Crilly had a long list of criteria for the commission that frankly made me panic. It was something like the history of Vancouver as it relates to the Squarerigger Pub (the “Rig”), some fancy French art word I didn’t know and was afraid to ask for the meaning of, to possess a shifting polyvalence of meanings, and for it to go in the featured space in the games room. I thought to myself, you might just have to bullshit your way through this one. As we came inside from a cigarette with Baron, who once again had managed to add to my confusion, I was preparing for the work to make me suffer for a while, when Ian approached us and handed me a piece of crumpled-up newspaper he had found in the walls. The Vancouver Sun, Saturday Review, February 2, 1991, an article entitled the Art of War. It was like the Rig had been listening to us and decided to cough up the goods.
Jack Shadbolt painted Dog Among the Ruins in 1947. Shadbolt was a truly great Vancouver artist who drew his audience’s attention to themes such as the human condition and society’s self-awareness. As I copied the work, I felt myself bonding to both him and Ann Rosenberg, the writer, and so I visited the Vancouver Sun website and filled out the contact form hoping to find out more about Ann. Later that evening I received a message from Vancouver icons, Valerie Casselton, Managing Editor of the Vancouver Sun and Max Wyman of the eponymous Max Wyman award for achievement in arts writing who was the editor of the Review when Ann wrote the article. They did not know for certain but had heard that Ann was in a long-term care facility in East Vancouver and that Robin Laurence, herself a freelance writer and the former art reviewer for The Georgia Straight may be able to help locate Ann, so I called The Straight and they gave me Robin’s email address. Robin replied that evening, “I’m sorry to tell you that Ann Rosenberg died more than a year ago.”
When most people think of an art critic, they imagine someone finding fault in the work, and while that may be so in many cases, when done properly art criticism is as important as the art itself, because the critic’s voice helps us to see. Though I did not know Ann, a soft sadness settles in my chest knowing that she has made her final contributions. I wanted to let her know that art in turn, had come back to make itself out of her words. The article written 30 years ago, which I copied onto the painting reads:
“On May 2, 1808 the sharp reports of musketry rattled for hours through the cobbled streets of Madrid. Napoleon’s troops were flushing out and shooting Spanish insurgents and that night Francisco Goya who was deaf and heard nothing of this was led by his gardener to view the corpses that littered the pavements.
Later he made etchings of the things he saw and imagined that night three soldiers kicking and choking a civilian – an image he called Why?; a man’s body impaled on the broken branch of a dead tree, entitled This is Worse; and a bloody execution in Nothing Can be Done About It. Goya finished his Disasters of War in 1810.
Intending them to burn visions of death, dismemberment, vomit and blood into our consciousness.
Artists have always commented on war. They daubed the outline of weapons and warriors on the rock walls of Neolithic shelters, they sculpted gods at battle for the fronts of temples, they placed biblical soldiers on the pages of illuminated manuscripts, and, in recent times they recorded the horrors of high-tech war on film and videotape.
Many of these images have the power to affect us and change our understanding of war and its effects. But different artists working in different centuries respond to war in ways that reflect the opinions and values of their times. Under – Turn to page D8”
The Rig had become a casualty of the pandemic, and its patrons, soldiers in their own right, enlisted together to reconstruct it. War is an existential threat. When we are in its throes that which we are constructed of is called into question, and perhaps we disassemble ourselves in the process, to find an article within.
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