December 1, 1916 All Dots No Strokes

December 1, 1916

 Today was a different day. A different month too. Low in the sky this morning, the sun was unexpectedly bright. The gray overcast last night gave way to a clear and crisp night with bright stars (what you could see in the city) and the temperature fell into the low teens. I didn’t have much wood in the stove last night and the fire went out. The water froze over in the pitcher I keep by the window.

I stepped out for a short walk in the morning. The mud in the side streets had frozen into solid ruts. I took a walk down Rosedale Valley Road to the shores of the Don River. Several motorists were struggling to get up the incline – not because it was slippery, but the wheels would get caught in the ruts, making the vehicles list to either side, and pulling the steering wheel away from those who had less fortitude to hold on. One motorist had his axle break, I helped push his automobile to the side. Another decided he’d have better luck backing up the hill, but his steering acumen directed toward a rearward ascent afforded him a destination into the ditch.  Judging by his demeanour, he was beyond the help of mortals, so I moved on.

At the shore of the Don, I could see the heat coming from the slaughterhouse. The echoing bawls of cattle and shouts of the prodding men carried across the stillness of the morning air. Looking northward, I could see the progression Bloor St. Viaduct constructing itself across the Don Valley, the men on its structure and dangling off its sides were mere ants. I pulled out my pipe and smoked gazing across the current. The sweetness of smoke covered the smells of the slaughter. The only things penetrating my thoughts were the distant clink-clinks of construction and train whistles.  No longer did I hear the slaughterhouse. I returned, walking up the hill, ignoring the stranded motorists, it was a busy road in the morning, and someone better equipped than me would surely arrive. When I returned, it was still early. I stoked up the stove, had some baloney and tea, and set about to work.

Dr. MacCallum decided to visited me once again this afternoon. He finished up early with his patient appointments and came by the Studio to pick up the rents. I had left mine in an envelope in the foyer before the end of the month so I assumed he had it by the time he came to see me. He knows I don’t like talking about money affairs 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 yesterday.

“The canvas is big, over forty inches each way.”  I motioned to it on the easel. I had just set it up this morning. I lit my pipe and flicked my burned out match at it. “Don’t get too close to it. It might ruin your lunch.”

Dr. MacCallum smiled. He knew what I was referring to. I had an exhibit at the Arts & Letters Club last December. I had twenty-five sketches set around the club. They could be viewed while the members had 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 these sketches is unbearable!”

But at the urging of the more progressive members (numbering at exactly one – Jim MacDonald) a compromise was reached. My sketches were moved away from Charlesworth’s regular luncheon spot (so his appetite would not be affected) and the exhibition was permitted to continue until 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.  When I got back by train from Owen Sound after the holidays, I stopped by the club to bring back my sketches.

Dr MacCallum moved in close to look what I had started. “Tom, there’s nary a brush stroke in the painting. It’s all dots!”

“I know, no strokes”

“What will the critics think? ”

“Damn the critics.” I replied.

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 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 stuffy 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 soldiers could have been poets and painters instead.

 

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