Friday, June 24, 2011

"Diary Of A Supertramp"

"The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no
greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and
different sun. If you want to get more out of life Russ, you must lose your inclination for
monotonous security and adopt a helter skelter style of life that will at first appear to you 
to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning
and its incredible beauty."~Christopher McCandless

"Diary Of A Supertramp", oil on wood, 4"x72", is a painting of the leather belt that Chris McCandless painstakingly handcrafted in 1992 while staying with his friend Russell Fritz. The belt chronicles Chris's adventures from his departure from Atlanta following college graduation in 1990, all the way up to his intended destination, Alaska, marked with an "N" for north. The completion of his odyssey would be his final greatest adventure in the wilderness near Denali National Park

This painting was truly a labor of love. I first saw and held Chris's belt in 2009. It truly is an amazing work of art. His parents and good friends Walt and Billie generously let me use the belt as inspiration for a painting that would be 150% life size. I didn't want to miss a nuance of detail in my rendering of the belt.

I went to Home Depot in Burlington to find my "canvas". My canvas turned out to be a 2x4 piece of pine, 6 feet long, and cost $2.46. I thought Chris might appreciate that. I placed it in my car, ducking my head to avoid it, and went home to begin what would turn out to be a 100+ hour painting. 

I am currently traveling and working away from my studio, BUT I will post more close up photos of the belt painting when I return to Canada in a month. Until then you can see a smaller study of Chris's belt below. "Diary Of A Supertramp (study)", oil on panel, 8"x10", was completed as a test to see if I could paint leather in a satisfying way. The full belt and the study are unusual pieces. I tried to paint in a very detailed manner. I didn't want to lose any information. I wanted to go on the journey with Chris as I painted each piece. 

Each painting was completed starting on the left and moving to the right. I thought it would be interesting to paint it chronologically. I painted "July 1990", a No U-Turn sign, a skull and crossbones with CJM overtop, a two-lane blacktop, a thunderstorm with Chris's Datsun flooded and abandoned, the Pacific Crest Trail, The Sierras and on and on. Chris retells his odyssey on this belt and it is a very special artifact. 

I recently had an exhibition of my paintings inspired by Chris's life in Oakville, Ontario. You can see the belt painting here in the exhibition, "An Aesthetic Voyage: Paintings Inspired By The Journeys Of Christopher McCandless, held at Abbozzo Gallery in Oakville, Ontario." 

I sometimes marvel at the impact that Chris's life and journeys have had on countless people. His courage to explore the unknown with élan and his ideology of less is more really do reverberate on a global level. Even if we do not hitchhike and go as minimally towards the horizon as he did, it is what we distill, what we take away from his words and actions that matter most. Below is another photograph from the exhibition, as well as more paintings that were in the show...

Opening night at Abbozzo Gallery

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

"Chris's Tent, Stampede Trail", oil on canvas, 18"x36"

The belt that Chris carved so meticulously and artistically, is like his photographs in that it is his unique vision. There are no other interpretations, it is simply his life as he lived it fully and completely, recording it for us to see. Look for those close-up photographs of the painting of the belt here in the coming weeks.

When I was in France last fall for a photo shoot, I bought a silver ring at the Rodin Museum in Paris. Inscribed in a pretty script on the ring are the words "Une vie a plein bord" or "A life lived to the brim". I have worn the ring ever since, even out to Bus 142 in Alaska, being pulled by a snowmobile for over 20 miles along The Stampede Trail in March, bundled up, the snow crunching and flying by. When I got off the sled attached to the snowmobile, the ring had been bent from the effort of holding on so tightly as I was pulled over moguls and around sharp curves. I love that it is bent. It is perfect now. A life lived to the brim. I would like to think that Chris would agree with its message too.

"Not all those who wander are lost."~J.R.R. Tolkien

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"Erin, Choices"

"We must make the choices that enable us to fulfill the deepest capacities of our real selves."
~Thomas Merton

I have completed only two paintings away from my regular studio in Burlington, Ontario, Canada....ever. You gets attached to places of creation. The familiar routine, temperature, rituals and ability to fall into a groove of focus tend to be pretty constant in one's regular studio. That is why I came prepared to Omaha, Nebraska. A prolonged working vacation with three canvases in tow to finish while here. "Erin, Choices, oil on canvas, 24"x48" is the first of the three.

I have spoken before about people I paint. They range from new friends to old friends...but an alignment of time and place must work together for a successful photoshoot and painting to take place. Erin, a good friend and yoga instructor, is an old soul. She is one of those friends who possesses the gift of articulation, and that, combined with wisdom, makes for very good conversation. I was thrilled when she agreed to let me paint her and where else to paint her but where she loves to be: a yoga studio.

I have been taking classes at Moksha Yoga Burlington for a year and a half.  The first time I tried hot yoga I loved it. I knew as long as I could get out of bed every morning I would take classes as much as time and budget would allow. Erin teaches there, and Thommy, the owner of Moksha Burlington, let us do a little photoshoot in one of the studios.

I knew from the outset that mirrors and reflection were needed. I love the challenge that a reflected image places upon you, and the metaphorical significance is always enticing. I liked the idea that the mirror might not be instantly noticeable, that you might have to wonder momentarily if she had a twin. Or is it a different version of herself? Why is she looking away from herself and not towards herself? What is she thinking? The idea of a fork in a road, of a set of choices upon choices was the inspiration behind this piece.

I packed the canvas of Erin into my Subaru and headed to Omaha two weeks ago. The drive took me two days, with a brief stopover to visit my friend Joe in Chicago. What an amazing city. I'm more of a country mouse but I have always wanted to experience The Windy City. Though only a pit stop en route to the Midwest, I was impressed.

                                                          A first glimpse at Chicago...

Evening sun setting on West Fulton Market

A brief mention about the drive. The border officials at the Sarnia crossing into Michigan were super nice. I knew I'd have to go to Secondary Inspection given my high threat vocation of being a painter ;) but I duly pulled into a spot while a pair of guards with black latex gloves went through the car and queried me as to the specifics of my voyage. I complied (of course) and we were joking around together after a few minutes. Then I was on my way. Despite tonnes of road kill and highway tolls in Michigan, I was thrilled to be on another adventure. Adventure keeps you young, sharp and fully engaged with the world around you. I highly recommend it.

Joe on the rooftop of his warehouse loft. 

A great end to a great evening in the Windy City.

I will post another blog soon about my continued adventures towards Omaha, and paintings I am working on here. As a painter you need to keep moving, just as you move through your adventures that take you from place to place. But the point is, like a stone that skips across water, to keep grounding yourself with your work, or your passion, or your play. Ground yourself to things that define who you are and you will never become lost.

"Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by, 
and that has made all the difference."~Robert Frost