For the past little while I’ve been co-chair of the Art Committee at the Arts and Letters Club here in Toronto. This month there’s a one-man show by Ron Bolt, a renowned landscape painter and print-maker. If you want to see the show, call me and we can do a walk through. At the opening night dinner I introduced him with the following:
I want to begin this introduction with a quote from Alain de Botton, a British author who writes about the modern world. It expresses today’s conventional wisdom. I’ve changed the tense but it goes something like this,
“But then came a transformation to which we are still the heirs…. Over the course of the nineteenth century, the dominant catalyst for that feeling of the sublime has ceased to be nature. We are now deep in the era of the technological sublime, when awe can most powerfully be invoked not by forests or icebergs but by supercomputers, rockets and particle accelerators. We are now almost exclusively amazed by ourselves.” Amazed by ourselves…
I think Ron Bolt might disagree with that sentiment and looking around this exhibition I see a powerful rebuke to that notion.
You’ll notice that there are few human figures in his work. Ron doesn’t seem to be terribly amazed by modern humanity or in the thrall of technology. What he is amazed by is the gift of the natural world. He will take a patch of Canadian wilderness or rugged shoreline and transform it into something akin to a religious icon — an exquisitely constructed object that mainlines the viewer right to the emotional core of its subject matter.
There’s a lot of discussion these days about ‘mindfulness’, about heightening one’s awareness of the world around us. Ron Bolt does that and more. He directs our attention to the sacred places on our planet and hopes that our attention will not only give us aesthetic and spiritual sustenance but perhaps help to protect these places from exploitation.
I won’t list the scores of awards and honours he has received over the years. I’ll just mention that this is just one of 100 one-man shows he has had in a 50 year career. His paintings, prints and limited edition books are in the collections of public galleries and libraries across Canada. He has collaborated on books with some of the finest writers in the country. And he has played a prominent role in the development of a positive work environment for Canadian visual artists, serving as president both of the Royal Academy of the Arts and the Society of Canadian Artists, among other roles.
And just as a by the way, he’s also a fine pianist and, for an artist, an exceptionally modest person. I asked him at lunch on Friday whether he still played. He said, ‘Yes, once in a while. I’ll fumble my way through something.’ Then, before people showed up for the Sunday Opening he sat down at the Steinway and gave a note-perfect rendition of some very difficult Albeniz.
The fact that he can make the very difficult look easy doesn’t mean that he is amazed by himself. Far from it. He works hard to produce works that are brilliantly crafted, unmistakably his own and that connect us to the miraculous beauty of our planet. It’s left to us to be amazed…. Please welcome Ron Bolt.