Thursday, January 8, 2009

the risk of poetry amongst anthropology

it's tricky previewing an art show by a friend. what if i find it boring or appalling? do i write that in my weekly news culture column or just pretend the whole thing never happened? it's even trickier when you have a man-crush on the artist.

to my relief, aaron maclean's 'the risk of poetry amongst anthropology' is a beautiful, potent collection. i stopped by the anna leonowens gallery on granville street today to get a guided tour of aaron's upcoming solo debut (it's showing monday to saturday next week, with an artist's talk next friday at noon; check out the facebook group of the same name for deets).

the press release i got said: "Last year, a man was lost at sea," says MacLean. "He left me his photographs and so I've been painting the images until they are mine."

the man was his father. after that loss, aaron found himself going through old family photos with his mother; most had been taken by his father. you know how usually at an art gallery, you just stand in front of a painting and look at it until you feel you can politely move on? these ones will stop you in your tracks.

a large painting that will hang to the right of the window as you stand in the gallery mixes a crucifixion with a totem pole. atop the pole is a painting of a photo of his father's face, holding a child on his shoulders. animal and human faces crowd the base of the totem. the harrowing sense of love and loss make it hard to take in.

the best art dives deep into a profoundly personal experience, finds the pearl at the heart of it, and brings that back to the surface to make it universal. aaron has a gift for taking ordinary photos (he showed me some of the pictures; entirely unremarkable polaroids to my eye) and making them epic.

it put a nick cave song in my head: deanna. it's a poppy little tune, but the chorus shows cave's no stranger to turning suffering into beauty: 'and I ain't down here for your money/ I ain't down here for your love/ I ain't down here for your love or money/I'm down here for your soul.'

over coffee, aaron said that due to the lack of art critics in halifax, artists tend to paint for the public; but the public shows no signs of being interested. stop by the gallery next week to prove him wrong.

and to see aaron - he's like a little duck with a big bird's nest of hair atop his head. so cute!


  1. Jon, I now have a man-crush on you. I feel like that's okay though; it all comes around full circle. Amazing stuff, Jon, and definitely not just because it's about sir Aaron. I'm impressed. Muchos.

  2. great commentary- can't wait to see the opening tomorrow.