Hollow Victory (You Gotta Learn to Hold Ya Own. They Get Jealous When They See Ya with Ya Mobile Phone.)
Entrance to exhibition
"I Triumphed and I Saddened with All Weather"
An art gallery/restaurant we stumbled upon
I departed for PEI, equipped with a disposable camera, trusted Nikon, and a willingness to extract what beauty could be found from Canada’s oldest and smallest province. Known as the birthplace of the Canadian confederacy, I expected an experience of conservative culture and reverence for tradition. I couldn’t have anticipated the rich and artistically grounded culture that I stumbled upon.
PEI was the backdrop for the “Ann of Green Gables” books, a familiar American story for most millennials. The stories are the surprising source of a great theatre scene on the island. Tuesday morning, my friend and I found ourselves at a fantastically quaint coffee shop in the heart of town. “Why did you move here?,” I asked a young, good looking guy behind the counter. In roman-looking leather sandals and thin, square reading glasses, he seemed far too cultured to live here. “Acting. I moved here from Toronto because I got a part in the Gables show.”
Outside the theatre scene, art is a tangible and pervasive presence on the island. Despite the general lack of stores that marks even the downtown area, you can’t walk a block without passing a gallery. While still-life and landscapes are predictably common, they’re contemporary in style and often quite good. But the art scene seemed too dense to stem from a beautiful landscape alone. What was the cause? Long winters with nothing to do? Tourism?
As it turns out, local vocational schools are a driving force for the prevalence of art as career and hobby. They present art in a practical way, as a means of self-expression. This type of education avoids the haughty austerity that characterizes many of the fine arts programs in traditional universities.
But another big source of art culture on Prince Edward Island is, surprisingly enough, WWll. Since Clinton declared amnesty for those who fled to Canada, thousands of young adults moved to the island to avoid the draft, many creatively inclined and all looking to earn a living. Most who moved to PEI during this time never moved back. A generation later, we still see art as a passion of many.
We were lucky enough to visit during the PEI Art Gallery’s showing of “Oh, Canada!,” a massive exhibit featuring over 100 works by Canadian artists, specifically those lesser known. It attempts to shed light on the intricate culture of Canada (of which I knew nothing), showcasing work in every medium and style you could imagine. A lot of the works revolved around primal themes, ethnographic and reflective of nature. Some were abrasively modern. Most personally memorable was a collection of pastel, fist-size teeth that greeted us from strings hanging from the ceiling at the entrance. But some pieces struck a delightful balance. Stand out titles included, “Hollow Victory (You gotta learn to hold ya Own. They get jealous when They see ya with ya mobile phone.),” “I Triumphed and I Saddened With All Weather,” and the interesting animation “Secret Citadel" by Graeme Patterson, which I’ve linked below. Patterson is an aesthetically unique sculptist whose animation describes the phases of male friendship.