“Disconnection” in the Toni Onley fonds

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I would¬†use this blog space to write about Derrida, but I’m still not sure I understand what he was talking about. I am the first to admit that philosophical readings scare me (still! Even after Arts One!), so lucky for me the reading this week was much more accessible. I won’t give anything else away for fear of ruining the amazing presentation Nicole and I will give on Tuesday … stay tuned ūüôā

Back to last week, when I was in the archives looking through Box 54 of the Toni Onley fonds. I love reading other people’s diaries –¬†it seems as close as we can get to being inside someone else’s mind, which is¬†both exciting and spooky. I can only hope that I never become famous enough for people to want to read my diaries, because they are 98%¬†substanceless. In terms of Onley’s diaries, a couple of passages stood out to me for various reasons – listed below.

October 27, 1984: “If my October sojourn in Japan is at an end, at least I have my paintings to remember it by. But I feel sad, for I know that, like the autumn leaves, they will fall away from me one by one, as they are carried off to a new life by those who fall in love with them. I reflect that I am merely an agent by which the spirit of Japanese landscape evokes a new sensitivity to natural beauty abroad! And I somehow know that in the future I shall return, again and again.‚ÄĚ

This is beautifully written, for starters. I bolded the parts I find particularly interesting; I love the idea¬†that Onley is ‘an agent’ for the Japanese landscapes he paints, and that those who see his paintings will love the landscapes as he does. The original copy of his diary has watercolour paintings on every other page, so I can actually see the landscapes he’s referring to – they are certainly beautiful, and there’s something about the simplicity of his paintings that brings them to life in a new way.

I am not an art expert by any means, but I’ve¬†been working at an art studio for¬†the last year and a half, so I know a few things about watercolour. Most of the paintings in the journal I looked at (box 54, folder 2) were¬†in shades of blue, grey, and green. I’m sure I could spend paragraphs decoding these colour choices; to¬†sum it up in a sentence, these colours normally signal bleakness, but here they seem to mean something else – something more hopeful. Onley was clearly fascinated by the landscapes he saw in Japan, and his paintings show that he probably spent many hours just watching and looking at the things he found most beautiful. His brush strokes are virtually invisible, and some paintings are only made up of one or two strokes. These paintings are very carefully done in a way that looks haphazard, and they indicate Onley’s appreciation for the landscapes they portray.¬†I am baffled. I want to be able to paint like this.

April 12, 1978: ‚ÄúEvery gallery and museum we went into, Yukiko would say, ‚ÄúNotice, there are no women artists represented.‚ÄĚ
I just thought this was interesting. Onley didn’t go on to say anything more about this, but after reading this entry (as well as one saying that Yukiko’s mom’s boyfriend was five years younger than Onley himself) I had to Google him to find out whether Yukiko was his partner or just a friend. She was, it turns out, his third wife – he had three children from previous marriages and was 20 years older than Yukiko. They were married for a number of years and, after their divorce, lived together as roommates until his death in a plane crash. He mentions¬†her a lot, which makes sense; she was the one who introduced him to¬†the Japanese culture¬†he found so mesmerizing.

Miscellaneous observations:
Onley signs each of his paintings, even though they are contained within a journal belonging to him. Was he intending for this journal to end up somewhere else (like an archive) someday? Or does it convey a sense of pride and ownership? Was it simply habit?
Some wording has been changed slightly from the original diary to its typed transcription. Does this mean anything?
Some diary entries are in verse – what does this add?

To sum up: I really enjoyed the opportunity to peek into Toni Onley’s brain. He seems like he was¬†an¬†interesting man, and he was definitely a very talented artist. Having said all that, there was something that felt ‘off’ about this fonds. There was a sense of disconnection, although Onley archived his own material. In contrast to Joy Kogawa’s fonds, which felt very much like a part of her, these seemed a little more distant, although still genuine. Perhaps it was the typed out journal entries, or the lack of pencil alteration, but something seemed to signal the ‘death drive’ Derrida was talking about – does the process of archiving remove some authenticity?¬†The archives are the only link between Onley and I, but the connection felt broken somehow. I can’t really put my finger on it more than that, but maybe in the coming weeks I will figure it out in more detail.