PORTAL 52 – Week 8: ‘Juanita’
Maybe this PORTAL 52 project has infiltrated all of my brain cells, because portals keep showing up everywhere I go, and connections are being noticed in such varied circumstances.
For instance, last month, my daughter and I had the opportunity to see Corb Lund and Ian Tyson perform together at a sold-out concert in Edmonton. Even before getting inside the Jubilee Auditorium, portals were evident as we traversed the sidewalks and parking lots leading up to the entrance. A quick scan of the vehicles revealed far more trucks than would normally be seen waiting to enter the Jubilee lot, but the crowd certainly wasn’t limited to one demographic. An ancient, mud-encrusted pick-up truck, clearly driven directly off the farm by the equally vintage cowboy inside it, waited in front of a gleaming Mercedes Benz steered by an impeccably dressed middle-aged man. On the sidewalk, young hipsters walked alongside families with young children in tow. At the entrance to the auditorium, a tattooed young man with multiple facial piercings held the door open for a group of senior citizens who were hobbling in with their walkers and canes. Inside, it became even more obvious that the mix of people who were gathering for this concert came from all sorts of demographic, cultural, educational, and socio-economic backgrounds. In the short walk across the foyer alone, we were treated to a mosaic of smells: curry, whiskey, Axe deodorant spray, Olde Spice cologne, and the aroma of pot lingered with that of chewing tobacco.
The concert was legendary, as one might expect from combining the musical talents and stories of Canadian country icon Ian Tyson with Corb Lund and his ‘Ag-Trag’ genre (Corb’s self-titled brand for his music, short for Agricultural-Tragedy). There were no pyrotechnics or flashy stage settings. The singers perched casually on stools playing their guitars, accompanied by only two other musicians - Kurt Ciesla on the upright bass (a.k.a. the “Big Butch Bass Bull Fiddle”), and Russell Broom on guitar. The minimalist stage setting provided a direct contrast to the rich tapestry of tales and songs woven together throughout the evening.
As I sat next to my 26-year-old daughter (who could sing every single word of Corb’s songs but was unfamiliar with most of the older anthems like “Four Strong Winds”, “Someday Soon”, and “Navajo Rug”), it struck me that there are very few settings that allow us to telescope time and history the way music, story-telling and art does. I feel old saying this, but it seems to me our society is so fast paced and full of sound-bites, flashy images and technological complexities, that to allow ourselves to sit down, listen, and transcend time, space, cultures and ways of being, is a rarity. As a teenager, I used to lie on my bedroom floor listening over and over to the same album (yes, that round vinyl thing that spun around on a record player), totally absorbing every nuance of each song until I could understand and feel everything the artist was trying to communicate. This concert (another portal, really), made me realize that, as an adult, I no longer give my undivided attention to music in the same way anymore.
As a visual artist, I aspire to create art that expresses how I feel inside. Experiencing this concert made me feel many emotions, including nostalgia, sadness and joy. The blend of intergenerational story-telling, entertainment, and the appreciation for history that was served to us that night by such talented artists resonated with me for weeks afterward. I deeply felt the imperative given by the song “The Gift (Charlie Russell),” to:
“Get her all down before she goes. You gotta get her all down ‘cause she’s bound to go.”
I thought if I could somehow capture an image of Ian Tyson and Corb Lund singing their hearts out, transporting us with their voices through a portal of sorts, then I could perhaps convey a morsel of what I felt that night. I scoured the internet for a suitable image of both of them to use as a reference picture. Instead, I came across a video of Corb describing how he gets through the shitty parts of life, and processes the bad things that happen to him, by playing music. He describes one of his favourite guitars, named Juanita, and I just knew I had to paint it.
There are many parts of the guitar that can be considered portals, the most obvious one being the sound hole from which the musical notes emanate. Corb’s guitar was made by a friend in “’95…ish? It’s old.” He specifically points to the bridge of the guitar, the final portal over which all the strings pass before settling into the body. Apparently, Corb’s family went to Zambia to put on a rodeo and brought back a piece of ivory in 1973 (before it was illegal to do so). He used this ivory to re-create the cattle brands from both sides of his family; his father’s side rests up top and his mother’s sits on the lower side.
In the video, he admits that, “It’s really hard to get me to listen to new music…. same with books and clothes and people. I like old stuff.” This demonstration of respect and appreciation of his family history, history in general, old music, movies and books is admirable.
As if I needed another reason to love Corb Lund.