The lady pictured above is Helen Rogak. Helen just recently had a show of paintings at the Community Arts Council. I went to see her show with Brian Grison, formerly of Focus magazine. Why formerly is anyone’s guess because Victoria needs Brian Grison. Without him, it’s just Robert Amos and Amanda Farrell and me. Unfortunately a lot of us are pretty conventional and still believe that a writer has got to be in the pocket of Black Press or some other conglomerate to be legit. So, that leaves me out. But Brian shouldn’t be out. He’s knowlegeable about art and he’s well known at all the galleries. These are good qualities, especially the part about being well known. Also he introduced me to Helen. Actually he tried to organize a group meet at the CACGV, but because of Mercury and Mars or some such configuration, there was a problem with communication and travel and the end result was that Helen and Brian met and talked for several hours about Helen’s paintings.
About a week later, I was invited to visit Helen at her home studio. And I went. And it wasn’t at all scary or nerve wracking or uncomfortable or awkwardly silent. It’s difficult though to remark on my experience because it was so different from what I suppose I had expected. I definitely had some preconceived notions about a lady painter living and working out in North Saanich. First off, the very concept of painter is so old fashioned and useless. I don’t know why this is exactly, but it seems that most of the hip galleries in Victoria almost never show paintings. Everything is installation and experiential. When they do show painting it’s a kind of anti-painting. The problem maybe is the sheer numbers of lady and gentlemen painters working in home studios in places like North Saanich. There is a lack of discernment about what it means to be a painter. Anyone who can struggle for two weeks to almost accurately portray a rowboat on a beach can and does claim the right to call him or herself a painter.
Second, I think that I have what is a stupid and ingrained contempt for women in art. There’s a name for that; it happens to gay people too. Or so I’ve read. In my case, it would be internalized misogyny. As I grow older, nearly 40, I notice that in fact men are often preferred to women, and not for any reason that I can tell. This is true in art. I’ve noticed it, nothing scientific of course, but I’ve noticed that men’s art seems to be better represented and more likely to be praised and written about than women’s art. And it’s true on a larger social scale as well. Women in politics for instance. The things that people say about Elizabeth May for instance. She’s ugly, or she’s fat or she’ s a know-it-all, or she’s in it for the money. All the while she’s probably one of the most brilliantly strategic and self sacrificing people in Canadian history. She takes the train across the country for Christ sake. On a regular basis. But the point is that when we live in the firing line of disdain, we are bound to absorb some of that poison and we are certain to begin to think, maybe just a little, that yeah women artists are a bore.
So with all that insidiousness in my brain I was reluctant and uncertain about what I would find in the company of Helen Rogak. I thought maybe dog portraits or soft renderings, but that was foolish because the reality that is Helen is a complex and intelligent human being, and also very funny and earnest and sweet. She told me that over the years she has become unafraid of eyes seeing her work or of tongues commenting on her decisions. She said that through painting she has explored every part of herself, that she knows herself completely. She has come to accept herself and most interesting she has come in part to bear herself. To bear the parts of herself she can not like.
I’ve never heard anyone say anything like that.