Saturday, August 22, 2009

Of breaks, bruises and the message behind it all...

Painting with my cat Sasha

"The world breaks everyone and afterwards some are strong at the broken places." 
~Ernest Hemingway

Nine days ago I broke my foot. Six days ago I put my hand through a glass window, badly cutting it in the process. Granted the glass in the window was old and my hand slipped off of the wood frame, but this injury and my foot in an aircast after fracturing my fifth metatarsal have caused me to wonder about what the universe is trying to say here. There is a message and meaning to everything that happens to us in life. The answers I know will be revealed in good time. Patience, ever the virtue and something I struggle with, will win in the end. 

The irony is that for weeks this summer I trekked through some of the burliest country in North America in the Alaskan Interior, slashing and hacking, climbing and slipping. Yet, here not ten minutes from my homes, the simplest of twists when I was not looking where I was going changes your life in a large way. However, instead of wallowing in the situation I am trying to use the time to accomplish some solid work and continue to prepare for the Newfoundland Portraits exhibition which is now less than three months away. I am also continuing work on paintings based on Christopher McCandless' photographs of his odyssey around North America which will eventually form an exhibition as well, happening in either 2011 or 2012. 

My physician advised me to keep my cast on as often as possible and to elevate my foot frequently. I have had to devise a way to paint with my foot raised up, which is no feat (pun intended). However I think the greatest lesson that I can discern from this break, at least for now, is how much we take mobility in life for granted. I realize now that running is out of the question, that moving quickly is not in my vocabulary for the next while, how fortunate we are when we can move as swiftly as our feet can carry us. It makes me appreciate each day and each task that we can do ourselves with even more humility and gratitude. Plus, it is an opportunity to focus energy that might have been spent on other things, towards my painting. I have included a photo of the cast on the edge of my easel while I paint below. Not terribly exciting but fortunately I have a job where I can work in this condition. 

I have about five weeks left with the cast and other than learning to hobble as well as possible with this aircast my work is coalescing and paintings are being completed, new ones begun and I am thankful for the support of friends and family too. My friend Gayle brought some fresh vegetables from her garden and some  homemade  vegan! chickpea salad for me. Thank-you almost doesn't do justice to these beautiful acts of kindness. 

In terms of what is happening in the studio I will include two pictures of paintings in progress for you to see what I have been up to. 

This is not a great photo but you get the idea here. This gentleman is a great character and kind soul who I met while in Wesleyville, Newfoundland last September. I loved his small shed with the low door frame and asked him to stand in that space. I enjoyed the darkness behind him and love to do paintings with doors and frames that are echoed in the shape of the canvas itself. Thus George posed for me for a few minutes and I am working hard to have this painting completed by month's end. 

This painting is one that is very near and dear to my heart. I expect to have it finished in one more solid day's work. It is a painting based on Chris McCandless' photo of his backpack on the Stampede Trail in the Alaskan Interior on or around April 28th, 1992. He had just been dropped off by Jim Gallien, an electrician who gave him a lift as far as he could down the uneven Stampede Road that becomes Stampede Trail eventually. Chris would have been alone on the trail for the first time and probably his pack was the first and logical thing to take a picture of as a symbol of himself, his journey, his philosophy. There is almost an Ansel Adamsesque quality to his shot, a quality that I wanted to capture in my painting as faithfully as possible. I will post the completed painting on my other blog, Heather Horton Artwork as soon as it is finished and Chris' parents have seen it. 

On a side note, I am trying to start thinking about a way to make the exhibition of paintings related to Chris' life and photographs a traveling exhibit. Christopher was a traveler, and I thought how appropriate a traveling exhibit would be for such a peripatetic man, a beautiful soul who turned thought into action and his incredible odyssey is a testament to that philosophy. I am sure Chris would agree with Henry David Thoreau, a hero of his, to "not lose hold of your dreams or aspirations. For if you do, you may still exist but you have ceased to live." Therefore if anyone reading this blog entry has any ideas about publicly or government-funded galleries looking to exhibit these paintings about Chris' life and journey, please send me a message. I would like to start planning this exhibit now, because the time to show them will arrive soon!

Here are some other paintings I have done based on Christopher's photographs so far. 

"Chris' Canoe, Near Golfo", oil on panel, 18"x24"

"Odyssey By Train", oil on panel, 18"x24"

"To The Sea", oil on canvas, 24"x36"

My apologies for the delay in blogging lately. A constellation of factors have contributed but I wanted to let you know about why I have not written in that it really is a time of production and distillation..a quietly exciting time, a time like no other :) 

Take care and have a beautiful weekend,

"We could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world"
~Helen Keller

Here is some information on my solo show, Portraits Of Newfoundland. This exhibit will focus on the beautiful people and places I encountered on a journey there last September. I hope to see you at the opening! 

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

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

"The Green Couch"

"Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back
 -a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country."- Anais Nin 

"The Green Couch", oil on canvas, 28"x44", was painted a few years ago yet has floated back to the surface lately. Perhaps it is because I have been concentrating on landscapes and different faces while working on the Portraits Of Newfoundland exhibition and commissions. Whatever the reason, here it is once again. 

Sometimes people ask artists why they paint themselves so frequently. I suppose the answer is as individual as the artist. Our bodies and minds are the filter that this world has to pass through into our consciousness. It stands to reason that we would want to depict ourselves living our lives, experiencing the emotions that make us so very fallible, so fragile yet resilient, so very human. I paint myself for many reasons. Yes, there is an autobiographical intention behind some of the paintings....rubicons that are passed that I am compelled to chronicle, a change of perspective, a joy shared, an emotion thus caught in perpetuity.

"The Green Couch"  is named for the couch that the duvet has been thrown over. You can see a little bit of the green visible on the right hand side. I knew that I wanted to paint folds and creases on a pale-coloured fabric so I removed the duvet cover (which was black) and voila, the elements were ready.  I wish I could say that there is a convoluted existential narrative behind this painting but no, it is simply what it is. I wanted to paint a figure resting...plain and simple. I was available (as I usually am). Thus I got to work organizing the composition. I forget exactly why I had such an oddly-sized canvas but this painting fit nicely onto it. 

I really tried hard to express "weight" in this painting..I wanted the viewer to really feel the figure on that couch, to sense the arms and torso really existing with their own energy and heaviness in that place and time. The folds were of course, sanity-testing at the best of times, yet there is also a joy at painting fabric so that when you step back a few feet, with fingers crossed, the values and shapes mesh together. Up close my paintings are quite planar, almost abstract. I do not blend on the canvas if I can help it. Any blending is usually incidental, a bi-product of a wet layer of oil underneath the pigment applied over top. In fact today I realized that there's a moment in the painting process when the paint underneath is at a perfect stage of pliability so that when you place another layer of paint across, there is a "pull" for lack of a better term, a harmony of texture that makes the two colours cohabitate and blend just so...not too much, not too little. 

There is a strange sensation that you have when you paint yourself. To render that which you have looked upon so often is paradoxically familiar and strange. In truth I enjoy the end product of the self-portrait but enjoy painting friends and those I am close to the most. I enjoy learning about them and their own uniqueness with the line of a nose or the curve of an ear (a favorite part to paint). Ears are fun because they are generally translucent and inclined towards more ruddy colours due to the light penetrating the skin. You can be sure that even when some tones on a face are not uncommon or vibrant, that the ear will have a lovely flash of red to add to the painting. At least, this is what I have found over time. 

This painting had a lot of direct light hitting me when I shot the reference. I find direct daylight really reduces saturation and tends to inhibit lovely, rich tones. I need to make an effort to start shooting reference with lights as I think you can achieve a beautiful quality of colour and value with artificial lights that can be lost with direct, natural light. I need to learn about these variables more to help me create the best paintings that I can. Fortunately the joy is in the learning, the doing, the work. In fact, Walt Whitman had a note on his desk that simply stated "make the work". Excellent maxim. 

Have a beautiful evening, day or afternoon, wherever you are.


"The only time I feel alive is when I'm painting." ~Van Gogh

Here is some information on my solo show, Portraits Of Newfoundland,  that is coming ever closer!!!! I hope to see you at the opening! Please see previous posts on this blog that describe some of the paintings that will be in the exhibition.

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