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Reviews of Gerald Squires

Thursday, June 8th, 2017

Gerald Squires

Stan Dragland, with an appreciation by Michael Crummey

$80.00  |  240 pages

—Joan Sullivan, The Telegram (St. John’s)

 

A coffee table book is defined as a large lavish work, usually of non-fiction, meant for display in such a way as to inspire conversation. The term has migrated a bit to include any kind of oversize, gorgeous volume. Its aesthetic is a big part of its allure; these books are often not tilted towards reading, but viewing.

Pedlar Press has made its (consistently award-winning) name producing splendid fiction, poetry, and literary non-fiction by consequential writers (Sara Tilley, Jan Zwicky). Now, a publisher known for books that are works of art produces a book about works of art. “Gerald Squires” explores the multi-disciplinary career of the renowned artist, who died in 2015. Its release coincides with a major retrospective at The Rooms, running throughout the summer, and well worth a visit.

Gerald Squires is a substantial publication, thick with text and image (over 140, in full colour, including personal photos and a sketch on Air Canada paraphernalia), an index, and methodical notes. Most of the writing comes from Stan Dragland, which he carries with a thoughtful heft. Dragland can be amply and compactly theoretical, almost esoteric – and then he’ll quote Ray Guy. His tone is limber and ranging. In discussing the painting “Uprooted,” for instance, (tree roots being a favourite subject for Squires), Dragland reference Monet’s haystacks, the Smallwood-era Resettlement program, and Newfoundland topography in which a tree trying to set its roots has its job cut out for it, all within three paragraphs. Of the painting, he surmises, “Nature has plenty of beauty, but beautiful this ain’t.” Which is no denial of its sway. Pretty is not what drew Squires to the form, and it’s not what he drew from it.

But the spirit of the book is also personal. Dragland often places us right in the studio with Squires, giving the writing the direct immediacy of an ongoing conversation. Squires was lovely to interact with, as he took fledgling artists (and art journalists) seriously. It’s a bit of a cliche to say he touched many lives, but he did, and he certainly captured many faces in his “Book of Souls,” a heavy ledger book of sketched portraits of friends, poets, fellow visual artists, and the former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.

Squires was also involved, likely reluctantly, in political panels and forums, especially in terms of Newfoundland’s position within Canada, questions of annexation and effacement and what constitutes a Newfoundland artist. It was, and remains, something of a concern to be sieved through a broad perspective. There is a sense conveyed that Squires felt under-appreciated nationally, which I’m not sure is fair, and anyway that ultimately remains to be seen.

Throughout, the book is embedded with poetry and quotations. As the text traces Squires’ vocation and output, the illustrations pace through his influences and productions, including his signature series (“The Wanderer”, “The Boatman,” “The Stations of the Cross”), and all is woven into thematic cohesion.

The book ends with three short, firsthand pieces by poet/novelist Michael Crummey. The juxtaposition of the two authors works well. Dragland wades deep into the waters of politics, identity, religion. The chapters include “Home,” shifting through the talk in the late 1980s about regionalism in art, and whether the proper markers of the scene here was “Newfoundland-for-Newfoundlanders.” Figures like Peter Bell and Don Wright, indelibly linked to that time and that wrangle, are evoked and quoted. “Away” follows Squires as he moves to Toronto as a boy, and started out professionally (and in his marriage to Gail) in Ontario.

“Vision” includes the story of The Ferryland Lighthouse Ghost, and some analysis of the animals Squires revisited in his work. Another section is devoted to “Duende,” a Spanish word for something that comes off the surface, projects into the mind and soul of the observer, and calls itself art. Other chapters are titled for elements so integral to Squires’ work, such as “Poetry,” “Fractured Ones,” “Portrait,” as well as the “Juniper,” and “Starrigan” found so frequently among his subjects; also Squires’ “Signal Hill” has a chapter all to itself. Dragland is a learned, curious interrogator and interpreter and even someone very familiar with Squires and his work will find unexpected, rewarding material here.

Crummey’s concluding pieces, meanwhile, hit a perfect note. Crummey met Squires’s at divergent times and places: a dinner party on Bond Street decades ago; the Bliss Murphy Cancer Clinic at the Health Sciences Centre a few months before Squires’ death. To me, Crummey responds to Squires as we all did: he thought Squires was handsome; he just liked him; he knew it was always good to find yourself in Gerry and Gail’s company. It could be simply the position of a fan, but once Squires’ saw you were truly attentive he engaged you at a level beyond that. And Crummey also writes of seeing Squires’ painting installed at the St. John’s International Airport, hung behind the luggage carts. This is how we all see him now, through his work he has left us, and a portal into what he perceived.

 

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Gerald Squires (Pedlar 2017) is stunning. My acquaintance with Squires prior to this has been confined to a couple of reproductions from his Boatman series that I’ve seen in other books. The Pedlar book is a revelation in two senses: the depth and breadth of his work, its immense power, its reach; and Stan Dragland’s brilliant reading of that reach. We all know that good criticism is rarer than any of good poetry, good story-telling, or good painting. Dragland is the best.

I am now head-over-heels a Squires fan and am thinking about how I’m going to get to see some live. This book is a life-changing gift.

—from a friend of the publisher

 

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Gerald Squires by Stan Dragland (Pedlar Press, 2017)
—George Horan, The Overcast

This book is a gem. It is not a Squires biography, not an academic critical analysis of Squires’ work, not a decorative coffee table book of his paintings, drawings, prints, and sculptures. Rather, we are given a unique opportunity to study Squires’ art works within the context of their creation. The book inhabits a curious territory, and author Stan Dragland tips his hat to each of these art mediums in a thoroughly satisfying fashion.

The book contains so many details of Squires’ life that the reader will certainly come away knowing its trials, joys, and successes, feeling as if s/he had just read a fine biographical sketch of Squires’ life. One cannot discuss any aspect of Squires’ work without taking account of his living, and here it is clear that Dragland has done his research. He gives us his carefully considered point of view, but leaves doors open for other opinions as well. Dragland’s writing is articulate, insightful, serious, and entertaining. Organized thematically, in the essay he shares the writings and jottings of Squires throughout, slowly revealing the artist in his process of creation and illuminating his soul.

The plates of the works are stunning, a beautiful presentation of the major paintings combined with equally interesting “doodles” and sketches. Dragland makes the very compelling case for inclusion of Gerald Squires among the truly great artists. Unfortunately, as so often happens, ignorance of Squires’ contributions is widespread. Hopefully this volume will help to address that ignorance.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the contribution of Michael Crummey. His words in the aptly titled “Appreciation” at the end of this book brought me to tears. Great literature like any great art has that power. Stan Dragland, Michael Crummey, and Pedlar Press have given us a true work of art in Gerald Squires.

Fall 2017 titles

Monday, May 15th, 2017

LATE STYLE

poems by Barry Dempster

$20 | Paper | September 2017

An exploration by the poet of living with illness and dying, examining late-life changes, sexuality, changing values.

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THE MORE

poems by Ronna Bloom

$20 | Paper | September 2017 | Toronto launch on OCT 12 at Knife Fork Book, Toronto

IFOA appearance in October

Lyric poetry having to do with mindfulness and acceptance in traumatic and post-traumatic conditions. Minor themes having to do with hospital work conditions. Ronna Bloom is Poet in Residence at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto.

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THIS REAL

poems by concetta principe

$20 | Paper | November 2017

Joint Toronto launch with Pedlar poet Jack Davis at Gladstone Hotel in late November 2017 (tbc)

Living through 9/11 and other traumatic events, motherhood, wondering about psychic capacity and phenomena, mental health, Werner Herzog documentary “The Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” nature of reality.

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FAUNICS

poems by Jack Davis

$20 | Paper | November 2017

Jack Davis was born in northern Ontario and lives in Parry Sound. For the past ten summers he has lived and worked at a remote fire lookout in the woods of northernmost northern Alberta. Faunics is his groundbreaking debut.

The Search for Heinrich Schlogel, a novel by Martha Baillie

Friday, April 28th, 2017




In Martha Baillie’s novel The Search for Heinrich Schlögel, a young man from a provincial town in Germany flies to Canada in 1980 to hike in the Arctic. Heinrich’s solitary trek lasts twelve days, during which he experiences a series of visitations from the past: Inuit children in residential schools, the explorer Samuel Hearne, his own parents. When he returns from his hike and comes back into town, he finds it is 2010, and he is a man without any records, believed dead, having somehow slipped into a crevice in time. He is the same young man he was when he set out, but the world has altered beyond recognition. It is perhaps too obvious to say The Search for Heinrich Schlögel is a novel about time, landscape, and memory; it is also a novel that encounters history in a spirit of moral seriousness, an encounter in which what one thinks of as a self may not escape unaltered, or may not escape at all.

I read this book roughly a year ago and have been thinking about it ever since. It plays with all the ways a story can work itself out. Baillie constantly reminds the reader they are looking through the eyes of someone else: an unnamed and ungendered narrator, an expat German who has become obsessed with Heinrich’s disappearance and whose own story emerges in fragments through footnotes; Heinrich himself; his unstable sister; an Inuit woman, a residential school survivor who takes Heinrich in after his sudden reappearance and tells him, again in fragments, her own story and the story of the land over which he’s walked. Characters tell and retell folktales. Each shifting voice contains a sense of something missing, something incomplete or unsayable.

It has become something of a cliché to say that writing gestures to what can’t be put into words, but in Baillie’s case the gesture feels deeply ethical, as though fiction might be uniquely positioned in respect to history: a form capable of allowing for the half-truth and the incomplete record, not as an erasure but as an acknowledgment of absence, of loss. Baillie approaches history with humility, calling attention to blanks rather than filling them in. Heinrich’s disappearance and the disruption of his experience of time, while specific to his character and the story, stand in for the disruptions and disappearances of history. In a more conventional and polemical book, a writer might present historical wrongs as problems to be solved; here Baillie points to them, simply and inescapably, as truths for us to meditate upon. The nationality of the protagonist is not incidental, and Baillie is getting at something deeper than the German obsession with Canada’s landscape. Like Germany, Canada has its own atrocities to consider. Perhaps fiction, as a form that can avoid linearity and convey through omission, is suited to such a task.

Heinrich, like all travellers, constructs an idea of the Arctic before he encounters it. His romantic notions about Canada create “a landscape of words” in advance of his arrival. What happens to him, his slipping out of time, becomes, gently and almost teasingly, a reversal of colonialism itself: the European, arriving well armed with notions of where he is, finds that time has altered and he has no ground on which to stand.

The novel, too, shifts (in perspective, in place, in narrative form) just as the reader thinks they’ve got hold of it. “Novels in fragments” run the risk of literary affectation, but Baillie’s form serves a serious purpose, constantly throwing the reader off balance, leaving them unsure of their surroundings or proper place. She opens the book with the dictionary definition of an erratic: “A piece of rock that differs in composition, shape, etc., from the rock surrounding it, having been transported from its place of origin, esp. by glacial action.” Heinrich is an erratic, but, reading this book, so are the rest of us: bewildered, unstable, grieved. Time does not work as we thought, or at least hoped, it would.

The Search for Heinrich Schlögel itself exists in different times and different places. While Baillie was writing it, she copied out portions of the text on hundreds of postcards and sent them out to a long list of people, asking them to record themselves reading these scraps of text before sending them back to her. These postcards and recordings are archived online; they also formed part of an exhibit at the Koffler Gallery in Toronto last year. I spent some time poring over the wall of postcards, amazed at the variety of images and almost forgetting I was looking at an art exhibit, not a series of genuine found objects or the contents of an archive. I often feel uncomfortable in gallery spaces: they are so pristine and purposeful, and I’m not sure what is expected, as if I’m at a party without a host. The same was true here, except the more I looked at the postcards, the more I felt I was being invited to contemplate how broken, how splintered, and how impossible history and memory really are and not to expect that absolute meaning or resolution would result from that contemplation. I was simply being asked to dwell in that enormity and instability for a while before I went out into the ordinary day and back into my ordinary, pseudo-linear life, full of tasks and obligations. At the far end of the gallery was a door. Going through it, I found myself in a tiny, bare room with one armchair. Music was playing, a composition by Nic Gotham, inspired by the novel. I sat in the chair in the dim room for about ten minutes, letting my mind wander. When I got up, I felt disoriented, as though I had experienced more than ten minutes worth of living.

Taken together (book, online archive, gallery exhibit),The Search for Heinrich Schlögel achieves a kind of ethics of memory, in which what is remembered is never certain and so not owned by the person attempting to remember. It maintains a respectful distance, in which what is lost can be imagined only through absence, a rift in what we think of as time. Making a viewer more aware of absence is, in a way, a fairly modest ambition, but also an immense one. Either way, it might be something art can reach for, and perhaps one of the justifications for art, if art should happen to need a justification

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Kate Cayley has written a short story collection, How You Were Born (Pedlar 2014), and a collection of poetry, When This World Comes to an End. Her second book of poems, Other Houses, is forthcoming from Brick Books.

GERALD SQUIRES, May 2017

Monday, March 27th, 2017

This tree [Light on the Barrens, 2005], having pulled almost out of its anchorage, is no longer green, but to say just that it’s dying is to miss how gorgeous it is, how its golden branches reach out into a sky of even brighter gold. The scene seems to be set at dusk, with the light of the setting sun transfiguring everything, a little of it even reaching into the darker lower area. The intricate play of light and dark makes this as Squires a Squires as ever there was.  –Stan Dragland, Gerald Squires (Pedlar Press, May 2017)

If you live in Newfoundland, you may buy the book here:

 

All other inquiries should be directed to your local independent bookseller, or to Beth Follett at feralgrl@interlog.com

Gerald Squires: It’s fantastic.

Monday, February 13th, 2017

Gerald Squires by Stan Dragland (May 2017), with an appreciation by Michael Crummey, will be launched in St. John’s NL on Thursday 25 May 2017 at Emma Butler Gallery. 7PM. Everyone welcome.

 

 

Gerald Squires, Brigus Series: Cliffs of Brigus