Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"The Berry Picker, Greenspond"

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children...to leave the world a better place...to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

There are paintings that, when looked at months after completion, transport you back to that place and time instantly. "The Berry Picker, Greenspond", oil on panel, 50"x35", is one such painting. When I look at this painting it I feel an invisible thread with the strength of a thousand mountains pulls me back to that remote and windswept hill on the northeast coast of Newfoundland last August. 

The wind was a major player, of course. The wind, the wind in Newfoundland....it is ubiquitous and as reliably next to you, all the time. Greenspond is a tiny town in the Northeastern area of Newfoundland. There is a beautiful hiking trail that wraps around the mass of land that lies at the end of a small causeway. On the crest of the large hill that is contained within the trail network I saw this woman, Milly, collecting partridgeberries in her scarlet sweater. She was wading through tall golden grasses that covered the hillside as I approached her and asked if she would mind if I took her picture. She was humble and sweet, as Newfoundlanders are by nature, and I appreciated her obliging me.  

Sometime when you shoot reference for paintings, you can feel the painting already there, just waiting to be created. This blissful feeling happened while I shot the pictures of Milly filling her bucket with bright red partridgeberries...I envisioned the painting then and there. The little town sloped away on the horizon line and I knew it would be fun to render the buildings off in the distance while keeping the foreground nice and expressive with broad strokes of colour.

Berry pickers are themselves ubiquitous in the latter months of the summer and early autumn. Wherever we drove we saw a car here or there parked by the road, invariably one or two figures in sweaters could be seen about a hundred feet or two hundred feet out, bending over the spongy ground, filling containers with cloudberries, partridgeberries and wild blueberries.You can read a little bit about these commonly found berries here.  Milly was focusing on partridgeberries, and I thanked her profusely after the mini photoshoot as I think she might have been a bit shy. I am so thankful to her for helping me capture a moment of the beauty of Newfoundland, the simple pleasure found in a meditative act such as picking berries to nourish your family and yourself and to simply enjoy the fruits of the land. Beautiful New-Found-Land, a small bit of it hopefully contained within this painting. 

Technically it was a lot of fun doing this piece, and I am sure that also had to do with how much I enjoyed the subject. Painting on larger panels and canvases can be a little intimidating sometimes but I had such a belief in the theme and composition that I simply flung myself into painting it with lots of gusto, and lots of paint. The colours of Newfoundland are so vibrant and immediate, so unfiltered and pure, and I tried focus on rendering them as accurately as possible. 

Time is flying towards the Newfoundland show in November! Although still months away I have to budget time because these paintings take time and patience. We must balancing life, family, travel and time to create within the mind too, to turn over ideas for paintings that might not be fully resolved. There is much to be said for not creating, for distilling and assessing, for contemplating. Only after contemplation and consideration is it prudent to act, however there IS a lot to be said for spontaneity too! I suppose each approach has its own time and place. The important thing is to march to your own creative drummer, for if you are true to yourself you cannot go wrong. 

"Yes. Feet on earth. Touch stone. Knock on wood. Good luck to all."~Edward Abbey 

Here is some information on the exhibition in November of 2009. I hope to see you there!

Newfoundland Portraits
November 5-22nd, 2009
Abbozzo Gallery, Oakville, Ontario
Opening Reception November 6th, 7-10pm

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Quiet Promise of Spring

"Nature is not only all that is visible to the eye.. it also includes the inner pictures of the soul."
~Edvard Munch

This past Friday my good friend Melissa and I went out for a hike in the Dundas Valley Conservation Area. This conservation area boasts 40 kms of trails and is home to a wide variety of wildlife. This green swath has some beautiful trails in it and is frequented by all types of people, bikers, hikers, runners, you name it. Melissa and I figured that a hike through this peaceful place would provide more stimulation to the senses than perhaps a brisk walk through the suburbs. 

Melissa and I love to get exercise and explore while we catch up with one another and enjoy each other's company. I know that the ancient philosophers loved to walk while expounding on morals, ethics and the like. I think that when we engage our bodies we engage our minds. Something happens that facilitates ideas and thoughts...it is as though through moving the body we give our minds extra oxygen and stimulate it to knit together ideas and thoughts with greater facility. Have you experienced this too? 
There seems to sometimes, but not always, be a slight mental stagnation if you are sitting in a static way while trying to engage in dynamic conversation or brainstorm. It can be done, but I find it easier when one is on the move, hearing leaves crunch underfoot, watch the sunlight hit the ground in patches below the fir trees...these moments an observations of beauty are noted and perhaps give rise to other thoughts of beauty or understanding that might have been elusive beforehand.

Melissa choosing our route

We  chose a route that had us hiking for just over an hour as I had to be somewhere else afterwards and Melissa had to get home as well. We began our hike along Sulphur Creek Trail and hiked up to Groundhog Hill with a great view of the surrounding area and a bit of the city of Dundas beyond. Although we had only walked 10 minutes to the trails...it was as though we stepped into another world, a world of naked curtains of tree trunks, patches of sun, intermittent mud, tracks made by horses and cyclists..and always the near-far melodies of birds feeling the promise of spring so very close.

The best part of this excursion was simply how near we could find in nature and yet how far away it felt too...that brief window of connection to the subtler nuances of the crack of a branch, the passing breeze, the transformation of the ground into newness and greenery, it serves to help give us balance in a world filled with clocks and deadlines, linear processes and the ennui that can come with a predictability of pace. I enjoyed getting muddy and scrambling down a few slopes, hanging on to branches and focusing on the task ahead, not falling, and the rest of the world dropped away during these moments. 

Plus, talking with Melissa is always wonderful, from grouting to portaging, our talks are always a treat. Melissa can change her own break pads and catalytic converter in her car. She can do any home renovation pretty much and has a great personality in that she loves taking care of the things and people that she holds dear to her. She is a true friend, like a sister that I never had in many ways. She's selfless and she gets things done...period. Nothing stops her when she sets her mind to it, and this resolve is a powerful thing. She is a doer, compassionate and one of a kind!

Heading along Sulphur Creek Trail

The trails were quiet, muddy in parts, but dry on the whole. It is that time of year now where hints of future explosions of fecundity are just around the corner. I like doing paintings when there are few leaves on trees. I find their simple, almost eerie forms devoid of foliage fun to paint. The muted colours form a natural palette with variations of greys and browns that contrast nicely with a splash of colour that a person might be wearing. Compared to the circus of colour that we find in June and July, the spring months, with their gales, rain and cool days serve as a catalyst that brings about the warmth and heat of the later summer. These transitions are quiet sometimes, but they are always happening, every day of every hour, there is a quiet growth of a slow drifting into torpor, the hypnosis of sleep overtaking the small and large creatures of scale and fur who then stretch sleepily months later, these being that call this beautiful place their home are just as cyclical in spirit as the trees that they climb. It is the great concert of life that we can be a part of, revel in and respect. 

As we continued along we encountered a small fleet of deer who eyed us cautiously, blending into the dun coloured backdrop of their home but then scattered in a flurry of white tails. We watched them bound away like things possessed and then continued on to Groundhog Hill. 

Perfectly still and well hidden, this deer is one of many that live in the conservation area

We stood atop the hill for a few minutes, enough to notice flies everywhere, buzzing near the ground in some sort of purpose that only they knew about...We scanned the horizon and noticed the water tower in Dundas off to the right, a familiar landmark on the skyline in the area. We saw that someone had dedicated a bench there to a family member who had valued nature conservancy, a lovely reminder in that place of the vast number of people who cherish the natural world and seek to protect it.

We made our way back to the entrance to the trails and then, seemingly out of nowhere, we were once again in the subdivision where Melissa lives...a strange contrast to be walking almost anonymously through the trees and then you suddenly find yourself walking by driveways and houses, kids playing and traffic rolling by. The fact that these two environments exist very close together there in Dundas helps me to appreciate how quickly one can feel so far away from it all...in a few minutes you can find yourself alone with your thoughts, or sharing them with a good friend. 

I am continuing with my paintings for the Newfoundland show. 5 of 9 pieces have sold already so that is just amazing. I am so grateful that the work moves people so much. Who could ask for more than that? To have your work, your passion, move someone....in a small way or in a profound one, is magical. I am thankful that my work might be able to do this. I cherish that and hope to be able to do this for the rest of my life! 

"We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope." 
- Wallace Stegner

Here is some information on the exhibition in November of 2009. I hope to see you there!

Newfoundland Portraits
November 5-22nd, 2009
Abbozzo Gallery, Oakville, Ontario
Opening Reception November 6th, 7-10pm

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A Note On Music

 Flying over The Yukon Territory

"After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music."
~Aldous Huxley

I have fallen in love with music: classical music that is. I have loved it since I was a child (I still have my old copy of Beethoven's Triple Concerto tucked away somewhere) but recently I have found some new pieces that move me very much. 

My friend Brian, a music teacher and brilliant guy, has helped open my eyes to the beauty that exists within classical music. I always knew it was there, but the difference is that now I paint while I listen to it...and that brings forth some wonderful emotions and observations about the nuances of the my painting and the music in the air while I am working.

Please keep in mind I know next to nothing about music, how to create it or how to analyze it...I simply know what I like. I suppose this point of view is similar to many people who look at art- they don't know why they like something, they just like it. And really, that is all that matters isn't it? However, there is something to be said for having an understanding of how a thing of beauty is constructed. To have a knowledge of what goes into a piece of gorgeous music can enhance one's appreciation of it, and thus our enjoyment of it as well. There are three pieces of music in particular that have captured my ear lately. 

The first piece of music is the Prelude to Bach's Cello Suite No 1. You can see a video of it here. Now, keep in mind I have no idea how to play music or read music, other than two years of voice lessons when I was growing up, so excuse any inaccuracies that I might utter here. 
This piece of music, while widely popular, moves me every time I hear it. It reminds me of a soothing voice, a confident voice in the darkness. I also think of it as a breeze that circles around you on the side of a hill, you can feel it there and then it is gone. It is throaty and unrelentingly beautiful, from the first note to the last. 

The second piece of music that has literally hypnotized me is Erik Satie's Trois Gymnopedie. There is a video of it here. I first heard this piece of music as part of the score to the unbelievable documentary Man On Wire. If you have not seen this documentary, about Philippe Petit, go rent it now. Satie's music softly framed the beauty of Petit's unbelievable feats of patience, balance, and sheer courage. Now I paint to it and it transports my mind away from the paint and right back to it. It is sublime, truly. This seemingly simple piece of music, where the notes seem ready to fall to the ground but continue to hang in the air, casts a spell on me ever time I hear it.

The third piece of music is Claude Debussy's Clair De Lune. I remember hearing it over the years but finally tracked down the name of it last year.  There is not much I can say about it other than it is gorgeous. It has an optimistic tone to it, a sense of curiosity and a revelatory feel, as though whomever is listening to it is about to make a profound discovery. 

I think listening to these pieces of music really demonstrates how varied and beautiful music truly is. Music touches all of our lives, no matter where we are or who we are. It is an art that is probably as old or older than the earliest drawings in caves. Music and art have been around for so long I think perhaps because they unite us, they encourage community and create connections, they also take us away to another place and they can alter the way we live our lives. When we are affected by something beautiful or moving, be it Beethoven or Sargent, we catch our breaths sometimes, and try to grasp what it is we are hearing and seeing. Perhaps their beauty is elusive and thus even more attractive because of it. 

Here is some information on my upcoming solo exhibition in November of 2009. I hope to see you there!

Newfoundland Portraits
November 5-22nd, 2009
Abbozzo Gallery, Oakville, Ontario
Opening Reception November 6th, 7-10pm

"When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest."~Henry David Thoreau

Monday, April 6, 2009

"Wyll, (wisdom)"

"Wisdom is not a product of schooling but the lifelong attempt to acquire it." ~Albert Einstein

"Wyll, (wisdom)", oil on panel, 11"x14" is another one of those paintings that came together in an instant. I knew I was going to shoot reference of Wyll, but that little old man just happened to be there, and that spun the feel of the composition around entirely. 

We all know people in our lives that we feel are "old souls"; friends that seem to have a quiet and unquestioned knowledge about the universe that we are just skimming the surface of. Wyll is such a friend, and has always been so. We have known one another for a long time (22 years), longer than half of my life. Yet the accumulated wisdom that she holds within her seems to surpass her years. 

Frequently when I travel to Toronto to meet Wyll we have dinner or lunch at Fresh. I have painted Wyll twice now at different locations of this great vegan restaurant.  I like the warm palette of interior colours, the food, the service and most of all, the chance to spend time with my longtime friend.

On this occasion a little, older gentleman was in the middle of enjoying his meal when I took out my point and shoot to point and shoot, as it were. I liked the obvious juxtaposition of young and old, but there was another connection that went even deeper. This painting challenged me to re-examine what it means to be wise, and that age does not necessarily determine an accumulation of knowledge. Granted, I do not know this gentleman, but here he is symbolic rather than literal. I loved how their posture differed, their mind on different things surely and I was pleased to capture this brief moment in the painting. 

Technically this painting has a lot of little elements to it. I tried to keep the background relatively loosely painted despite its complexity. As you probably know by now I go insane with huge amounts of detail spread over the entirety of a canvas, but prefer to concentrate on smaller, selected areas of higher resolution. Personally, I like to be able to let my eye "breathe" when I look at a painting, and not be aware that every square inch has been rendered to within an inch of its life. This tires the eye, and, while technically very well done, exhausts me...it is good to have movement with broader strokes, a more expressive approach. At least, this is what I strive for within my own work. 

I take pleasure in the knowledge that my friendship with Wyll has been chronicled by about five paintings over the years. It is a little road map of our history as kindred spirits...a pictorial record of a connection that will last the rest of our lives, of that I have no doubt. 

Have a beautiful day, wherever you are..

"The winds of change are always blowing
and every time I try to stay
the winds of change continue blowing
and they just carry me away."
~Willie Nelson

Here is some information on the exhibition in November of 2009. I hope to see you there!

Newfoundland Portraits
November 5-22nd, 2009
Abbozzo Gallery, Oakville, Ontario
Opening Reception November 6th, 7-10pm