Saturday, July 5, 2014

"Self-Portrait, Fugue"

  1. 1.
    a contrapuntal composition in which a short melody or phrase (the subject) is introduced by one part and successively taken up by others and developed by interweaving the parts.
  2. 2.
    a state or period of loss of awareness of one's identity, often coupled with flight from one's usual environment, associated with certain forms of hysteria and epilepsy.

It's important to take note of unusual words encountered in a small period of time. Spoken or written, you see patterns. Recently the beautiful word 'fugue' came up twice in 24 hours. I was in the process of painting the portrait at the bottom of this blog post (and on the far right of the image above) and all of a sudden I knew what the piece would be called. 

The sooner we realize that nothing ever is permanent, the happier we will be....change is inevitable, the only true constant. Our mental states are often as tempestuous as a sudden snow squall. Our grip on sharp thoughts and clear focus may take a long while to become unstable, but when it does, we can spiral into a fugue state. 

This is my sixth "cathartic" self-portrait. The main reason for painting these self-portraits is I want to capture what it is to be bereft, or broken-hearted. There is an energy there, and a potential for creativity that is important to listen to, watch and learn from. I plan 99% of my paintings but when you will become unhelmed you must seize the moment and paint it.

So with each of these portraits I have examined, to my fullest capacity, the tumult and subsequent shift toward healing. These portraits are some of the only ones where the subject is looking directly (in some cases) at the viewer. It is an invitation in these paintings to look closer, to hold the gaze, and not look away, as we are often tempted to do when someone is upset.

This portrait is small, 4"x4"...there is a joy found in the small, revelatory pieces like this...just as a diamond jeweler looks through a loop, energy is condensed and the mind can focus on a tiny peek into itself on canvas.

I cherish these little paintings. They are certainly my most personal pieces. They mark where the only place to go was up, like filling your lungs and rising up out of the darkness, to not succumb but to break the surface and keep swimming.

"Self-Portrait: Fugue", oil on panel, 4"x4"

"Creativity comes from accepting that you're not safe, from being absolutely aware, and from letting go of control. It's a matter of seeing everything -- even when you want to shut your eyes." - Madeleine L'Engle

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Three Blue Eggs & the Importance of Listening

"Blue One", watercolor, 4"x4".

"As far as I'm concerned there are only three mystical places in the world: the desert just outside Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Tree of Life in the Arab Emirate of Bahrain, and the restaurant at the corner of Sunset and Crescent,
 because that's where I first met her and that's where I first touched her."~L.A. Story

What you listen to while you paint is very important. Whether it be music, audiobooks or films, what enters your ears as you concentrate on creative output directly effects the result. Now, I'm not saying you need to listen to "Citizen Kane", "Lawrence Of Arabia" or "Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance" to do good work. All that matters is that what you listen to moves you, or keeps you at peace, or inspires you, or fires you up. Whatever makes you do the best work possible is key. I remember many years ago listening to a biography on Ernest Shackleton while I painted a self-portrait, while more recently I listened to "No Country For Old Men" while painting "Figure, Perched", a portrait of my friend Gayle. There are certain films and TV shows which I return to a lot, because of the dialogue, or the soundtrack, or simply the way it makes me feel.

It has been over 15 years since I've watched 'L.A. Story'. I remember loving it when I was younger, laughing at Steve Martin's writing, and of course his acting. He's a terrific writer, and clearly a romantic like myself. Plus he's a Shakespeare fan, and there's lots of 'Hamlet' references in the film, which I had forgotten about. An added bonus. So for a bit of nostalgia and laughter I decided to put on 'L.A. Story' today while I did these last two robin's egg paintings. If you haven't seen the film, see it. It's silly and funny and a terrific satire on L.A. culture. Included in this post are my favourite quotations from the film. 

So, to the robin's egg paintings. I found this little egg while out running along the Millennium Trail here in Whitehorse, Yukon last week. I ran past it at first, but then 20 feet further along the path I stopped, turned back and gently picked it up in my hand, examining it. There was no evidence of a bird around, so that gave me hope for wherever he/she may be now. I marveled at the indescribable ice-warm blue of the egg, and wondered about having the instinct and courage to break free at last from something so small, to emerge from one world into another. I cradled it in my hand and continued my run, knowing if I opened my hand too much it would catch the air and most likely break below on the asphalt. I made it home with the shell and took some photos. These painting are the result. 

"Blue Two", watercolour, 4"x4"

"'Ordinarily I don't like to be around interesting people because it means I have to be interesting too.' 
'Are you saying I'm interesting?'
'All I'm saying is that when I'm around you I find myself showing off, which is the idiot's version of being interesting.'"~L.A. Story

I knew I wanted to do a very simple painting of the I took out my watercolour set which I had recently taken to The Lake District in England with me. Each watercolour painting took under half an hour, and required a steady hand. Watercolour is hard. It hates being told what to do. It is a fierce taskmaster of a medium. I respect it, and find it a challenge. You can't slap watercolour paint down on paper and push it around like you can with oil paint...the paper would pill and the paint would turn to mud. Instead you have to use water and pigment carefully, set your tone down and WAIT. 

"Blue Three", oil on panel, 4"x4"

"So there I was jabbering at her about my new job as a serious newsman, about anything at all, but all I could think was 'wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful and most wonderful and yet again, wonderful."~L.A. Story

The two watercolors were fun and scary to pick up something you remember yet forget, yet know you will remember once was like reuniting with an old friend: a bit of small talk and then right back to business, back to ease and comfort, back to the familiar patterns which formed your friendship in the first place. 

The oil painting at the end was fun to do. I had a little wood panel and slathered on the gesso yesterday....I MAY have forgotten to sand off the gesso in the excitement to get painting, but so be it. SO BE IT :) I like it for the fact that I didn't see the forest because I couldn't wait to get into the trees. 

With words or music in our ears while we paint, I think different synapses fire, or some sort of alternate neurological reaction happens. I don't know what it is but I know that years later, I can remember the exact programs I listened to while painting. Oliver Sacks would have an answer for why...but I'm content to not know just keep painting and living and dreaming and living the dream. 

"All I know is on the day your plane was to leave if I had the power I would turn the winds around. I would roll in the fog. I would bring in storms. I would change the polarity of the earth so compasses couldn't work, so your plane couldn't take off."~L.A. Story

Sunday, January 19, 2014

"Emilie, Takhini North", and An Inaugural Snowshoeing

"We must let go of the life we have planned,
 so as to accept the one that is waiting for us."~Joseph Campbell

Even before darkening the doorway of The Yukon Territory I began making friends. Through past housesitting/hiking stints in the Territory, as well as via social media and friends in Ontario, I was excited to connect with people here. Emilie is one such friend. 

This painting resulted from a walk up in a subdivision of Whitehorse called Takhini North. It is amazing how our brains remember subtle topographies. In large urban areas we naturally remember buildings or man made structures to orientate ourselves within a space. Up here, there are a few buildings, yes, but natural structures vastly outweigh those built with human hands. Mountains have faces as well as people, and many folks have seen this painting and said "I know exactly where that is!"

Emilie had recently picked up this amazing blue coat at Unity Clothing here in Whitehorse. The intense, cobalt-blue hue was instantly appealing, especially in contrast with her amazing red hair. 

This was the first portrait I completed after moving to Whitehorse. It is 30"x40", a good size, oil on canvas. My gallery in Toronto, Abbozzo Gallery, has it now. It is on display currently if you wish to see it in person. Looking at images on a small scale is deceptive, especially when it comes to art. One needs to step closer to a painting to really see the "guts" of the thing, to see how an artist makes the work what it is. I paint very thinly, so I utilize directionality in brushwork to add structure and depth. Up close it is easier to see the subtleties. 

I have been in the Yukon Territory for four months now. Four months to let my bones settle into this place. The people are as warm as the temperatures are cold. There is community, and resiliency, and pride. I am proud to call The Yukon home. I can understand how city mice can be unhelmed by the quiet, by the space, by the solitude. It does force you to become better acquainted with the vagaries of your heart and mind. It does invite introspection...and it does so in spades. After living in a suburban environment up until now, with only periodic, bucolic adventures, it is a bit overwhelming at times. It is good. It is an opportunity to learn and find peace within the abundantly quiet moments. 

Recently I went snowshoeing here outside of town with some friends. I had never snowshoed before, and we did a 21km trek out near Fish Lake. It was great fun. Brisk, at -15ÂșC that day, but we kept moving and worked up a little sweat. Above, Greg takes off into the dawn. 

I took my trusty Arc'teryx Altra pack with me on this snowshoe. This pack has gone with me on treks in The Yukon, Iceland and The Faroe Islands. It's light, and a good size for an overnight hike or a long day hike. Here's a link: Arc'teryx Altra 48 L

The trek was a gradual uphill for the first 5km, then a slow but continuous descent for the majority of it. It made for some nice views. We passed a few cross country skiers and their dogs. People up here love to be out in the elements. And who wouldn't? 

The sun came out in the last half hour of the snowshoe. There is so little pollution up here that light is not hindered by anything. It is intense, and vibrant, and there are colours that practically glow in even the quietest shadows. The blues are so luminous it defies belief. I am fortunate to be here, to have no departure date, to dwell amongst the mountains, finally :) 

Have a beautiful day,


“I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. . ."~Henry David Thoreau