021715 M.C. Escher and Jack Bush Exhibits, Ottawa, ON

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On February 17th, 2015 I went to Canada’s National Gallery for a pair of special exhibitions.  I don’t quite recall, but I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that I skated the two or so kilometres down the canal from my house the Rideau Centre, from where it is just a short walk to the beautiful gallery.  If I didn’t I should have, but I probably did.  And it was (probably) quite excellent.

The canal is such a fantastic element to living in Ottawa – especially in winter when it’s open for skating – and I take advantage of it whenever I can.  I also try to take advantage of the astounding wealth of museums, galleries, and other tourist-type attractions the nation’s capital has to offer, as evidenced by this ticket stub.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to the National Gallery; I’ve been there so many times I can almost find my way around the place.  Lining the labyrinth of corridors and interconnected rooms inside the glorious glassed building is an impressive permanent collection of art running the gamut from ancient artifacts up through Renaissance and Classical art, not to mention their world-class Modern collection, which I make a point to always take a stroll through when I visit.

On the date in question I was drawn to the gallery for a double-shot of artistic goodness with two special exhibits; one featuring the art of M.C. Escher and the other featuring the work of Jack Bush.  Of course everyone is familiar with the work of Escher the etcher. His infinite impossibilities combining endless staircases and waterfalls that continually drop through warped realities seem to adorn every college dorm room in the Western world.  If it’s a highly detailed optical illusion in black-and-white and features a grid of geese turning into fish, say, or giant ants walking an endless helix, that’s M.C. Escher.

(By the way, what is with The Netherlands producing so many great artists?  Rembrandt, Mondrian, Van Gogh, Escher, Vermeer…could it have something to do with wooden shoes?)  

This exhibit was mainly concentrating on his etchings and even had a couple of his original woodcuts, and I loved it.  Escher’s precision and blatant mathiness appeals directly to my aesthetic core the same way an artist like Alex Colville does, and as a result I’m attracted to every single work of his I’ve ever seen.  This exhibit was no exception.

The jump from the Escher exhibit to Canadian abstract artist Jack Bush’s was stark, to say the least.  While Escher’s work is based in strong realism even when he’s at his dreamiest and lacks colour almost as a stylistic inference, Jack Bush put vibrant colours to canvas almost more as like graphic designer than an artist, and in doing so he created some brilliant art.  

While Bush clearly shares a mathematical affinity with Escher, his bright, straight lines and sharp right angles create a 60’s retro feast for the eyes in the style of Voices Of Fire or perhaps the paint job on the Partridge Family bus, without any real-life context.  The eye tricks here aren’t concerned with forcing the brain to deal with Escher-isms such as villagers walking up, down, or through gothic towers that lack logic or purpose.  Rather than mess with your mind Bush tries to trick your eyes only, perfectly juxtaposing bright and colourful lines until they shimmer and vibrate off of one another.  

It was one of those shows where you look at a piece and think “I could have done that,” but the fact is you didn’t, and if you did it now it would just be a copy, and if you actually tried to do it you’d probably find out that what looks really simple is probably quite difficult*.  

It was my first experience with the work of the late Jack Bush, and I was glad for the opportunity.

Likewise, every time I go to the National Gallery, or the War Museum, or the Museum of Nature, or the Aviation Museum, or the Parliament Buildings, or skate or cycle along the Rideau Canal for that matter, I am always glad for the opportunity.  

What a cool city Ottawa is.

*Like that time my roommate and I tried to write a disco song.

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