Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Rolling the Bones by Leo Kamen

There are only two days left to enter the Akimbo contest to win a copy of gallery owner Leo Kamen's witty and captivating memoir called Rolling the Bones.

Like many creative types, Leo Kamen had a difficult childhood, but there is no bitterness or rancour in his memoir. Leo writes about his experiences with a degree of detachment and humour, allowing readers to laugh along with him and his fighting spirit and joie de vive make me wish I knew him better. His direct style and deft touch with the pen moves the story along and his descriptions of people and places are vivid and amusing. For example:

"Mrs. Fluck, our grade eight art teacher, was as thin as a stalk of asparagus. She dressed in long sweaters and grey skirts. Whenever she spoke, she sounded as if she had cotton gauze stuck up her nose. I had vague ideas about what artists were like, but Mrs. Fluck didn't fit the bill. I assumed she went straight home every day after school, wrapped herself up in a housecoat and crawled into a can of sardines for dinner. Only her name, cursed as it was with one too many consonants, gave her a racy reputation she didn't deserve. I never created anything of artistic note in her classes, though towards the end of the year I managed a ceramic lion that bore a striking resemblance to our family cat. I glazed it bright spinach green and placed it on top of our television set at home, where it remained for years." 

The best part of this book for me are the chapters about Leo's experiences as an art dealer which really are worthy of another book unto itself. In this part I gained a new appreciation of how difficult it is to make a living as an art dealer. It seems to have been a labour of love to a large extent as Leo faced bankruptcy more than once. And the parts where he muses about the changes in the art scene are particularly erudite. For instance, on page 226, Leo writes "An artist's studio, which had always been a place to work, became a "site" where artists did as much thinking as painting. Gone were the days when a besotted gallery-goer was abandoned to his reveries in front of a painting. Now a third party mediated the relationship with catalogues, didactic labels and sound bites. Irony in art began to flourish less as a result of French intellectual diatribes and more in response to the gulf introduced by such mediation. Since writers did much to obscure a work's meaning as to elucidate it, the irony was enhanced. This suited the intelligentsia and the cultural elite. Their claim to exclusivity was ennobled by the opaque prose. Especially opaque writers thrived and were hailed as the new emperors of the contemporary art scene by virtue of their opacity's brilliance."

Rolling the Bones is available at the Leo Kamen Gallery in Toronto and in e-book format at

Title: Rolling the Bones, a memoir
Author: Leo Kamen
Publisher: General Karma, Toronto
Category: Non-fiction, Memoir
Number of Pages: 248