Abstracting Colour Photography At The Ferry Building Gallery
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
I first met Ian Bateson as an editorial
illustrator in 1977 at a Vancouver Magazine end-of-the-month contributor’s get-together
(we called them piss-ups) where food consisted of chips and the drink Portuguese
vinho verde and cheap beer.
Our friendship progressed and Bateson
became a graphic designer for a one-of-a-kind Baseline Type & Graphics
Through the years we discussed often the
change in the magazines, newspapers and the diminishing needs for editorial
photographers and graphic designers. We spoke of the need of re-defining what we did.
The Bateson I chatted with last night at
the opening of Abstracting Colour Photography at the Ferry
Building in West Vancouver was Bateson the artist.
The show, a beautiful show not featuring unintelligible
installation/conceptual art that is so frequent a downer for me in local
exhibitions, had work that was happy in colour, demanding enough that I had to
look at the work several times and inspiring enough that I just might attempt
to photograph peeling paint (and not after waiting for it to dry) like North
Shore News photographer (and artist) Mike Wakefield whose large inkjets were
sharp and most handsome. Wakefield a happy newspaper photographer for the North Shore News since the mid 80s in my short chat with him did not reveal any of those I-make-the-motions-until-I-retire syndrome but was excited about that art side of his profession.
Kelly Selden’s abstract photographs taken
with a low resolution digital camera intrigued me as they were somehow “printed
or etched” on metal. I am now inspired to call her up to enquire to see if her
method can be adapted to my portraits.
Bateson’s work is work of a consummate man,
who draws, and paints, and air brushes, who eschewed all that to work on an
iPad using an app or method called brushes and Procreate. His work begins as
low resolution photographs. The theme of his work was Vancouver. It was a Vancouver I had not seen.
Again, any work that inspires me to emulate,
rip off, copy has to be work that fulfills what art is supposed to be. It
challenges us into activity.
Should I live longer (I am 71) I wonder
what Bateson’s next incarnation will be. Perhaps I need not wonder. The
beginning artist (or the artist that hid that talent for so many years) will
probably become the consummate artist some of us suspected he always was.
The show will be on until March 9. There
will be a meet-the-artists this Saturday, March 1 from 2 to 3 pm
Ferry Building Gallery
1414 Argyle Avenue
Monday, February 24, 2014
If even dying is to be made a
social function, then, please, grant me the favour of sneaking out on tiptoe
without disturbing the party.
Yesterday Sunday I put up my 3000th
blog. Today, in spite of the beautiful snow outside, I feel melancholic.
I may have written here before that when my
mentor Raúl Guerrero Montemayor
died in January 2013 I lost all desire to return to Mexico City a city of part of my youth with
many warm memories of family and friends.
When I visited my Buenos Aires, the place
of my birth this last September I felt alienated. Buildings (unlike Vancouver) were still
there as most of the corners (Argentines think of intersecting corners and the
names of the streets that do it, a lot) were still there but my nostalgic past
was only in my head. I felt alienated.
In April my religious
mentor (and of everything else) died. I now have no reason to return to Austin, Texas
and the former campus of St. Edward’s High School. I have memories that do not
recede. Only the people in those memories recede by death.
A place where I have
done photographic business as a customer for close to 30 years only last week
refused me technical advice. It seems that the camera I was enquiring about I
had purchased in another shop to which I had also had business for 30 years.
A young photographer
only today told me I was a good photographer. What a pleasant surprise that
In Spanish we have a
term, “un zero a la izquierda” or a zero to the left. Basic math will tell you
that 0.1, 00.1 and 0000.1 are all the same number. That zero on the left of
that decimal point is superfluous, better word, redundant.
Perhaps I have done
better in measured minutes than Andy Warhol would have predicted. I feel tired
if not quite tired.
I miss my former
family and the warmth of family gatherings in which children had their own
table. I miss going with my mother on tram 35 to visit my grandmother and hear
my mother play the piano while my grandmother sang with her beautiful
coloratura soprano voice. I miss my wife Rosemary when she was far more
romantic than she is now. I could be at fault. I miss all the cats I buried in
our garden. I miss my eldest granddaughter when she was a precocious under 10. I
miss being called by a magazine and being sent a manuscript to which I would
imagine a photograph and then, that thought of imagination would become the
reality of that latent image that slowly emerged in my photographic tray.
I miss having
photographer associates with whom we would discuss methods and compare notes.
Sometimes we only discussed the subjective merits of one studio lighting system
I miss my Argentine
painter friends. I could call them (before they left for Buenos Aires in separate airplanes) at any
time of the day or night and I was invited to have a mate and chat about
projects, books, history, art, music, dance and food. They are gone and have
left a vacancy in my heart and mind that cannot be replaced by a good movie, a
good book, a good play, a good concert. I know few, if any, with whom I can
share those experiences. I am alienated in Buenos Aires, Austin, Mexico City and now in that Vancouver of cyan/blue/gray skies.
There is a word in
Spanish, “inquieto” which loosely translates as uneasy. I feel inquieto but that
feeling is one of intellectual and artistic uncertainty. I am somewhere in the
middle of two entities. One is the certainty of what I have experienced up to
now the other a sure knowledge of the certainty of death but tinged by the
uncertainty of the shorter future in front of me in the atmosphere of a world
of constant change.
In times likes this
one I find it startling that my first concern is to make sure Rosemary knows
the passwords and the arrangements I have with those who service my blog on
line. I don’t want the plug to be pulled by circumstances of neglect.
Fab With Enzymes, Pedro Páramo, The VPL & Being Canadian
Sunday, February 23, 2014
are large biological molecules responsible for the thousands of
metabolic processes that sustain life. They are highly selective catalysts,
greatly accelerating both the rate and specificity of metabolic reactions, from
the digestion of food to the synthesis of DNA. Most enzymes are proteins,
although some catalytic RNA molecules have been identified. Some enzymes are used commercially, for
example, in the synthesis of antibiotics. In addition, some household products
use enzymes to speed up biochemical reactions (e.g., enzymes in biological
washing powders break down protein or fat stains on clothes; enzymes in meat
tenderizers break down proteins into smaller molecules, making the meat easier
To the above I can add that while in Mexico I
remember my mother using dried papaya seeds to tenderize meat. She told me they
were enzymes. If you happen to want to go a bit further you might know that
before you squeeze lemon or lime juice on a ripe papaya that there is a slight
smell resembling ordinary vomit. Yes, your digestive juices are made up of
acids and enzymes.
I was born in 1942 and moved to Vancouver in 1975. Until
1975 I was influenced by the cultural experience of having lived in Buenos Aires, Mexico
City, Austin, Veracruz and Nueva Rosita, Coahila. My five
years in Austin did a lot to make me almost feel
like an American in many ways since while in Austin those were my growing teen-aged years.
In 1974 my Canadian wife suggested that Canada might be a better place to raise our two
Mexican-born daughters as the situation in Mexico was in her opinion
deteriorating. I remember that she told me, “You are an alien so we cannot move
to the United States
but since I am Canadian you have a better chance there. Let’s try Vancouver.”
I remember meeting the immigration officer
in the Canadian embassy in Mexico City.
I told Rosemary that he was French-Canadian. Rosemary indicated that it would
be smooth sailing as a French-Canadian would understand a Latin (me). All I
remember about the man is that except for his accent he was clean cut in a
Twenty Twelve and 2013 were shocks to my
existence. I went to Mexico City
in December 2012 to visit my mentor/friend Raúl Guerrero Montemayor in what was obviously going to be his death bed. Once
he died in early 2013 I knew I had few reasons if any to return to Mexico City, a Mexico
City that I lived during its golden era of music in
film which happened in the 50s.
In 2013 my
mentor/friend Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C. died in April. I had visited him a
month before when his memory was receding in an alarming speed. All reasons to
return to Austin
In September of last
year I visited my natal Buenos Aires
and quickly knew that what was left of the city that I found agreeable was in
my memory. Perhaps, even though I have relatives and friends in there I might
But something curious
has happened as I have been turning all the above in my head. The first thought
was a strange one last night. I thought of Fab with Enzymes!
In the early 70s my
wife Rosemary taught English in American companies that had a large presence in
One was the chain of Camino Real Hotels and the other was Colgate Palmolive.
Many of my students at Colgate were either chemists and engineers or marketing
executives. That’s when I found out that they were about to launch Fab con
Enzimas.This product would even remove blood and wine stains like magic I was told.
I can assert with
proof and demonstrate my Argentine, Mexican and American roots. Thanks to
Brother Francis Barrett, C.S.C. who taught me American history and Forrest
Wright who taught me English and Civics. Between them I can explain in great
detail the Dred Scot decision and the Sacco and Vanzetti trial. But last night I
wondered if I had any Canadian roots or some sort of influence?
|John Gavin in Spartacus|
In December 2012 I was
at the Benito Juarez airport in Mexico City
waiting for my Air Canada flight to arrive that would take me back to Vancouver. I spotted the
Air Canada crew sitting and I immediately sat close. I felt comforted in what
had rapidly become a place where I felt alienation. I began to chat with them
and one of the male flight-attendants ended up being Argentine. We compared
notes and rapidly concluded how wonderful (without going into details) it was
to live in Canada.
When my airplane took
off and when I heard the landing wheels retract I instantly felt the relief of
being home of being in a place where most could be predicted, where electricity
free-flowed with an almost unerring voltage and with a precise cycle in 60. My
Argentine friend (a friend when I gave him a postcard with my portrait of
Arthur Erickson) deposited on my tray a very large container of Häagen-Dazs
vanilla ice cream which obviously came from
First Class. My fellow passengers all stared in amazement.
In October my Air
Canada flight from Buenos Aires landed in Toronto and I waved
goodbye to all the grandmother flight attendants who, too, had become my
friends. At security that evening in my initial preparation to leave fro Vancouver I was told that the two glass containers of
Argentine Patagonia Dulce de Leche were verboten (even though they had sailed
through both Argentine security and when leaving at the next port of call of Santiago). I know for a
fact that anywhere else the dulce de leche would have been confiscated as were
all those small but quite fine plastic bottles of French white and red wine
that is consumed on Air Canada
|John Gavin in Pedro Páramo|
I asked for an option.
I was gently told to go back and purchase a small bag at a nearby luggage store
and check in the dulce de leche. Air Canada was slightly difficult as
they charged me $20 since my allotment for check in bags had been exhausted.
And so in a country in
which I had no idea who Neal Young was nor could I tell you about any of the
MacKenzies or the Macdonalds who were Canadian Prime Minister, or of my
surprise at seeing Captain Kirk in a Supervalu TV commercial, I have come to
understand that Canada’s contribution (a sort of national enzyme that has
worked on me without itself changing) has been a subtle one and best of all one
in which it has helped me retain and enhance the memories of my past lives in
|Gabriel Figueroa, foto by George Hoyningen -Huene|
How can that be?
Specifically in the last few years it has been thanks to my Vancouver Public
Library. I have found in the Spanish section books that are hard to get in Argentina or in Mexico. I have found films that
have long disappeared from the shelves of Buenos Aires
and Mexico City.
Of late I have become
mini-scholar on Eva Perón. I read Tomás Eloy Martínez’s Santa Evita in Spanish,
courtesy of the VPL and in English thanks to the McGill branch of the Burnaby
In the last few days I
have been enjoying Argentine and Mexican DVDs. One is Nicolás Prividera’s
Fatherland (Tierra de los Padres). This documentary has anonymous Argentines
reading a book, while standing by ornate memorials in the Recoleta
Cemetery in Buenos Aires, from famous Argentine leaders
and writers (the quotes are all bout the eternal turmoil of my country). I know
the cemetery and its cats well.
The other film, a
Mexican one, is Carlos Velo’s 1967 Pedro Páramo based on a famous short story by
Juan Rulfo. Few reading this (except for a few connoisseurs that I know) would
suspect the significance of any film with cinematography by Gabriel Figueroa. Below is a startling filmography of his American films and you must consider that he almost made 100 Mexican ones:
Black and white
The Night of the
Iguana (1964) Academy Award Nomination for Best Cinematography (B&W)
Tarzan and the
The Fugitive (1947)
Under the Volcano (1983)
The Border (1979)
The Children of Sanchez (1977)
Once a Scoundrel (1972)
Kelly's Heroes (1970)
Two Mules for Sister Sara (1969)
|Pilar Pellicer & John Gavin in Pedro Páramo|
And of course Figueroa
was the cinematographer of some of the best Mexican films from its so-called golden period. One of them is Pedro Páramo which has his
dark, contrasty look so reminiscent of one of my favourite films of all time,
The Fugitive with Henry Fonda, Pedro Armendáriz and Dolores del Río. The
Fugitive is based on my equally favourite Graham Greene novel The Power and the
Pedro Páramo has three
interesting actors in its cast. One is Ignacio López Tarso, the Mexican
Laurence Olivier whom Rosemary and I saw on the stage in the late 60s in Eugene
Ionesco’s play El Rey se Muere (Exit the King). In Pedro Páramo he plays a
fundamentally good man who becomes entangled in the evil ambition of his master
(Pedro Páramo) played by John Gavin. Few outside Mexico would know that John Gavin (his
looks are a cross between Cary Grant and Rock Hudson) spoke and speak perfect
Spanish. Some might remember him as a young senator in Spartacus who is the
love interest of the elderly senator Laurence Olivier.
|Pina Pellicer & Marlon Brando|
But it is Pilar
Pellicer, an actress of depth and beauty that perhaps was only rivalled by her
younger sister (a sort of Mexican Audrey Hepburn) Pina Pellicer who appeared in
Marlon Brando’s One Eyed Jacks. Pina Pellicer was to commit suicide at age 30
in 1964. She is best known for being in Macario (with cinematography by Gabriel
Figueroa) with Ignacio Lopez Tarso. This film is sometime rated as the best
Mexican film and which was directed by Roberto Gabaldón. Interesting too is
that the film is based on a work, a novel with the same name, by the mysterious
And so these last few
months and weeks I have felt very Mexican, very Argentine, and while I cannot
yet locate the Canadian in me (am I an enzyme?) I am thankful to this country
and city and specially my dear Vancouver Public Library.