Why I am difficult, so often: a response to hatred and hate mail

This article is appearing at my blog, not at The Sound, for a reason that will become clear when you’ve read the piece. This is on me, no one else. Your intepid #artcriticfromhell owns who he is and what he does, with good intentions often gone awry, but no one else need be concerned with it unless they so desire, and sometimes that has complications that are difficult. After all, I was “let go” from an ARC that falls over itself to jabber about “reconciliation” but oh my, you surely can’t call out one board member’s employer for a pattern of serious, serial institutional racism, oh no.

And that isn’t okay nor just nor right (where’s my unicorn?), but I am here now because of that, and that is a good thing. The world is what it is, I have voice and freedom that many would envy and perhaps do better things with, so let us move on.

But let us focus on what matters here, and now.

I greatly enjoy Patrick Crummey’s articles in The Sound. I often find he cuts to the point with a clarity often missing from most political commentary in Canada, and sometimes I agree, sometimes I don’t, but I’m proud to be published in the same paper (the same way I was often embaressed by my “peers” in FUSE, or Canadian Art Magazine, but was very proud to be associated with The Planet for their series on the First Nations University in Regina, or the courage of my editor there to run my pieces about institutional racism at the University of Saskatchewan).

In Patrick’s piece, he refers to a piece of “hate mail.” It came to me, and Chris Illich, as both our emails are out there for the readers, and I enjoy being a public face of The Sound. So, in light of that, I want to add a few things to Patrick’s reference to the hate mail, including how I engaged this person further, and how, in the end, I shut him down like the ignorant piece of filth that he clearly is, and surely continues to be, but, thankfully, elsewhere. Or perhaps I scared him enough to help him mind his manners. We do, they say, live in the best of all possible worlds.

But before we begin, let me offer hate mailer’s email and name, which is Andy ‘Hector’ McDonald and andyautoservice@hotmail.com ; the one was clear in his various messages with their fetid obscene rage that was almost impressive in its excess, and the latter came with a bit of research. You might think I’m being inappropriate here, “doxxing” if you will. But my experience with hate mailers is more extensive and varied than either Chris or Patrick (or I could be wrong, and I welcome them correcting me).

During my time in Saskatchewan one right wing Klan focused group tried to recruit me, then tried to scuttle me, and I’ve also received hate from artists I’ve panned in word and person that has been interesting (and often anonymous), and has made me draft and enact responses that are – as here – very effective.

A digression, offering examples of my experience: Having an “artist” complain to you for ten minutes about a review, then asking them what part they took issue with, and having them respond that “I haven’t read it” was met, by me – only once – with a “well, why don’t you go and f**k yourself, as I spent more time on your work than you did on the review, and you’re obviously wasting my time.” Word got around of my inability / unwillingness to suffer self aggrandizing egoistes.

Alternately, I once had an hour long argument – in the best sense – with a painter in Saskatoon, over the legacy (or not) of Emma Lake, and Greg Hardy knew his history and aesthetic, and we both came away wiser and with respect for each other.

So, when I found The Sound’s hatefan on Linked In, with the same email and other stats, I happily emailed him and my words were “Hey, can I connect with you on LinkedIn so everyone can know how proud you are? I’ll share your stuff ALL OVER.”

I didn’t hear back from Andy McDonald after that. He shut up, stopping up his verbal bile. Completely.

andyautoservice@hotmail.com is his email, again, just to be clear.

His LinkedIn page is here: and here’s a screen shot. The Web page is nothing but a placeholder so don’t mind it.

Now, surely some of you are “oh, but Bart, why didn’t you just ignore him? Oh, aren’t you stooping to his level?”

And yes, that was an option. But here’s the thing: people like this are cowards, and when bleached by the light of day, often run away and hide. And well, your intrepid #artcriticfromhell must be honest: I am often the “designated asshole” as I told a friend, an amazing writer I’m also chuffed to know, when she thanked me for slapping down with vigour some fool who felt the need to troll her online.

When we tolerate idiots, we are tainted by them. When we tolerate threatening hate speech from assholes, and don’t call them out – literally, as I did with Andy McDonald here – they get bolder.

That cannot be allowed to happen. If you’re so sure of your views, own them. I’ve NEVER written under a psuedonym, and grant no one else the same privilege if the sole reason is to hide behind a controversial opinion. You’re entitled to an informed opinion: no one is entitled to ignorance.

I have nothing but contempt for cowards. And if I may, if there’s still doubts, would you like to read his emails? Well, here’s his sweetness in the Andy.first and then the Andy.one installmants. You go. Enjoy.

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And there’s been a few updates since I posted this: Andy has sent a few more rambling, hateful emails, but amusingly also seemed to want me to give him feedback on some ‘artwork’ by his brother, or brother in law. I’m unsure as it struck me as so odd that I only read it once, and didn’t even open the images, as it was simply too weird.

But here’s Andy’s profile on FB: he posts a lot of a jabber that might make Andrew Scheer nervous, and if anyone is friends with him, beware.



Conor Mac Neill’s Tall Tales (and Tails)

I will offer a disclosure, before I begin to talk about Conor Mac Neill‘s Canadian Myths and Legends. As a child, and still now as an adult, I am always reading ghost stories and accounts of monsters, so when I walked into the gallery space (one of two, at Niagara Pumphouse), and saw an image of Ogopogo or – more exciting to me – Sarah Ann Tracey, I was not only intrigued as an arts writer, making my first visit to the Pumphouse, but had that moment of keen joy you often experience, as a child, when confronted with something exciting. Its not accidental – and I wasn’t at all surprised – to find out Mac Neill also has produced a childrens’ book and is an animator. The night of the reception, he had copies of his latest book on sale, as well.

I’ve joked before about synchronicity: since my return to Niagara, I’ve also spent a great deal of time on Youtube, watching old CBC / CTV shows about the ghosts of Niagara, or the ghost ships of Niagara, and one of the papers I contribute to, The Sound out of St. Catharines, has tapped into a local urban legend / mythology with a column on The Screaming Tunnels. All of this, in certain ways, makes me an ideal audience for Canadian Myths and Legends, despite my age (some have argued I have never grown up, ahem).

Another portrait, James Andrews, also has a “ghosts of Niagara” resonance, as he is another “casualty” of the Great Lakes, like Edmund Fitzgerald, or the Great Lakes / Michigan Triangle or the Black Dog of Lake Erie or South Bay Bessie. Mac Neill described the show as two different bodies of work, and its installed in such a manner in the space, with Sarah, with Commodore Andrews and several others as portraits along one wall, and The Tail of Ogopogo, Old Yellowtop, The Gaasyendietha and The modern day Wendigo grouped together, like to like.

The modern day Wendigo

Before I offer Conor’s own words and some further impressions of my own, I want to add one more intersecting element.

The evening of the reception, Mac Neill spoke about how, as a child, his family moved from Ireland to Newfoundland. This caught my attention for two reasons, though really one that unites both places, with ideas of folklore and stories (and Mummering in Newfoundland) told to you as a child that you still cherish as an adult (a side tangent: as a child I watched some CBC thing, narrated by Gordon Pinsent – a Newfoundlander, if I’m not mistaken – about a ghost ship in NOTL, and how one of the sailors, one night, saw the headless ghost of a past captain, murdered by a jealous husband or jilted lover, I disremember, but the image of the headless uniformed body walking nonchalantly – or floating, to be exact – above the deck, to the horror of the crew, is still vivid. I must find that show, to watch again…).

The Gaasyendietha

One of my favourite books is American Gods by Neil Gaiman: one of his characters, Essie Tregowan came to mind, during Mac Neill’s brief talk about his works. As a child, at the start of her sad – or perhaps simply human, which is funny, in light of monsters and legends – story, Essie could never get enough “tales of the piskies and the spriggans, of the black dogs of the moors and the seal-women of the Channel. And, though the squire laughed at such things, the kitchen-folk always put out a china saucer of the creamiest milk at night, put it outside the kitchen door, for the piskies.” Later, in the “new world” when she’s old the hot Virginia sun can barely warm her, she thinks of how her daughter “Phyllida’s children would come to Essie for tales, and she would tell them of the Black Dog of the Moors, and of Raw-Head and Bloody-Bones, or the Apple Tree Man, but they were not interested; they only wanted tales of Jack—Jack up the Beanstalk, or Jack Giant-killer, or Jack and his Cat and the King. She loved those children as if they were her own flesh and blood, although sometimes she would call them by the names of those long dead.”

The Tail of the Ogopogo

Its worth noting that the person in American Gods who tells Essie’s tale, Mr. Ibis, comments at some point that one must trust the story, if not the story teller.

In his statement for the show, Mac Neill also cites the following, from D. Abraham: “There is no better way to understand a culture deeply than to know and appreciate its mythos, its stories, its dreams. Indeed, many of the symbols in our dreams are universal, or at least culture-wide, symbols whose meaning is invested in the mythic stories that they inhabit. And there are those who believe that these symbols and these stories are encoded in the very cells of our species’ DNA.”

Sarah Ann Tracey

Sarah Ann Tracy stands in front of a somewhat dark background, and even if you didn’t already know that she supposedly extends her short life by haunting Fort George, you’d surely get an eerie sense from her portrait. But she’s not frightening: I’m reminded of the poltergeist that inhabits the Marr Residence, which I used to live next door to, in Saskatoon, and they only became fussy when the Historical or Heritage group meeting became overlong, and I can’t fault that. Her large eyes are striking, and the whorls of her hair and her toy cat make her, on the one hand, just a small girl like any other, but the ethereal light, and her story, tell us otherwise.

Other scenes are more active, more vibrant in colour. There is a contrast of play and seriousness, a mix of myth and legend and a tongue in cheek contemporary re imagining – retelling – of some of the older stories.

I am loathe to offer too much about the specific works, as they have a joy, a vitality, that you have to experience in person. His process, a painterly approach to digital printed on canvas serves the works well (one might imagine several of the “portraits” sitting above a mantlepiece in a home). As well, there is an aspect of this show, this work that is collaborative with Mac Neill’s son, Declan, and he has smaller, expressive works also in the gallery space (in considering the work by both Mac Neills’,  I was reminded of how many books for children are important to adults, whether the obvious, like Edward Gorey, or one that I read as a boy, Norval Morrisseau‘s Legends of My People: The Great Ojibway, where his images enchanged me as much as the tales, like why the birch tree is ‘scarred’).

This comes back to an idea that informs much of Mac Neill’s work: there is a child like wonder to it, a child like sensibility to it, but that’s not saying its “childish.” In fact, there is a sense here of the importance of stories we learn as children, and repeat to our children, and how, as he illustrates, literally and metaphorically, that is important to many of us, whatever our age.

The exhibition Canadian Myths and Legends is on display at the Niagara Pumphouse in Niagara-on-the-Lake until November 28th (247 Ricardo Street). Gallery hours are Tuesday – Sunday from 11 AM to 4 PM and his book is on sale at the gallery. All images are copyright the artist. You can see much more of Conor Mac Neill’s practice in various media here