December 1, 1916 – Friday
Dr. MacCallum visited me this afternoon. He finished up early with his patient appointments and decided to come by the Studio to pick up the rents. I had left mine in an envelope in the Studio Bldg. foyer so I assumed he had it already by the time he came to see me. I don’t like talking about rent and debts so I didn’t ask if he had gotten mine or the others. After our greetings, our conversation started on something far more important.
“I wanted to see how that painting of yours is coming Tom.” He was referring to the pointer boat painting. We had talked about it a few days earlier. I had shown him the sketch of the pointer boats and another sketch from 1914, elements from both which I was incorporating into the canvas. It’s big – over forty inches each way – it was in full view, but I motioned to it.
“Right there,” I then licked a match at it. It was on the easel and the two sketches I was working from were propped up on the spinning wheel bench where I had my paints. “Don’t get too close to it, though. It might ruin your lunch.”
Dr. MacCallum smiled. He knew exactly what I was referring to. I had an exhibit at the Arts & Letters Club last December. I had twenty-five sketches that were set around the club. They could be viewed while the members were having lunch. I was quite pleased to have the opportunity to exhibit, but quickly became appalled at the reaction of certain club members.
Hector Charlesworth led the revolt. He said it was an abomination to have such art in the club, he likened it to a barbarian invasion.“I have always kept my goodwill to with club in its novel pursuits. I exercised my with magnanimity when it was moved by the executive to have two Harris paintings hanging above the hearth. But this pestilence of sketches is unbearable!”
A compromise was eventually reached. My sketches were moved away from his regular luncheon spot (it affected his appetite, he said) and the exhibition was allowed to continue until into the New Year.
“Make sure they are gone by the time I return from holidays,” was the request from Charlesworth at the Christmas Eve luncheon. So when I got back by train from Owen Sound after the holidays, I immediately stopped by the club to bring back my sketches.
“Tom, aside from the poles, there’s nary a brush stroke in the painting. It’s all dots!”
“I know, no strokes in this painting”
“What will the critics think? ”
I replied, “Damn the critics.”
After the severe criticism that Jim MacDonald got on the Tangled Garden earlier in the year, I was determined to show the critics wrong. In response to the “incoherent mass of colour” I decided to focus on dots of colour, that when observed, would produce a coherent whole. A lesson I learned in nature, is that you can’t subjugate it: you have to bring the right pieces together so you can survive. Rocks for a fire pit, wood for fuel and shelter, and the right bait to catch your food for the day. You need to participate in nature, just like you do when you see a painting. But the critics with the old point of view think that a painting should subjugate and reflect their view of the Dominion. I’ve got a few solid days left on this painting.
Dr. MacCallum stayed for another while, but I don’t remember what we talked about for the rest of his visit. I do appreciate his attention and care for me, and because of that, I don’t feel compelled to force myself out regularly into those petty luncheon discussions. I do go occasionally, but I sit and listen rather than talk. Last month I went to Joyce Kilmer’s poetry reading. I didn’t say a word but listened intently. His poetry reminded me of Wilfred Campbell’s poetry. Formulaic, but I liked his poems. He’s American, and the discussion after his reading, he said he was ready to fight if America went to War. I could only think of how many poets and painters we’ve already lost as a country.