Thursday, September 24, 2009

"George Hill"

"Character develops itself in the stream of life". ~Goethe

"George Hill", oil on panel, 40"x30" is a portrait of a man who extended a helpful hand to me when I had just arrived in Newfoundland last September. I was rather bewildered and awed by the vast expanse of rock and sea all around, pinching myself that I was there and along came this gentleman with a big wave and a gentle manner to ease the transition into paradise.

I meandered up the hill to George, who was in the process of mowing his lawn (no easy task in Newfoundland as it is so very hilly and often marshy). I fell in love with his little shed with the low doorway,with his galoshes, with the character that flowed from him in his special place. I enjoyed the thought of painting the space between his teeth, his ruddy, windblown face, his humble demeanor. I gave my little introduction as to why I was there, and asked him if he would mind if I took some photographs of him mowing his lawn and also standing in his shed doorway. He was very polite and agreed to let me take some shots.

I painted George's house in a previous work, "Storm Over Wesleyville", which you can see here. His shed is the little building perched on the rocks on the right hand side, and his house is the larger white structure beside it. This gives the painting of George a bit more context.

I love environments that show that they have been lived in. George's shed does just that. Peeling paint, worn steps, wood smoothed and concave from thousands of steps that comprise our lives lived. This little place and the man who dwells there are great indicators of how each of us lives in a world that is permeable: there are the comforts of habit and our environments of security, but there are also people who flit in and our of our lives for a minute, a day, or perhaps they stay for years and inhabit our space with us. My limited but happy exchange with George left me with a wonderful feeling and I knew that the painting must be done for the show.

Sometimes ideas for paintings come to us in a dream, sometimes when we are at the grocery store, and sometimes they arrive right in front of our eyes, with no preconception of their existence until we see our subject, the composition, the painting itself in front of our eyes, just waiting to be painted. This is just such a painting.

From a compositional standpoint I liked the combination of vertical and horizontal lines that make up the angles of his shed. I enjoyed that the structure had warped a bit from time and weather. The darkness inside, subtly suggesting objects behind him, the contrast between the brightness of the shed and daylight outside also appealed to me. Plus, his stance, lowering himself to fit in the doorway, is one of my favorite elements of this painting. His galoshes, so ubiquitous in Newfoundland, are at an interesting angle. He was standing naturally, even though his stance seems a bit awkward to suit the low doorway. I liked that contrast and hope I have captured a bit of his spirit in this painting.

This piece is a biography is a visual symbol of the history of a man and his life. From the lines on his face to the little shop in his shed, what is rendered on a flat surface is a small but eternal moment in time of George's life. Our lives are one long string of moments, some more profound than others, but this one exists simply as it is, as he was, and as he will continue to be captured in that moment forever. Thank-you George.

"Are we to paint what's on the face, what's inside the face,
or what's behind it?" ~Pablo Picasso

The exhibition is only a few weeks away! Here are details. I hope to see you there. Have a beautiful day and share some happiness...


Portraits Of Newfoundland
November 5-22nd, 2009
Opening Reception November 6th, 7-10pm
179 Lakeshore Road East, Oakville, Ontario, Canada
Come out and listen to special musical guests
The Killin' Time Band who will be playing
some East Coast-inspired songs for your enjoyment!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Success through learning from your "failures"

Climbing The Root Glacier, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska

When is the last time you did a piece of art that you, upon stepping back from at its completion, did you really dislike? As artists and creatives, we have a tendency to be quite critical of ourselves. Mind you, being critical is GOOD as it helps us prune away the mediocre, shave off weak techniques and learn from them. We need to be critical to improve. However, what I want to address here is what we do with our "failures", our discarded paintings, and what we do with them in our minds too. Each is just as important.

I have an area in my studio where I have stacked paintings from college and one or two relatively recent pieces that I abandoned because I knew they would never be what I wanted them to be. I look back on some of those college pieces and think, hey, not bad! However, often I look back on them and want to burn them. But I don't. I keep them there and look at them when I pass...look at them as a reminder of where I have come from and where I am now in relation to that past "lesson".

What is it that makes you realize that what you are working on, be it a song, a poem, a sculpture, a symphony, is not working? Do you overwork the piece? Do they colours get muddy and the lines blur? Do you fuss and then cannot look at it without your eye immediately going to the area that you fussed with? Have you turned the bowl on the wheel and made it so thin that it has cracked? I say fire that cracked bowl still...because it is a lesson! It helps you evolve and learn what NOT to do next time! Now, I understand that much of the creative process is wrapped up in an unconscious state of flow, where your mind is somewhere else, absorbed in the work usually, and you almost cannot help yourself from doing these is almost a compulsion. I urge you to stop and take a step back. I think that one, well-placed brushstroke can easily convey what you need to convey versus twenty small ones...BUT keep in mind I work differently than many artists...hyper realists for example, who paint within an inch of their life. Their work is sublime, but requires a patience and manual fortitude that I simply do not possess. So do what you need to do when you do your craft, but do it with purpose and intention, with mindfulness...yet do not be afraid to make mistakes is a delicate balance!

Let's look at this from another perspective. If everything that we painted was brilliant, right from the start, would we appreciate it as much? Anything worthwhile and cherished requires a devotion of time and work to be successful. If something requires effort, we love it all the more because of what we learned along the way towards that achievement. So save your failures...they are not really failures, they are lessons that we have experienced that make us the stronger and more accomplished artists and creatives that we are today.

Have a beautiful day, and share some happiness!


Quick update: There will be an article on my upcoming Newfoundland Portraits Exhibition in The Newfoundland Herald Magazine next week. If you happen to live in Newfoundland or have access to magazines there, pick up a copy!

The exhibition is fast approaching. Mark it in your calendar! :)

Portraits Of Newfoundland
November 5-22nd, 2009
Opening Reception November 6th, 7-10pm
179 Lakeshore Road East, Oakville, Ontario, Canada

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

"At Greenspond"

"Colour has taken possession of me; no longer do I have to chase after it. 
I know that it has hold of me forever...Colour and I are one.
 I am a painter."~Paul Klee

"At Greenspond", oil on panel, 24"x12" is all about colour.  I loved the interplay of oranges and auburns at the bottom and the blues and vibrancy of those watery hues at the top of the painting. The rock is an amalgamation of those to compliments, dividing its temperament between warms and cools. I was exploring the trails and rocks that met with the sea that day in the little town of Greenspond...large slabs of organic rock like frozen water, softened by countless waves and storms. 

With this painting I wanted to create a focus on the large rocks almost falling into the foreground. I saw in my mind a vertically-oriented painting, with heavy cropping and a small amount of water and sky. The skies are so clear in Newfoundland (when there isn't fog!), the colours so crisp and clean. It is very similar to Alaska, or probably anywhere that has minimal pollution. Everything is in sharp relief, no blurry edges, but each flower and rock beautifully defined. 

The land and the people in Newfoundland are genuine, the real thing, they exist closely with the land and are intertwined with it, live in close contact with it, cannot help but be shaped by it. The tidal pools that you come across contain little worlds of life ebbing and flowing, reliant upon the tides just like air into lungs. What may appear to the casual passerby is actually a complex ecological system of life and death, beauty, growth and decay that is continually changing right before your eyes. It is magical. The people too are dependent largely on what the land has to offer, from fish to berries, there are cycles to be seen everywhere you look. 

From a technical standpoint this painting was relatively uncomplicated and came together quickly. The water jumps out as it is so vivid there...a deep blue that is even purple in some places (I saw some in Cape Freels). My greatest challenge here was to convey the impression of the hardness and undulation of the rocks...the veins and organic patterns and shapes that twist and braid down the length of each rock. Certainly the most enjoyable area to paint was the burnt orange hues at the bottom where the rock has water on it and the minerals can be seen in an all together different light, darkened and brought to life by the water. 

Oftentimes after months have passed the beauty of a place starts to seep into your a trickle from a rock bed or the melting of a glacier....slow and steadily you find yourself romanced by a land that you dwelt briefly upon many months ago. The captivating part is that you are not even consciously aware of it. It simply is. I find myself being bewitched by Newfoundland all over again, each time I look through my reference photos to ponder the possibility of a painting here or there...each painting is a reliving of an experience, and in that moment all of the affection and wonder that you felt sitting on that cliff, speaking with that person, hiking down that trail, they all come back to you with an fragile intensity. Anything that moves us to that extent deserves our attention and we must embrace that memory so that we can share it with others, in the form of art, poetry, photography, music, or simply as enthusiastic anecdotes shared between kindred spirits. 

Be well, take good care, and share some happiness today.


"Colour is my day-long obsession, joy and torment." ~Claude Monet

Here is some information on my upcoming solo exhibition! 

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

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Chris' Pack, Stampede Trail

“Lara walked along the tracks following a path worn by pilgrims and then turned into the fields. Here she stopped and, closing her eyes took a deep breath of the flower-scented air of the broad expanse around her. It was dearer to her than her kin, better than a lover, wiser than a book. For a moment she rediscovered the purpose of her life. She was here on earth to grasp the meaning of its wild enchantment, and to call each thing by its right name, or, if this were not in her power, to give birth out of love for life, to successors who would do it in her place.”~Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago 

"Chris' Pack, Stampede Trail", oil on panel, 24"x36" is a painting that I knew I had to do as soon as I saw the initial photograph that Chris McCandless took on April 28th, 1992. The photograph was reminiscent of an Ansel Adams vista, the moody, low-slung clouds scuttling across the bleak landscape, the great contrast in value from the pack to the was all there. 

Chris was dropped off on The Stampede Trail April 28th by Jim Gallien, an electrician on his way to Anchorage, Alaska. He picked Chris up in Fairbanks and gave him a lift down to the Stampede Trail,  taking him as far as his truck could go along the snowy, slippery road. There is a photograph that Gallien took of an excited Chris, rifle over his shoulder, ready to embark on his odyssey into the wilderness, and then there is this photograph (and subsequent painting). Chris was finally, at long last, alone. His pack here represents himself because he was holding the camera. I have painted Chris' backpack before and you can read about that painting, "Odyssey By Train" here.  His pack went everywhere with him, was his home, his life, an extension of himself for those two rambling years of his odyssey. 

There is a melancholic quality to this painting. I have stood in this exact spot on the trail, but in August...with the changing leaves and plentiful foliage rolling out over the vast expanse of land in every direction. Here, however, the snow casts an all together different quality upon the landscape. This painting really is paradoxical in many ways. On the one hand it has a sense of wonder and potential...the trail ahead, beckoning, not knowing where it goes, a dotted line that wends its way out into nothing, a symbol of self-discovery and the culmination of his Tolstoyan philosophy.  On the other other hand there is the knowledge of what happened to Chris, and I am filled with a great sadness too. When I had the privilege of looking through his photographs, this one especially, jumped out and captured my heart immediately. I am glad to have finally completed it. 

From a technical standpoint I wanted to remain true to Chris' vision, as I am trying to do with each painting from his photographs that I have completed. I alter very little. His photograph was shot in black and white, and thus the painting is black and white too. I love mixing blacks, as their is so much beautiful variety in each one. No two blacks are ever the same. We were instructed specifically in art school to never use black out of a tube but learn to mix your own and therein you have more control over all of its beautiful, possible permutations. There's a deep green-black before seashells disappear into the Atlantic, a purple-black that pulls sunsets away into the night, blue-blacks that bring out the best in stars and ochre-blacks that hide in stalks of hay bales in autumn. They are all beautiful in their own way because a bright value is only as brilliant as the dark ones allow them to be. Without darkness, lightness loses its vibrancy and poignancy. 

I kept the brushwork very loose, especially in the sky. Often clouds have a very expressive, brushy quality to them and so I tried to not get too fussy with the sky. The mountains and surrounding landscape too I tried to not get too lost in but concentrated the brushwork more around the pack. Even though much detail in the pack is absent because of its dark value I love its simple, heavy shape sitting there on the snow. I like that you can see a little bit of his fishing net and his camera case which is lying to the right of the pack. There are tracks in the snow that continue up ahead of where Chris was standing, but for all intents and purposes he was heading into a place where no one had traveled before him. This painting is one small moment in that journey. 

"If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal, that is your success. All nature is your congratulation, and you have cause momentarily to bless yourself. The greatest gains and values are farthest from being appreciated. We easily come to doubt if they exist. We soon forget them. They are the highest reality." ~Henry David Thoreau
In other art-related news I will be a guest lecturer at Georgian College in Barrie, Ontario in October. I will be speaking about my work, process and projects for students enrolled in the Art Fundamentals Program there. I look forward to this opportunity very much!
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