I’ve never been what you’d call a culture vulture. Nay, art hound. See, I’m pretty sure ‘art hound,’ isn’t even a thing. I was raised in a religious hamlet in the Canadian prairies and we didn’t have our own television until I was 14. I had heard of the Flintstones but my Dad forbade me from watching it — even at a friend’s house. “Fred lies to Wilma and I don’t think that is a good example, John.” The first time I saw The Never Ending Story, I nearly shit myself— at nothing! Although, that metaphor was lost on me for like 38 years. Along with most other things.
My brand of religion frowned on the visual arts due to their suspected portal into Lucifer’s lair. Lucifer or Satan/The Devil was the King of the World (sorry Leo) and he (Satan not Leo) wanted nothing more than for me and all my family/friends to enter into his world. To protect us from Satan, our Church dissuaded us from engaging in the worldly arts and its white walls remained unblemished from any painted image. Nay Jesus himself hung in our church, lest we be mistaken for the heathen Catholics. I’m not confident I’m using ‘Nay’ correctly. It’s my first day. Shrug emoji.
My grade one Sunday school teacher taught us using felt figures (not to be confused with feelings) but rather 4-6-inch fuzzy characters that defied gravity and stuck to a large and equally fuzzy board. She would tell story after biblical story of the heroes of old and we’d inspired by David’s courageous aim and wonder at Samson’s incredible strength all the while gawking at their moving frames on the magical board. I eventually discovered Song of Solomon mid-bible and wondered if our teacher had felt figures for that.
My first introduction to the female form was at the abandoned airport hanger adjacent to my hamlet. My friends had knocked and said they had something to show me and as we strode across the long prairie field my heart beat in anticipation of the adventure that lie in store. Minutes later, per their energetic instruction, I pressed my Garfield-like face onto the dirt-streaked pre-second world war windows. When what to my wondering eyes should appear but naked women hanging everywhere. Away from the window I flew like a flash and said something lame like, “guys, we shouldn’t be looking at that…:My friends laughed a bit too hard, as friends like that always do, and as we strolled back across our Saskatchewan prairie, I wondered who in their right mind had displayed such visually striking images.
This is the first of many (I hope) reflections of my history in art. My art history, I suppose. I just celebrated my 46th birthday and it has taken me about that long to understand what all the fuss is about. A great painting can transport us. Often, to a place we’ve never been before. Earlier this year I discovered Leonardo (sorry again Leo, I mean the other one). The more I have waded into DaVinci’s world, the more colourful mine has become. Raised in black and white, I had no idea how vivid life could be. Forty years later, I’m still that wide-eyed kid peering in from the prairies except now I can’t look away.