Painter John F. Marok Lifts Veil of Mystery Surrounding Gatineau Park
John F. Marok’s exhibition Landscapes, Lights and Shadows was a resounding success. An enthusiastic crowd attended the cocktail-vernissage on Friday, June 29, while six of the paintings displayed were sold. The discreet, courteous and effective service provided by l’Orée du Bois made the evening all the more enjoyable.
For the occasion, Mr. Marok offered Gatineau Park a splendid gift to mark its 80th birthday—a dozen paintings to celebrate its beauty and lift the veil of mystery that surrounds its history and administration.
Three main themes emerged from the exhibition: an idealized nature park, an abused park, and a massacred park.
His painting The Chain of Three Lakes transports us into a charming and unspoiled wilderness, while Life of the Bee at Stone Acres depicts a romantic ideal of country life. The label accompanying the latter painting tells us that park founder Percy Sparks’ favourite book was Maurice Maeterlinck’s Life of the Bee, a poetic work that is less about bees, and more about the human condition.
Although they highlight the history and beauty of the park, M. Marok’s paintings also shed light on some of its darker corners. For example, the paintings Kingsmere Burning, The Lawn Jockey, and The Asa Meech House, brilliantly expose the deterioration and destruction of important heritage buildings as a result of neglect and abuse by the park’s so-called stewards.
As well, a series of very dark paintings illustrates the third theme: massacre of the park. The Assassins I and II and The Execution of Gatineau Park provide searing condemnation of the park’s “stewards.”
“These paintings are inspired by Francisco Goya’s Disasters of War,” according to Mr. Marok. “They symbolize the massacre of Gatineau Park’s wilderness and its ongoing rape by the those who are its supposed stewards. The assassins, the firing squad, are faceless, expressionless. The characters are monstrous, not really human. We get the impression they need to take down every last tree in the park,” he says.
Moreover, the texts accompanying the paintings reveal the extent of this massacre. Since 2006, the NCC has allowed construction of 11 new residences at Meech Lake. A total of 132 new houses have been built in the park since 1992, and 8 km2 of its land mass has been removed behind closed doors. All of which confirms that the NCC has completely spun out of control and that serious reform is urgently needed.
By exploring different aspects of Gatineau Park, by juxtaposing its bright and dark sides, the artist paints a realistic picture of the park and provides a synthesis of the issues that affect it. Moreover, the notion of synthesis is at the heart of his exhibition: “The highest and deepest reality is a synthesis of truth and beauty,” said Mr. Marok during a speech, quoting the Roman poet Ovid.
“These paintings are a celebration of Beauty. The natural beauty of this park is so obvious that we can’t help savouring it. However, my paintings also seek to discover the truth, which, alas, is so much less obvious. I hope they will have helped lift the veil of mystery surrounding the park and convinced the public of the need to better protect it,” said the artist.
Landscapes, Lights and Shadows is Mr. Marok’s second Gatineau Park exhibition since 2017, and I’m convinced that his paintings have helped persuade the federal government to undertake a major reform of the NCC. To wit: the board of directors has been almost completely overhauled since his previous show, and word is that legislation to protect the park will be introduced in the coming months.
More evidence, I’d argue, that artists are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. Thank you John F. Marok for placing your tremendous artistic skills at the service of Mother Nature and park protection.