Road musings

As Canada moves farther right in the political spectrum, the idea of the free market economy and
private property as the root economy, the basis that everything grows from. However, I would
contend that there is no market without a commons. The most obvious example of this is the road.
Our roads are (with a few exceptions) commonly owned, used, and maintained. Whether you have a
backyard bike shop or a McDonald’s franchise, you have no business if people can’t get to your
door.
We collectively pour a lot of money into our roads every year. I wonder how much. You could see
them as the largest land art project in Canada. You might dispute that they are not art. Fair enough,
but they are certainly a cultural artefact. We have a culture of how to use the roads. There are rules
that drivers are expected to know (drive on the right side) and rules and information posted on signs
that we decode. Then there’s the way we bend the rules, driving 20 km over the speed limit, for
example. Today I parked in a snow plow turning area clearly marked no parking. As it’s May, I
judged that it would be okay to park there. Using the road, whether by walking, cycling or driving,
remains one of the most common cultural acts we engage in. It seems to me it might be worth
thinking about.
As I paint the road I reflect on this aspect of our culture. I hope that the paintings will invite viewers to
reflect on it as well. I wonder how it will change in coming years. I observe construction aiming
towards turning smaller two-lane highways into four-lane highways. I also observe how difficult it is to
find a spot to stop and paint the road on the larger highways; sometimes it is impossible. It’s an
interesting reflection on progress that we build the roads this big and speedy at the cost of being
able to stop and look at them, or even just to eat a sandwich, unless it’s an emergency.
I’ve worked from starting points in three cities, Toronto, Peterborough, and Montreal, all of which
which have been home to me at some point. I’ve chosen painting sites within my old stomping
grounds. These paintings trace the path to Whitehorse (and beyond?). It’s a kind of Odyssey, a slow
laborious returning home.
The series will also illustrate distance in a way that Canadians often don’t really understand it.
Southern Ontario feels like a large part of Canada when actually it is very small. It’s so far across
northwestern Ontario that people in the rest of Ontario (and I speak as a person who used to be one)
have trouble really connecting themselves to what goes on in the West, and imagining that there’s a
whole bunch of fully fledged worlds with cities and arts scenes of their own out there.
This sequence offers just small glimpses, every 50 km, of these drives. Like the way the eye melds
separate frames of film into seamless motion in a movie, the viewers’ imaginations will string the
paintings together into the breadth of the country from Montreal to Whitehorse. Evoking this act of
image connecting within the audience, will, I hope, evoke a deeper sense of connecting between the
disparate landscapes of the sequence.
I hope that familiar images of the landscape each viewer calls home will lure the viewer in. People
love paintings of landscapes they recognize. Then I hope the imaginary connecting will broaden that
appeal to include landscapes they have never experienced before.