It’s starting to look a lot like, no, not Christmas, but a lot like there will be more hockey this year, that they will award a Stanley Cup for 2020. Until now that seemed impossible, there was too much at stake to endanger lives. Nobody wanted a rerun of the 1919 Stanley cup playoffs where it was only stopped after players got sick and died in the finals. However, in spite of the shutdown of Major League Baseball training camps in Florida and various players with positive test results, it looks as though they will finish the 2020 season starting in August with a truncated round robin type of playoffs in hub cities. How to prepare for this turn of events, apart from watching old games replayed on TV, what to do? Perhaps it is worthwhile to take a look at art and hockey, a seemingly unlikely concatenation of two disparate worlds. Maybe they have more intersections than perhaps was thought.
This past fall (2019) there was an exhibition of art with a hockey theme, “The Hockey Show,” at the Michael Gibson Gallery in London, Ontario. The gallery has kindly put images from the show, as well as the works themselves, online, so even if you were not able to go in person, it is still possible to see the exhibition installation view virtually, as well as artists’ works, statements and biographies.
The exhibition was excellent: wide reaching in styles and media: from a sculpture of combined snow shovel and hockey stick, through painting and photography to landscape collage with hockey gear, to a collage of found hockey cards integrated with acrylic, lace and embroidery. An impressive spread of materials and images. Liz Pead’s bold landscapes of recycled hockey gear on board rewarded close attention, while Anthony Jenkins’ portraits of both hockey players and artists on working table hockey games also used hockey-related materials to construct his pieces. The photography, from Mauro Fiorese’s “Christian’s Game,” (1994) a blurred spectator’s view through the glass darkly to the Turofsky Brothers classic golden age action shots taken without impediment gives a fine spectrum of the views from rinkside and stands.
At first glance I thought that Jason McLean’s “Helping Hands” (2018, ink on hockey equipment (gloves in this case) was a small scale Brian Jungen artwork. However McLean has a different, personal take on hockey gear, which needs to be seen up close to read the inscriptions. It did remind me of Brian Jungen’s famous Totem Pole, made out of golf bags, which opens up golf (hockey’s seasonal doppleganger) to considerations of indigenous issues, class, and race. Something hard hitting like that would have added a critical touch to the show.
The show also included Diana Thorneycroft’s photographic riff on pond hockey, Winter on the Don (2007) showing well-known former NHL players in their team uniforms playing on the frozen river. The background is a Group of Seven-type landscape so it combines two iconic subjects in one. It has a sort of Little Women moment when you notice that in the left corner, Bobby Orr is falling through the ice. I haven’t quite figured that one out yet – maybe a reference to Orr’s career being cut short. But as with other Thorneycroft work, it is fun to try. Also entertaining was Larry Humber’s painting, How Vincent Really Lost It, showing the portrait of Vincent van Gogh with his bandaged ear, staring at a puck that is heading straight for his head. For a nostalgic peek at hockey past, Brian McFarlane has gentle paintings of pond hockey with pristine snowy slopes and snug farmhouses.
I didn’t notice if there were any videos. With its emphasis on movement and speed, hockey is difficult to translate figuratively into two dimensions in painting and drawing. A time-based medium can be more rewarding that way. One of my favourite pieces is an old Nike commercial of synchronized goalies and Sergei Federov. Some film-maker was let off the leash and the result is a lyrical expression of “the glory of action” that is hockey.
For those in search of abstract works, Wayne Gretzky could surprisingly fill the bill. As a young Surrealist practicing automatic drawing, Wayne used to watch hockey games on TV while at the same time, without watching his hand, inscribe the movements of the puck with pencil on a sheet of paper. At game’s end, the page was darkest with areas where the puck most often ended up. Hopefully Wayne or Walter Gretzky saved those pencil tracings that were Wayne’s training for fitting himself into the spaces where the puck was going to be.
One of my favourite pieces of “hockey art” is David Blackwood’s L’Ance aux meadows, Newfoundland, (etching and aquatint, 1985) a subtle, metaphorical work. The bottom half of the print shows the settlement of L’Ance aux Meadows as it might have been when it was Norse occupied, back in the last millenium. Blackwood has printed this in blue black, the snow piled up around the sodroofed buildings. The top half shows a pale sun and a gray Viking longboat sailing over a fogbound heaving ocean. On the right side of the picture, covering both land and water is the figure of a Viking man, dressed in skins and furs, striding onto the newfound land. He carries a long curved stick. If you look closely at his scarred face, a haunting resemblance comes to mind. My moment of realization came with news and pictures of Queen’s University’s Dr. Arthur McDonald accepting his Nobel prize in Sweden with assorted Swedish dignitaries, including Börje Salming. For that is the face of the Viking, well known to Maple Leaf fans as an early member of the new wave of “invading” Swedish hockey players to break into the NHL in the 1970s. Maybe Blackwood just needed a Norse face to fill in for his Viking, but by inserting Salming’s image he added another dimension to his print and, as they say, “raised his game” to a new level.