Rambling

What is lurking in your craving for Comfort Food?

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Detail From The Photo “Cookies and Milk” by Paul Johnston

Food is an integral part of our psyches. We consumed countless meals as we formed into the beings we are today and many of the foods we grew up on are now perpetually linked to our sense of self.

There are certain foods that evoke memories from childhood and even when the specific memory isn’t present the emotion surrounding that memory is attached subconsciously to the taste, smell and even just the idea of that food. The label “Comfort Food” is traditionally placed next to dishes like Mac and Cheese or Shepherd’s Pie, because these were items traditionally found on the plates of the typical Canadian, British or American child and therefore had an emotional link to the safety of youth. Each culture in the world has its own comfort foods and each individual will have certain foods that take them to a personal, unique place in their heart.

Take the Poll at the bottom of the page to vote for your favorite Comfort Food

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“Breakfast” by Paul Johnston

For me, one food that has always done this was Fish and Chips. My Mother worked downtown and most Fridays as she returned from work, she would get off the streetcar a few stops early at Broadview and Gerrard Streets to go to Crown Fish and Chips. It was traditional Fish and Chips wrapped in newspaper; the real deal. We unwrapped that newsprint just like Christmas presents, covered everything in malt vinegar and ate right off the paper. Friday Fish and Chips, what Fun! Ever since childhood even the sight of fish and chips on a menu brings me to an wonderful place similar to the emotions that surround the excitement of the beginning of the weekend and of the friendship I felt at home with my Mother. I will always feel that way about Fish and Chips.

Later in life it occurred to me why we had Fish and Chips on Friday. Not for the traditional fish on Fridays reason . It was because Friday was payday. It was the day we could afford Fish and Chips, but it was also the day we could afford to restock the liquor cabinet. My treat was Fish and Chips, my Mom’s treat; she did not have to worry about making dinner or even washing a dish on a whisky night. It’s not simple selfishness, she knew fish and chips brought me joy, but there was a duality to this gift. It also alleviated her guilt and facilitated her evening plans for drinking. It made me realize that the deconstruction of what we perceive as childhood magic often reveals the magicians tricks or at least the realities of adulthood.

Detail from "Spaghetti and Meatballs" by Paul Johnston

Detail from “Spaghetti and Meatballs” by Paul Johnston

In this series I’m attempting to deconstruct some of our most heartfelt mealtime favourites into a more clinical and darkened arena. The dichotomy that exists between these murky, sterile, images and the emotion which surrounds these comfort foods is the place where the viewer has the chance to deconstruct their own personal investment in them. Take an honest moment to understand the relationship you have with these childhood favourites. What memories and emotions do they conjure and why?

Through this process, hopefully, we as adults will appreciate the value of this gift of innocence we were given as children and understand the importance of bestowing this, not only on our children, but on our parents as they age and our family and friends in hard times. It is this comfort of innocence that defines the human condition best. After all we construct an assemblage of brick, mortar and wood to shelter our bodies at the end of our day, but we build a home to shelter our hearts.

"Fish and Chips" by Paul Johnston

“Fish and Chips” by Paul Johnston

And by the way, I still and always will feel safe with the smell of malt vinegar in the air. 

Click to View the Gallery

“Deconstructing Comfort”

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The Button Jar Revolution

The Medium is the Message – Marshall McLuhan

I lived with my Great Grandmother until I was twelve. My Great Grandmother’s house had a ‘button jar’. At one time every house had a button jar. When a button fell off a shirt my Great Grandmother went to her button jar, found a suitable button and sewed it on. When that shirt got a tear, it was mended. When that shirt got too many tears, the buttons were cut off and returned to the button jar. The shirt was cut into pieces and those pieces went into the ‘rag bag’. Those rags washed widows, wiped spills and became beautiful, mishmash patchwork quilts. My Great Grandmother had never heard of the words ‘recycling’ or ‘repurposing’. There were no plastic Blue Bins; there was only a garbage can… one very small, metal garbage can … for a household of six people.

The sad dichotomy of our times is that we are a people in celebration of an age of new found environmental awareness, and yet this same era only celebrates all that is new and shiny, disposable and characterless. It looks down on anything used, worn or out of date. We are proud that we sort our garbage and use cloth grocery bags but turn up our noses at last year’s styles. Past generations who didn’t think about the environment, with only their pride of frugality, made due with far less, recycled far more and took care of the earth better than we do today.

Florence Walton Quilting

Certain flaws are necessary for the whole. It would seem strange if old friends lacked certain quirks.- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I truly get excited by finding new uses for old things, for buying used items instead of new, knowing how to repair, for being creative enough to make use or beauty from other peoples garbage, for outsmarting the global system of commercialization. Whether it’s for my own use or use in my art, I love the history, the quality and uniqueness of these things. I think about their past and where they will go in the future. I think about the people who have possessed them and events they have been witness to. These items salute the character of the quirks that only come with age and the scourges of time. In my assemblages, rusted parts of machines, cherished dolls, carpenters tools, jewellery and clothing from eras past are the veterans of a time that shaped the world we live in. They proudly come to my art with their own unique character scars and personal experiences, in the form of dents and cracks. They are like aging actors who have shed their utilitarian lives and bring to the viewer their valuable experience and a reality that could otherwise not be achieved with any other medium. It’s a play that is part whimsy, part Frankenstein and sometimes I feel more like the director than the creator of my own work.

My hope is that my art will help the viewer to reconnect a little with the history of the hands that have touched these humble artefacts of humankind and understand that wear doesn’t necessarily detract from something’s value, it can add to it. Maybe after seeing my art, some of the junk of yesterday will find a new use today.

We need a revolution; we need more button jars!

 

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When I was a boy a circus came to town

When I was a boy a circus came to town. Juggle (webpages)As a pipe smoking, tattooed clown dropped down off the first wagon and started to unload, people began to peek out from their manicured homes with wary curiosity. The lion was getting over a case of mange, so was his handler. The chorus girls’ tattered dresses were losing sequins like a snowstorm and nylons with runs and stains of indeterminate origin valiantly held back varicose veins. The big top, which was more like a patchwork quilt, was unfurled to expose its stripes that were so faded they were now only different shades of off-white. Amazon Alice had more warts than pre-kissed Prince Charming. Her hunch back hunched over to pick-pocket the strongman’s mickey of gin. As the elephant farted by the opening of the giant rusted cannon, the echo of cursing could be heard from the barrel where the human cannonball was shirtlessly sleeping off last night’s poker game. By the time the one-eyed, legless ring master was wheeled up the ramp of the barker’s platform to announce the ‘greatest show on earth’, there was already a line-up three blocks long. After all, circuses come to town all the time but a broken circus is a spectacle not to be missed.