Lacan and Barthes, but of something more numinous, more haunting and haunted, as a consultation of the Tao Tê Ching on the topic of ghosts suggests:

     Because the eye gazes but can catch no glimpse of it,
It is called elusive.
   Because the ear listens but cannot hear it,
It is called the rarefied.
   Because the hand feels for it but cannot find it,
It is called the infinitesimal.
   These three, because they cannot be further scrutinized,
Blend into one.
Its rising brings no light;
   Its sinking, no darkness.
Endless, the series of things without name
On the way back to where there is nothing.
[jjj]

Wrecked engine as skull.

Gazing up at RB's sad face, I find myself asking: where have I met this image before? Back in his Toronto studio, while viewing his own videotaped record of the installation, AHM rewinds and freezes on the face. 'Hodler!' he hoots. Subsequent research in the library shows that the portrait recalls the heads of the procession of downcast, white-robed old men — the bald central figure especially — in Hodler's Eurythmie, which AHM had studied at the Kunstmuseum in Bern, Switzerland, over the course of many visits. And from which, it turns out, he produced not only Requiem for Hodler but Interpretation Hodler # 1, in which, as with Northern River, he 'flipped' and 'symmetrized' the (eu)rhythmically composed file of monk-like ancients — very Dead White Males, to a man — to create an even more cadenced pattern. He brought the artist into the picture by introducing a profile of Hodler in the lower-left foreground of Requiem.

AHM was responding, in this Swiss derivation, not only to the formal qualities of the source but to its atmosphere, the mood of fatal inevitability conveyed by the 'movement' of the statue-like figures, whom we first might take to be mourners but who, in fact, are those who are about to be mourned. For, as the critic Louis Duchosal observed in 1895, 'C'est la destinée qui les conduit et la mort doit fermer le cortège. Ils diffèrent les uns des autres par la physiognomie, mais un même état d'âme fait se mouvoir les cinqs corps d'un mouvement régulier de marche lente et mélancholique.'[kkk]

Hodler, in turn, openly borrowed his composition from works such as William Blake's oil and tempera painting, The Procession from Calvary (Tate Gallery, London), dating from 1799-1800.  (35) Not only in the massing of his figures but in his choice of 'quotations', Hodler was demonstrating his epigraphically cited theory of Parallelism (which, along with a lecture given in 1897 upon the invitation of the University of Freiburg, constitutes his entire theoretical écriture — a refreshing if rare instance of artistic reticence at the dawn of the modern era). As he explained,

If an object is pleasant, repetition will increase its charm; if it expresses sorrow or pain, then repetition will intensify its melancholy. On the contrary, any subject that is peculiar or unpleasant will be made unbearable by repetition. So repetition always acts to increase intensity.... Since the time that this principle of harmony was employed by the primitives, it has been visually lost, and so forgotten. One strove for the charm of variety, and so achieved the destruction of unity....[lll]

In recruiting Hodler, who recruited Blake, who recruited Michelangelo, who recruited Masaccio, who recruited Giotto (the ex-shepherd who taught himself to draw perfect circles in the dirt with a stick), AHM is aligning himself with a practical philosophy of composition as well as inserting himself into the Swiss master's concept of art history not as 'progress' from past to present to future but as a simultaneous procession across space, eternally present in the Great Wheel of creation (which sometimes revolves backwards). Whatever the direction of their flight, Hodler reminds us that 'Proverbially,... Birds of a feather flock together.'[mmm]

If RB resists AHM's attempts to conscript him into the line of succession, that is his right; he cannot prevent his image from being repeated in parallel to renovate Hodler's 'principle of harmony' at the end of the most dissonant and chaotic century in recorded history. Another Hodler work in the Kunstmuseum that AHM had filed away in his mental slide-library and subconsciously projected onto the head of RB is Die enttäuschten Seelen (Disappointed Souls], of 1891-92, again involving five grieving figures, of which a contemporary Swiss critic noted, 'Tout en restant très moderne par l'inspiration, M. Hodler a pour but le caractère et le style — comme les primitifs, ou Durer, ou Mantegna, qu'il a étudiés beaucoup, mais qu'il n'imite pas — et il a comme eux le sens décoratif et architecturel.'[nnn] Qualities which AHM recognized in Hodler, and which he strove to update and adapt for employment in his own ironic, late-twentieth-century meditations on the twin vanities of heroic self-portraiture and sublime mountainscapes.

Also (subconsiously?) influencing the manner in which he posed and photographed RB in preparation for making this larger-than-life likeness were dimly remembered Hodler images of bearded philosophers and peasants hanging their weary heads in attitudes of resignation and reflection — like, if you will, the figure whom the ex-Consul in Under the Volcano hallucinates 'apparently in some kind of mourning,... standing, head bowed in deepest anguish, near the centre of the public garden' (p. 134). By introducing (intruding, so far as the reserved RB is concerned) the 'source' artist's countenance into the derivation, AHM is opening up new channels of connection and divergence: he reaches towards and moves away from the maker otherwise invisible within his own creation; the other makers before him; the time-markers who drive the trains; the mourners who bear the biers. Ad infinitum....( 'H could go on forever.')

Running along the wall at about waist-level are several wooden shelves on which AHM has positioned a number of framed and unframed works. Of these, the first to greet the eye scanning left is a long, shadowbox-like frame containing seven treated photocopies of the six pages in the Ron Benner: Other Lives catalogue in which As dark as the grave is discussed by Matthew Teitelbaum. The first panel is a layering of acetate photocopies of the opening page of Teitelbaum's entry. Each subsequent panel is masked with a sheet of Damar-waxed tracing paper, from which AHM has cut and scrolled up a windowblind-like flap, to reveal in sequence, left-to-right, the six black-and-white catalogue reproductions of the individual RB panels.

To the left is a second framed work, this time consisting of six laser-generated copies made from installation slides of the individual panels of the RB source-work, provided by the Art Gallery of Windsor. Over these AHM applied imperfectly aligned acetate photocopies of the under-image, their edges sealed with wax. The last panel has an additional overlay that turns it into a three-ply triple-exposure: an acetate photocopy derived from a photograph of a second AHM portrait of RB, which we have yet to encounter, but soon will.

Viewed together, these two horizontal stretches of vertical 'windows' resemble the sides of trains, planes or buses, the faces and forms behind the simultaneously refractive and lucid glass only partially visible from any position. 'The window', writes Sherrill Grace of Malcolm Lowry's recurrent use of the double-exposure device in Under the Volcano, 'serves as a mirror to frame and reflect a series of temporal and spatial dimensions; it is a miniature serial universe.'[ooo] As Elizabeth Brown wrote of AHM's Hodler variations, 'like an ever-repeating object in a mirror, mirroring itself, the role of artist as master and student revolves into infinity.'[ppp] But with mirrors, the role of the viewer comes to the fore, if only as a third or fourth overlay, dimly floating in mercury (or, here acetate and plexiglass).

Further still to the left on the long wooden shelf is another group of works which parlay a transition between the 'portrait' of the wrecked locomotive and that of the artist who submitted himself to its scarifying hypnosis. Dominating the group is a square, charcoal-and-wax drawing on paper-covered plywood of the first RB panel, loosely propped against which is a small colour photograph of the eye-section of the portrait with which we began. The rest of the shelf is occupied by four framed pieces — window-like, again — which resist an easy reading. Eventually the media and matter disclose themselves: photocopy prints on the clear acetate of a photograph of RB placed over laser prints and photocopies of the first panel of As dark as the grave. Artist and artwork thus become a unit, a gesamt (a gestalt, even?), the human face looming hologram-like over the 'face' of the slain train. This illusionistic leap into three-dimensionality, which AHM refers to as 'popping', was another unexpected result of the montaging of materials and images with which he experimented in the studio while working out the components and arrangements of S/D III. (Another heuristic discovery, not, in the end, represented in the present exhibition, was the macabre, moiré-patterned forms that resulted from the overlaying of reverse and obverse photocopy-on-acetate blowups of AHM's snapshots of RB's dome-browed head — a tactic reminiscent of the computer-'morphing' of two mug-shots to generate a third-party composite of the individual faces. The coincidental creation of which Julio Cortázar, in a very different context, anticipates in this sentence about the 'dark game' of memory: 'The archive of supposed photocopies actually offers up strange creatures.'[qqq])

Having covered these — what? collages? works on paper? — with a translucent film of white wax, AHM inscribed, and then filled in with black oil pigment, a word running across the base of each: 'Sorrow', 'Testimony', 'Anger', 'Interrogation.' As transcribed here, the sequence is that of reading: left to right.

To the left hangs a push-pinned photostat of a second mixed-media portrait of RB, the original of which is nailed to the wall beside it. Similarly affixed to the stat's right edge is an acetate photocopy of a portion of this brooding portrait, generated from a laser copy of a slide, and, on the left, a yellow-washed laser copy of the original slide used in the generation of the RB likeness.

To the right-of-centre of the stat, standing upright on its own small shelf, is a wax-encased copy of the Penguin paperback edition (covers removed) of Lowry's Dark As the Grave, the title of which alone has been left legible. In the space below the title, AHM has 'written', in raised wax letters, the word 'AS', by which the connection is drawn between the novel and RB's As dark as the grave.  (36)

The last component of the wall is the charcoal, pastel, oil and wax-on-wood 'source' portrait, over which is pinned, at a slightly skewed angle, a size-as photostat on acetate, which was made from the original transparency that AHM projected on the panel to aid in the drawing of the portrait. The cumulative effect, again, is of illusory or virtual depth, such as we associate with a hologram, but also of confusion, for the viewer is confronted with the quandary of what constitutes the 'original' and what the 'copy?'

By overlaying a derivation from a reference photo upon an artwork produced from it, rather than (as is usual) withholding it from view lest the image-juggler be accused of 'cheating', AHM presents us with the evidence and asks us to judge in what ways the autographic drawing is different from / better than / more 'aura'-charged than the photomechanical reproduction.

The entire complex whisks us back to the wellsprings of conceptualism and its notion of the idea being the thing, the raw components themselves merely the catalysts of the thought processes that must take place in the viewer / reader's mind for the work to 'work.' This is the opposite of deliberately posing a puzzle without a solution, and likewise of hitting us over the head with foregone conclusions (one reason why conceptualism underwent several near-death experiences in the 1980s). If artists perform all the work, there is nothing left for the viewer / reader to do. So too if they do none of it. Art that is completely transparent is as invisible as art that is completely opaque. The key is not to keep us guessing but to keep us looking.

As Hodler tersely put it, 'Let us sum up.' On the fourth wall of the long, rectangular room, separated from what has already been described by an entrance/exit-way looking out into two other galleries (which, during the installation of S/D III housed retrospective exhibitions by Eric Cameron and Patrick Thibert), AHM made a large charcoal drawing based, once again, on the first panel of As dark as the grave. Below it, he stationed an antique, double-drawered wooden table, which he found in an AGW storage vault. In the half-opened left-hand drawer he placed, in mimicry of rolled-up dinner napkins, scrolled photocopies of pages from RB's railway log-books (on which appears the signature of one of the victims of the train-wreck), acetate photocopies of the first RB panel, and images from the Other Lives catalogue. On the top of the table stands a wax-sealed copy of this publication, opened at the spreads devoted to As dark as the grave, with the phrases 'to realize a personal memorial', and the words 'testimony' and 'interrogation' revealed. Over the images of the RB panels can be detected what AHM describes as 'a flowing of tear-like streams of wax, whose interval creates the "zones of sorrow."' Tears of clear wax, not opaque, tar-like roofing cement. But serving something of the same additive / subtractive function.

Randomly arranged around this post-literary object is a leaflike scattering of loose, unframed tracing-paper drawings and colour photo-prints (including ones depicting works-in-progress in AHM's studio). Leaning on the wall is a photocopy-on-glass of the fourth panel of As dark as the grave. Still life: nature morte. And projecting into the room, like an accusatory finger, the drawer points back to where it all began, the six monitory/co-memorial panels of As dark as the grave.


DRAW

It might be true to say — 'I can trust him — he is a draughtsman', or 'I cannot trust him — I never know what he's doing under that paint of his!' But it would not be true to say that so and so commits himself to white paper, in bold black lines, as an act of good faith and in order to demonstrate his honourable attentions.

— Wyndham Lewis, The Rôle of Line in Art (1941; repr. 1992)

Having come full circle, we stand facing the 'end' wall of the installation (though it could just as well be the beginning). Its dominance of the gallery proclaims that, underpinning all the translucent, masking, disclosing, photo-mechanically derived layerings, is an opaque, confrontational DRAWING. A work of the hand, dancing in time to the eye and the mind. It is rendered in primordial charcoal, implement of the first cave artists who brought consciousness into the dark through the lifeforce of their lines. A drawing derived from the thrown glow of a slide-projector, riding its dusty beam to the wall, but returning its illumination to the black remains of the fire. (Who said: 'all nature and culture lie at the heart of the word "hearth"?')

Months after draughting the foregoing description of S/D III, something I read sends me reeling back to the fact of the drawn, graphic, gestural component of the entire Source/Derivations nexus. And yet it is this most traditional component of the whole that cannot be saved: that will be — has already been — painted over. The ghostly lines and shading lie there now under a double coating of eggshell white (oil base? latex?), awaiting some far-off restoration to the light, when their meaning, like that of the train-wreck they render, will no doubt be entirely lost. The author who brought me up short is John Berger (expatriate, europhile English poet, novelist, essayist, art critic, artist), on the subject of drawing. As usual, Berger is concentrating on a single image in order to bring the larger picture into focus:

The advent of the cinema and television means that we now define drawings (or paintings) as static images. What we often overlook is that their virtue, their very function, depended upon this. The need to discover the camera, and the instantaneous or moving image, arose for many different reasons but it was not in order to improve on the static image, or, if it was presented in those terms, it was only because the meaning of the static image had been lost. In the nineteenth century when social time became unilinear, vectorial and regularly exchangeable, the instant became the maximum that could be grasped or preserved. The plate camera and the pocket watch, the reflex camera and the wristwatch, are twin inventions. A drawing or a painting presupposes another view of time.

Any image — like the image read from the retina — records an appearance which will disappear. The faculty of sight developed as an active response to continually changing contingencies. The more it developed, the more complex the set of appearances it could construct from events. (An event in itself has no appearances.) Recognition is an essential part of this construction. And recognition depends upon the phenomenon of reappearance sometimes occurring in the ceaseless flux of disappearance. Thus, if appearances, at any given moment, are a construction emerging from the debris of all that has previously appeared, it is understandable that this very construction will give birth to the idea that everything will one day be recognizable, and the flux of disappearances will cease. Such an idea is more than a personal dream; it has supplied the energy for a large part of human culture. For example: the story triumphs over oblivion; music offers a centre; the drawing challenges disappearance.
[mmm]


And then, grasping his theme out of that flux even as it rushes past, Berger rhetorically inquires,

What is the nature of this challenge? A fossil also 'challenges' disappearance but the challenge is meaningless. A photograph challenges disappearance but its challenge is different from that of the fossil or the drawing.

The fossil is the result of random chance. The photographed image has been selected for preservation. The drawn image contains the experience of looking. A photograph is evidence of an encounter between event and photographer. A drawing slowly questions an event's appearance and in doing so reminds us that appearances are always a construction with a history. (Our aspiration towards objectivity can only proceed from the admission of subjectivity.) We use photographs by taking them with us, in our lives, our arguments, our memories; it is we who move them. Whereas a drawing or painting forces us to stop and enter its time. A photograph is static because it has stopped time. A drawing or photograph is static because it encompasses time.
[nnn]


Berger goes on to explain why he makes 'a certain distinction' between drawings and paintings. Drawings, he argues, 'reveal the process of their own making, their own looking, more clearly. The imitative facility of a painting often acts as a disguise — i.e., what it refers to becomes more impressive than the reason for referring to it. Great paintings are not disguised in this way. But even a third-rate drawing reveals the process of its own creation.'[ooo]

Next, Berger turns his attention to the kind of process-revealing, process-concealing graphic and photographic drawing with which AHM — emphatically a draughtsman rather than a painter — has constructed the multi-media collage/ montage that is S/D III:

How does a drawing or painting encompass time? What does it hold in its stillness? A drawing is more than a memento — a device for bringing back memories of time past....

To draw is to look, examining the structure of appearances. A drawing of a tree shows, not a tree, but a tree-being-looked-at. Whereas the sight of a tree is registered almost instantaneously, the examination of the sight of a tree (a tree-being-looked-at) not only takes minutes or hours instead of a fraction of a second, it also involves, derives from, and refers back to, much previous experience of looking. Within the instant of the sight of a tree is established a life-experience. This is how the act of drawing refuses the process of disappearances and proposes the simultaneity of a multitude of moments.

From each glance a drawing assembles a little evidence, but it consists of the evidence of many glances which can be seen together. On one hand, there is no sight in nature as unchanging as that of a drawing or painting. On the other hand, what is unchanging in a drawing consists of so many assembled moments that they constitute a totality rather than a fragment. The static image of a drawing or painting is the result of the opposition of two dynamic processes. Disappearances opposed by assemblage. If, for diagrammatic convenience, one accepts the metaphor of line, as a flow, a river, then the act of drawing, by driving upstream, achieves the stationary.
[ppp]


As a flow, as a river....

In his conclusion, Berger returns to the sketches he made of his dead father in his coffin, which were the starting-point for this defence of drawing as a 'habit of attention', a way not just of seeing but of saying and doing, a way of remembering and a way of marking time: 'It works,' he decides, 'because from being a site of departure, it has become a site of arrival. '[qqq] And so, in sum, where do we stand at this point in the journey? At the stage of recognition, if not yet of understanding, that, through the incremental layering and unlayering of various types of transparency, AHM has generated a surface of disorientingly allusive and elusive depth. [fn.#37] Ingres's term (with reference to portraiture): drawing as the 'probity' of art. Wherein lies the drawing of probity?
SHIFT

The sourcings and derivations, meanwhile, continue. And why should they stop? For there'se no end to "other" art, no end to the need to acknowledge, contemplate and reference it. Given opportunities, the artist goes for them, then moves on. When necessary, or advantageous, he or she returns, reverses, always nose-down, ears up to the music of Chance.

Only a few months after the conclusion of S/D III, AHM produced the series' fourth installment, in response to an invitation from Elizabeth Kidd, then curator of the Edmonton Art Gallery. This time, he chose as his source a cast of Rodin's bronze monument to Balzac, acquired by the EAG in 1978. Once again, coincidence, serendipity and an openness to the vicarious offerings of Mallarmé's adventitiously creative hazard played a role in the process of making. Having flown to Edmonton in June 1994 to première Somalia Yellow, his nineteen-minute video documenting his experiences as an official Canadian war artist in Somalia in March 1993, AHM tossed the dice (threw the bones, flipped the coins) and came up with a pair of sixes in the form of a striking congruity between four totally incongruous elements: the Balzac statue; the monumental termite-mounds — which he refers to as 'shape-changers' — that he had videotaped from the vantage-point of a military vehicle crossing the desert outside of Belet'huen; the head and upper torso of a Somali woman stretching at an abattoir at dawn; and Gothic Height, a hulking sculpture by the British-Canadian artist Peter Hide, stationed outside the entrance to the EAG. His September 1994 installation consisted of the Balzac, mounted on a pedestal; a video intermingling the Somalian footage and that which he shot of the Balzac sculpture at the gallery; and eight waxed collage stills from the videotapes of the Rodin, the Hide, and the human and insect-made Somalian figures in two panels.  (38) By means of the magic of magnetic tape-manipulation, the rigid but moving bulk of the sculptor's tribute to the most polymorphous of French novelists  (39) was made to swirl and writhe and dervish-dance on the monitor. Bronze becomes flesh becomes sand becomes ant-heap, turns back again to bronze. Homo virilis (animus, ingenium, militarus] flayed naked on the podium, twisting in the photon-wind.

The next opportunity to extend the series came in the spring of 1995, when AHM was invited to undertake a fifth S/D at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario.  (40) After his usual period of poking about in the vaults and wandering through the galleries of the host institution, he fixed upon a small but monumental canvas by Edwin H. Holgate (1892-1977), Head, as the focus of a new series of derivations, exhibited at the McMichael in the winter of 1997.

This source-work, started early in 1938 as a portrait of the artist's wife, began, in Dennis Reid's words,

to stray from likeness as he found himself engaged by an intense awareness of the actual physical activity of laying on paint. Head..., as Holgate calls it (insisting that it is not a portrait), is probably the single work that best summarizes Holgate's concerns as a painter. Every detail speaks of subtlety (notice the point of the collar over the right shoulder); every form is sensitively built up, and naturally, pleasingly melds into its neighbours to form a modulated, tactile surface of quiet liveliness. The structure of the face — emphasized by contrast with the simple white kerchief — is convincing as grown bone and flesh, yet eloquently expresses the capacity of oil paint to suggest the range of human spirit.[rrr]


One can see why AHM chose this hypnotic 'non-portrait' as his subject. Portraiture, after all, has been a continuing pre-occupation, interspersed with vicarious G7 canoe trips and mountain climbings carried out entirely within the four walls of the urban studio. Perhaps he noticed some similarity between the brooding yet impassive expression of the artist's beautiful young wife, captured in a moment of private reflection, and that of the Somali mother engaged in a public act of unreflective stretching.

The unpredictable — in fact, downright scary — result of AHM's deep minings of the image tell us (if not all the critics)  (41) more than the artistic process at work, its sourcings and derivings: they bring us face to face with our own conflicted feedings about what we see when confronted with that which has been created, made disturbingly new. And with what we don't want to see as, staring into our daily mirrors, we become horrified, hypnotized witnesses of our own aging, our own slow disappearance into the aether, which drawing, like the drawing of breath, like the exposure of light on film, can only momentarily 'stop'. Each countenance is its own memento mori.

Where now? Go on? Go back? Both? Neither / nor?

Art being news that stays news, the wellspring of potential sources remains inexhaustible, the supply of fresh derivations no less limitless, so long as two factors are present: inspiration and opportunity. Without either — as likewise without selves and others — there is no art.


CODA

The majority of this book is unwritten, open-ended, to be continued....

    — Alf Bogusky, Foreword, A Book Of Not Knowing When We Are
      Going to Die Or Grow Up And Of Only Knowing A Little Bit
(1982)

Meanwhile, as I write (December 1998), AHM is beavering away on a bundle of projects (including the next S/D) in a studio in Banff, where he completed another artist-in-residency and put the finishing touches on his latest video, Somalia Yellow Vignettes, which formed the visual and text basis for a theatre performance in collaboration with the Calgary theatre ensemble, One Yellow Rabbit, and which subsequently was incorporated into the Atom Egoyan-scripted opera, Elsewhereness. So once again this latest temporary coming-to-roost in an itinerant image-maker's nomadic existence places him at as far a remove, spatially speaking, from Toronto as Toronto is from Bern. Glimpsed thus afar, the sense of interlocking circles hovers into view. Hawk over the Rockies, casting long shadows.

Trying to sum up this (for me) four-year journey, which for AHM stretches across a quarter century of self-discovery, self-recovery and self-renewal, I can't help wondering: what has become of the puzzling wall-statement in his Adelaide St. studio —

IF THERE IS NO SELF THERE ARE NO OTHERS —

which, in absentia, he currently sublets to another artist? Has it been painted over? Has it been altered, added to, subtracted from? Or does it still naggingly linger, faint and smudged by other shoulders? A phone query, routed through the Banff Centre switchboard and left in electronic limbo as a voice-message, eventually elicits a delayed reply: 'Robert! The inscription? Yes, it's still there.'

Much earlier in the proceedings, AHM, prodded to reveal the source of the quotation, finally succeeded in tracking it down. According to his diary, on 7 February 1993, while browsing through the commentary on the I Ching, by Liu I-Ming, an eighteenth-century Taoist adept, he was arrested by this explanation of the thirteenth hexagram, T'ung Jên / Sameness with People (also variously translated as 'Fellowship with Men, Association with Others', and 'Lover, Beloved Friends, Like-Minded Persons, Universal Brotherhood'):

Sameness with people means other people and yourself are as one. As for the qualities of the hexagram, above is heaven..., strong, and below is fire..., luminous: Employing strength with illumination, making illumination effective by strength, being truthful within and adept without, developing oneself and others as well....

This hexagram represents mixing in the ordinary world, concealing one's illumination, skilfully assimilating to others. It follows on the previous hexagram tranquillity. In tranquillity, yin and yang match oneself and others as well....

But to mix with the ordinary world, concealing one's own light, requires great impartiality and impersonality. This is a matter of being selfless. If there is no self, there are no others. When there is no self or others, the sense of others and self leaves; when the sense of others and self leaves, then others are oneself and oneself is identified with


I Ching hexagram

others. This is like the sky's covering everything, like the sun's shining elsewhere. One can thus return others and self to emptiness, being like others in the wilderness  (42) as it were, this assimilation being unfailingly developmental. [sss] .(43)

Stirred by this analysis of the integral ingredients of social and cultural harmony and development — of the potential of an art that need not be fixated on the prism / prison of the self, nor abjectly mired in guilty b(other)ation about the Lacanian 'Other / other' perplex, but which instead can celebrate bothness — AHM jotted down the statement. Later, he transferred it with a stump of charcoal to the off-white cinderblocks of his studio / cell. Which sometimes, of a winter dusk, tends to take on the air of 'a dim, brown room in faraway / nearby Saskatoon', but which of a spring morning (1995) is pierced by a penetrating and yet healing light.

Then yes, the wording can be flipped about — 'symmetrized', if you like, or 'played backward':

WITHOUT THE OTHER THERE CAN BE NO SELF.


Agreed. But where do we go from here? Time to rewrite the reading on all our walls: individual and communal, private and institutional.

WITHOUT ART THERE ARE NO SELVES.

Or others.[ttt]

For if, as Goethe .(44) says, 'the last and greatest art is to limit and isolate yourself', what does it tell us about the art of the twentieth century, that so much of it seems bent on limiting and isolating others, by both denying and over-esteeming selves?

And if, as gloomy Pessoa counters, 'Art is isolation. Every artist must attempt to isolate himself from the others, and to give them the desire for solitude', is it not also the office of art to contest the claim that 'For us others are no more than a landscape and, nearly always, an invisible landscape in a familiar street'?

And if again, again if: as the critics insist, all good and great art also strives to rescue the abysmal human condition by abolishing, at least for the aesthetic moment, the ultimately artificial borders between other and self, them and us, you and me, I and thou. What, then, should be art's version of 'both / and', the relativity-based binary equation that William Empson, in positing seven increasingly complex and multivalent 'types' of literary ambiguity, argued should supplant the limiting and isolating formula of 'either / or'? If not 'both + or', then perhaps something along the lines of 'IF = AS'?





***

Endnotes

a. Italo Calvino, If on a Winter's Night a Traveller (Toronto: Lester and Orpen, Dennys, 1981).

b. Alf Bogusky, Foreword, A Book Of Not Knowing When We Are Going to Die Or Grow Up And Of Only Knowing A Little Bit (Lethbridge: Southern Alberta Art Gallery, 1982), vii.

c. Ibid., ix.

d. John Bentley Mays, Chapter I, 'A Book Of Not Knowing When We Are Going To Die Or Grow Up And Of Only Knowing A Little Bit', A Book Of Not Knowing, 1. The 'brown, dim room', AHM rejoins, is the critic's embellishment; the walls, he insists, were painted a light beige.

e. Ibid., 3.

f. Ibid., 4.

g. Ibid., 5-6.

h. Ibid., 7.

i. Ibid., 9.

j. Ibid.,10.

k. Ibid., 13.

l. Ibid., 17. 'Beige, the room was light beige!' — marginal scribble on draught of this text by AHM.

m. Micah Lexier: Book Sculptures (Oakville: Oakville Galleries, 1993).

n. Susi R. Bloch, 'The Book Stripped Bare', in Artist's Books: A Critical Anthology and Sourcebook, ed. Joan Lyons (New York: Visual Studies Workshop Press, 1987), 133.

o. Charles Tomlinson, 'A Process', Collected Poems (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 193-94.

p. Tom Phillips, 'Notes on A Humument', A HUMUMENT: A Treated Victorian Novel. First revised edition (London: Thames & Hudson, 1987), n.p.

q. AHM, quoted by Linda Genereux, 'Opposing desires', Metropolis (Toronto), 2 November 1989: 8.

r. Dick Higgins, 'A Preface', in Artists' Books: A Critical Anthology and Sourcebook, ed. Joan Lyons (New York: Visual Studies Workshop Press, 1985), 11.

s. AHM, quoted in Genereux, 'Opposing desires.'

t. Bruce Ferguson, 'Return of a Native Son: Or Home-town Boy Makes Good Art', Five Families: An exhibition of Family Portraits by Allan Harding MacKay (Charlottetown: Confederation Centre Art Gallery and Museum, 1986), n.p.

u. Ibid.

v. Elizabeth Brown, untitled essay, Variations on Hodler: Recent Paintings by Allan Harding MacKay (Banff: Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, 1986), n.p. Selections from this series showed subsequently at the University of British Columbia Fine Arts Gallery in Vancouver and the Edmonton Art Gallery.

w. AHM, quoted by LuAnn LaSalle, 'Paintings juxtaposed with headlines and quotations', Regina Leader Post, 28 January 1988.

x. Brown, untitled essay, Variations on Hodler..., n.p.

y. AHM, quoted by Genereux, 'Opposing desires.'

z. AHM, quoted by LaSalle, 'Paintings juxtaposed with headlines and quotations.'

aa. AHM, quoted in 'Gallery unrolls longest show yet. Would you believe 545 feet in length?', Halifax Mail-Star, 21 February 1989.

bb. Charlotte Townsend-Gault, 'Some Critical Countenances', Some Critical Countenances: An Extended Drawing (Halifax: Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, 1988), 51.

cc. Ibid., 52.

dd. AHM, quoted in ibid., 55.

ee. Townsend-Gault, ibid.

ff. Ibid., 54.

gg. Ibid., 55.

hh. Ibid., 56.

ii. AHM, quoted in 'Gallery unrolls longest show yet....'

jj. AHM, quoted by Tim Carlson, 'Rolling out Canada's art scene. MacKay's Countenances includes over 100 portraits', The Daily News (Halifax), 11 February 1989.

kk. AHM, quoted in 'Gallery unrolls longest show yet....'

ll. AHM, quoted by Carlson, 'Rolling out Canada's art scene....'

mm. 'Gallery unrolls longest show yet....'

nn. 'Rolling out Canada's art scene....'

oo. Susan Gibson Garvey, 'Faces, Names, Words: Some Critical Countenances', Vanguard 18 (Summer 1989): 19.

pp. John Bentley Mays, 'Sensual paintings recall twilight of the Romantics', The Globe and Mail (Toronto), 18 March 1988.

qq. Townsend-Gault, 'Some Critical Countenances...', 61.

rr. Garvey, 'Faces, Names, Words...,'17.

ss. Dawn Rae Downton, 'Allan Harding MacKay: "Coming back is in accord with keeping still,"' Arts Atlantic 38 (Winter 1990).

tt. AHM, in conversation with Robert Stacey.

uu. Robert Stacey, in Art Gallery of Ontario: Selected Works, ed. Catherine Van Baren (Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 1990), 268.

vv. F.B. Housser, 'Some Thoughts on National Consciousness', Canadian Theosophist 8 (15 July 1927), 82.

ww. Peter Larisey, S.J., Light for a Cold Land: Lawren Harris's Work and Life — An Interpretation (Toronto and London: Dundurn Press, 1993), 102-3.

xx. Ibid., 141.

yy. Terrence Heath, 'Allan Harding MacKay', C Magazine (Summer 1992), 56.

zz. Genereux, 'Allan Harding MacKay', Artforum (May 1992), 125.

aaa. Alan Hovhaness, liner note, Symphony Etchmiadzin, Armenian Rhapsody No. 3, Mountains and Rivers Without End (London: Unicorn Records, 1975).

bbb. Matthew Teitelbaum, Ron Benner: Other Lives (Saskatoon: Mendel Art Gallery, 1988), 10. For RB's own (Aug. 1996) commentary on As dark as the grave, see p.62 of Track Record: Trains and Contemporary Photography, curated by Marnie Fleming (Oakville, Ont.: Oakville Galleries, in collaboration with the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, 1997).

ccc. These and subsequent RB comments, unless otherwise sourced, are from telephone conversations with the author held in February 1994.

ddd. Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano (London: Jonathan Cape, 1947; pbk. ed., Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1963), 132. Page-numbers of all subsequent quotations from this source are indicated in parentheses in the text. I must admit that in our conversation I conflated the garden-sign incident with the one in Lowry's sequel to Under the Volcano, Dark As the Grave Wherein My Friend Is Laid, in which the protagonist misinterprets the news that his idealistic Mexican friend Juan Fernando Martinez had 'murinando' as 'He has moved', and only after his informant cries 'Murio. Muerte!' realizes Martinez was dead.

eee. Margerie Bonner Lowry, 'Under the Volcano: A film proposal ... based on the novel by Malcolm Lowry', in Malcolm Lowry and Conrad Aiken Adapted: Three Radio Dramas and a Film Proposal, ed. by Paul Tiessen, The Malcolm Lowry Review (Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario) (1992): 69.

fff. One reason why Sigbjørn Wilderness feels compelled to revisit Cuernavaca is his desire to confirm the wording of this sign, which he, like the ex-Consul, finds heavily emblematic and portentous. This is in part because the text quoted in the earlier novel is revealed, in Dark As the Grave, to be preceded by a sterner warning: 'La personal que destruya / Este jardin sera / consignada a la / autoridad...', which Wilderness, Firmin and Lowry (all of whom had traumatic run-ins with the Mexican authorities) collectively read as an order of banishment from paradise.

ggg. Lowry, 'The Forest Path to the Spring', Hear us O Lord..., 240.

hhh. M.B. Lowry, 'Under the Volcano: A film proposal....', 124.

iii. Ron Benner, Ron Benner - Tom Benner (Montreal: Sir George Williams Art Gallery, 1976), n.p.

jjj. Arthur Waley, The Way and its Power: A Study of the Tao Tê Ching and its Place in Chinese Thought (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1934, reprinted 1942), 59.

kkk. Louis Duchosal, Le Journal de Genève, 23 mars 1895.

lll. Ferdinand Hodler, 'Parallelism', undated statement (ca. 1900), excerpted in Artists on Art: From the XIV to the XX Century, ed. Robert Goldwater and Marco Treves (New York: Pantheon Books, 1945; 3rd ed., repr. 1966), 393-4.

mmm. Ibid., 393.

nnn. Charles Bonifas, La Tribune de Genève, 5-6 février 1892.

ooo. Sherrill Grace, The Voyage That Never Ends: Malcolm Lowry's Fiction (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1982), 57.

ppp. Brown, untitled essay, Variations on Hodler..., n.p.

qqq. Julio Cortázar, 'About Going from Athens to Cape Sounion', Around the Day in Eighty Worlds, tr. Thomas Christensen (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1984), 41.

rrr. John Berger, 'Drawn to that Moment', The Sense of Sight: Writings, ed. Lloyd Spencer (New York: Vintage Books, 1985), 148-49.

sss. Ibid., 149.

ttt. Ibid.

uuu. Ibid., 150.

vvv. Ibid., 151.

www. Dennis Reid, Edwin Holgate (Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 1976), 21.

xxx. Liu I-Ming, The Taoist I Ching, tr. Thomas Cleary (London: Shamahala Dragon Editions, 1986), 77.

yyy. The author is grateful, first, to AHM, for his patience, generosity of spirit and willingness to submit to endless interrogation and fact-grubbing. The conducting of our 'long conversation' (as William Blissett titled his moving account of the dialogue he conducted over a period of years with the reclusive Welsh poet / painter / calligrapher David Jones) opened my eyes and ears to much more than the topics touched on here. Among other things, it brought me (via Ron Benner) to Malcolm Lowry, whose works I had avoided before, just as a previous commission from the Art Gallery of Windsor had taken me to no less unexpected a figure as Wyndham Lewis, who also spent wartime years in, 'of all places' (Hugh Kenner, The Pound Era), Canada, and whose excilic path eerily paralleled but never quite crossed that of his younger, drunker, less cantankerous contemporary — a non-conjunction I intend to follow up elsewhere.

Working on 'Revisiting the Sources' and its background 'Expendable Chapters' also led me into as-yet-inconclusive musings about the Bahktinian dimensions of art practices displaying, as AHM's and, to a lesser extent, RB's, surely do, that 'double-voiced, dialogued, or hypbridized discourse' the literary critics and cultural theorists have been babbling about since the appearance of the first English translation of The Dialogic Imagination in 1981.

Similarly, as perhaps too many asides suggest, the process forced me to give serious thought to the rarely heralded role played by 'the dance of coincidence' (André Bretonic 'objective chance') in the making and experiencing of art — a theme pursued to numerous (non-) conclusions in 'Journey and Return.' I can only hope that the encounter will continue. Vincent Varga was trusting / foolish enough to invite me to record my responses to AHM's third S/D and to document its precursors. Others who contributed information, advice, admonitions and encouragement: Grant Arnold, Ron Benner, Sherrill Grace, Andrew Hunter, Al Neil, Michael Parke-Taylor, Tom and Monica Smart, Paul Tiessen, and Charlotte Townsend-Gault. Many thanks as well to the staff of the AGW, in particular Nataley Nagy, Helga Pakasaar, Dee Douglas, Cassandra Getty, and Jarrod Kurek, and to Maggie Keith, for editorial and moral support.

Text: © Robert Stacey. All rights reserved.


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