Category Archives: Art

The Past Looms Large

November 27th, 2018 | 12 Comments »

For the last eighteen months or more I’ve been working on an art installation that stretches along a 3-4 km trail at Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec.  The trail moves in and out of fields and forests, and each environment has its own character.

When I started the project, the idea behind it wasn’t entirely clear. Gradually, working with the land and listening to its story, the project took shape. Time — how we think about it, experience it and represent it — was a thread connecting each installation. So several months ago the project acquired a name: Timelines.

The Past Looms Large is a section of Timelines that I hope will raise questions in the mind of anyone walking the trail.  It begins with a short corrugated tin column positioned near a tall dead pine and a stump whose shape makes me think of a person drowning, with neck stretched up to the sky and mouth wide open, gasping for breath.


The dead pine and the tree stump were part of the inspiration for this section.
The tall dead pine and the tree stump were part of the inspiration for this section of Timelines.


Applied to the base of the column are letters that not only give the name of this section but also prepare a walker for what is coming next.


The red letters contrast with the grey cement and continue a colour that appears throughout the project.
I’ve used red along the Timelines trail as a unifying element. I I like the contrast here between the red letters and the grey concrete.


Looking out from the top of a rise, walkers will see a field crossed by a mown path with tall columns on either side.


The columns are striking in every season.
The columns definitely loom large. I took this photo early one morning in late summer, as the grasses in the field were beginning to change colour.


As they approach the columns, walkers are able to read the words on the bases: first Doric, then Ionic.


Doric and Ionic name types of Greek columns.
The words Doric and Ionic name two of the orders of Greek columns. The style of the capitals, the tops of the columns, are what differentiates one order from another. These columns do not have capitals, and never will.


Anyone who studied art history will know what word to expect next: Corinthian, the name of the third type of Greek column. But we aren’t in ancient Greece, we are in today’s world, where the past is an unreliable guide to the future.


The first column breaks expectation.
I used corrugated tin because it suggested the fluting that often appeared on Greek columns. .


Not far in the distance, a fifth column rises above an over-sized Adirondack chair whose dimensions illustrate again how large the past still looms.


Adirondack chairs are iconic symbols of summer in the northeastern part of North America.
Adirondack chairs are iconic symbols of summer in the northeastern part of North America. Fifth columns suggest more subversive possibilities.


The chair, designed by the Quebec landscape architectural firm Nip Paysage, marks a turning point. The path has climbed gently across the open field; now it begins to descend towards a backdrop of tall dark trees.


The path leads through what appears to be a natural opening between pairs of trees.
The path leads through an opening between maple trees towards an ancient apple tree. Two wooden stakes mark the location of the element we are working on now.


The next section of Timelines is unfinished, thanks to snow that came much earlier than usual — in terms of climate, the past is increasingly unreliable as a guide to the future.  Many months ago I determined that the final element in this section would be the façade of a Greek temple.  The trail would go through an opening between columns, as if the walker were entering an actual temple, but the façade would stand alone. I sketched possibilities, talked to architects and designers.

Using the internet as a guide, my friend and collaborator John Hay found the image of a temple that suited our purposes. He superimposed the image onto a photo of the chosen site.


John searched the internet and found an image of a temple that suited our purposes.
Neither John nor I remember where this particular temple was located. Nor does it really matter. We liked the proportions and the fact that it was partially ruined.


The image served as our guide. Should we have four full columns or should we include a broken one? How tall should the columns be? And finally, how could we construct the thing in the simplest way?

John made a model to scale and late in October we set to work with the help of Jacques Gosselin and Ken Kelso, without whom almost nothing at Glen Villa could be done.


John held the model in place while I took the photo.
The fifth column, located beside the Adirondack chair and shown in the model at the far right, gives a sense of scale and perspective. John didn’t add the chair.


The temple façade is like a billboard, a false front with construction details fully revealed.


Upright posts form a framework for the temple façade.
We put up scaffolding and the upright posts that will form the framework of the façade on a cold and sunny day.


By early November things were beginning to take shape. First two columns appeared …


The horizontal bar is only temporary, holding the posts in place during construction.
The horizontal bar that runs behind the corrugated tin is a temporary but necessary element, holding the upright posts in place during construction.


… then four.


The pediment is still to be added.
Scaffolding is still in the way, but the façade is getting closer to its final form.


It was very cold the day we added the broken pediment and the dentils underneath. We tied the pieces in place temporarily — the clamps that will hold them securely had not arrived.


The black I-beams will weather over the winter. In the spring we'll probably paint them silver.
This is not the final version of the façade but close to it.


And then the snow fell.

Over the winter the upright posts will begin to rust and the black I-beams will weather, softening the harshness of their lines. In the spring we’ll make whatever changes seem right.

But for now the work is done.




Rock Art

November 12th, 2018 | 18 Comments »
Australia Kimberley 2011-82
Cave paintings on the island of Borneo showing animals and human hands have recently been dated back some 40,000 years, making them the oldest known example of figurative rock art in the world. (Details of the story can be found in various articles, including one here from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.) Think for a moment about how long ago that is. Forty thousand years. It takes my breath away. I've been fascinated by rock art for many years and have been fortunate to see examples in South Africa, Namibia, Australia, Chile and Peru. While the particulars


Garden Hits and Misses

September 30th, 2018 | 13 Comments »
The fountain rises 70 feet into the air. On a sunny day it is beautiful to see. It works via a remote control!
At home after three marvellous weeks visiting gardens (and  friends) in England, I find much to criticize in my garden. After many years of travelling, I've come to expect this -- and to accept that a garden in Quebec's harsh weather conditions will never resemble an English garden, with its lush foliage and flowers, topiary and ancient walls. I've also come to expect that gardens other than my own will disappoint me. On every tour I've hosted, there has always been one garden I particularly looked forward to seeing. On


The Clearing of the Land

August 6th, 2018 | 15 Comments »
This is how the water meadow looked in 2009 after we first cut a path through it.
For several years now I've been working on a trail that leads through the fields and forests at Glen Villa. Sited along the trail are art installations I'm creating that relate to history, the passage of time and the relationship between art and architecture. I wrote about this for the first time in March 2017. My focus then was to figure out what to call the trail. Thanks to my granddaughter Elinor, there now is a name. Timelines. I like the name. It is short and direct yet suggestive of something


As the Garden Turns

April 22nd, 2018 | 12 Comments »
This garden in the Eastern Townships has a splendid view out over the countryside.
Does your garden turn its face to the world or does it veil it off?  The difference says a lot, about you and the style of your garden -- and about the spirit of the times. Recently I spoke to several groups about how to get the most out of garden visits.  Learning to Look: the Art of Garden Observation considers what it takes to really see a garden. A handout for the talk asks some key questions, starting with the garden's context.  How does it relate to the world around it? Is it open to its surroundings or closed off? Topography


The Upper Room in Winter

March 25th, 2018 | 16 Comments »
The Upper Room is pristine in the morning light.
The Upper Room is as glorious in winter as it is in spring, summer and fall. The highlight in every season is the beautiful screen outlining the bare branches of a dogwood tree.   [caption id="attachment_6101" align="aligncenter" width="5184"] The Upper Room stands tall in the morning light.[/caption]   Drawn by the Montreal artist Mary Martha Guy, the tree branches become more starkly striking with the late afternoon sun shining through.   [caption id="attachment_6092" align="aligncenter" width="2862"] The screen is a symphony of blacks, whites and shafts of light.[/caption]   A close-up of four


Art in Winter

December 11th, 2017 | 18 Comments »
The shape of the crabapple tree becomes dramatic when outlined with snow.
I woke yesterday to a fine dusting of snow, and during the day more snow fell. Today it outlines the branches of the big oak tree by our boathouse and the old crabapple trees by the drive, emphasizing the contrast between rough bark and soft fluffy white.   [caption id="attachment_5887" align="aligncenter" width="3888"] The shape of the crabapple trees becomes dramatic when outlined with snow.[/caption]   The forecast calls for more snow to come, and as confirmation, the sky is grey. But once the snow stops and the barometer rises, the sky will be a clear, bright blue


Metis International Garden Festival

August 22nd, 2017 | 6 Comments »
The optical illusion never fails to delight.
  Recently I visited the International Garden Festival at Metis, Quebec. I've attended the Festival many times since it first opened in 2000, but in previous years I've gone with adults. This year was special -- I went with two teenage granddaughters.   [caption id="attachment_5512" align="aligncenter" width="1425"] The festival gardens are adjacent to the St. Lawrence River in a part of Quebec that offers much to explore.[/caption]   Playsages, the theme for this year's Festival, was a good fit for the three of us. The word is a mash-up of languages, blending


The Upper Room Updated

August 7th, 2017 | 10 Comments »
An overview, looking towards the dogwood panels.
  Finishing The Upper Room, the area that honours my mother and her beliefs, was one of my goals for 2017.  I started work on the area last summer, hoping to finish then, but everything took longer than expected. This year, the sand-blasted panels that are the central feature were installed in the spring, the area was planted in early summer, and the final elements were added in July. The dogwood screen remains the crowning glory. It stands at the uppermost of three levels, defining the space without closing it in. I'm particularly happy with


Clichés to Live By

July 3rd, 2017 | 15 Comments »
George Bush's statement was a promise not to raise taxes. Did he?
I'm thrilled to announce that an exhibition of neon art I've created will open on July 8 at The Winsor Gallery in Vancouver, British Columbia. The Winsor Gallery features cutting edge contemporary art, and I'm honoured to be exhibiting there, where artists of the calibre of Alexander Calder, Attila Richard Lukacs, Patrick Hughes, Angela Grossman and Fiona Ackerman have been shown. This exhibition gives me special pleasure: the invitation to exhibit came as the result of two garden visits. The first visit happened several years ago when I went to Broadwoodside, a garden near