Mar 30, 2022

Ask Aunt Easel: entertaining neighbours

With grace, humour and a little art history, Aunt Easel responds to your most pressing questions.

Jack Bush. Green and Purple

Jack Bush. Green and Purple, 1963. Oil on canvas, Overall: 204.5 x 178.4 cm. Purchase with assistance from Wintario, 1978. © Estate of Jack Bush / SOCAN (2022)

Retouched but never varnished, Aunt Easel, the Foyer’s intrepid advice columnist, is back with even more impressionistic insights, all ripped straight from the art history books. Have a question? Need some artistic comfort? Send your questions to Aunt Easel at [email protected]


Dearest Aunt Easel, 

In these trying times, do you have any suggestions for household economy when entertaining? I do so long to host lavishly, but the cost of everything is making me a miser.
Signed, Vol-au-want

Dearest VaW,

All too well do I remember the days when a ritz cracker and a pimento would impress. Your dilemma is very real – it's not enough to merely entertain, one must entertain artfully these days, offering both nourishment and novelty in frightful portions.  I’m sure you’ve considered an offensive position, hosting everyone once at the beginning of the season? That accomplished, you can spend the rest of the season recouping your losses, pinching silverware and Manchego at grander buffets. 

I recommend you embrace your miserliness. I have. Fancy feasting is either kitty chow or an inane Roman aspiration to regurgitation, not an obligation. “Nourish the eyes, not the grocer”, I say and bid adieu to the freeloaders! Look at our beloved Jack Bush’s (1909-1977) deceptively simple Green and Purple (1963). Using only eight lines, three colours and a raw canvas, he created depth out of something flat, merely by applying pressure to the essential red centre. Translation? Put flowers on the table and serve water from the tap. Part of his Sash series, it’s also hard to not see in his placement of triangles, a woman’s waist, and don’t we all want one of those again. So let your company starve! Or if pressed, eat cheap cake. That ebullient Rachael Ray swears you can make a box cake mix using orange soda alone, and I for one believe her.


Aunt Easel,

Help me out here. You see, we have these neighbours. They’re nice people, salt of the earth, but they do tend to be a bit over-protective. Last week, when my in-laws unexpectedly arrived and tried to let themselves in, these neighbours called the police. Considering that my in-laws are elderly and loaded with luggage, it did seem a tad over-reactive. Everyone is upset − the in-laws are affronted, and the neighbours think we are descending into moral turpitude. And yet, I do not want to move. What to do?
Sincerely, Watched like a hawk

Pegi Nicol MacLeod. Pegi with Cyclamens

Pegi Nicol MacLeod. Pegi with Cyclamens, 1936. Watercolour, traces of charcoal and graphite on paper, Sheet: 76.2 × 55.9 cm. Gift of Louise and Charles Comfort, Ottawa, in memory of the artist, 1987. © Art Gallery of Ontario 87/180

Dear WLAK,

Oh honey. Pass the popcorn. Did your in-laws actually get inside the house before the police came? How?  Why didn’t you know they were coming?  Do your neighbours really sit in their front window, like watchful cats? Are the neighbours actually nice, or just soft-spoken? What happens when the Enbridge man comes? So many questions. 

Whatever the truth, unless you want to move, we must all learn to accept the watchful, judgmental stares of our neighbours. My prescription? Channel the defiant, free-spirited modern painter Pegi Nicol MacLeod. Consider her watercolour self-portrait, Pegi with Cyclamens (1936) your new mantra. Don a white sheet, take a seat in the window and let your captivating energy be revealed in swirling curves of rich brown, reds and pinks. Allow yourself to be seen half-naked and reveal hints of personal pain and struggle in your knowing expressions. In nature, cyclamens grow in cool, humid environments, bloom only in winter, and are toxic to animals and people alike. Which may account for why Victorians associated them with diffidence or timidity, and why Pegi plucks their blooms so aggressively − no gentle caress here. So, pluck I say! Pluck your timidity away and consider yourself a good Samaritan for giving those spiteful cats across the way something to see.

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