Thursday 9 April 2015


I was privileged to be allowed into NAC for a preview of its current Small Feats show.  The show will actually take place on Saturday, April 11, 2015, starting at 8 p.m. with a VIP preview at 7:40 p.m.  Over 200 works of original art, each one foot square, will be on sale at $200 each.  These works are all donated by the artists as a fundraiser.  They are traditionally of such excellence and variety that people come from far and wide to purchase them.  I myself was struck by the excellence and variety in this show, for which far more works were submitted than could be accepted.

When I arrived at NAC in the afternoon of Tuesday, April 7, only two thirds of the show had been hung.  Hanging is important to bring out the way pictures complement and contrast with each other, but even so I was impressed.  Beauty and originality one can expect in a NAC show but what really struck me was the variety.  First of all, there is variety in theme, subject matter, and approach.  Secondly, there is variety in media and physical format, even bearing in mind the stipulated dimensions.

What first caught my eye were some geometrical abstracts in acrylic and gouache that were rich in colour but so sparse in shape that they made me think of Muslim sacred non-representational art.  But I had got hold of the wrong religion, because one I liked particularly, by Dylan Bond, was called “Flower of Life-Mandala” and mandalas tend to be Buddhist.

Looking around among other abstracts, I found much thicker, heavier pieces in a variety of media.  Some were actually modelled in relief in one basic colour, owing their depth and variety to the inventiveness of their texture.

I start with the abstracts because surprisingly little of the show is representational.  And what is representational tends to be both detailed and minimal.  My eye was caught by a giclée print, modified with pastel and chalk, of a silvery fish with nothing around it.  Rather than a glimpse of reality including incidental details from the background, it seemed that we were being offered the Idea of a fish as a subject for meditation in an uncluttered, Zen-like way.  This picture, called “Compense,” was by Brian Yungblut.

Some of the more surprising pictures were semi-representational in that they looked like children’s book illustrations.  But they too were largely devoid of irrelevant details in the background.  I was so struck by “The Owl and the Pussycat” by Paul Gosen that I wanted it for myself.  It just shows the Owl and the Pussycat in their beautiful pea-green boat but with no attempt to depict the sea.

I said to Steve, who was showing me round, that there was something about this show that made me think of the Religion of Art as I had tried to define it in my doctoral thesis on Marcel Proust.  Proust wrote a very long novel, which has often been translated under the title Remembrance of Things Past, and in which a not very likeable narrator is shown wandering round a varied social and sexual scene making lots of mistakes.  However he is saved from his rather dreary, unenlightened state, which seems both depressing and comic, by moments of grace in which he leaves mundane time and enters eternity.  These often come to him through the arts, whether church architecture, music, literature, painting, drama, or even cooking, but sometimes seem to come out of nowhere like a gift from God (whose existence is not actually asserted) and give meaning and value to his life.  They even show that he too can be a creative genius, as the writer of the book you are reading.

The artists in this show reminded me of Proust in that they are so obviously focused on beauty, value, and meaning without reference to any kind of creed.  We often hear that with the Death of God, meaning and value have gone out of life, but this does not seem to be the case here.  I said to Steve that I thought that they had a religious attitude to life that I would empathize with as a Quaker.  He replied that they were secular humanists with a sense of the transcendental.  Perhaps we were saying the same thing, since Quakerism doesn’t actually have a creed.

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