Bowering on Curnoe

George Bowering on The Moustache: Memories of Greg Curnoe:

The model for this book is The Orchard, Flint, MI: Bamberger Books, 1988 by Harry Mathews. In his foreword to that short book Mathews wrote: ‘In the early seventies I had told Georges Perec about Joe Brainard’s I Remember series, in which the American writer, already distinguished as an artist, had demonstrated a new and altogether seductive approach to autobiography. My account proved somewhat inexact: my inaccuracy can be forgiven in that it led Perec to begin his own Je me souviens (published in 1978), a less intimate but no less enthralling work than Brainard’s.’ Mathews went on to say that shortly after his friend Perec’s early death he adopted the ‘I remember’ mode to write about him, not as homage but as a way of getting words down in front of him to help him face the dismay caused by Perec’s departure. The day after Greg’s funeral, sitting in Frank Davey’s house in London, Ont., before I knew what I was doing, I wrote the first entry in this ‘I Remember’ book. I needed the words there and here. It was a hard book to write, but writing this kind of book is in another sense quite easy. More than anything else, I wanted to keep it simple. I wanted to keep away from the twelve?cylinder language that made Greg shake his head. I took as my other model Greg’s very important work Drawer Full of Stuff.GEORGE BOWERING
I remember the night before Greg Curnoe’s funeral. We were over at his house, and Angela was sitting on the couch with Sheila for about six hours. Late in the evening I noticed that they were wearing similar sweaters. High necks, thick glossy material, cable knitting in connected diamond shapes on the front. Angela’s was grey, and of course Sheila’s was orange. I said to these two blonde women, look, you’re wearing just about identical sweaters. Sheila said that just attests to Angela’s good taste in clothing. Angela said but George bought this for me last Christmas. Sheila’s daughter said Greg bought that sweater for Sheila last Christmas. We all rolled our eyes for the hundredth time.

I remember the time Greg Curnoe brought a care package to his son Galen. Galen was going to Emily Carr art school in Vancouver, the first time he had ever lived away from home. Greg had a great big cardboard carton or maybe two. The carton contained a drum and drumsticks, many packages of Oreo cookies, and numerous other items his parents had figured Galen would need. We carried the box or boxes to Granville Street, where my car was parked. We loaded the stuff and climbed in. A thin Vancouver rain had been happening all day and into the evening, but I had the sunroof open. I started the engine and then just sat there at the curb, feeling the light rain come in. After a while Greg said George, I’m getting wet. I scolded him and gave him a lecture about the pride we west coast people have in our sunroofs. We kept our silence for a while, and then Greg said now I think that’s completely wrong. I closed the sunroof and started the drive to the east end of the city. In the general direction of London, Ont.

I remember going to Lake Erie with Greg and Sheila. It was a hot day in late August. Sheila took Owen’s diaper off and let him run naked on the beach till a crabby Ontario woman complained from her cottage. Angela dashed into the water and came back out when she spied half a rotted grayling. Greg wore his beach outfit, a pair of long pants, shoes and socks, and a work shirt buttoned at the neck. At the front of the A. Millard George Funeral Home, on a paint?spattered easel, was the last self?portrait Greg did. He is shirtless. Below his neck he is pale, as if he had been wearing his top button done up all through the summer of 1992.

I remember coming to Toronto to tape a debate about baseball on Daniel Richler’s television show. I flopped in the big USAmerican chain hotel downtown and turned on the television set. There was Greg at a table with several other people on Richler’s show. It was about the language used in art criticism. Greg said he wanted to hear something from the critics but he could not stand their post?French?discourse jargon. The editor of a magazine defended her magazine’s language in some talk that was impenetrable. As the programme went on Greg lapsed into baffled silence. I have always respected Greg’s favourite word about the art?making process: ‘interesting’.

I remember Greg’s pencil, the one he used when he wrote on his paintings. He usually wore it behind his ear, and sometimes it protruded from his thick hair. When I was a kid you often saw carpenters with pencils behind their ears, but these days hardly anyone does that. I would like to, but I wear glasses. Most people I know wear glasses. The other person I remember wearing a pencil behind his ear, and sometimes sticking out from his hair, was bpNichol. Greg Curnoe and bpNichol both loved comic strips when they were kids and later, when they were adult artists and writers. They both started to be artists and writers by drawing comic strips. They both drew comics till the day they died, and they were both really funny.

I remember Greg Curnoe’s knuckles. Whenever you posited something he felt he ought to argue with, or at least express hesitation about, he would rub his knuckles back and forth fast in his hair at the side of his head. Sometimes right above the pencil stuck behind his ear.

I remember when Greg started making the lettered landscapes, really big ones. He got the large rubber stamps handmade by a guy who charged him five dollars each for the letters and the other things, question marks and so on. The guy made a left parenthesis and a right parenthesis. Greg paid five dollars for the ( and another five dollars for
the ) . Really stupid, Greg said. When they were in the box he couldnt tell which was which.

I remember one night in 1967, in Greg and Sheila Curnoe’s apartment, where everything was painted in bright colours. At about two o’clock in the morning, Greg said oh, Angela, dont be so sensiteeve. Greg always said that was the USAmerican pronunciation.

I remember one time that Greg and I drove over to Paris, Ont. I was fascinated by Paris, Ont. It was halfway to Hamilton, where David McFadden lived. I had introduced Greg to McFadden. Why not? Several other artists and writers were expressing interest in Paris, Ont. at the time. It had a neat railroad trestle, something like Lethbridge’s, but smaller. Eventually the poet Nelson Ball moved to Paris, Ont. I said whimsically that I would like to live there. It is a pretty little Ontario town. Greg wanted me to move there so we could have the Paris-London Correspondence.

I remember installing Greg Curnoe’s notorious mural at Dorval Airport. Greg Curnoe and Bob Fones and I walked through the airport with photo I.D.s on our chests. It was Canada’s centennial year, and they were decorating Canadian airports with Canadian art. Guido Molinari in Vancouver, Brian Fisher in Montreal. They didnt put London artists in the London airport or Vancouver artists in the Vancouver airport. Expo ’67 was on in Montreal, and we were putting up the mural in the tunnel for U.S. arrivals. While we worked, many USAmerican tourists made funny faces. The mural was all about aviation, and there was even a working propeller. There was a painting of a zeppelin with Owen Curnoe in the gondola. There was also a painting of a man who looked something like President Johnson getting his hand chopped off by a propeller. We had to use a drill to make holes in very hard Italian marble. Greg kept sending us to the hardware store for more drill bits. It was annoying work but a great painting. They made us put a screen over the propeller. Then some USAmericans complained, and the Department of Transport took the mural down. I think Greg was pissed off and pleased.

I remember the first time I ever saw Greg Curnoe executing a watercolour. I just wrote ‘execute’ partly because I know how he would laugh and scoff and rub his nose at the word. He had just come back from Victoria, and he had a sketch-pad and a little case of watercolours with him. He showed us a watercolour painting of the old sink in his room at the Empress Hotel. It was wonderful and brightly coloured. Then he sat at the kitchen table and did a watercolour of our garage. Terrific. He liked the word ‘terrific’. I went with him down to his Vancouver dealer’s. We sat in the back room, and then a man arrived. He was a collector. He said I want that one and that one and maybe that one. Greg said hold on, I have to have something to show them back home. I don’t know, but I think that man may have got the sink and our garage.
I remember Greg Curnoe the Canadian nationalist with a great sense of irony. That’s not irony, George, he would say, that’s just the way I see things. During the 1967 centennial celebrations, Greg entered and won the Great Centennial Cake Contest. He told me he figured no one else entered. Greg’s cake was enormous, and it had orange and blue icing. The flavour was back bacon and maple sugar. For the official presentation with politicians in Ottawa, Greg went and had a suit made. It was yellow with black buttons. He wore pointed-toe black boots. This is what the blue writing on the orange cake said: Canada, I think I love you, but I want to know for sure. Both Greg Curnoe and bpNichol quoted The Troggs.





4 thoughts on “Bowering on Curnoe

  1. Pingback: Art Blog » Bowering on Curnoe

  2. This type of lengthy excerpt from a published work is an infringement of copyright. You need to take it down, please.

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