Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Rock Art hits Red River Road and KAPOW the Naysayers Go Wild

     The enablers of this serendipitous event were all smiles despite a sudden burst of protest from three very vocally agitated naysayers. They complained that the delivery trucks no longer had easy drop-off points, that the sculpture was yet another waste of public money and bound to be vandalized.
     The naysayers couldn’t be bothered to get the facts, and when there were attempts to offer the facts, during their loud ranting, they weren’t interested. Some people simply don’t like change, and don’t want to understand. They have their worldview and no one is going to change it. It’s especially hard to do so when they stomp around in circles looking angry, and yell as opposed to listening. It was funny to see how the two children ignored the ranting and fondly ran their hands over the stone.
     The Waterfront District BIA was planning to put a couple big planters and a garbage pail where the big rock was carefully placed by crane on Friday. The BIA wanted to ensure that the path between the Scotia Bank and the Daily Grind coffee shop wasn’t continually used as an alley drop off point for delivery trucks.
     It is a pedestrian walkway, which is supposed to be a safe passageway. The potential for an accident and lawsuit was nearing. A young employee at the Daily Grind regularly hears complaints from customers who have near misses with the delivery trucks. Scotiabank customers have similar complaints.
     Fortunately, the planter and garbage can was only a stopgap. Fortuitously, a couple days before, Don Bayes a new member of the BIA, and operator of Art’s Gallery on St. Paul Street, came up with an alternative solution. One of the artists with work at the gallery, John David Hart, was meeting at Rooster’s Bistro with the supplier of his stone, Howard Pilstner of 23 Aurolite Mine. John and Howard strolled into Art’s Gallery and during the conversation John said he would like to donate a big piece to the city. KAPOW! Don got inspired and mentioned the problem with the walkway. Howard too liked the idea and was willing to donate the rock. Contact with the BIA and the City was made and bang, done deal.
     Don chortles when he mentions the speed at which it all came together. “72 hours, man!” And who paid for the delivery of the stone? “The BIA had to foot the bill to float the stone out of the mine before the snow flew,” says Don, grinning. “Cost the taxpayers nothin’”
 When the 4,000lb rock was released from its straps it was immediately fawned over by a couple children. Passersby took pictures and video. The amount of quartz and amethyst visible on its surface was pretty extraordinary.
     John Hart got out his grinders and went to work over the next couple days, carving and shaping and applying other stone pieces to the bigger rock with rebar and construction adhesive. He carved in the shapes of traditional Ojibwa spirit animals: owls, fish, turtles, eagle feathers and more.  
     As a work of art, the stone had a lot to say before it was carved. In it’s own way the earthly spirit of a 1.5 billion year old creation could be left to its own devices, to speak of its ponderous yet beautiful evolutionary geological formation. But there are lots of big rocks in Northwestern Ontario that can speak to this.
     However, John lets the stone do most of the speaking. His approach to sculpture is physically shallow, allowing the shape and nature of the rock to present itself. He hasn’t carved the rock in its entirety to look like anything representational. It’s as if nature had a pact with the artist that neither would intrude too much on the other.
     John allowed the rock to be rough, to be unpredictable in shape, to be blocky and unformed in parts. This gives a graffiti feel to John’s etchings and additions, as if overly creative hikers in a park had taken their time to scratch in animal symbols and then stood stones upon one another.
     The stone and sculpture will have its fans and detractors, but two groups of people who have taken to it immediately are children and many First Nations people, who will stand and thoughtfully admire the work.
     The young women at the Local Grind have decided to take it upon themselves to throw water on the base of the sculpture as a couple of the aforementioned naysayers have decided to piss on it on a daily basis so far. If the police can, it would be good to catch these jackasses in the act. Downtown is for everyone.

     And if you don’t mind, I’m going to plug my own art show! I’m helping out the Habana Gallery, 118 North Cumberland, with some exposure. Tomorrow night at 7:30 I have a gala opening for portrait and figurative works of mostly local people at the gallery. The show will run for a month or so. The gallery is located across from the former Cumberland Cinema Centre.

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