Jack Hardman, 1964, courtesy HeritageBurnaby
A couple of nights ago I attended an AGGV reception for new members, having become one earlier this year. It was an enjoyable event, and I appreciated the tours of the old Spencer mansion and the Looking Glass exhibit. Nevertheless, I think the high point of the evening was for me a brief conversation with one of the other attendees, who drew my attention to a series of books I’d never heard of. The series’ title is “Unheralded Artists of BC,” published by Mother Tongue Publishing on SaltSpring Island.
Having checked a couple of them out of the library today, I can confidently say the series promises to be a gold mine, given my already documented interest in obscure local modernists. Some of the artists, like Jack Hardman and D.D. Uthoff, I’d heard of but know little about. Others like David Marshall or LeRoy Jensen I hadn’t even heard of before, even though they had some kind of a presence in the local art scene of the time.
Nice looking books too; the publisher didn’t scrimp on the production values. I’ll review them individually as I work my way through the series.
I’ve never been much of a comic book guy. I probably would have been, in my youth, if I had been allowed to read superhero comics. But the parental authorities wouldn’t countenance anything more action-packed than Casper the Friendly Ghost, which didn’t exactly capture my imagination in the way that, say, the Silver Surfer might have. So I never made my way into comic book fandom, and from there into underground and alternative comics, the way I might have in some parallel universe where the restrictions of this one didn’t apply.
But while my ignorance of comics and cartoons is near total, this much I know: Seth is brilliant. My first exposure to his work was by way of a serialization of part of “Wimbledon Green: The Greatest Comic Book Collector in the World” in the Globe and Mail back in 2005 or so. That intrigued me enough to hunt down a copy of the book, which turned out to be both a great read and a highly covetable example of elegant book design. (For Seth it appears that the physical appearance of his books is an important extension of the content, which in this case managed to be both a nostalgic homage to classic comic books and a huge sendup of the people who collect them.)
I read it several times. All of his work rewards re-reading, at least if you’re like me and don’t pick up on the subtleties the first time around. It proceeds as a series of vignettes circling around the mysterious figure of Wimbledon Green, who might or might not have been a comic book collector named “Don Green” who was involved in some shady deals back in the early 70s. Whoever he was, he is now the self-proclaimed “Greatest Comic Book Collector in the World,” with a lifestyle matching the comic book heroes of yore, complete with a mansion, faithful retainers, an auto-gyro, and fancy cars. A jeux d’esprit, if ever there was one.
Thanks to the efforts of Robert Amos, a certain amount of local attention is currently being paid to the life and works of Harold Mortimer Lamb. A biography entitled “The Art Lover” written by Amos was published last fall, and an accompanying exhibition (curated by Amos) is currently on at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.
The book does recount a lot of Lamb’s life, but it leaves out a lot too. I’d sort of consider it the “good parts version”, assuming one’s interest tends more toward the history of Canadian painting and less toward the history of Canadian mining, which was where Lamb spent his professional career and from which he derived most of his income. This is entirely appropriate, given that Amos’ stated goal is to provide context for the large-ish and impressive collection of art works that formed the Harold and Vera Lamb Bequest to the AGGV, not to write Lamb’s official biography.
It’s not really my intention here to review either the book or the exhibition, though I’d say anyone at all interested in Canadian art from the first half of the 20th century should make a point of checking out both. Instead I’m just going to note some thoughts that spun off from my reading of the book.
Continuing on with my general theme of old stuff no one else cares about…
Back when I was learning to paint, I came to believe that the craft of painting, the heart of the discipline, had been lost amid a seemingly endless parade of fashionable styles throughout the 20th century. In a mostly unsuccessful attempt to compensate, I made a point of checking out old how-to-paint books from the university library. Most of them were awful, but every once in a while I’d come across something worth reading. A Stepladder to Painting, by Jan Gordon, fell squarely into the latter group. In its time I think it was fairly popular. I eventually bought a copy second hand (since it’s been out of print for years), and my copy from the sixth printing dates from 1944, ten years after the first printing. There was a second, updated edition in the 1960s, but the book is such a period piece that I can’t help but think any later updates would probably not have improved it.