VOICE OF FIRE BY BARNETT NEWMAN
In 2004 my view and belief in Art changed. I had a mind altering transformation on how I looked at Art, my beliefs of what is Art and what isn’t. In a serendipitous instant I met a Tour Guide at the National Gallery of Canada. It is strange as I had taken a group of 30 Grade 9 students from John Pritchard School to Ottawa and one of our destinations was the National Art Gallery. Before someone thinks you must have had some love for art for you to have the Art Gallery on the agenda of your Field Trip, I was a mere chaperone on a trip organized by another staff member at the school.
As we broke into our mini tour groups, my group was assigned to a tour guide who was about forty and in reality I wish I could remember his name because the impact he had on my thinking was profound. His explanation of the Art, the architecture of the building and the uniqueness of every piece had myself and the group of Grade 9 students with me enthralled. As our tour continued we came across an art piece by Barnett Newman called ‘Voice of Fire’. The National Art Gallery purchase of this piece caused a storm of controversy. Although the painting was done in 1967 for ‘Expo’ it was not purchased by the Gallery for 1.8 million dollars in 1989. It was 1990, however that the news of the purchase hit the public. I remember how my dad was so upset that we would pay 1.8 million dollars for three stripes. So prior to seeing the piece my view of ‘Voice of Fire’ was tainted. That is until my serendipitous meeting with my tour guide.
I walked into the room where ‘Voice of Fire’ was displayed and my mouth opened not in awe but in disbelief. We paid 1.8 million dollars for that. “Give me a brush, I think I am going to be rich”. Then it changed. My tour guide had us sit in front of the painting. He talked about the art work of Barnett Newman, explained about minimalist painters and so on but he then said I want you to be patient. I want you to choose a spot on the painting where two colours meet. Stare at that point. I stared and stared as students started to smile and shout out that is so cool. “Don’t you see it Mr. Hoddinott”. “Look at the flames!” Finally the tour guide came to me and said softly ‘Look closer, concentrate.” Then it happened a life changing moment. The flames came shooting out of the painting. At first I was shocked then in disbelief I couldn’t understand how that happened. The tour guide gave us all this explanation and to this day I still don’t understand how the flames shoot out of canvas at the meeting place of two colours but they did.
My thoughts on Art, my thoughts of Barnett Newman and the work of minimalist painters also changed. I could at long last appreciate art that was more than just landscapes. Never got to thank the tour guide other than a hand shake at the end of the tour. I think he should get a commission for all the Art I have purchased since then but perhaps if I could just tell him ‘Thanks for opening my eyes, my mind and soul to Art.” Perhaps that would be enough.
See the work of Christine Deckert a Canadian minimalist painter whose Art is calming and soothing. I have one of her pieces hanging behind my desk at work. I know if helps me get through the stresses of the day.
Her work is also available at Warehouse Artwork at 222 McDermot Ave in Winnipeg, Manitoba.