Art goes beyond limits of words to touch other worlds

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, April 11, 2012

Art is like a magic mirror, or window, through which viewers can be transported to inaccessible  realms beyond.
“The Blue Room,” by Murray Phillips

Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn once compared art to a magic mirror that for a moment moves the soul of the viewer to realms inaccessible to mere rational thinking.

My recent encounter with a painting by artist Murray Phillips reminded me of the Nobel Laureate’s words, except it wasn’t some magic mirror, but a window that caught my attention and momentarily transported my soul to higher realms.

I was paying one of my frequent visits to Cochrane’s Rustica Fine Art Gallery when Murray’s “The Blue Room” grabbed my attention.

Although its rich tones of blue, my favourite colour, were no doubt what first caught my eye, it was its celebration of a window that teased my imagination.

So often as a photographer I use windows as frames for some image beyond, but here, the window itself was the centerpiece. And it invited me to come up with my own images of what might lie on the other side – it awoke my soul.

I wrote Murray about my fascination with his painting. The highly regarded B.C. artist, art workshop facilitator and familiar face around Cochrane responded with the background behind it:

The painting is based on his memory of a room at a Welsh rooming house where he and his wife stayed a few years ago, he said. And indeed, it was its simple beauty that transported his soul beyond the limitations of language.

“Art itself is a language,” he said, “and in this day with fascination about words it is helpful to be reminded that words are not always adequate. Indeed, at times of profound emotional experience we often declare ‘I cannot find the words to express my grief’ – or love or whatever it is we are experiencing.”

The problem is not that we cannot find the words, Murray said. The words just do not exist, and this is where art and music come to the fore.

“Sometimes, like my experience in this room in Wales, we are entranced by a simple beauty that cannot be captured verbally but perhaps can on canvas. It is a metaphor for art - a window to view a greater world. Art can enhance our lives enormously because it enables us to experience the inexpressible and, on occasion, communicate that to others.

“When I paint I tell a story – I have a conversation with the canvas. However, I only get to tell half the story. The observer picks up the story when they say something like, ‘That reminds me of the time . . . .’”

It is in this sense that art itself “is a powerful language,” he said. And I must agree with Murray.

Which brings me to a special agenda I have for writing this column: the two public art shows that are taking place this coming weekend in Cochrane.

Murray himself will be exhibiting and speaking at the “Spring is in the Air Art Show Sale and Fundraiser” being held April 13 and 14 at the Cochrane RancheHouse.

Joining Murray will be a fine slate of other prominent artists who exhibit at the Calgary Stampede and who will be on hand to chat with their RancheHouse guests. For details on the event, go to

On April 14 and 15, the Foothills Art Club will be exhibiting the work of some outstanding local artists at the Cochrane Curling Club, an event I try never to miss. For details on this much-anticipated annual show, go to

And while you’re in the mood for art, why not check out the photographic exhibits currently on at two of our coffee shops? Cochrane Coffee Traders is featuring the inspiring work of up-and-coming art photographer David Savage.

And Java Jamboree is featuring some down-home-on-the-ranch images by Hamish Kerfoot. Note especially his photo of the four cow hands. And if he’s on hand himself, have him tell you the fascinating story behind his photo of the old toy truck. It just may be the magic mirror that will take you back to your own childhood.


© 2012 Warren Harbeck

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