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Mitchell part of Canadian celebration in London Print-ready version

by Stephen Ward
Saskatoon StarPhoenix
September 11, 1990

Amid the watercress sandwiches and stillness of the art gallery, Joni Mitchell tries to avoid sounding too rah rah Canadian.

A reporter wants to know if she's strongly nationalistic about Canada.

After all, the international music star is a headliner for a Canadian festival in the heart of London.

"I never really was a chauvinist in my life," says Mitchell, adding that she's moved so often she never formed an intimate bond with a community.

She says she's probably spent more time in New York and Los Angeles than in Canada.

"I'm a gypsy by nature," says the slender Mitchell. "But I get a rush when I go to Saskatchewan or the land of my birth."

On Monday, Mitchell helped to mark the beginning of Canada in the City - a two-week celebration of art, music, and culture that officials call the first major Canadian festival in the United Kingdom.

The centerpiece is 25 Mitchell paintings from 1980-90, her first European showing. This diary of a decade contains passionate portraits, abstract pieces on ecology and landscapes of her native Alberta, the United States and Europe.

As Mitchell fields questions from reporters at the downtown gallery, an energetic jazz group from Toronto, the Shuffle Demons, cooks up a storm outside.

Inside, the gallery inspires a restrained discussion about Mitchell's views on everything from the environment and the crumbling of the Berlin Wall to the German philosopher Nietzsche on art.

While the heavy talk carries on, guests are met by women dressed in short black skirts and red Mountie-like tunics and hats.

Mitchell, in analysing her life-long obsession with art, says her paintings tend to deal with smaller, more circumscribed experiences.

"These are little moments," says Mitchell, pointing to her paintings. "I think there is a tenderness here that perhaps couldn't be detailed in a song."

The London festival boasts a lineup of top Canadian performers such as Cape Breton singer Rita MacNeil, jazz pianist Jon Ballantyne, another former Saskatoon resident, and country blues singer Colleen Peterson.

Organized by the Canadian government, with the help of corporate sponsors, Canada in the City will allow free admittance to evening concerts and lunchtime performances at an outdoor amphitheater.

Dave Foley, trumpet player for Calgary's Foothills Brass, a five-piece classical ensemble, hopes his group's performance at the festival will catch the ear of music managers in Europe.

"Musicians are usually totally dumb when it comes to business," said Foley, as he waited for Mitchell to arrive at the gallery.

"Canada in the City will hopefully interest international management groups in making us known around the world."

For Donald Macdonald, Canadian High Commissioner in London, the festival is an opportunity to put Canada on display.

"It demonstrates the qualities of contemporary Canada - a cosmopolitan and cultivated nation with international standards of creative excellence."

Meanwhile, back at the gallery, Mitchell explains the link between her music and her art.

"When I get writer's block, I don't panic - I just pick up a brush."

Then she reaches for a metaphor borrowed from her rural Alberta homeland.

"It's like crop rotation. It keeps the soil fertile."

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