At the Community Arts Council Gallery right now and until April 20th, is Betty Meyers’ Waterfalls.
In full disclosure style (not that it’s really necessary), Betty Meyers and I are friends. Not great friends or old friends, but definitely friendly enough that I was invited to help hang her show. That was fun, and it was a chance to let my inner boss loose (don’t know if you’re reading any of the reviews about Tina Fey’s new book, but bossiness is apparently one of the hot topics…I should say, women’s bossiness).
The best part of hanging the show was a free loose wall comprised of probably 40 or so smaller works. The “works” by the way, are oil paintings of waterfalls. Waterfalls of Vancouver Island actually. Anyway, there were three of us, including myself and Betty and our friend Helen Rogak. We propped all the small paintings up against the wall and taking turns, we started to hang the paintings in a fairly random formation, building on what the previous person had decided to do during her turn. Make sense? It took several hours, I don’t know, maybe two, and it got a little tense really, with some shouting at times and some generally manipulative kinds of suggestions being made. Suffice it say, I am not the only bossy woman kicking around. Fortunately Betty is equilibrium personified and made sure that a turn was a turn. No one in Betty’s world is allowed to unfairly influence another person during that person’s turn.
Betty is a serious woman and a serious artist. She talks about a time in Canada when women artists weren’t actually hanging in galleries. Hard to believe, hunh? Although not so hard when I think of some of the conversations I’ve had with baby boomer aged men about so-called “women artists”. I don’t know, I sure don’t want to paint anyone with a big brush or whatever, but maybe feminism isn’t really a bad word after all, know what I’m saying? Girls gotta stick together and all that. Or maybe it’s more like we need to be aware in the present time that in fact women have been subjected to disregard and disrespect in the not so distant past and the danger still lurks. We all know that. Hey I just put my 86 year old father-in-law on a plane back home. He was staying with us for a visit and he told me one afternoon, after watching me clean the house and then prepare a meal for his friends, that he was just realizing that women don’t really get the credit they deserve for the work they do. 86 years old, peeps!
But back to the art. The art, the art, the art! Paul Scrivener (1) was around while we put the show up and I overheard him saying to Betty that her paintings are very sensual. I hadn’t really thought of them in that way (maybe I’ve seen too much porn: too much flesh, not enough poetry), but he pointed out the crevasses and the gushing waters as being very feminine and very physical. It made me see Betty in a whole new light. If I was a man ( or a lesbian) I might have asked her out on a date right then and there, because it’s true. They don’t show lovers in states of half-dressed ecstacy frolicking under waterfalls for nothing (I’m talking about the movies here), right? Waterfalls are sexy! But dammit, in these parts, they are oh so very cold, which obviously begs the question…well, you know where I’m going with this, I’m sure. And I’m sure you’ll agree that probably we don’t need to dive this deeply into the private lives of landscape painters, but you can’t deny, it’s an interesting spin, n’est-ce pas?
The other thing about the paintings is that they remind me of Emily Carr’s work. Well, they’re forest scenes and there’s motion, but also I’ve had the same experience looking at both artists’ work, that up close everything loses meaning, in Betty’s case the picture becomes very scratchy and sketchy. In Carr’s case, often the picture, up close, looks thin and dry and washed out, but from a distance both painters’ just come alive. The picture is suddenly much more than a painting; it’s a space, fully formed, and brought to there on the gallery wall for a while. I was trying to think if perhaps that’s just the norm when it comes to painting, but I don’t think so. No.
Probably the only thing about the show that bugged me, and it’s totally unimportant in a way, but I just wish that I could make it stop happening and so I’m going to throw it out there; it’s the labels. You know, Betty’s work as an exhibit is very elegant. There is a simplicity and a cleanliness (that’s probably not what people want to hear about their art, but by cleanliness, I mean an attention to lines, within the paintings and without), and really I was disappointed when I arrived at the official opening (the evening of the hanging…the hanging, that sounds scary), only to discover that next to each and every painting was a label, handwritten, with the name of the painter, the name of the painting, the size and medium, as well as the cost, and in the bottom right hand corner of every label was a number which corresponded to a list of numbers on a sheet that Betty had on a desk. This sheet she was using to keep track of sales (of which there were a few) and it too had all the pertinent information about every painting in the show, again all handwritten.
So, there’s nothing worse than an elegant wall of elegant paintings, each one shadowed by a scrappy, slightly dog eared label, to draw attention away from the perfection and smoothness of the exhibit. The exhibit is the art. Make it perfect. Or as perfect as you can. You can argue all you want, saying that the paintings are the art and who gives a Shit, but the truth is that once those paintings are finished and glazed and framed and hanging in a gallery space, then that space and the configuration of paintings within it (with or without the labels), is the new and the most important piece of art. There’s plenty of alternatives to labels. Look around, check it out.
1. Paul Scrivener, the soon to be, if the rumours are correct, ex-director of CACGV. That is if there’s even going to be a community gallery space anymore. The present gallery closes in May and there’s a lot of gossip being spread around.