Saturday afternoon and I am strolling along Ninth Avenue. The sun is high and the air is unseasonably warm. People saunter along stopping now and then in front of shop windows.
A fine art store featuring pricey looking glossy splashes of color is closed to the public. A sheet of paper crudely taped to the window reads ‘Reserved for private function’. Peering in through the glass door I spy a well-heeled older looking crowd–perhaps twenty or thirty strong, all suits and elegance–sitting in neatly arranged rows of folding chairs.
Last weekend I spent a half hour inside appreciating the glossy splashes. The owner of the gallery figured the Artist showcased was on the verge of greatness. The smallest pieces, approximately eight inches square, were $1500. The largest, six feet by six, was $45,000. The owner said the Artist has been compared to such Canadian legends as Jean-Paul Riopelle and Paul Émile Bordaus, mentioning investment value several times.
Continuing on my way I pull up in front of a recently opened tattoo shop. Three small paintings are in the show window. In one there is a goggled-eyed skull wearing an old world war one spiked German helmet, another has a black robed reaper brandishing his trademark scythe with a shadowy city silhouette rising in the background. The third is stranger. A nubile blood splattered young woman wearing red lingerie stands with a coy smile on her face. In one hand she holds up a human heart dripping with blood, while her other arm has been hacked off below the shoulder. The effect is less disturbing than puzzling. Mildly intrigued, I step through the door.
Inside, the room is large and dimly lit in spite of the large show windows facing the street. “If there’s anything I can help you with let me know,” says a black haired woman in her early twenties sitting at a desk in the back.
“Thanks,” I say, “I’m just looking around.”
“Sure,” she chirps, “take your time. Everything here is done by local artists.”
“Are you one of the artists?” I ask.
On the wall are paintings and drawings of all different sizes. The largest by far, probably six feet by four, features two naked young women lying in each other’s arms. They both lick a blood-red lolly-pop shaped like a heart, blood trickling vampire-like from their crimson lipped mouths.
Many of the luridly colored drawings remind me of the works of Robert Crumb. Skillfully executed, they are hip, expressive–urban and jazz-like in their depiction of sex and violence. As far as I can tell prices start around $30 and reach $500 for the embracing young ladies.
The bell above the door tinkles and two young women probably in their late teens enter. They sit down on a couch and immediately start flipping through tattoo photo catalogues. They are willowy, wear black and have long black hair. A flowered sunburst rises from the neckline of one of the gals.
I turn my attention back to the works adorning the walls. There are gouts of blood and welling pools of black, plus a dozen grinning skulls and plucked eyeballs. I smile thinking of that other crowd up the street surrounded by the glossy splashes running in the tens of thousands of dollars. What would they make of this stuff?
For a few moments I muse on the idea of life germinating in blood and darkness. There is fecundity in black muck and flowing blood.
Outside again, the sun is dazzling and the street alive in a quiet Saturday window shopping sort of way.
To my right a brash knot of black clad young men and women are making their way along the sidewalk. There are six of them and they carry placards that read ‘Dismantle The Corporatocracy!’ and ‘People First, Down With Banks!’ I recall that today is the day the Occupy Calgary protests were scheduled to march on the city core.
A large brown dangerous looking dog on a leash accompanies them. It stops to sniff a lamp post outside the fine art store. While the dog cocks a leg and dampens the black metal at the base of the lamp several of the group peer in the store window. They jeer and call the rest of their friends’ attentions to those inside.
The dog finishes his business and the group cheerily move on, laughing and waving their placards at no one in particular.