Saturday, June 28, 2008

I.V. Pole

I am attracted to the seemingly mundane, utilitarian objects we use or see every day. When my family was going through some health challenges awhile back I became very familiar with the sight of these poles in the hospital. The cold yet comforting glow of the illuminated numbers acted as a gentle reminder that healing was taking place. I could not interpret the majority of the information displayed and yet I knew that its purpose was to help, to relieve, to regulate and balance. Often the only thing on an I.V. pole is a bag of saline or some other healing liquid. Other times there is an IVAC, as is depicted in the painting.

I worked for a time in a hospital and there was always a copse of poles at one end of the ward or in the supply room. Many patients walk around the hospital with their hands upon this thing, this object that might be easily forgotten after the fact but is so very important at the time. My mother was an Operating Room nurse for over 30 years. When I went to visit her at the hospital as a wide-eyed child the poles were invariably there, being pushed, pulled or merely standing, waiting.

Whatever its use, the pole it is something that I wanted to paint, something that chronicled a period of difficulty in the life of my family. It is easily recognizable. We have all had experience with these objects, some more than others and for any number of reasons. Whatever the purpose, I painted it to remind me of that time, the places where my family faced a lot of hardship, and also to serve as a symbol of what issues they have overcome.

“The greater difficulty, the more glory in surmounting it. Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests.” ~Epicurus

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Creative Kibbitzing

"Never doubt that a small, group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
~Margaret Mead

I love to be alone. I am an only child but was rarely lonely when growing up. I need to recharge frequently and this entails returning to my home and removing myself from society for a time. However, being alone can be a blessing and a curse. I have chosen a vocation that invites and appreciates solitude. Therefore I make a concerted effort to get out and be active socially, visit friends and cultivate relationships that are meaningful to me. Nevertheless the work must be done and any activity requiring concentration takes energy and necessitates time away from others.

When working I get into little habits...ways of working that seem practical and work for me as an artist. I delight in finding out how others operate. It is a little peek into their own private realm of creativity. I understand that no way is correct, that all of our paths diverge in our own unique woods and we can take whichever paths we want to reach our goals.

I was talking with my friend Alan the other day and we were discussing how we work. I like that as artists we create in very different ways...each to their own end, with their own set of guidelines and tried and true methods. I enjoy the process of evolving as a painter...of the trials and errors, of finding out neat little shortcuts that can help streamline the process. Really, this diversity of individual approach is what lends another interesting wrinkle to the finished piece that we look at on a wall in a gallery. It is the culmination of all of the effort invested in the process.

Getting out and immersing oneself in a social network or activities is so important. My family is very small and so my friends really are my family. I am not involved in an art "scene" per se, but I do know pockets of artists here and there, along with other friends and colleagues of similar disciplines with whom to share work-related information. A community of like-minded individuals feeds the soul and provides an opportunity for inspiration. Often it can be a new member of a discussion who intrigues me and I want to paint them, or visiting a new environment that invites the idea for a new painting composition. It is a fantastic side benefit I find, being out with folks to help stoke the creative fires in the studio.

As human beings, as the most devoted hermit can probably agree, we form opinions about ourselves and who we are from sounding off of others, of living with others for a time and then going off to wherever we choose to go. We are shaped by our culture, our geography and a host of other external and internal variables. The benefit of community and a group of friends who share our passion for something, be it art or anything else, is important and undeniable. It could be a quick ping or an in-depth conversation, but those with whom we choose to surround ourselves are really an outward reflection of a bit of our inner landscape. We are all intrinsically and undeniably connected, whether near or far away.

Listening to: Strawberry Swing by Coldplay
Reading: Cabin At Singing River by Chris Czajkowski

This is a beautiful account of one woman's goal to build her own house with her own two hands in a remote area of the British Columbia interior.

"Solitude is fine, but you need someone to tell you that solitude is fine." ~Honore de Balzac

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Laura, Cusp

"Laura, Cusp", 30"x24", oil on canvas, is a painting I completed yesterday that deals with narratives beyond the foreground of the painting. I have used this technique many times before...I love large swathes of negative space, paralleled with strips of detail set back or to the side.

Laura is a woman of many hats. She is always experiencing life to the fullest at any given time. She always seems poised on the edge of some new venture or project. She cultivates growth and change for herself. She is not complacent or inert. She is a thinker, a doer, a wise woman. Thus I wanted to depict her as though she is about to take a step, a leap even, figuratively speaking.

Laura tried some different postures for this painting. The composition was in my head for many weeks before we met to shoot reference. I get ideas in my head and they stay there, fermenting, not letting go. They do take hold and this is a good example of this in action. I liked how she knit her hands together and had an anticipatory energy to her. I wanted to capture that anticipation in her limbs.

I plan on switching to water soluble oil soon...regular oil is quite toxic. Simply for the ease of cleaning up is another reason for switching. I used water soluble oils in college and really enjoyed them. There was virtually no difference. It's an expensive transition but I must do it sooner or later.

“Ideally a painter (and, generally, an artist) should not become conscious of his insights: without taking the detour through his reflective processes, and incomprehensibly to himself, all his progress should enter so swiftly into the work that he is unable to recognize them in the moment of transition. Alas, the artist who waits in ambush there, watching, detaining them, will find them transformed like the beautiful gold in the fairy tale which cannot remain gold because some small detail was not taken care of.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

Shuffling off this mortal coil

Ok, ok, I know that talking about death can be depressing. But really, does it have to be? Can we not contemplate our own mortality without being morose? Really it is just as plausible to have a conversation about dying as chatting about living in the here and now. Like virtually everyone else I ponder death and it's inevitability from time to time. To think of the fact that each day we are slowly shuffling towards our own last breath can be frightening but perhaps as I get older I will not fear it as much. Who knows? 

I mention death because this week I heard of a former colleague of mine suddenly passing away. Eyebrows seem to furrow or arch when someone rather young passes never seems right when that happens. They were taken too soon, didn't get to see their children grow up let alone have children. I have pondered my deceased colleague this week and feel for the family left behind. I try to embrace each moment of my day with a little more conviction and enthusiasm. I squeeze friends and family a little harder and relish the time spent with them.

Death finds us wherever we go. Though we may wend our way to the farthest corners of the earth to experience all that life has to offer, no cave is safe, no house immune from our own quietus. It's hands reach into the furthest nooks and crannies of our lives and homes to find even the most defiant of us. No matter how many stand around the ailing, it is a rubicon that we all cross and do not return from. However, the things loved ones left behind, what they did, who they were, how they impacted those around them, their influence continues to resonate with us all....urging us on to greater heights and opening our eyes to the beauty of life even more. 

               On Hearing Of A Death 
                by Rainer Maria Rilke

"We lack all knowledge of this parting. Death
does not deal with us. We have no reason
to show death admiration, love or hate;
his mask of feigned tragic lament gives us

a false impression. The world's stage is still
filled with roles which we play. While we worry
that our performances may not please,
death also performs, although to no applause.

But as you left us, there broke upon the stage
a glimpse of reality, shown through the slight
opening through which you disappeared: green,
evergreen, bathed in sunlight, actual woods.

We keep on playing, still anxious, our difficult roles
declaiming, accompanied by matching gestures
as required. But your presence so suddenly 
removed from our midst and from our play, at times

overcomes us like a sense of that other
reality: yours, that we are so overwhelmed 
and play our actual lives instead of the performance,
forgetting altogether the applause."

Friday, June 13, 2008

Father, Hospital

"I only go out to get me a fresh appetite for being alone." ~Lord Byron

"Father, Hospital", oil on canvas, 12"x12", was painted when, not surprisingly, my father was in the hospital. My family had been going through a turbulent time with health challenges and my father was kind enough to let me shoot reference of him for a painting. I wouldn't have been surprised if he had declined, but he accepted. I appreciated this gesture in light of his fragility at that moment. Of all of the paintings I did for the "Passages" exhibition, this one is my favorite. It is also the smallest piece. However, I firmly believe that you do not need six foot high canvases to evoke a reaction. Sometimes the smallest pieces can be the heaviest.

I have my trusty book of Lucian Freud's paintings by me as I painted this, and virtually every piece that I do. He paints flesh incredibly and I am very much inspired by the man.

The curtain behind my father obscured a man who was gravely ill, dying in fact. The curtain that separates life from death is often very thin and just because we cannot see something does not mean it does not exist. Our own mortality is closer than we realize and I think that the man behind the curtain has perhaps shuffled off this mortal coil since the piece was painted. I do not know, I will never know. Perhaps it is for the best.

The other interesting element in this painting is the juxtaposition of the hospital gown that my father has on and his cherished brown sweater. I have painted him in this sweater before and here it is again, perhaps as a form of protection. I liked the contrast between something clinical, ubiquitous and signifying frailty and an item beloved and familiar like the sweater.

Lastly his body posture is very telling...he appears bent under a heavy weight. Perhaps the viewer can identify with this apparent burden in whatever permutation they apply to the situation. I would like to think that this piece, more than many of my works, depicts the human condition most poignantly.

"What does not destroy me, makes me stronger. " ~Friedrich Nietzsche

Salt Spring: sanity and salvation

“There is something bigger than fact: the underlying spirit, all it stands for, the mood, the vastness, the wildness.”
~Emily Carr

I recently returned from a much-anticipated journey to Vancouver Island and Salt Spring Island in British Columbia. I went to visit my dear friend Anne in Duncan, across the way from Salt Spring, as well as to meet John and his family. It was easily one of the best trips I have ever taken. I feel like a changed person. It is a huge cliché but it is true. I made some wonderful friends and connections while there....friends who will make a move there easier when the time comes, hopefully sooner rather than later.

I spent a night in Duncan with Anne before heading to Salt Spring. We visited galleries in Victoria, drank lots of coffee and caught up. It has been two years since I last saw her. Her family are amazing people and we had a lovely vegan dinner of Anne's creation that evening.

I headed to Crofton the following day to take the ferry over to Salt Spring Island. The air was so clean everywhere. I noticed that when I woke up in the morning my lungs were clear with no coughing. I don't suffer from asthma but I really noticed the difference. My bed and breakfast on Salt Spring was idyllic....everything was frankly. I went to the market in Ganges on Saturday, met John and his family as well, went to his birthday party, met other friends serendipitously and just relaxed. I have been threatening to move to BC for years and now, after returning from this trip, I really mean to do it...most people I met there said "just get in your car and do it"...just take the leap. Leaps are difficult to take because friends and family are what root us to places. I do not have a large family and I can easily return to Ontario to visit. Being a painter is supremely flexible in terms of where one really has no limitation, as long as I can reach a post office to ship paintings.

Salt Spring is only 70 square miles and so I covered almost all of the island through visiting people and exploration over the course of the 5 days I was there. I noticed that everyone was just so naturally beautiful. It is as though the residents have been scrubbed with salt from the a good way. Like a natural exfoliant that has let their true personalities come to the surface. People stop and wait for you to cross the road rather than screaming past, casual conversations strike up anywhere and at anytime and there is a general feeling of relaxation about the place, despite the ubiquitous coffee shops everywhere. Be prepared for when you order a "small" coffee in BC....small is medium or large here in BC when you order a large they hand you a thermos of coffee. Just kidding. Also being vegan, I noticed that every single coffee shop had soy milk. I doubt I will be so lucky when Rob and I visit Newfoundland in September....needless to say I'm packing my own soy milk.

Upon returning to Ontario I really do feel re-energized creatively, body and soul. I tend to get myopic and depressed in my little studio here and this trip expanded my philosophy and horizons both. I had such amazing conversations ranging from ancient civilizations thriving and collapsing to the utter hatred for the three new Star Wars movies.

There is so much nature and wildlife out on Salt Spring that I will have to seek out new models and inspiration when I am there. The first thing that grabs your eye is usually something from the landscape. I have a feeling that my artwork that is produced there will definitely have the natural world included in some capacity. Almost all of the buildings have large windows, inviting the outside in constantly. The Old Man's beard hangs off of so many trees, indicating a healthy environment. I love the rain and clouds as well...though I'll need some strong studio lights to compensate for the cloudiness. Regardless I know that a new creative epoch is just around the corner...if all goes well I want to be there in 1-2 years tops.

For now I am going to get back down to it and complete three paintings by months end...if I can. A bunch have sold recently so I need to get more inventory for the galleries. Good times ahead.

Listening to: "De usuahia a la quiaca" by Gustavo Santaolalla from the Motorcycle Diaries Soundtrack. The man is a genius.

"To get away from one's working environment is, in a sense, to get away from one's self; and this is often the chief advantage of travel and change." ~Charles Horton Cooley

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Shower Series

I believe that challenging oneself is always a good thing. It helps you to conquer fears, explore previously intimidating ground and hopefully emerge with more experience as a result.

I thought that painting clear plastic would be challenging in that it would force me to paint with a bit of abstraction. It is a paradox really because I am just painting what I see, but the plastic distorts the figure behind it. Thus when I created each of these paintings (over the course of a year) I had to stop seeing things in sharp detail and relax my eyes to discern the simple shapes and trust that when I stood back from the piece it would all cohere together. It is as close to abstraction that I have ever been.

It is difficult to paint something that can barely be seen. The same goes for lace, gauze, anything translucent or diaphanous. I paint in a planar, chunky style anyway so it was even more apparent in these paintings, which was fun. I get pretty close to the paintings as I work on them so it was great to step back a good distance and see what came together or did not work. To paint something that is there but not there is quite a challenge. It really was a treat to paint more organic shapes, with less worry about fingernails and eyelashes.

As with my other work I wanted to capture Laura in a moment of contemplation, perhaps a moment of doubt or reflection...again and always, the answer is unclear. Laura is always amenable to my sometimes strange requests, such as standing in her shower while I clambered about for a good angle. She and my friend Gayle both live in places where there is a career's-worth of paintings waiting to happen. Both environments are large and inviting, creativity flourishes there. I am very fortunate and appreciative that they let me into their personal spaces.

"The longer you look at an object, the more abstract it becomes, and, ironically, the more real."
~Lucian Freud