Wednesday, July 29, 2009

"Bonnie, Gros Morne"

“I know now that most people are so closely concerned with themselves that they are not aware of their own individuality. I can see myself, and it has helped me to say what I want to say 
... in paint.” ~Georgia O'Keefe

And what is there to say with the paint? Well, take "Bonnie, Gros Morne" for example. This painting, 24"x48", oil on canvas, is another one of the group I have completed for my upcoming show on portraits of Newfoundland in November here in Ontario. I will provide details at the bottom of this entry.  

I traveled to Newfoundland with the intent of opening myself up to the land and those that live there, in all of their facets and permutations, ready to store away whatever impressions it made. I did not want to limit myself to the figure. Conversely, I did not want to become myopic in looking at rugged coastline after rugged coastline. It is ironic that even panoramas can illicit tunnel vision sometimes. I sought to find a bridge between the people and the place, because, as I have mentioned before, the two are inextricably bound to one another. In fact, it stands to reason that there is no separation at all; that the inhabitants of any land are OF that land: spiritually, physically, emotionally. Why else do so many feel the tug of their homeland, despite being away from it for years, decades, a lifetime? It is because it is in our bones, whether we like it or not. It is a small voice that stays within us and nowhere that we travel can replace it.  

Newfoundlanders, and East Coasters in general,  are like the sea. They are faithful, open, generous, powerful, unforgettable. When I traveled across the top of the island to visit Gros Morne National Park, I opened my mind to all of the possibilities that might become paintings.  Gros Morne is sublime, truly. It is just as people describe it. Long stretches of winding road that bisect towering cliffs, gales to knock you off your feet, mountains, beaches, nature all around you, pure and unfiltered. I had my little map to explain where the various trails and areas of the park were located, and, after heading up the road in Rocky Harbour, I came to Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse, where a large lighthouse sits atop a rocky cliff. As I approached the lighthouse I was greeted by a lovely red-haired park employee named Bonnie. I asked a bit about the history, the topography and where there might be trails to hike along in the vicinity, and all the while I was thinking. In my my mind while I asked the questions I thought "she is a perfect representation of the park itself", I must paint her. Thus I summoned some courage and gave her my spiel: I was a painter, I would like to take some shots of her to make into a painting and would she mind posing for a few? I could tell she was rather shy but quite amenable to my suggestion and so she stood where she was, in the doorway, a wonderful thing to paint, with the flagpole and the sea out behind her. I asked her to be natural, to stand as she would normally stand. Artifice is quickly spotted in paintings I find. I like models to be themselves, and no one else. I don't fuss or primp and minimally rearrange (unless there is an odd shape created by clothing or whatnot).

I wanted this painting to be horizontal yet have many vertical lines that it would cut across. I saw this orientation in my mind as I shot the reference and saw the completed painting that very day. It was just a matter of completing it. The multi-coloured flags that you can see on the flagpole in the background are used to send messages to sailors out at sea, a visual morse code if you will. 

My objective with this piece was to show that people, no matter their job, are connected with where they live. Bonnie is just as much a part of Newfoundland as any fisherman out on the waves...she is not what you would probably first think of when you think of people in Newfoundland...but that is precisely why I wanted to capture her there. Every person's life is a story, and I was compelled to capture a piece of hers for a brief time. 

"I think having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art
 that anybody could ever want to own."~Andy Warhol

My solo exhibition of Newfoundland paintings is fast approaching! I hope you can make it out to the show. Here are the details:

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

Monday, July 27, 2009

Sharing Happiness: Camping At Rockwood Conservation Area

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, 
to front only the essential facts of life,
 and see if I could not learn what it had to teach,
 and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."
Henry David Thoreau 

Thoreau's words have resonated and connected with people throughout the many decades since he wrote them. He speaks the truth. To live deeply, mindfully and authentically, benefits everyone, from who we are at our deepest levels to who share our lives with. I found this very passage amidst much graffiti in Union Station in Toronto, shortly after my friend Jay had arrived from Cape Breton for three weeks of camping, socializing and Blue Jays games. This passage stood out in bold green in between declarations and admonishments, dreams and fears that were scribbled all around it. I took note.  

Part of Jay's journey out to Ontario from the rugged and remote island of Cape Breton on the east coast of Canada was to go with me camping to Rockwood Conservation Area near Guelph. Rockwood had been recommended to me by other friends who have camped there many times over the years. We booked a campsite far in advance according to their suggestion. 

To say that experiences differ from one place and time to another is a huge understatement. Just a few days previous we had been surrounded by thousands of people at a Toronto Blue Jays game, deep in the company of multitudes cheering and enjoying the festivities. Here however, was an altogether different adventure. It was quite a place, possessing a good degree of civility without being a distraction from the experience of being in the woods. I had returned not one month previous from the backcountry of Alaska that you can read about here, and Jay is from a very remote area of Canada so there was plenty of discussion surrounding the contrasts and similarities to each place. We took every opportunity to appreciate Rockwood for what it was, very special, a unique and beautiful place to explore a quiet little pocket of Ontario. 

Our tent at the campsite. 

We spent a total of two nights and two days at Rockwood. On our second day we explored the two main trails that are found within the park. They were beautiful and easy to negotiate. It gave us a chance to really see the area and there were some lovely cliffs and rock formations that we encountered along the way. We saw quite a few people on our hikes but we didn't feel crowded, instead focusing on what we saw along the way and appreciating this unique place: beautiful mirrored ponds, foliage of every shape and colour imaginable, birdsong in almost every tree and the sheer enjoyment of experiencing each turn in the path for what it was. 

I loved the juxtaposition of vertical trees and horizontal rocks here.
 Perhaps a future painting?

These reflections captivated us as we walked past

Jay and I are inspired by the works of Thoreau, Emerson, Mary Oliver, John Muir and others. These are people who have outlined a philosophy of living that we respond to strongly. We possess an appreciation and reverence for the beauty of the unexplained and the sublime complexity of the natural world that surrounds us. Thus, Alaska and crashing waves in Cape Breton were not needed...all we needed was the trees, a path (or not) and our openness to experience as much as we could from what we encountered along the way. These authors and poets move us deeply and have profoundly affected our lives. I will include a poem by Mary Oliver at the bottom of this entry that illustrates what I am trying to say more succinctly than I can here. 

A path through cedar trees winding down to the water below

We rented a canoe in the afternoon of our second day, which provided another form of hypnosis: instead of the quiet crunch of foliage underfoot we listened to the soothing rhythm of the paddles cutting the water and the vantage point the lake provided us as we gazed up at tall rock with pockets of caves, framed by cedars on either side. We paddled by the old Woolen Mill which was build over a hundred years ago. It seems almost out of place in such a forested area, this shell of a regal building standing in a clearing, surrounded by the woods. 

The old Woolen Mill

We enjoyed ourselves at Rockwood and took away as many experiences as we could in that short period of time. It is very close to where I live (about an hour away) yet seemed much more remote. My tent held up beautifully in the rain and was easy to put together (so easy that it made me realize how easy it will be to travel on other adventures with Jay). Co-operation is key. We had some great fires and great conversations too, exactly what our goal had been. Half the fun of going on camping and hiking trips is the company, who you share your memories and experiences with. Sharing happiness in your life with others makes life worth living, without question. Solitude has its place too of course, but when we choose march briefly with a similar drummer, whole new vistas of appreciation and potential open up to both of you. 


Mornings at Blackwater Pond

by Mary Oliver

For years, every morning, I drank
from Blackwater Pond.
It was flavored with oak leaves and also, no doubt,
the feet of ducks.

And always it assuaged me
from the dry bowl of the very far past.

What I want to say is
that the past is the past,
and the present is what your life is,
and you are capable 
of choosing what that will be,
darling citizen.

So come to the pond,
or the river of your imagination, 
or the harbor of your longing,

and put your lips to the world.
And live 
your life.

My solo exhibition of Newfoundland paintings is fast approaching! I hope you can make it out to the show. Here are the details:

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

Friday, July 17, 2009

"Towards Trinity Bay"

"As I gaze upon the sea! All my romantic legends, all my dreams, come back to me."
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

"Towards Trinity Bay"
Oil On Panel

Last September I explored Newfoundland, Canada for 16 days over two weeks. This land really does take your breath away. Most of the population of the island is located near the water.  The sea is everywhere, around every turn in the road, in the air with the smell of brine and in your ears with its ceaseless, hypnotic waves crashing on the rocks. My intent was to gather reference for a show of paintings about this very special place. 1,300 pictures later, I had no shortage of ideas for paintings and some beautiful memories as well.

Gazing out on the water as the sun set, contemplating packing my suitcase and going through the rituals of closing up the pretty cabin on the Northeast shores where I had been staying, suddenly, silently, this boat floated into view. I will never forget how quietly it approached, and then it was there all of a sudden, like an alien spacecraft gliding through the sky, all aglow. I was transfixed by the confluence of colours that melded together all at once: the deep and light blues, the wet-grey slate of the rock, the weak honey hues of the setting sun, the far off lights of Badger's Quay or even Greenspond (I am not sure) twinkling across the bay. It was a visual symphony! I grabbed my camera and shot like a maniac, trying different compositions and capitalizing on every moment of daylight as I was holding the camera by hand which made for tricky shooting in such dim light. 

It was then that I recalled that the boat probably belonged to David's nephew, and their destination was somewhere south near Bonavista Bay to fish for mackerel. Apparently the mackerel are brought to the surface by the bright lights, hence fishing at night. I loved how the lights from their boat cut the water with its intensity, balanced the light of the sunset and how it simply floated quietly towards its destination. 

Despite its larger size, this painting came together pretty quickly. I used larger brushes and broad strokes, especially in the sky. It is difficult to make something appear diaphanous and airy, especially if you don't always paint in a very detailed manner. I had to find that line again between a more impressionistic application of paint while being able to render mood and emotion in the landscape. Hence the beauty of time and self-analysis to help you stand back and look at what works and what needs more work. I have a tendency towards becoming myopic while I that the forest disappears and I see only one tree at a time. You need and must step back to take it all in periodically. 

The skies in Newfoundland are out of this world. The lack of air pollution and the freshness of the environment is conducive to some pretty spectacular openings and closings of days...and I have tried to capture this in the paintings that I have completed so far. The sky figures largely in the spell that the land casts upon people I think. It is our frame of reference for how we orient ourselves; it is a place where we toss our dreams and wishes, and a wise and optimistic counsellor in times of uncertainty. It is like an upside-down well, a rumpled blanket, the forecaster of weather conditions and a constant companion against the gravity that keeps us on terra firma as we explore and discover. 

"That pleasure which is at once the most pure, the most elevating and the most intense, is derived, I maintain, from the contemplation of the beautiful."
 ~Edgar Allan Poe

My solo exhibition of Newfoundland paintings is fast approaching! I hope you can make it out to the show. Here are the details:

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

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Wrangell St-Elias National Park: Walking on glaciers and wrestling with moraines.

“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth 
are never alone or weary of life.” ~Rachel Carlson

On our last morning in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska, Michael and I knew we had to get organized early for it would be a solid day's hard trek ahead of us. However, we looked forward to it with much anticipation. It seemed as though the black flies had come out overnight and were swarming around us as we packed up camp. I looked upon the little site in the middle of nowhere where we had spent two nights. We were perched on the edge of the Kennicott Glacier in an area of rocky moraine mixed with scrub brush. This area was at the Donoho Lakes area of the park. Other than one or two people passing by we were utterly alone, and the silence and vastness had made their mark on my mind and spirit. 

Click on this picture to see a large panorama
 of Donoho Peak and the area we camped in.

This journey into the backcountry had left me blistered, bruised, inspired, elated, overwhelmed, humbled...all ingredients that by design and circumstance transform you, literally. My experience in the Wrangells really helped me know what I was capable of...that a little danger does a body good, and I desperately wanted to bottle those feelings, to preserve them and not let them be diluted with time. 

Although my aim was not to do paintings from my experiences on this trip, you can add inspiration to your internal creative cache using memories and sensations culled from intense experiences such as these to feed your work at a later time. I was simply enjoying the moment, every moment, as much as possible, and I knew that to take out a sketchpad would have prevented me from soaking up as much as I could. Instead I shot photographs, many, many photographs, trying to preserve it all; the smells, the vistas, the aches and pains, the entire, mindblowing uniqueness then and there. 

Do you see that tiny yellow dot in the bottom
right hand side of this shot? That is our tent. I'm not kidding.

Here is a slightly blurry, but closer shot of the yellow tent.
This illustrates the sheer magnitude of the landscape.

Below are some shots from our departure across the moraine, the seemingly endless sea of moraine that stretched ahead and arched down and away from us like a veil of rocks. Miles and miles of rock-covered ice that framed the glacier proper, the wonderful white ice that we climbed towards and on to. We hiked for six hours on our crampons, across ice and moraine. It was epic in the truest sense of the word.

Here you can see the glacier appearing like a folded blanket,
 with moraine and mountains behind it.

I took this shot the night previous. 
You can see the white ice of the Kennicott Glacier that we climbed towards.

We came across pools of glacial water
 that were blue beyond compare. Surreal.

So apparently there are special boots that you wear that are designed for more rigorous walking with crampons on glaciers...we didn't have them and let me tell you, wearing crampons for hours and hours is a sure way to bring on blisters! The exhilaration superceded the discomfort however as we clinked our way down the glacier as mile after mile of wilderness at once opened up and closed in all around us. We stopped to refill our water bottles at some of the countless glacial cold water right from the source. I can still taste that pure, icy goodness that propelled us and fueled us as we made our way carefully down the glacier. 

One of the tidal pools we stopped at.

My mind could not process such a raw beauty that we encountered out there that day. Physically it was unpredictable, unplanned, mapped but not by us, intoxicatingly alien and held lots of questions: which route? to rest or keep going? should we turn back? This is like life isn't it? Choosing paths and accepting the consequences, persevering, stumbling, picking ourselves up and looking back with an exhausted happiness at the trials we have surmounted. 

We continued down the narrowing glacier, occasionally skirting the edge of a cliff or making our way around some obstacle or another. The walking was lovely..."like a sidewalk" at times, as Michael said. And speaking of Michael, this entire journey would have been impossible without his supreme organization, knowledge of the land and his amazing enthusiasm to top it off. We had a great time traveling together. Never under-estimate the power of laughter, the importance of preparedness, and the supreme enjoyment that you get from experiencing these pieces of paradise with such a wonderful friend. As I stated previously, Michael has summited Denali as well as countless other peaks in Alaska and loves a challenge. Ergo, a perfect traveling companion; someone who would push me, encourage me and keep me thinking positively when claustrophia and bushwhacking frustrations set in. 

Making our way down the narrowing glacier.

A crevasse typical of the terrain on the glacier. 
I was petrified of falling in some of the moulins
we encountered.

There was one particular leg of our journey that I had been quite nervous about...the moraines at the end of the trek that were situated between the Kennicott and Root Glaciers, not far from where we camped our first night. We ended up taking a slightly different route than the book suggested, crossing onto the moraine from the glacier a bit earlier. The distance across the moraine was probably only a mile and a half...and on paper that is not a large distance. However, the terrain we negotiated made the distance feel like 5 was amazing, stressful, challenging...I loved it! Michael continued with his pretty unblemished route-finding record as we made our way on to the moraines and had periodic discussions on which was the best path to take.

This was the sea of icy/stoney craziness that we had to make our way through. 
You can see the glacier in the distance behind it.

Michael standing below a typical boulder found perched on the glacier, 
the detritus from such an immense, moving mass of ice.

It felt truly as though we were on an alien planet at times.

This shot shows just how massive some of the moraines were. 

We kept cracking jokes about this area of the trek looking like Tatooine , Luke Skywalker's home planet from Star Wars. Keep in mind we often slipped and slid on the ice underneath the rocks, even with the crampons on and clinging feebly at times. It was very...interactive and many scrapes and tussles with the land were had. I lost each battle but in the process found another layer of respect for this place. It takes no prisoners. It has no feelings. It simply exists in its perfect homeostasis that we had the opportunity to step briefly upon.

Here is a video clip from walking along Kennicott Glacier

And finally, after much exertion, we made it back onto the Root Glacier and home
towards Kennicott where we had stashed the bikes in some bushes off the trail.

I display my  badges of courage.
 I will be back to settle the score with the moraines!

After we retrieved our bikes it was an easy bike ride down to Kennicott and then on to McCarthy. It was an uphill bike there so we essentially coasted, with lighter packs to boot. We took a side trip to McCarthy to check out the scene there. It was a quiet, quirky little place, with a quiet hum to it that the locals knew well of course. On we went after a short stay, headed back to the truck, and were off towards Valdez for one more night of camping before heading back to Anchorage. 

Even after seeing this photos weeks after the adventure happened, their poignancy still lingers. As I mentioned, I do not want these feelings to dissipate but cling to them as fiercely as I clung to the rocks which threatened to give way from their icy grip on the moraines. But I will not live in the past but cherish these feelings and energy gleaned, experience gained and passion for the outdoors ignited even more from this trip to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. 

“We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.” 
~John Hope Franklin

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Call Of The North: Wrangell St-Elias National Park

“To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world.”
 ~John Muir

I had a great opportunity to hike and camp in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve recently. This amazing hike came on the heels of a wedding at Delta Junction (see previous post). At the wedding we car camped but in Wrangell-St. Elias, camping took on a whole new meaning. The interesting thing about journeys into the wilderness is that often the true impact and amazement of such a pilgrimage is protracted; it seeps into your being and consciousness over the course of weeks or even years. At the time the experience is so acute, so immediate and tangible, with your safety and abilities being constantly challenged at every turn, that you cannot absorb it all. It is only later, directly, or sometimes a feeling caught on the edge of your mind that the sublime beauty of it all softly settles in your bones. 

I can already feel this sensation happening. It is quite surreal. I wonder if those living there continually marvel at the wonder of everything around them or if they see the mountains but don't really see them, after they have lived there for awhile? My instinct tells me that those who make Alaska and The Yukon their home do so because they love it, and there is simply no other place they would rather be. 

 I was quite excited to drive much of the 1,200 miles that we covered in 10 days!

My friend Michael and I headed out from Delta Junction and drove all day to reach the infamous road to the town of McCarthy. This 62 mile stretch of road is quite rough, but honestly it wasn't as bad as we anticipated it would be. McCarthy, as of 2000, according to census reports, had 42 people living there...42. Now that's quiet. The winding road to McCarthy is the only way to get to Kennicott, an old copper mining town that is the primary setting off point for intrepid souls venturing out into the park. Both towns have a rich history and are considered endangered national landmarks. We intended to tour the 27 story mine in Kennicott but instead used our remaining time in the area to go into McCarthy and look around. 

A bridge along the McCarthy Road. Acrophobes beware!

We camped at mile 54 near Swift Creek the night before our big adventure. The next morning we jumped on the bikes that Michael had cleverly thought to bring for us to cut down our time along the 6 miles of road between the truck and Kennicott. Our packs were pretty heavy, especially Michael's and the road had a slight uphill grade so we had a good peddle ahead of us before getting out into the park proper.

Thank goodness for this new bridge across the river

Two years ago this bridge was installed so that people trying to get to Kennicott and McCarthy didn't have to do a tyrolean traverse across the river on a wire. We sure appreciated the update! After making it into Kennicott we signed into the log book at the park service building, indicating our destination, probable length of stay in the park and, forebodingly, an emergency contact should we not return at our scheduled time. There were plastic moldings of bear prints to make identification easier within the park. We also grabbed a bear canister which we could place our food in at night and thus deter them (hopefully) from coming too close. In some camping areas there would be bear boxes too, sturdy metal boxes for storing food as well.I noted disconcertedly, the book that we were using clearly stated that the Donoho Lakes area of Wrangell-St. Elias has been heavily frequented by bears lately...the exact area we were heading! The park is 13.2 million acres, larger than the entire country of Switzerland....and we were heading into bear-central. Yikes. 

Here is our route that we followed 

Our goal for this trek was outlined in the great Falcon Guide "Hiking Alaska's Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve" by Greg Fensterman. Ironically, we happened upon a group of boy scouts and an older gentleman who gave us some tips on our day up to the Donoho Lakes by Donoho Peak. Turns out I think it was the author himself!

Following a path that led down to the glacier. You can see Donoho Peak
 rising behind the glacier

We found a place to leave the bikes off of the trail and turned to see the expanse of the Root Glacier spread out before us. It was quite a sight. The summer previous I had climbed part of the way up the Gulkana Glacier with my friend Trevor which you can read about here. I also had a wilderness baptism-by-fire the week before Gulkana at Kanuti Hot Springs with my Ed and some other friends that you can read about here

I can see how glaciers really do have different personalities. The Root glacier is vast, but small in comparison to many other glaciers in Alaska. We strapped on our crampons and headed out onto the Root. Michael has been on many glaciers, is a mountaineer by passion and has summited Denali (Mt. McKinley). Therefore it was I who experienced a sharper learning curve as I oriented myself on my new "footwear" as we moved out across the ice. 

Michael climbed up a nearby rise so we could have a good look at our route across the glacier

The travel across the glacier was wonderful, the ice crackling and clinking beneath our feet and against the metal teeth of the crampons. We were making good time and managed to cross the glacier, with the odd stop for pictures and side trips in about 3 hours. Getting off of the ice was challenging as the moraine was very soft and a couple of times the going was a bit treacherous as we sunk into the mud that quickly set off a deluge of water from under the ice...we climbed back on to the glacier to climb further north and seek out a less precarious path onto the landmass where we would camp the first night. As we crossed the glacier we looked back near the other side of the glacier and saw a few small groups of day trippers out exploring the ice. We also spotted a small tent way up on the landmass. The area where we camped is a pretty popular spot for hikers to stop for a first night, and bear boxes were about 1/4 mile away for safer food storage. The best decision Michael made on this trip was to bring a second, very light tent for food preparation. It would keep any smells of food away from our sleeping tent and provided a nifty shelter against the cold gales that were a constant presence next to the glacier. 

I loved the monochromatic quality of the glacier on this day. This is a view just looking back after our rather sketchy exit off of the ice.

This picture is small but you can see a larger version if you click on it. This is the view from our camp the first night near Donoho Peak....beautiful!

We arrived and took awhile deciding where best to set up camp as it was far from ideal with rocks and not much level ground. We managed to squeeze our extra food in one of the bear boxes and met up with some men who introduced themselves as Ben and Gary. They were out hiking in the same area as we were. It was lovely to chat with them and get some tips on navigating the trail we were planning on taking the next day. They had two way radios and used them when two of them went out onto the Root glacier the next day to explore. You can see them in the shot below...they are the two small dark dots in the lower right hand corner of the shot. This helps provide some scale for the landscape. It amazed me then and it amazes me now even more to see the sheer size of that place in these photographs. 

There is Gary and one more from their group in the lower right-hand side of the shot.

Once settled in to camp and having procured potable water from a stream and filter Michael and I were happy to flake out after some dinner. It had been a full day and we were anxious to get hiking the next day up to the Donoho Lakes area. I was a little nervous knowing that there would be some bushwhacking involved, bears everywhere, and I am claustrophobic by nature, especially when the brush closes in above my head while I battle through branches. However, it is all a part of the experience and what I may lament at the time become the cornerstones of happy memories when recalling the journey at a later time. For that evening though we marveled at the Root Glacier out before us and its spectacular icefall, the starkness of that landscape and our unbelievably small place within such natural grandeur. 

Here's our little food tent, a good distance from our other one..just in case! The landform was pretty sparse there, like one giant moraine! 

A great view to wake up to. Does it get any better than this?

We began the hike up to the second campsite near Donoho Lakes and the Kennicott Glacier the next morning. The book said that there would be a path that essentially marked the way for us but that some route-finding would be expected too. Well, that was an understatement! We had to back-track many times but Michael was good about forging ahead carefully and planning various routes to try. At least we knew our general direction and with time and patience, some falling down on my part and pacing ourselves, we made great time and found ourselves next to Kennicott Glacier in one piece. 

Here you can see the view of the first lake we passed, complete with lots of brush on all sides.

Route-finding towards the second lake

A large part of me wished that I could keep walking  forever...

This time in Alaska I was overwhelmed periodically; overwhelmed at how totally powerful and fiercely unrelenting  that wilderness was. And its limitlessness! Its sheer size made my head spin with a giddy elation. The thread of life is tenacious yet fragile, and one slip can bring an entirely different reality crashing in pretty quickly. It was a crazy sensation to deal with...yet I knew that that bit of fear would be like a slow-release vitamin to help me through the weeks following as I sat down at the easel in my small, dark studio in Southwestern Ontario and remembered where I had been and what a special experience it had been exploring out there. 

The weather was beautifully tumultuous that day. It threatened but did not rain on us.

I think Ansel Adams would have enjoyed the quality of light against the mountains
and wonderful value variations. 

As we neared the area where we were going to camp in on the second night I looked back to see the sun hitting some mountains near where we had begun our hike earlier in the day. Alaska is a land of paradoxes...there is lots to be said for the patience of glaciers and the timid openings of cold flowers. Yet much is to be said for the sublime hyperactivity found there: fervent weather, tempestuous skies, fleeting rainbows and mile after mile of untouched beauty. I was happy to share a small part in that wild ballet for awhile. 

"Contemplating the lace-like fabric of streams outspread over the mountains, we are reminded that everything is flowing - going somewhere, animals and so-called lifeless rocks as well as water. Thus the snow flows fast or slow in grand beauty-making glaciers and avalanches; the air in majestic floods carrying minerals, plant leaves, seeds, spores, with streams of music and fragrance; water streams carrying rocks both in solution and in the form of mud particles, sand, pebbles, and boulders. Rocks flow from volcanoes like water from springs, and animals flock together and flow in currents modified by stepping, leaping, gliding, flying, swimming, etc. While the stars go streaming through space pulsed on and on forever like blood globules in Nature's warm heart." ~John Muir

Don't forget to attend my exhibition in November if you are able! I would love to meet you and share my work with you. Have a beautiful evening..

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

"Storm Over Wesleyville"

“Life does not consist mainly, or even largely, of facts and happenings. It consists mainly of the storm of thought that is forever flowing through one's head.”~Mark Twain

My apologies dear readers, for being in absentia these past few weeks. A constellation of factors has contributed to this hiatus from my blogs but I have returned with a passion! "Storm Over Wesleyville", 2009, 36"x24", Oil On Canvas, is another painting for my upcoming "Portraits Of Newfoundland" exhibition in November at Abbozzo Gallery in Oakville, Ontario. I will provide information about the show at the bottom of this entry here. 

Wesleyville, and Newfoudland for that matter, and any place that lives perched on the edge of water, will usually have tumultuous weather that transitions quickly from calm to tempest. On this particular day I was leaving the studio and turned left to see a dark storm cloud approaching, yet it didn't feel as though it would rain. The ominous yet beautiful cloud loomed over Wesleyville and like a dark grey blanket began to cover everything up slowly but surely. The house on the hill, the little white house belonging to a lovely man named George, was like a beacon glowing, defying the inevitability of the storm away before it was swallowed up. 

I have recently begun an artistic love affair with Ansel Adams. I finally saw that PBS special called Ansel Adams: The American Experience and it changed my perspective on life and art. I will blog more about this epiphany later on. Adams was a genius in all senses of the word. I love his light and shadow, his harshly beautiful landscapes and the storm here, the feeling of that moment, reminded me of something that he might have enjoyed and been moved by. I loved that the last bit of sunlight warmed the rocks below the houses, and that this rock itself demonstrated how the houses in much of Newfoundland are themselves perched on the edge of the world.  

I'm the first to admit that I find painting skies a challenge...they are by nature pretty smooth-looking, and don't suit a chunky painting style well. However here I was determined to employ my style and make it find a bridge and a solution with the brushwork and colour...I thought that if I tried hard enough I could add a bit of emotion and foreboding to the clouds with the direction of the brushstrokes. It isn't totally chaotic but its pretty loose and impressionistic up there in the top sections of the piece. The contrast is the more detailed areas located near the bottom: the houses, the rocks, the sliver of road you can discern at the bottom. I love creating a tension and a release in a painting...I like having areas of refinement and areas of looseness...I think it helps a viewer's mind and eye to relax and then circle back in to areas that are conducive to more concentration. Now, hyper-realists, who render each square inch to within a millimetre of their lives, are extraordinarily talented and patient, don't get me wrong. Their abilities blow my mind. However I simply cannot render the entire canvas in an equal way....thus sometimes paintings that are totally, painfully detailed, can paradoxically be rather flat in that the eye never rests as it is always delineating a leaf, some fur, an eyelash, a fingernail. I prefer to try to capture the overarching emotion behind the piece...otherwise, like Adams, take a picture. 

Wind. It is everywhere and always in Newfoundland. If someone asked me what I remember most from Newfoundland, besides partridgeberry jam, I would say WIND...beautiful, glorious wind. It keeps any tendency towards statis at bay, it is always moving the land and the people forward and onward, and I too moved along with it. It was cold at times, and often challenged my jacket's power to keep it out.. But this wind provides a freshness and an immediacy to the land, it keeps you in the moment by being in your ears at every turn of the head, by being in your clothes and on your voice as you talk to others and raise your volume a bit to keep pace with it.

I hope to capture a bit of these elements of Newfoundland in this painting. Newfoundland truly does cast a spell on you. Yes, I'm a romantic so you have to take that into account, but I'm serious: I have never been anywhere else like it, and probably, fortunately, won't ever be again. It exists in its own time and place...with its windswept shores, its loving townspeople, its simplicity of living and its tenacity of spirit. Give me the storm, the wind, the Rock and feet to explore it...and I will be one happy artist. 

Here is an excerpt that Ansel Adams once wrote in a letter. His words moved me deeply:

“A strange thing happened to me today. I saw a big thundercloud move down over Halfdome, and it was so big, and clear and brilliant, that it made me see many things that were drifting around inside of me; things that relate to those who are loved, and those who are real friends. For the first time, I know what love is, what friends are, and what art should be. Love is a seeking for a way of life, the way that cannot be followed alone; the resonance of all spiritual and physical things. Friendship is another form of love; more passive perhaps, but full of the transmitting and acceptances of things, like thunderclouds and grass, and the clean granite of reality. Art is both love and friendship and understanding; the desire to give. It is not charity, which is the giving of things. It is more than kindness, which is the giving of self. It is both the taking and giving of beauty. The turning out to the light of the inner folds of the awareness of the spirit. It is a recreation of another plane, of the realities of the world; the tragic and wonderful realities of earth and men and of all the interrelations of these.”


Whether alive or deceased, other artists and people have the power to live within us, move us, change the way we view things and alter our lives. I think Ansel Adams will continue to do that for me. Have a beautiful weekend and savor every moment!


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