Thursday, October 14, 2010

"Self-Portrait, Smallest"

"The countenance is the portrait of the mind, the eyes are its informers."~Marcus Cicero

The only place that I have ever left that brought tears to my eyes is Alaska. "Self-Portrait, Smallest", oil on panel, 3"x4", symbolizes the vacuum I felt between the 49th state and my studio a few days after arriving back in Ontario, Canada, thousands of kilometres away.

13 wonderful days were spent in my favourite place, meeting new friends, reuniting with old ones and exploring new territory. My friend Jay and I camped and hiked in Denali National Park and spent lots of time in Fairbanks with my dear friend Ed and other good friends. Once you have friends and a community about you, it endears you even further to that land. It attaches itself to your bones and beckons you to return.. Perusing photos I had taken, a melancholia descended upon me and I knew I had to paint that impression. Could this be seen as melodramatic? Perhaps, but this is how it felt and thus it is the truth, and I had to capture it.

I think that often the smallest paintings can be receptacles for the greatest depth of emotion. These tiny paintings are often studies that depict moments of reflection, of poignancy, of quiet urgency. They are easily missed but if you notice them they challenge you to look away. Perhaps that is what I love about Alaska: it challenges me to look away from it when I am off in other places, working on other projects and exploring other landscapes. And perhaps the North, as a corollary, is where the true allure lies. This is what will take me to Greenland and Norway next year, yes further Arctic adventures are in store! Yet each time I gaze at this little painting I am reminded of the mist that lay low in the valleys of Denali National Park the morning we drove out, of the lone caribou that wandered towards us as we hiked along the park road, or of seeing Mt. McKinley out and perfect in its full glory on that special day. It is a small remembrance of a much larger experience. Here are some photos from that journey to provide context...

Driving towards Cantwell on the Denali Highway

Mt. McKinley, the tallest peak in North America was fully visible that day...

Driving out early in the morning from Denali National Park...6 million acres of beauty..

Technically, I spent a long time on this painting. Longer than I thought I would but the intricacy of the smaller details is what demanded further attention. Yes, I painted with small brushes, whisper-thin at a few hairs wide, but you are only as good as your brushes, in my opinion. You can mix colour with anything but the care taken when applying it is where true patience speaks and accuracy is essential. I enjoyed the lack of white, but mixing and applying variations of pale pumpkin all the way through to angry russets. Painting transitions is always something to pay close attention to: where the jawline recedes into the pillow behind it, where the creases in eyelids or hands all must be considered. Unless I am under a tight deadline, I enjoy this task immensely.

This painting is on wood panel, which adds a bit of weight to it. It is comfortable in the seen here as I dropped the painting off at Abbozzo Gallery in Oakville, Ontario:

I found out that there were clients waiting to see the painting the day before, when I had mentioned I would drop it off...what a wonderful know that people are looking forward to seeing work before it has even dried. Joy!

Speaking of joy, I wish you a wonderful and brilliant day wherever you may be reading this post day I will release a book with photography and paintings together, stitched together from different adventures and the impressions they have left upon me, as well as the beautiful souls encountered on the way.

"Your work is to discover your world and then
with all your heart give yourself to it."


Cathyann said...

Truly a lovely post. Thank you Heather.

jamen ta said...

That will be a wonderful book HH if you put it together. A kind of self-portrait not with paint - but rather weaving a tapestry of the collected images of your life and art - then binding it with cloth and paper - and I imagine different personal thoughts - quotes and experiences.

What you are able to with just "a few hairs wide" of brush is pretty amazing. In my opinion ...

Julie said...

Your "Self-Portrait, Smallest" is lovely, sensitive, and thoughtful. It's also inspiring me to challenge myself to do work larger or smaller than comfortable. Thank you for that. Great post. I always love reading your blog.

Brian Sylvester said...


What a great space you have here! I am happy to have found you. Your work is inspiring to say the very least!

I look forward to your posts.

Take care,

NoOneSpecial said...

Wow, that's an awesome piece. The emotion really shows through even though it is so small. Very well done.

Pattie Wall said...

Your wonderful painting appeared on someone's sidebar..they had visited your blog..not by happenstance, I appear. Glad I did. Remarkable art, poignant poetry and photos. Cool subject matter. I will return to read more!

Heather Horton said...

Thank-you all very much for your positive feedback on the painting and my blog! I really appreciate your thoughts and am so happy that my work has made an impression upon you! Have a joyous day!

Brian Collinson said...

I'm intrigued by your small, wonderfully rich portrait. I was surprised at its size: when I saw the initial photograph, I would have thought that it would have been much bigger. Yet I find it fascinating that you would put it on wood, and so make it so substantial. As the alchemists would say "pars pro toto", the part stands for the whole. I find myself wondering, does the wood of the medium somehow symbolize the greater wood of the Tree of the Self?

I find your descriptions of your process as you paint fascinating. Thank you for your post, Heather!

Heather Horton said...


Many thanks for your insightful comment. Wood as a substance is simply comforting to paint on. I like the tooth/texture of it...Canvas always seems to leave me wanting more while wood, symbolically and literally, is heftier. I like your Tree Of Self analogy!
I am glad you are following my blog. Look for a new post shortly!

Have a wonderful day and thanks again!


r garriott said...

Such a sensitive and lovely self portrait.

Chris MacMinn said...

Is this the picture you based "Towards Fairbanks" on?

I was going to comment on what I saw in that painting, but as I started to write it sounded kind of silly.

But then I saw this, with the road a clear shot to the horizon and the foreground taking prominence, so here goes.

The road curves and disappears into the line of dark trees on the horizon. Are we misled, lost? Our destination is uncertain. But our fears are dwarfed by the resplendent heavens above and we are upheld, knowing all is well.

Heather Horton said...

Chris, yes that was the reference that was behind the creation of "Towards Fairbanks". I like your interpretation of the piece...thanks so much for sharing!