The McMichael Canadian Art Collection, located in York Region’s picturesque, historical downtown Kleinburg, is a bastion of Canadian artistic talent. With its impressive array of permanent and special exhibits, along with its outdoor walking trails, sculpture garden and historical landmarks, McMichael is an oasis of culture in our modern, chaotic world dominated by mass production and big box retail.
As romantic a picture as these words paint, I have to make a confession at the outset of this post: I’m not an art buff. I do (like a lot of people, I suspect) appreciate art … in theory.
I staunchly believe that Canadian art is an important piece of our national heritage. I’m an armchair supporter of Canadian talent. I’ve heard of the Group of Seven …
Unfortunately, that’s about the limit of my knowledge of the Canadian art scene.
I’ve always wanted to change that, but until now, I’ve never gotten out to visit the McMichael Gallery (or any other gallery for that matter). Not because I had no interest, but because in my busy life, with my busy family and my busy job, I’d forgotten the magic of those quiet, introspective moments that only art can conjure.
This past Saturday the McMichael Gallery opened its Mary Pratt exhibit to the public. When I was offered the opportunity to go, I jumped at it. Am I ever glad I did.
In describing Mary Pratt’s work, I’m not going to resort to oft-used terms like “photo realism” or “existentialism.” With my limited background in art, I’m not even sure I would be using them correctly. What I will say is that Mary Pratt’s work is beautiful. Absolutely gorgeous. Whether you’re a veteran gallery-goer or as green as I am, her work is something that anyone can understand; that anyone can consider; that anyone can appreciate.
My guide, Communications Coordinator for McMichael Rachel Weiner, made the comment that Mary Pratt’s work plays on light. “It’s like walking into a jewellery box,” she says. Somehow Mary Pratt manages to capture the fleeting quality of light and translate it onto a piece of canvas in a way that makes the work alive to all the senses.
It’s hard to describe in mere words what standing in front of one of her paintings does to you on the inside. I don’t have enough room in this post to even begin to try. But it’s a phenomenal experience, one which I’d recommend to anyone.
And did recommend—no word of a lie. I gushed about the exhibit to anyone and everyone that would listen for days afterwards!
While I was there I had the opportunity to meet Mary Pratt herself. I can’t say enough wonderful things about her. She is the most unassuming, self-deprecating septuagenarian I’ve ever met. To illustrate my point, Chief Curator for the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia Sarah Fillmore said, “If you ask Mary where she thinks her art will be in fifty years, she’d say, ‘probably stuffed into a closet with all the other forgotten artists.’ ”
Such modesty, and yet such a contrast to the vivacity of her work, and the depth and breadth of her talent. It’s a microcosm of the McMichael Gallery itself. Spacious, multi-levelled, multi-layered, McMichael is a place for everyone. Here, anyone can appreciate art on their own terms—regardless of their level of experience or knowledge.
Whether they’re iconic paintings rendered by the hands of iconic Canadian artists, whether they’re the mystical carvings of First Nations and Inuit visionaries, or whether they’re Karine Giboulo’s whimsical dioramas with their powerful, underlying messages—they wait quietly within the gallery, ready to ignite that spark of magic that only art can stir.
Walking through the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, you come to understand that you, the visitor, are as much a part of Canada’s national cultural heritage as the artists themselves. And that is a powerful thing.
That being said, I am officially a convert. My armchair appreciation days are over. McMichael will be seeing me walk through its doors more often from now on.
Katie Ryalen is a freelance writer and copyeditor. She lives in Durham, Ontario with her husband, son and three spoiled cats. Blog: katieryalen.wordpress.com Twitter: @KatieRyalen