Last week we spent a couple of days in the Waterloo area with my brother, street photographer Al Doerksen, and sister-in-law, artist Agatha Doerksen. First up was the opening of Agatha’s stunning new show, “Off the Wall,” at the Red Brick Cafe in Guelph. The first pieces in this series were inspired by layers of peeling posters in downtown Toronto. Agatha gathers material life wherever she finds it–lists, wallpaper, bits of text, buttons, old photos, and much more–which she then maps and collages in new arrangements. These “remnants and discards” of daily life are variously re-layered, re-configured, revealed, perhaps covered again, perhaps painted upon, but thus preserved. The result is sometimes whimsical but more often–to my view–boldly provocative, and deep. Here’s “A Single Leaf,” one of my favourites in the show. If you live in the Guelph area, do stop by to view the exhibit, or see more of her work at Agatha Fast on Facebook.13645115_830262967108427_4770586795850250156_n


The opening itself had a layer of unexpected drama when one of the largest pieces was stolen the day before the opening. CBC told the story.

I always enjoy visiting with Agatha, and now back in Toronto, I’ve been mulling over what I heard her say about her artistic process. Although she works in a very different medium than I do, so much of what she talked about resonated with my writing life: curiosity that motivates the gathering and gleaning of material, the complex interaction of theme and content in the actual production of the piece, the surprises that emerge, how the piece happens both with and yet also (it seems) without the artist’s conscious intention.

I’ve been mulling the notion of layers and collage also in reference to this period of transition we’re in and its increasingly thick layers of experience and emotion. I’ve found myself a little frustrated that they don’t easily form articulate patterns. But perhaps life is art-making too, with its necessary process; perhaps this stage is a gathering, picking-up, peeling off the wall. Surely the meaning of it can be formed later, out of the fragments. I’ve been conscious too of living all this on a backdrop of troubling world events; places of unrest, uneasiness, violence like France, Turkey, U.S.A.; a sense of challenge and uncertainty. What is the “keep” of all that; its ultimate effect? 

Agatha sent me these lines by Franz Kafka (translated), which she included in a number of paintings. I like it for its counsel about the necessary processes of both life and art. 

You need not do anything.
Remain sitting at your table and listen.
You need not even listen, just wait.
You need not even wait,
just learn to be quiet, still and solitary.
And the world will freely offer itself to you unmasked.
It has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.


8 thoughts on “Layers

  1. At least Agatha knows someone loves her picture! I’m trying to find Kafka’s original lines in German. Do you know from which of his works they are taken?

  2. At least Agnes knows someone loves her picture. I’m trying to locate Kafka’s original quote in German. Do you know from which work they are taken?

  3. Dora I find Kafka’s lines so helpful as I thing into retirement now– actually starting tomorrow! I loved you post (blog)

    • Happy retirement! It seems to me that what he’s talking about is trust and rest, and then the next thing is revealed. At least that’s how I read them. Sure would be nice to have a couple of hours to visit, hear about new ideas and dreams! But in the meanwhile…

  4. “But perhaps life is art-making too, with its necessary process; perhaps this stage is a gathering, picking-up, peeling off the wall.” Yes to those words, Dora. And thanks for the Kafka also. Miriam is right. These are inspiring thoughts for those of us in retirement. The difference between this idea and the stereotype of retirement, however, is conscious thought about not having conscious thought — rather than mindlessly sitting or playing. I’m about to go outside and sit on the deck beside the lake here in my new home. I wonder what the helpless world will show me?

    “And the world will freely offer itself to you unmasked.
    It has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”

    • Thank you Shirley, not mindless as you say, but conscious openness. Wishing you wonderful months at Collegeville. You’re the second friend who’s been there and it’s awakening my desire to do the same.:)

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