I yelled at my husband on the street today. A stranger stopped and asked us for directions. I kept walking. Matthew, my husband, paused to help, standing less than six feet from the man. “Oh my God, stand back!” I shouted. I grabbed Matthew by the arm, pulled him away, and suggested to the stranger that if he was lost, he could use his smartphone. When I apologized to Matthew at home, I explained that everything is stressing me about Toronto these days: opening the door to our condo lobby, touching the buttons on the elevator, passing people in the halls. The virus could be anywhere. It’s a conversion we have had before, like after I called Matthew “reckless” for picking a stray nickel up off the sidewalk. “Try to relax,” he told me. I said, it’s hard. I feel nervous every time we go out and the scores of shuttered storefronts depress me. “I want to leave,” I said, referring to our vague plans of escaping to our cabin in the Laurentians. “We can’t,” he replied. A simple truth. Quebec has closed its border to Ontario. Fine. I will continue distracting myself the same way everyone is: eating too many carbs, watching too much Netflix.
I remember the exact moment when I decided that I would never go back to my family’s cottage ever, ever again.
It was August 2000. I was 16 and sick of visiting the dusty, drafty old place in Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains. Its incessant mothball smell was getting to me, especially because it never seemed to keep out the moths.
A detail of Marie-José Gustave’s cardboard chair (photo by Stephanie Lamy)
When designer Marie-josé Gustave moved to Quebec from France 15 years ago, she, not surprisingly, hauled her stuff with a bevy of cardboard boxes. But, unlike most of us, Gustave didn’t give away, store or toss the containers when she got here. She started turning them into art and decor.
“I had lots of boxes,” jokes Gustave.
The Montrealer studied clothing production, was working in textile design and long loved tactile crafts such as sewing and knitting. Like an interesting fabric or yarn, she admired cardboard’s rich, versatile texture. Depending on how it’s cut, layered and woven together, it looks like wool, woven seagrass or clay.
Jean-Paul Lemieux's Evening Visitor, 1956, at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa
On Saturday afternoon I took a drive out to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection. The gallery is just outside of Toronto — in Kleinburg, near Canada’s Wonderland — but it’s log-and-stone buildings and treed surrounds makes the place feel like an Algonquin retreat. It’s a refreshing escape so close to the city, and while there I was delighted to discover a great Canadian artist that I hadn’t previously heard about: Jean-Paul Lemieux. I only noticed a couple of the Quebecer’s works among all the pieces by Tom Thomson, Emily Carr and the Group of Seven, but Lemieux’s paintings made an impression with their minimal, graphic quality. I like how he captured the desolate, vast landscape of rural Quebec — in particular the harsh, snowy weather and long grey skies.