How does one paint a memory? First we should consider how one views a memory. There is softness to it, inherent blur. Memories sparkle like dust floating in the sunlight. We strain our reach towards them, but they dance and skitter away from our fingertips. Clarity is forever just out of grasp.
Now to capture that in oil on canvas. And for this we look to Jack Chambers. Looking at his paintings is like viewing the world through prescription glasses that are not your own. He paints reality as he remembers it, with the fuzz of time and a fond nostalgia.Chambers is the quintessential Canadian artist, born and raised in London, Ontario. And to my inexplicable delight, he currently has a solo exhibition at the AGO.
The exhibition features a multitude of works, including several films, organized into light, spirit, time, place and life. Strolling through the gallery is like peering into Chambers’ mind as he journeys through foreign lands, falls in love, has children and eventually faces leukemia and his own impending death.
The gallery has acquired Chambers’ sketches and notebooks for display. As you read the words he has so carefully wrung out and pinned to the page you will know him. In the silence of the airy, temperature controlled rooms your heart will ache for a man whose ink-stained fingers smudged the edges of the his poetry into illegibility.
The intimacy of this exhibition is still lingering in my mind. I stepped into the skin of this man and I gazed out from beneath his distinctive brows and what I saw was beauty. A beauty that was at once mundane and sublimely profound.
Jack Chambers: Light, Spirit, Time, Place and Life is in town until May 13, and the AGO is free after 3 pm for students Tuesday through Friday.