Saturday, June 28, 2014


As I walked across the platform leading to the main entrance of the National Gallery in Ottawa last week, I could intellectualize the experience to come.  I would walk through a portion of our National Gallery and admire some art.  What I did not expect, however,  was my emotional response to a few key pieces during my visit.  Although I viewed only a paper thin layer of the visions of the human spirit the gallery houses, I left imprinted.
1.    Entrance:  Spider and Glass
I walked in unaware.  The glass panels of the cupola I had admired from the water a few days before were even more majestic up close.  In counterpoint to the gangly bronze Spider on the entrance walkway,  an inevitable reminder of the movie Arachnaphobia, they would encapsulate my impressions as I left—artistic vision and technical skill.

2.    The Water Court
I found the water court by accident, on the way to the Group of Seven Gallery.  My feet hurt from hours of walking through the downtown, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to sit down and soak in the peace.  I realized that the gallery operates on two  levels (and undoubtedly more that I’m not aware of):  the individual works within and the design of the building itself.

3.    Jim Revisited (Evan Penny)
I found Jim completely by accident, too, still on my way to the Group of Seven.  He suprised me as I rounded the corner heading for the stairway.   I thought of Michaelangelo’s David right away, both figures nude, peering out into the distance at some haunting and disturbing vision.  David, young and fit, leans to the left, and Jim, a little older and less fit, to the right, in what was for me a brilliant contrasting parallel.   I marveled at the sculptor’s attention to detail—musculature, skin lesions, the fine hair all over the body that had to have been inserted one at a time, and the evocative eyes.

4.    Lawren Harris
True confession.  I know very little about art.  I did know of the Group of Seven, however, as a group, not individually, and I wanted to view the Gallery’s collection.  I came away seared by the light in the paintings of  Lawren Harris.  Its translusence and pervasive radiance shone from outside the paintings onto a particular spot, and then promised the hope of that clarity in the rest of the scene. 

5.    Self-made Man
The bronze piece by Alfred Laliberté is meant to evoke a young person making his way in the world “through his talent, labours and perseverance” (Gallery descripion).  I noticed that the man had already carved out his tools, the mallet and the chisel, and had used them to prepare his upper body for the job ahead.  Ready to take his place in the world, he has only to chip away the remaining stone  to free himself for his life.

Later that evening, I thought about my faves at the National Gallery, and asked myself why those particular pieces had resonaed with me.  I would have to say, the skill of the artists to execute their vision, the connection to my emotional and physical state at the time of the visit, and the profound longing of the human soul I felt in the staring gaze of Jim and the determined downward look of the Self-made Man. 

I won’t let my naïveté catch me unawares on my next visit.  I’ll prepare myself.

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