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The Globe and Mail

Relive the Conrad Black saga – carved in 100 blocks of Canadian maple

Toronto artist George A. Walker needed no words for his visual biography of Conrad Black, a man not known for holding his tongue. Walker engraved Black’s story on 100 blocks of Canadian maple, which he hand-printed and hand-bound in an edition of 13 boxed copies – the same number of document boxes Black removed from his Toronto office on a fateful day in 2005. The financier and writer participated in the project via e-mail from his former digs in a Florida jail cell, reviewing Walker’s images, rejecting some and suggesting others that the artist sometimes found “more controversial.” Black even signed a page of each copy of the $1,500 limited edition, which will be followed later this year by a paperback from The Porcupine’s Quill. Walker, whose previous books include a wordless biography of Tom Thomson, says we already base many of our ideas about prominent figures on images of them. He’s happy to let us draw our own conclusions from his Black engravings, and to have spared himself the risk of saying anything libellous about a famously litigious man. 'I haven’t said anything about Lord Black or his troubles,' he says. 'I’ve just made pictures.' Engravings are more immediate than digitized images, Walker says, and were the first medium for printing images in books and newspapers – like those Black owned during his publishing heyday.

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Most of us owe our visual awareness of Black to photographs. Walker used photos as models for some engravings, and gave others a photographic look, including an image of the young Black being caned at Upper Canada College

George A. Walker

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Does the Order of Canada have room for someone who bedded down for 42 months in a jail cell? Walker’s heavily shadowed portrait reminds us of this hot debate without explicitly supporting either side.

George A. Walker

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Black and his chauffeur remove court-protected documents from his office in 2005, apparently unaware of nearby security cameras. The image of this unguarded moment is so familiar, Walker didn’t need to include facial detail.

George A. Walker

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Walker’s relatively neutral image of a man with a broom again invites widely different responses. Was Black degraded by his menial jailhouse tasks, or did they offer him another chance to show his strength of character?

George A. Walker

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