The Platinum Ticket by David Beynon

The Platinum Ticket by David Beynon
Shortlisted for The Terry Pratchett Anywhere But Here, Anywhen But Now First Novel Prize

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Art Appreciation

Last night was to be the second session of the Elora Centre for the Arts (hereafter known as ECftA – too much damn typing) Fiction Workshop. As it turns out the ECftA is holding an Art Appreciation series and last night happened to be a gentleman called Robert Enright.

Listeners of CBC radio might be more familiar with Robert’s bow-tie wearing cousin,
Michael Enright

but Robert has garnered fame in his own right.

Robert Enright is an art and culture critic and currently holds a position at the University of Guelph (about ½ drive from beautiful and historic Fergus). He was the guest speaker last night at the ECftA and since one of the workshop participants works for the ECftA and was committed to this lecture, it was decided that the workshop should attend.

Normally this is not the sort of event I go out of my way to be at. Even though my undergraduate degree is in English, and a great deal of that degree was spent in English criticism, I’ve always seen critics as, at best, unnecessary and at worst, useless, talentless hangers-on…you know, somewhat parasitic. I am glad to say that my opinion has changed…a bit.

I showed up at the appointed hour, had my name stroked off the list by one of the lovely volunteers who makes something like the ECftA a possibility, and proceeded into the gallery that was serving as a waiting area before the lecture.

Since it was Chinese New Year there were an assortment of Asian treats and green tea aplenty. As I sipped my tea from a Styrofoam cup I took in the art work of Sara Angelucci, the artist currently featured in that particular gallery. If you follow the link you can see some of her photos and although they’re good, it was her video piece called Double Take that really impressed me. It was a story told by two sisters and the personalities are so distinct for each that while I knew for a fact that the artist was playing both parts, I found it increasingly hard to believe it.

It was while I was hanging up the headset after watching Double Take that I was approached. Since I was alone at the centre of the galley, like the lone traveller on a city bus who hasn’t had the foresight to put his bag on the seat next to him, I suppose I was a fair target. She was a haggard looking, hunchbacked woman with poorly bleached hair, blonde over grey. She held her own disposable cup in her hand as she lurched toward me. She was still a good eight to ten feet from me when the rank smell of stale booze hit me.

“It’s a far cry from white wine!” she said by way of introduction, raising her cup of green tea.

“No kidding.” I replied. Really, what else could I say.

The room continued to fill and my new companion spied someone she knew and with a grunt and a nod, she was gone. I took in the crowd. It was obvious that there was a core group of the artistic community that everyone knew. One of these was a wonderful woman who I’ve seen around town, but couldn’t put a name to. Every town has a woman like her. Every town needs one. She was dark haired, with glasses and swept across the room. She was shortish and not particularly attractive but she just glowed, she was that alive. Think Kathy Bates in anything she’s done where her character’s neither depressed nor psychopathic and you’ll know the kind of woman I’m talking about.

There was also another older woman who approached me. She was this lovely woman from near Manchester named Anne. Anne stands at about 4’8” and is so, so sweet if ever so confused. She introduced me to several of the artistic crowd, all of whom were extremely welcoming.

There were, of course, the turtleneck wearing folks (snooty and pretentious) but they were by far the minority. I met one guy who paints massive abstract canvases and one gent that works with the River Run Centre in Guelph.

We filed into the studio space that was set up for the lecture and sat on those incredibly uncomfortable school assembly chairs made of tube steel and tissue-thin lacquered plywood.

Robert Enright spoke about the quirkiness of the many and varied artists that he’s interviewed, how he fell into interviewing artists and how he became a cultural critic. The thing I enjoyed most was the slide show that accompanied the talk. Some of the pieces he chose to accompany the lecture were truly stunning and I’m still kicking myself that I left my notebook in the car and can’t recall a single damn name.

Live and learn…