by Ivy Wigmore
I started writing for The Buzz back around the turn of the century, when I inherited the “Eastenders” column from my sister-in-law, Nancy Malcolm Sharratt. My next Buzz beat was “The Creative Spark.” Each month I interviewed a visual artist about what inspired them and drove them, what was behind their particular mode of expression.
What strikes me about talking to artists and getting a glimmer of their perspective is what a profound experience it often was. Most of the people I spoke to were wonderfully open and, because they were talking about their passion, could become very animated, even volatile. Many interviews felt like we were working together, between the images and the words revealing and articulating truths and mysteries.
Speaking of mysteries … my January 2005 profile of Daphne Butler Irving is one that I puzzle over from time to time. Irving was working on “the Noah paintings,” a series dealing with, she said, “the dislocation of the times in which we live, with societal and environmental violence, sudden and drastic happenings, a world in virtual birth pains. Roaring seas, volcanoes erupting, earthquakes, great turbulence, prophetic signs in the sky. In the midst of movement—side by side—great beauty.” As I viewed the paintings, I found myself unaccountably drawn to an anomalous one, Tsunami. Here’s how I described it then: “a huge wave breaking on the ocean. Rendered in a wild palette of blue, green and yellow, pink and purple, the image looks like a depiction of pure energy. Although enormous upheaval is the central concept, somehow transcendence and peace are conveyed as well.”
It was early December 2004 when we talked; deadline for the January Buzz would have been sometime before the 15th. On Boxing Day, December 26th, the Indian Ocean tsunami devastated the coast of Indonesia. A few days after the tragedy, the January Buzz appeared with my profile of Daphne Irving and her painting, Tsunami. Coincidence? Synchronicity? A great mystery to me, in any case, and one that feels meaningful.
A few other glimmers of the creative spark at work:
The late and much-lamented Kate Poole was one of my first interviews. She spoke of the way a piece she’d thought destroyed, unsalvageable, would often present itself to her in a new way and end up a stronger work than the original intention. There was, she said, a great deal of creative freedom unleashed by having nothing to lose on a piece, no fear of screwing it up.
P. John Burden explained the layers and depth in his paintings as an attempt, through visual art, to portray something far beyond the visible world. Consider painting (for example) a goldfish: “…it is important to remember that I am not painting a goldfish. Rather, using the painting media and skills, I am attempting to record the experience/relationship of meeting with said goldfish…”
Christine Trainor explained the surprising emotional impact of her haunting landscapes by saying that they actually hold much more than landscape. Trees and earth, fields and snow and water contained “everything: family and friends, births and deaths. Anything of import that happens to me is in there.”
In 2008, when Peter Richards asked me if I’d like to review PEI Symphony Orchestra performances I was somewhat trepidatious. I really knew very little about classical or orchestral music and I thought that could make it a hard subject to write about. You can’t really fake a comprehensive knowledge of anything so complex and, of course, if you’re caught faking it you just look twice as ignorant. So I’ve tried to approach this gig as openly as possible and not pretend to know more than I do. And it’s been wonderful, not just the experience of hearing the performances but also thinking about them to the extent necessary to be able to write about them.
Over the five years I’ve been reviewing the PEISO, Jim O’Leary (who has just finished his term as composer-in-residence) has provided a great deal of fodder for thought. He was given free creative rein and he ran with it. The second of his compositions that I heard, “Softly at night the stars are shining” was the most challenging work to listen to and discuss, an existential journey into grief, alienation and death through the medium of experimental music. “That was frightening!” was my neighbour’s comment. To say I enjoyed “Softly at night” would not be entirely accurate, but it certainly gave me a lot to examine, not only in terms of the composition itself but in terms of audience expectations, juxtaposed with an artist’s need to create freely rather than compromising to conform to them.
Another highlight was the best-ever, most rousing rendition of the theme from “Hockey Night in Canada,” for which many of the musicians donned hockey jerseys over their traditional black garb. I swear, it evoked the excitement of a hockey game so effectively that I almost understood the draw. Almost.
Those two items are hardly representative of PEISO’s performances, which is, I guess, why they stand out. So much phenomenal music. I’m constantly amazed that right here in this small town, we have such an accomplished symphony orchestra, going strong now for 45 years. If you haven’t been, you should go.
I’ve been so fortunate to have the opportunity to see the art, hear the music, talk to the people, to think and write about it all for The Buzz. Where will we go in the next 20 years?
Ivy Wigmore is…
“I’m a mild-mannered tech writer and editor by day, a high-flying crime fighter by night. OK, except for that ‘high-flying crime fighter’ part. My day job is content editor on WhatIs.com, an online tech encyclopedia. Writing for The Buzz is the much-needed antidote to writing about (ugh) enterprise software. Art? Music? Theatre? Yes, please. Ongoing free-time (hah!) projects include a book of Island ghost stories, a book of personal essays, and a motley assortment of other half-finished endeavors. My stock line is that throughout my career I’ve written about everything from quantum theory to a bicycling bear. I’ve published some poetry and a couple of short stories, won a few PEI Literary awards. When I’m not writing, I’m typically reading (will peruse cereal boxes when desperate). I’m from here—I live in Charlottetown with my husband Douglas Malcolm and a very bad cat, a block-and-a-half from the (former) hospital where I was born and about a mile up the road from the house where I and my many siblings grew up.”