The art–like the writing–is sometimes on the wall (or the street)….

Art 4
Van Gogh on view at MoMA New York

Whenever I go to visit another part of the world–even another part of Canada or the U.S. (because we all know how different the regions can be)–I like to to do two very specific things.

First, I head to a grocery store.  A big one–not a mom-and-pop shop, although those can be fun too.

I’m looking to see what people buy on a regular basis, and what I might try as well. Or not.

Like maybe not this, from Scotland, in the freezer section (I can tell you, I didn’t ask for

Mr. Brains
YOU asked for it! I’m sure he’s a very nice man, that Mr. Brains (but sausage and brains together?)….also I thought faggots were sticks (in France) and/or cigarettes (in the UK)…..? In either of those cases, that’s not good.  And I have NO idea what west country sauce is….we didn’t buy em.


I always wanted to try a boy bawang….they looked like corn nuts, and there was some English, but…..






Or this:

Banff candy
Gratuitous candy store shot: Not exactly exotic, but definitely nostalgic and therefore necessary 



I can tell you, , there are so many others I don’t stop to snap pictures of; for example, just recently in Newfoundland, I saw cod tongues and seal flippers and what’s all the Fussels anyway? Actually I was more interested in the cookies and tea biscuits–great for snacking on during my drives.

Anyway, whether it’s China or southern California, it’s always worth it to take the time to walk through the aisles of a grocery store.

The other thing I do is hit the art museums and galleries.

Tia 2
By Tia Halliday, as seen in a show in Edmonton last summer

There’s something about seeing works you’ve only ever viewed in books, in real life.  Theny art 1 Mona Lisa is small; Washington Crossing the Delaware is massive.

Sometimes the works are part of a permanent collection, like Guernica by Picasso and Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights (terrifying!) in the Prado, or the Venus de Milo or the surprising portraits done during the Renaissance of people made from fruits and vegetables (a real departure from the religious iconism of the time) by Giuseppe Arcimbaldo in the Louvre–those blew me away; or Botticelli’s Birth of Venus or the statue of David in Florence.  All are stunning in their own ways.

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“I felt the great scream in nature…..” Edvard Munch…

Then there are the temporary shows, where you can see familiar images, like the Scream or you learn about someone new, like Kehinde Wiley.

anthony of padua
Wiley’s Anthony of Padua in the Seattle Art Museum

You can see the weirdness of Jeff Koontz’ giant balloon dogs, or a Murikami sculpture come to life.

Any good size city has at least one museum with something you might want to see, and so you should.

Another thing that’s fun to see is a city’s outdoor art exhibits, such as the one we had here many years ago where artists decorated life size cow statues, which were then auctioned off for charity.  There are still a few that can be found throughout the city; in fact,my friend Shelly and I were on a walk in our neighhbourhood one evening this past summer and we can across one, just siting in a field.

Calgary cow 1
DSCN4362 (2)
Los perros de la habana

And there were dogs in Havana…..and I’ve heard of pigs andDSCN4364 pianos too.

Calgary is currently having a discussion about public art–its relevance, its cost to the taxpayer, and what constitutes art (note: do not ask a Calgarians about the big blue ring or the sculpture near the Olympic Park on the highway.)

That said, one project no one seems to complain about is the city’s utility box beautification program.  It started in 2010 as a way to make the boxes you see everywhere–in every town and city–go from this:



To this.   The box on the right is one I used to passDSCN1575 almost every day.  Probably never noticed it until one weekend afternoon a couple of years ago I saw a woman out painting it.

So I stopped to talk to her.

Her name is Lyse Deselliers, and she is an artist (check out her site).  She explained to me that artists applied for specific locations with a concept for that space.  The community association then looked at the applications and decided which would be most appropriate for their neighbourhoods.  The artists get to showcase their work in a very different way, the utility boxes still function as they should–they just look nicer, and the city’s just a little more interesting.

Hi Lyse!  Sorry it took so long to post this!


Lyse probably thought I forgot about her because I talked to her several years ago; I see from her website that she’s moved to Penticton and she’s doing well. If you’re there and see her (she works out of a couple of galleries there), tell her you saw her utility box.



Last thing: street art.  What would a city be without it?

Near an underpass, in Barcelona
toronto graffiti
Wall in a Toronto alley
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part of large mural on the Venice boardwalk

When it’s done right, it’s some of the most beautiful compelling stuff

Venice utility box
Utility box in Venice, Ca

you’ll come across.  It brightens up the side of a building or an underpass; it’s creative and expressive, sometimes political and sometimes silly; sometimes it’s messy and on occasion, inappropriate…..


DSCN4450 (3)
Che, in Havana

…but if it stops and makes you think, is it ever inappropriate?





Go out and find some something exotic to eat, go see some new art–be a rebel–try something new!   

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