At the NAG

I am, for a moment, reeling, seated here in the main entrance of the NAG – the National Art Gallery. The sheer scale of the thing, the architectural panache, is impressive; but the tip-of-the-pyramid thought that boggles me revolves around the manifold foundation the building rests on. Not literally the concrete and stone, i mean, but the will and intent that went into the making of such a place. It’s a physical incarnation of the very thought, ART IS IMPORTANT — and by extension, of course, that a hundred corollary intangibles are also important, and you can see the evidence right here around you.

For this little boy from Ucluelet, it’s unthinkable. Back home there’s one and only one rationale for putting up a building of any stature greater than the single-family dwelling: it must be a factory of some sort, intended to extract revenue stream from a stream of fish or trees or, more recently, tourists. To build something, anything, in homage to or acknowledgment of human spirit or creativity or even as lowly a lofty principle as amusement … unthinkable! It’s not within the realm of small-town imagining, after you’ve spent a few years in the small town.

Which draws me, sitting here in this cathedral to visual art, into the funky musing that i have let all this go by, untapped, unknown. A whole world i should have waded into, but didn’t, because certain early doors weren’t open for me and, later, it just wasn’t there before me where i could see it as a possibility. So i spent my energies on other things, and now i feeling more than a twinge of regret.

Lights at the ends of tunnels, didn’t you once say, Jay-Lo? And their absence. Now i can’t help but think that my deliberate refusal to plan for the future in any coherent way has now left me stranded — that even a little foresight could have had me involved in something complex and glorious, rather than drifting in a bit of a homeless funk as i am. All that art in this big stone house built specifically for its display was made by people just like me, except they made an early decision that i did not.


AFTER SEEING THE 1930s EXHIBIT — I spent three hours in that special exhibit, rapt the whole time. Wow, what a dark decade, with its widespread recession, its rise of European fascism, its underpinning of World War II. No smiling faces on those 200-plus canvases, and none in the gallery either.

I kept wondering what those artists had been thinking, looking forward from those times, vis a vis us knowing with hindsight what the 1930s were ushering in: war, mass industrialization, the rape of the earth and the creeping subjugation of all living things upon it.

Afterward i went into Sketches cafeteria and ate beans on rice out on the patio and felt i was dead in heaven. It was a crystal day, the impeccable lawn rolled down to the Ottawa River, and the gothic Parliament Buildings rose like a castle across the water. (Pics when i get a chance.) Life was very, very good.

Author: Greg Blee

Poster to my own blog, and others.

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