Many of my horsey friends will assume the title of this post refers to a prolific pacing sire Artsplace or perhaps Art Major or his speedy son Art Official. In reality this is a story about moving art – as in transporting four large paintings from my soon-to-be vacated loft to a cross-town gallery.
My friend Patrick McNeill of the famed Wellington Street Art Gallery has agreed to take four pieces on consignment. If they don’t sell, well, no harm done and I’ll have them when I return. If he does sell them, I get a cheque that should keep me in third-rate hostels for a few bonus months.
Patrick has moved a lot of art in his second career as gallery owner and he swears the best way is to call Beck’s Art Cab. Give them 15 minutes and a Beck’s driver will pick you up in a mini-van and for a small surcharge will wait while you load and unload larger items like art. I suppose this wouldn’t be much of a deal if you didn’t live in Toronto or already owned a minivan, but since you are buying art, and living in Toronto, it’s a pretty safe bet that you don’t drive a minivan.
Patrick made the call and right on cue a familiar orange and green van pulled into the alley behind my Queen & Sherbourne area loft. After chasing away a pair of crackheads (yes, RoFo is back in town; no, it wasn’t him), the cabbie proceeded to fold down the two rear seats creating a “deck” large enough to accommodate a stack of 4’ x 6’ canvasses.
Into the van went a pair of early 1960s abstracts by pioneering Toronto artist Cathy Arthur, Sean Yelland’s 1997 acrylic on canvas “Laugh Riot”, and “Bullseye” by Liana Russwurm, a very talented artist who once lived in my building. The Cathy Arthur pieces were acquired from the artist’s estate in 1998. People who are more art-savvy than I have remarked that Cathy’s 1963 and 1964 work was light years ahead of its time. “Bullseye”, on the other hand, is a much newer piece that actually has some pedigree. It was shown at the 2008 Toronto International Art Fair (TIAF) where it was one of two pieces that Engine Gallery saw fit to include in the show’s glossy catalogue.
Have I sold you on any of this stuff yet? If so, call Patrick. I could sell it to you but he’ll demand his cut so he can do the legwork.
With four canvases stacked on the van’s collapsed rear seats and Patrick bucked up in the passenger seat, I volunteered to take the King Streetcar and meet them at the gallery. Upon hearing this, the cabbie said, “Do you want to have a nap?” I had no idea what he meant. “I do this all the time”, he added, motioning to the open side door of the van. It took me a few seconds before I realized what he was suggesting. The four paintings were stacked flat, and took up the entire back of the van, except for a small cavity under the art and between the seats and the sliding side door. Hamid explained that he often takes long trips in the van and when his son drives, he lays on the floor so he can stretch out.
I jumped at the chance to save a $3 streetcar fare (hey, I’m unemployed) so I wiggled into the cavity and pulled my fingers out of the way just in time to avoid Hamid’s rather aggressive door closing technique. Seconds later it dawned on me that I was at the mercy of Patrick and Hamid. I couldn’t get up, nor could I reach the door handle. I’d die a miserable death should they decide to park in the scorching sun and slip into the Wheat Sheaf for a pint or two.
As the van rumbled over streetcar tracks, potholes, and Toronto’s infamous utility cuts, I felt every bump as if going over Niagara in a barrel. From my spot in almost complete darkness I tried to guess where we were based on the turns I was expecting the driver to make. I guess I shouldn’t have worried as I’ve shared enough cabs with Patrick to know that he’d protest vociferously if the driver even thought about taking a longer route than necessary.
After 10 minutes we arrived at the gallery, Hamid opened the door and I literally rolled onto the sidewalk, a little dusty but otherwise unscathed.
This won’t officially count as one of the many modes of travel that I’ll likely encounter on this trip as I’ve already penciled ‘Train to Winnipeg’ into the #1 slot on that list. And it may not rank with ‘chicken truck’ in Cambodia or pontoon barge across Lake Titicaca, but it’s a pretty good start seeing as I haven’t even left my hometown.