Introduction by the Treasurer of the Law Society of Ontario, Paul Schabas, at book launch on October 17, 2017

Paul Schabas, the Treasurer of the Law Society of Ontario, made the following remarks about Mr. Porter’s new book 149 Paintings You Really Need to See in North America (So You Can Ignore the Others) at its launch in October 2017.

[I was] very touched when Julian called and asked me to speak at this reception to celebrate a book by two people I have known well for such a long time.

We all loved Julian’s first book, and of course many of us have enjoyed being led through a great art gallery by Julian, enjoying the drama of his descriptions, his effusiveness, his emotion and his humour as he chuckles over a ribald image or something just a little off colour. My wife, Alison, and I still talk of a wonderful morning, with Joey Slinger and Nora McCabe, dutifully following Julian through the Prado — stopping off at various points to hear him out on Hieronymus Bosch, El Greco and Goya.

So what to say about this new book, written by the two of them?

As I looked through it, it got me thinking both about art, and about them — which I think is really the beauty of this book for all of us.

If you’re like me, you love art, but don’t know enough about it. Who does? Even Julian writes in one of his descriptions, “What do I know”? But we all enjoy looking at a beautiful painting, or a great work of art for what it tells us — about an event, about history, about people, about human emotion, or, simply, about art and beauty.

And the descriptions of art in this book help us with that. They enlighten us, cause us to look at paintings in different ways, and through the lens of our friends, Julian and Stephen.

And in that way the book is a window into them, too. We see how they approach their art differently, not just because one talks about the old stuff — that would be Julian — and the other addresses the new, what we call modern art.

Julian, as many of you know, also loves opera — the grand tableau of colour, music and theatre — and we see it in his descriptions. Let me just read a couple — his opening comment on Tintoretto’s Tarquin and Lucretia, a wonderful evocative image of the two nude figures that is in the Art Institute of Chicago:

“How do you capture the crackle of Tintoretto? Painter of perhaps the greatest Last Judgment of all. Here a rape, the scattering bouncing pearls, white skin, flashing colour — a quick brutality.

Shimmers of lightning bathing the silks and satins. This elegance, cheek by jowl with ugly rape, her hand reaching out to you, for you to rescue her….”

Or, just as dramatic, his description of El Greco’s View of Toledo which hangs in the Metropolitan Museum in New York:

“This is a landscape to end all landscapes. ….

The view is of Toledo, a small Spanish city and, until 1561, the capital of the Spanish Empire. A flickering kaleidoscope blinking sky, a menacing storm, a great necklace of architecture, swishes of green billowing trees create an electric effect. You are commanded to halt dead still before it, as the black river speeds towards you. The thunder cracks. In the black, black sky, ink blots from God.”

One can just hear Julian, with dramatic flourish, going from stage whispers to shouts, standing in front of these paintings, saying those words. …

If he can’t get us to stop and think, who can? Wonderful.

Stephen, a great fan of the orchestra, is more symphonic, more disciplined, but also with his own sense of the music of art.

Commenting on an abstract Roy Liechtenstein titled Mirror #2 in San Francisco, he opens with a bang: “The fabulous, frenetic, energetic, troubled!

Yes, he can hold his own with Porter, but Grant has the difficult task with modern art of explaining the new.

He takes us a little more into the history of the work, the making of the painting, and its significance. Consider a bit of this about Paterson Ewen’s work Gibbous Moon — acrylic on gouged plywood, just to put it in context — in the National Gallery in Ottawa:

“There are times in viewing art when a piece or a show is overwhelming, cutting one’s perceptions into ribbons and changing one’s aesthetic landscape. For me this came with my discovery of Paterson Ewen’s Phenomena. But it wasn’t just the images, it was Ewen’s discovery of his “tool,” the router, that forge his brilliance and my appreciation of it. This was the perfect fit, Ewen’s router in Ewen’s hand….”

And then after telling us about his technique, Stephen says more:

“Ewen broke barriers in the art world by incorporating his science background into his luminous creations. His work moves me beyond reason, it speaks to something primitive yet reassuring. In a word, captivating.”

I know I will look at Paterson Ewen differently, and more carefully on my next visit to the AGO, just as I will look differently at Tintoretto and El Greco, and so many other works after having read this book.

And, I will also think, of course of the operatic Julian and the symphonic Stephen, and their love of art, so courageously given to us by them.

It’s a wonderful book, congratulations.