Jack Chambers' Red and Green: An Artist's Inquiry Into the Nature of Meaning
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About the Author
Art curator and author, Tom Smart has written many award-winning books and organized numerous exhibitions about Canadian and international art. He has worked in art galleries across Canada and the United States, including the Frick in Pittsburgh, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, and the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, where he was its executive director.
His monographic exhibitions on east coast Canadian Realists-Alex Colville, Mary and Christopher Pratt, and Tom Forrestall, among others-opened new avenues for understanding this important art movement. While at the McMichael, Tom broadened its exhibition mandate to embrace First Nations art and artists, was instrumental in developing its acclaimed Ivan Eyre Sculpture Garden, and commissioned renowned author Ross King to write a historical portrait of the Group of Seven that was published in 2010 as Defiant Spirits.
Currently, as art curator and supervisor of education at the Peel Art Gallery, Museum and
In Canadian art circles Jack Chambers? "Red and Green" is the stuff of legend. Begun in 1969 when Chambers was diagnosed with leukemia, it's the original literary mash-up: hundreds of quotations selected and arranged to present the painter and filmmaker's theory of perception. Due to copyright restrictions, Chambers's manuscript remains unpublishable, but now we have the next best thing. Former McMichael gallery head Tom Smart provides a detailed analysis even while retaining authorial distance from his subject, acknowledging, for instance, where Chambers's mysticism may test readers? credulity. This dense, theoretical book is not for everyone but it remains a fascinating portrait of an artist's quest for transcendence in the face of mortality.--Jade Colbert "The Globe & Mail "
In Canadian art circles Jack Chambers' "Red and Green" is the stuff of legend. Begun in 1969 when Chambers was diagnosed with leukemia, it's the original literary mash-up: hundreds of quotations selected and arranged to present the painter and filmmaker's theory of perception. Due to copyright restrictions, Chambers's manuscript remains unpublishable, but now we have the next best thing. Former McMichael gallery head Tom Smart provides a detailed analysis even while retaining authorial distance from his subject, acknowledging, for instance, where Chambers's mysticism may test readers' credulity. This dense, theoretical book is not for everyone but it remains a fascinating portrait of an artist's quest for transcendence in the face of mortality.--Jade Colbert
"Tom Smart has embarked on a noble mission to decipher Chambers' intellectual and deeply meaningful work about art, life, and spiritual philosophy."
"Jack Chambers' Red and Green" is a peculiar work of art criticism that attempts to explain a complex, fragmented manuscript left by an artist after his early death. Jack Chambers was diagnosed with leukemia in the late 1960s, and the event served as an intellectual catalyst as he embarked on a near decade-long quest for meaning and understanding. Concerned with perception, representation, and comprehension, Chambers' writing is steeped in esoteric philosophy and spiritualism, his concern with art soon becoming secondary to his rigorous examination through art of both the world and epistemology.
The text, however, is not easily digested?not only due to difficult content, but also its very physical formulation. Photographs are provided throughout of the actual document Chambers' wrote, the material itself resembling one of William S. Burroughs's "cut-up" works. For this reason, the work has been "translated" by biographer Tom Smart, who attempts to form a cohesive message from the chaotic?but meaningful?source material. Red and Green, the explanation of Chambers' work, is segmented into small, palatable postulations interrelated by central tenets concerned with art.
Much of Smart's text is devoted to deciphering Chambers' complex theories regarding dichotomy, contradiction, and ultimately the unity of all things. Readers familiar with philosophy will note the similarity between these theories and the Aristotelian conception of form and matter, though Chambers almost always includes references to the metaphysical when addressing art and our relationship with it.
Critical and skeptical readers may take issue with the clunky juxtaposition of spirituality with his other, more sophisticated arguments?indeed, the unverifiable is often treated as real, feeling out of place in the work, despite being so prominent throughout it. Smart writes that Chambers hoped to "overcome the limitations of space and time, and to develop valid alternative understandings of how space, time and causality might survive death." This is most certainly a fine goal, though neither a reasonably attainable one nor one that complements the rest of his writing.
Akin to the occasionally wandering writings of the Transcendentalists, there is much to admire in Smart's treatment of the material, but there is only so much he can do with it. His attempts to wrench meaning from Chambers' writings?themselves looking almost like a palimpsest?are executed well, but the writings appear to fail to accomplish what Chambers is describing: a world made whole through the inherent contractions in the ideas and things of which they are comprised. Chambers' failure on this count is, naturally, understandable, but the fragmented nature of his text makes for an unenviable task for Smart as well as confused reading.
Still, "Red and Green" is a highly intellectual work, engaging and thought provoking while tackling complex and crucial concepts about our world and beyond.--Alex Franks "Foreword Reviews "