it's been ages since i went to the AGO (art gallery of ontario fyi). the last time i went was a couple of years ago for the re-opening after frank ghery pimped out the joint and made the once non-descript building one of the architectural wonders of toronto.
it does cut quite a dashing figure. all those wooden beams soaring up to the sky, over a path almost a whole city block wide, curved like a sail. i reckon its quite hard to paint a picture of it in your head. even if you google image search it, it doesn't quite capture the scope and magnitude of the structure. anyways, the last time i went i came purely to look at the building, didn't even look at any art because i've seen all of it countless of times.
a couple of weeks ago i thought it would be a brilliant idea to take some of my staff to the AGO to bond and hopefully be inspired (i dare say they were). we went on a wednesday because its free after five on wednesdays and they would be much more inclined to go when no dollars are involved. i didn't really have any expectations because although its been a few years since i had last gone, there were no major exhibits going on. so in my head seeing all those works of art that i've seen countless times would just be like seeing your neighbour you see on the lift every morning on your way to work.
i was wrong.
when you walk in, the first gallery you pass through is rather a long one. unchanged even after the ghery addition. it was still long and quite narrow, but it was exactly the same. raoul duffy's "yellow violin" hung where it always had been. pretty much right across the emil bernard, right around the corner from the o'keefe which is directly across the miro. seeing them for the first time in years, i felt a sudden, unexpected rush of nostalgia. like how you would feel when you randomly flick the remote and it lands on a channel playing one of the saturday morning cartoons you used to watch when you were little.
i was by no means little when i saw those paintings, but it was, to risk sounding incredibly corny, like running into an old, dear friend.
i used to go with my art class in highschool to the AGO every wednesday without fail. then walking over to china town at this little restaurant called champion house for some grub and sitting there for hours having a good laugh. those were some of the most memorable days of my highschool life.
but i digress. as we went from room to room, seeing all those works of art that i was once so familiar with, to my surprise, i felt the same way i felt when i saw them for the very first time. they remain unchanged, still beautiful, still as powerful as it ever was and the only thing that's different was my age.
in the canadian wing of the gallery hung jack chambers's "highway 401 towards london no.1". it is massive! situated on one of those free standing walls that divides the room and acts like a barrier to persuade you towards a certain direction. when you're standing in front of it, you literally feel like you're flying over the highway and that is your view.
to be honest, i've seen that painting so many times and this is the first time i've ever remembered his name. it also helped that the gallery held a special retrospective of his work so most of his important pieces were housed together in one room.
i never really paid that much attention to canadian art. mainly because i've always associated it with the group of seven and i'm not really keen on their work, nor do those landscapes have any affinity with my connection to anything canadian. so i knew nothing about jack chambers. didn't have a clue that he was once canada's highest paid living artist before he passed away from leukemia in 1978. but there was something in chamber's work that was especially familiar. i connected with it. the view outside the window on his domestic paintings looked like the view out of my parents' window from the house i grew up in. huge suburban backyards knee deep in snow with towering pine trees. i used to play and make snow angels in that exact same backyard when i was a kid.
that day, i felt like a child. i felt the same way i felt every time i visit the philippines. i left as a child and came back as an adult. time and experience has given you a new perspective, but your eyes see everything through memory.