I’m currently fascinated with the book Contrasts: In The Ward – A Book of Poetry and Paintings by Lawren Harris from the period before the emergence of The Group of Seven.
The book provides a contrast to the magnificent modernist images of the Canadian landscapes Harris was known for, with the paintings and the poetry offering a historical look at urban Toronto heading into the 1920s. The poetry was previously published in 1922 in text only.
I purchased the book at the Art Gallery of Ontario, during one of my weekly AGO visits over the summer. The gallery offered me solace in these troubling times, a break from the news of the world in these pandemic days. Often my gallery visits would begin, or end, with time studying the brilliance of The Group of Seven work contained in the permanent collection. Each week the art of a different group artist would resonate with me, but most often it was that of Lawren Harris.
As I walk through downtown, and into sections of Toronto previously known as ‘the Ward’, Harris’ world comes to life though his words as much as his artwork. It is breathtaking, the poetry going deeper into the artist’s societal observations.
Wandering through downtown, I would stop and picture what was then versus what is now; what remains and what has been changed.
I keep a notebook with me to write my own reflections on a city I am only coming to know. This book is very much a guided journey through my new hometown with narration provided by Harris; he walked the same streets of the same city.