Sunday, July 29, 2012

'Alla Prima" .... All the Way!....

My last outing with my plein air class ignited a new-found enthusiasm to just... "let it all hang out" and paint without drawing and on the smaller 5x7 inch  panels toned with burnt sienna acrylic. I always have a stock of these with me when I am am painting en plein air... and customarily use them at the end of a painting session when I am either short on time... or energy... just to extend the day and to push myself to "shoot from the hip". I call these ... "my run-for the sun" paintings... meaning... trying to get another one in before darkness turns the lights out for the day!

The day was hot on Friday... so I elected to paint in our garden... there was plenty of material still around despite the ravaging heat of the previous week. I would follow the pattern I had established in my class demo with the half hour cone flower study... placing the same time constraints and floral subject matter. It was quite simply... painting for the sake of pure pleasure! I think that shows in the three small studies that I managed in that single summertime afternoon. They are what they are... a quick and painterly interpretation of flowers that have given us so much unexpected pleasure here in our new Rockport residence.

I now more fully understand and appreciate why my Mom took such pleasure from .... just "hangin out" tending her lovely gardens which ringed our cottage each year for the duration of the more than forty years that we cottaged at the Narrows. We three  young children were busy swimmin' n' fishin'... exploring... out of sight for days on end... and the cottage was hers alone.... having only the company of our resident great blue heron "Big Bird" and Jenny Wren who returned faithfully each year to a slightly battered birch birdhouse to rear yet another batch of young ones. I think my Mom felt a sense of kinship with "her" in particular... because they... in a way shared parallel journeys in life.

This "quick draw" exercise prepared me for my participation in The 3rd Annual Artists on the Lawn even which our friend, neighbour and landlord (though she hardly acts like one) organizes each year. Shje invites artisan friends... some of which exhibit their wares in her River Shoppe Boutique and Convenience location on the water  from The Andress Boat Works which she and her husband Art own and operate. She invited me to participate by painting on the grounds with the other participants. A good part of the grounds were already covered by tents and tables of exhibitors... so I elected to paint under the wonderful shade of one of the three ancient oaks... and chose a vertical composition that focussed upon the gay... carnival-like atmosphere which lay before me.

I was particularly drawn to the jolly colour of the tents themselves... and more particularly by the presence of a very obvious repeating pattern of triangles that seemed to relate strangely to each other. In took liberties and applied artistic licence (as I always try to) to exchange certain tents to achieve better focus and harmony in the picture. I was careful to initiate the session by making my aim to paint masses of colour "alla prima" to create an overall structure... and sticking with that goal until the very end. I added only a few people... making no effort to refine their detail or presence to make them recognizable. That was not important to me. It was more important to have them set into place as casual...  gestural... as if one stood aside taking in the event bent upon simply watching and enjoying being present. And I was doing just that!

The turn out of visitors to both the site and our Gallery located directly across the street was nothing short of phenomenal! Deb had a steady flow of visitors who expressed their surprise at our new presence in the village. They vowed to return when they had more time... in some cases purchased Deb's fanciful  and unique gift cards and jewellery. I made contacts for two more possible commissions... one of which will certainly come to pass! It was wonderful as well to meet and make "art talk" for the entire day with other local artisans who not only share our passion and journey... but our Home as well!

I sincerely hope that you enjoy these four paintings for what they represent - a setting aside of the sometimes stringent demands we make of ourselves to seek perfection and to make "progress." Often that notion actually works in reverse.... and I'm not the only one who thinks that way. Here is a quote worth remembering... perhaps even tacking to you "To Do" boards in your studios. Gilbert K Chesterton was a renowned English writer, poet and journalist. This quote spoke volumes to "Me" and I believe that this activity supports his claim about "progress":

"The fatal error of progress, which means leaving things behind us, has utterly obscured the real meaning of growth, which means leaving things within us."

What do "You" think???  ... "I" wonder???

Good painting and Happy Summer to ALL!

Get "out there"! Summer's "slip-sidin' away!"

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Beatin' the Heat!... Chillin!

The heat goes on... here in the Islands! Lily pads serve as visual evidence that the strength of the angry sun is continuing to lower the water level in the River. The pads hang in mid air at least four to six inches above the surface of the water where they usually sun bathe coolly for the entire summer.

The Bajan term "chillin'... simply means doin' what one likes best! So our painting group pressed forward... despite all the heat talk and headed... "out there"... plein airing! And the heat dissipated... and dissolved as each... through his or her work entered "the Flow"... that zone where Time an other earthly concerns seem not present. You know what I mean... don't you Gang?

All flowering plants in gardens droop and sag... begging for even a slight evening watering to help them hang on. Corn fields are tasselling up... but the ears show little in the way of kernels or their usual late summer promise of their golden bounty... and long-awaited sweet corn... for summer corn roasts or boils.

Still... my Tuesday morning carried off our weekly get together... determined and undeterred by the fact that the temperature might reach into the low 90s F by midday. I had decided to take the class to my daughter Lisa's lovely home  three kilometres east of Rockport on Kerry Point Road for the outing... knowing that all of our needs could be met... and comfortably so... on her spacious and beautiful property right on the shore of the River.

Here there were ample and abundant possibilities to choose from Still life, floral or landscape subjects were everywhere to paint. There is also ample shade both on and under her long second storey deck. From there one could take advantage of clear vistas of nearby island groupings. Thirdly... there are wash room facilities for the ladies... if required. Men are never short of those facilities when plein air painting... every clump of bush cover provides these amenities! HA HA!!

I decided to demo using my medium of choice... oils, of course and to work on 5x7 inch toned Masonite panels. I offered the challenge to complete two paintings /sketches for this outing. I added that this would be facilitated better... if we focussed upon bypassing the usual drawing part of the painting session at the beginning... and worked "alla prima". So this meant there was to be an alla prima start in oil... water colour and in acrylics.

I described what the term "alla prima" meant... and demonstrated how I could employ that technique in my brief oil demo. I selected a section of a clump of purple cone flower, or purple ecchinacea... cropping and isolating a small area that interested me using my two pointers and thumbs to form a vertical triangular viewfinder. I discussed that I was going to create the image on the panel using only geometric forms and masses to establish my overall rudimentary design.

I completed this within five minutes... emphasizing the need to make distinct and well thought out strokes... taking care not to remove... cover  or change the stroke. The simple "golden rule" for brushwork in oils: "a stroke laid... is a stroke stayed" applies. This prevents overworking the rich colour and reducing it to a (blah) neutral and an unpleasant and impotent effect.... and thereby limiting the chance of the painting's success... or even causing its failure.

I spent another five to ten minutes adding brighter values... creating lost and found edges... balancing... push n' pulling it together to create harmony. Lastly... I offered them an opportunity to take a real "leap of faith"... and to boldly assume complete ownership of the subject... rather than replicating what was before them. I added a bright and carefully placed ....Buttercup????... from my memory... shafts of intermittent blue sky streaks which weren't possible to see when looking down at the cone flower composition... as I had to create it in the first place. What I was offering then... was an entirely new perspective... one challenging the viewer... in your face.... AND FROM BELOW the actual flower group.

The last part of the exercise was to have the group view this painting/sketch from twenty paces away. From there... the obviously interesting composition begged the viewer to come closer to "see" more. Good or bad up close... a well designed and composed painting from the start... is intoxicating to the brain..even from across a room. A poor one gets little more than a look... and hardly serves as an invitation to jump in... or to explore further... and to finally "see" what the artist was attracted to paint.

The second demonstration... this time a horizontal use of the small 5x7 inch panel  format focussed upon a clump of islands and a small cabin just east of Lisa's site. I treated it in the same fashion... and completed the lay in demo (as shown) within five to ten minutes. I offered that I would stop at this particular juncture... take a digital photo to help me finish the painting back in the studio later. I offered to send them a jpeg to follow suit. This is how I often finish up... when time or light forces a hasty retreat! In this final rendering... I left the alla prima mode... preferring to finish in my usual fashion and painting style.

So the day, which indeed was steamy and with a punishing sun... if you tried to stand out in it... was a totally successful day for all! Each of us produced the two paintings... enjoyed each other's company and built an even more pleasurable rapport with other members. Plein air painting has a strange way of expanding one's learning in more than just an artistic way. It is wonderful to find kindred spirits with whom to share one's ideas and journey. Time has a way of getting away from us all. July... is suddenly on the very verge of being swallowed up by an anxious-to-arrive August. Summer seems to be... "slip-slidin' away." In his 1977 pop hit Paul Simon wrote:

"Slip -slidin' away...
Slip-slidin away
You know the nearer your destination the more you're slip-slidin' away."

Many interpretations have been offered for Simon's lyrics here in this song. I'm not certain what he really meant... but to me it suggests that too often we let opportunities and valuable earthly Time slip away from us wastefully. In so doing, we create a deep sense or regret... sadness and in some cases great pain because we know that we could have achieved more... acted better... made more of our Selves than we have done.

In my belief system and experience... it is NEVER too late to recommence our journey from a place where we got off track. True... that the same opportunity and outcome won't in all likelihood ever become what it could have been "way back then"... but there exists a cathartic feeling of worth... and achievement in knowing within your Self that you CAN redeem earlier mistakes.

Granted... raising a family and creating a solid career over a lifetime are indeed art forms in themselves and are  worthy accomplishments on any scale of achievement. But there remains one last question to be answered in my mind. What comes afterward?... or do we just succumb gracefully to age and the end of the rainbow... Autumns of our lives?

"What new purpose can life hold for you?"... is the question! My suggestion is to find some thing - something for which you have... or have always had a passion for. Serve it to the best of your ability. Find others who share your passion and expand each other's life and vision... through that sharing. Choose to leave this earth living... and not dying!

Picasso is quoted as having said:

"Man's only task in Life... is to find himself."

I can guarantee you that in achieving that knowledge and understanding of one's Self... one discovers the true meaning of Peace and Contentment. "I" am deeply blessed... to have found my own True/Authentic Self... and in so doing I found "Another"... who loves and values that Self as much as her own. And I have learned to love and be proud of that Self as well!

I wish you the same journey of Discovery... Happiness and Adventure! One equal in dividends to my own!

"Berry Island... one in a Thousand!" - an oil sketch on toned Masonite panel 5x7 inches

The 5-10 minute lay in version.... unfinished

The digital reference to aid in finishing

"Summer... At a Quick Glance" - oil sketch on Masonite panel 5x7 inches

Good Painting and Happy Summer to ALL!!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Stiil Under Water Power!

As we had agreed during the class last Tuesday... I would teach using water colour on the next occasion so that all of us would be on the same page in terms of technique and conditions to work under. I mentioned that my own preference was to marry water colour with pen and ink for my drawing part of the exercise.

At luck would have it... the day turned out to be the hottest and most humid thus far this hot summer. Thank heavens for the steady breeze near the water at least... and the shade of the tree elders who line the banks of the River on Wendy and Art Merkley's Marine business property. We had the choice of painting either inside the numerous boats slips completely covered and sheltered from the fierce sun ... complete with picturesque portals... or... under the shade of the numerous trees lining the shore behind the slips. All chose the latter and focussed on an interesting subject which combined a man made object... Eugene Johnston's  veteran river work boat in concert with a backdrop of island landscape.

I demonstrated how to launch into the selected subject... beginning with a light  and sketchy rendering in pencil... with the objective in mind to "explore' the form and structural composition and design... rather than trying to draw with an eye to making a finished line drawing. In short... one could refer to the outcome as purely a gestural drawing at that stage. Then one could advance the quality of the drawing with an eye to a more finished line rendering.

Some folks only wished to use pencil or ink a;lone for the day's class... which was okay by me. I could address unique problems and differences as they arose... based upon individual need and medium. When all were reasonably along or finished this task... I had the group encircle me to watch how I applied the water colour... in washes... moving from lightest forms or planes to darkest... using flat brushes of about 3/4 inch or less/// then using about a # 3 round to add in additional stronger colour into the washes when desired.

 "The Rockport Group of 4"... under the oaks... and hard at it!

 Don and Wilf... heavy into it!

 Mary... an "Eagle"... soaring... pencil and sketchbook in hand!

 Robin... an "Island Girl"  (Hill to be exact).... dippin' n dabbin' her way joyously thru' summer!

 Eugene Johnston's Ageless Rockport Work Boat... on shore leave  watercolour on paper

The Uncle Sam River Boat ... out of A-Bay, NY... cruising past

Once that I was happy with the colour...  flatly placed, I allowed about ten minutes for drying then added some ink and colour details here and there to punch up the overall finished look of the sketch. I demonstrated how to play with the surface of the water... grabbing interesting shapes and passages rather than trying to duplicate the constantly changing surface. Simplify and caricature the water patterns... while varying the green... blue and multi-coloured dashes and glimmers of the small wavelets surrounding the craft. That keeps the overall e rendering fanciful and painterly looking.

All enjoyed the day... learned some new techniques... enriched newly-forged friendships... lazed away a warm summer day on the magnificent St Lawrence River...... while other unfortunates chugged along on their daily gerbil wheels. Does it get any better? I think not! Here are some photographic memories of our experience to share with you... wherever you are!

Wherever y'all are... Good Painting...and Happy Summer!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Back... to my Watercolour Ways

My introduction to painting dates back to my early public school days where pencil or crayon on manilla paper were the normal and only art fare in most classrooms. If one was lucky... a rare and brave teacher would break out the few tempera pans of solid primary colour... a battered  and too well used brush or two to push onto a brilliant white piece of 12x 18 inch cartridge paper. It was there... where my water colour journey first began!

I was blessed to have a family who provided me with other mediums to experiment with. I received more than a few paint-it-by-number kits with seascape and mountain motifs as Christmas gifts... and one set which I fondly remember... and truly particularly enjoyed painting... was a pair of pointers hunting pheasants. I really didn't cotton on to the idea of following numbers and not mixing my own colours... in the very same way that I truly detested colouring books... where the best most parents expect from their children in terms of accomplishment... is to "stay within the lines."... hardly an accomplishment for me.

I remember my first set of water colours made in Germany... one with an assortment of fifty hues that left rich... grainy stains of colour... which even then... excited my 10 year old senses! It came at Christmas to me from my Mom's sister Dorothy and her husband Don along with a HUGE pad of unblemished and virgin white watercolour paper... just for me! Needless to say... I paid little attention to any of the other Christmas gifts and soon had a crop of paintings to show about. That white "paper power" is something that I still treasure to this very day... and as well in my classrooms. God help the care-less young soul who crumpled up such a luxury and headed up to get another. All that such a person could expect... from a man who first painted on cereal and shirt boxes and "recycled" butcher paper... was a bit of "hot tongue and cold shoulder"... at best... along with an introduction to the waste paper basket and a lesson in  rescuing a crumpled sheet of drawing paper!

This said... let's skip along to the point in my life where I painted... ONLY in water colour. My teachers were Andrew Wyeth... AJ Casson... John Pike... Henry Gasser... Zoltan Zsabo... Franklin Carmichael... just to name a few. I went to their teaching classrooms and  conducted my own private lessons with them ... in books. Basically... I have thrived best in my searching and journey through this method of "study... copy and extend." It means simply... that "I" ... am the sum total of the works and artists that I have admired along the way... and I do not apologize for that statement. The simple truth is... that all new art... was once old... that nothing is new... but is merely re-translated. The world has truly produced very few "monuments" in the arts... mostly a lot of sheep like us ... who merely follow!

I painted solely in the water colour medium for almost twenty years and had a successful reputation and career using it. I even did some free lance work for Harrowsmith and Equinox magazines on occasion. I totally enjoyed everything about the medium... EXCEPT... that it could not be used outside in the colder months. That meant here in Canada... it was only viable as a medium for six months at best for outdoor painting. So I switched back to oils... and that brings us to current times. I prefer oils for this very strong reason. I love and prefer to be outdoors painting... and love the texture and smell of the oil paint!

However, as you have found out... I do still "dabble" with watercolour when I travel. It is portable... passes through customs easily and is a self-contained kit that requires little or no searching for additional materials while on the road or in the field. I find it useful to incorporate it with pen and ink... which provides a stronger sense of line... contrast and texture. In previous posts resulting from field work completed during my trips abroad to Scotland and the Barbados demonstrates the effectiveness of this combination of the two mediums.

In readiness for the next teaching session coming up on Tuesday... I have completed this little "prep" piece to introduce the process to the class participants. It is a recognizable and distinctly Thousand Islands motif and I feel it is crisp... colourful... while at the same time maintaining a loose and painterly approach. I feel that it is pleasing to the eye. I will also demonstrate using water colour only during the one hour lunch break to show water colouring in its "purest" sense. Should be fun!

I have selected three possible locations for the outing. The rest is up to the group! I'll simple become a resource and an encourager. The rest lies with each of them!

Stay tuned!...
Good summer Painting to ALL!!!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

"Summertime... and the livin' is easy".... En Plein Air!!!

That mouthful of George Gershwin Porgy and Bess lyrics which open the summer anthem Summertime" never had more meaning than on Tuesday last. I had a group of aspiring artists out on location on the Old Rockport Road... away from the whirlwind of activity and throngs of visitors on the Rockport waterfront.

I chose this location for that very reason. It removed the possibility of intrusion... distraction and intimidation which new-by plein airists often suffer from. This "stage fright" can lead to an unpleasant first experience which has driven many a first timer high tailing it back to studio cover. The location offered quiet.... and SHADE for the entire painting session... another situation which can punish and discourage.

I chose a subject which (in my own judgement) best provided an uncomplicated motif to work with. There was indeed room for individual interpretation and preference... but the subject possessed all of the necessities for a solid painting/sketch. There was good lighting... colour... contrast between darks and lights and just enough detail to avoid fussiness.

I had beforehand agreed to to demonstrate my method of setting up... laying out my palette... and to briefly outline my decision-making process with regard to format and laying in. I decided to use a vertical format on a 12x9 inch (1/8 inch thickness) Masonite panel toned with a burnt sienna acrylic ground. I demonstrated how I used the digital camera to guide me in cropping a composition possibility. I then put away the camera and launched into the painting process.

I laid in a rough line "map" of the house to begin... making certain to keep it out of the centre of the panel. I painted very rapidly... laying in dark green masses around the house framework... emphasizing the fact that one shouldn't aim for exactness. These shapes would all be subject to much change in colour, shape and value as the work progressed. I added higher values of green in the middle ground where more light was evident.,, and added more darks to the foreground where the light diminished.

First of all, I maintain that years of outdoor painting and architectural study of Ontario architecture reveals that significant changes have been made to centrally planned Ontario this farm house.There is no question that these changes are more functional and better suit the house to current need. However, the new result may not be as aesthetically pleasing... in pure picture-making terms. I encourage them to "own" the painting from here onward... undertaking to choose the elements that best support a pleasing picture. Be brave!

 The "Three Brushketeers"... Mary... Robin and Don... really into it!

My lay in with the subject in the distance. Note the lack of any fussiness at this critical part of initial structure and composition.

I noted the very strong importance of getting the lighting conditions right at this juncture... and to make a decision to follow those initial decisions right through to the end of the painting session. Lighting will change drastically within two hours. Any attempt to follow this change will result in confused lighting effects that can ruin a good piece of work. If necessary, one can easily take a digital photo for future studio reference to work out a section of the lighting challenge... to capture it when it is most dramatic.

 My lay in and the discussion  together last about one half hour. They then set to work... each in his or her own medium. I agreed to complete my lay in during another half hour period... while they ate lunch. AS they worked, I managed to move about to each participant offering suggestions... answering concerns... and offering encouragement as they required it.

During the closing our of my own lay in I did an "about face." That is... I never again looked directly at the subject for detail or further support. I explained that years of painting on location... in all conditions and seasons builds a much stronger visual memory which isn't reliant upon actual information... other than to start the process. In this way... most every painting becomes a self-guide adventure rather than an act of mere copying what lies in front of you.

All of the participants enjoyed the camaraderie and the opportunity to learn new strategies to equip them to paint en plein air. All remarked how much more free they felt... being outdoors for inspiration and with new strategies to help them simplify the complex subject they face before them. All achieved... and learned to paint without fear or trepidation... using new strategies which they can use... even when working alone. I marvelled at the how quickly their initial uncertainty and reticence melted away... and how quickly each entered... "The Flow!"
 Robin... on "Horizontal Hold"... water colouring her way around the house in the early stages

 My long time good Friend... Mary (of the Wilf  n' Mary trip to share Vincent)... with her "right -in-your-face" frontal attack on the subject

"No fear Don"... layin' er down with the panache and confidence of a pro!

These shots... over the shoulder views of each of them intently at work. Happy souls... living fully ... in "The Now!"

Here is the final state of my vertical lay in. During the last half hour of painting, I asked them to suggest interesting details... not necessarily in my picture plane that might be of help to me in finishing. Orange day lilies were one of those suggestions offered... and don't they add a bright touch to that middle ground? I also added some dashes/short strokes of stronger darks and lights to the grasses across the panel to create punch in the grasses. Pushin n' pullin is how I refer to it!

It was a wonderful and most enjoyable day and experience for us all... a day spent in God's Great Greenhouse! We meet again next Tuesday for session #2... and this time... "under another flag"... a pure watercolour day for all, including moi! We will also be adding another member to the "Troupe of Four". Wilf Eagle ... Mary's partner in crime will be joining us with his pen and ink kit. Should be another day... in Paradise... another blast! Wish that you could join us!

Stay tuned for episode #2...

Good painting and Happy Summer top ALL!!!

"Swaddled in Summer Greens" - oil on  Masonite panel 12x9 inches

Monday, July 9, 2012

A Summer Reflection... "Now and Then"... or... "Let there be Light !"

Summer offers a wonderful time to reflect... to look back... to recall other summers and events which enrich one's journey. I enjoy this mainly  through meeting people who drop into our Gallery... but often... I just enjoy recollections from my own mind's eye for the pure joy of being alone..." in a good place." It is ... in this "good place" where much of my creative spirit archives Ideas... both old and new. It is here where I merge and play with them to formulate new directions for my work.

I had a lady visitor and her husband  from Napanee area visit us at our new Paint Box Gallery home in Rockport. She was particularly taken with a Prince Edward county lighthouse piece entitled "Pulling in Winter", an oil on canvas measuring 12x30 inches. While she really liked the piece, she lamented that the space she had in mind for a light house painting was just not large enough to support the width of that  painting. I gave her a brief history of the lighthouse... located ironically, very close to her own home town in nearby Prince Edward County.

The ensuing conversation we had dredged up my complete disrespect for government agency (in)action to help preserve remaining Ontario light house structures. They hold title... but refuse to maintain or release them to the public. They are simply allowed to fall into complete disrepair... and to moulder into oblivion. Such is the plight of so many wonderful heritage sites across this province.

Atfer hearing of the history of Prince Edward Point Light...  Point Traverse Light... or "The Red Onion" ... as it was dubbed because of its striking red lantern house atop its 31 foot tower, she asked if  might be persuaded to do something with it in a 16x20 inch format. I jumped at that opportunity simply because I had wanted to attempt my own "virtual renovation" of the site... by doing some research and applying artistic licence to come up with a new slant on an old idea. It was 1981... when I last visited Point Traverse and two major watercolours came pout of that foray. I was a pure water colourist working with a high realism interest.

So I thought that it would be a nice opportunity to "fly by the seat of my creative britches" and just have an afternoon of research and  play at the easel... both activities that I find highly pleasurable! The research reveals that the light was built in 1881, serving continuously until  being decommissioned and replaced by an electric light in 1941. It is a wooden structure with a pyramidal tower 31 feet high. The lantern room has been removed leaving only the wooden structure consisting of the tower and the adjoining keeper's dwelling area intact, For a time it was leased by Parks Canada to The Kingston Field naturalists to conduct seasonal migration studies and banding operations on migratory songbird and waterfowl. It is considered a major bird and wildlife region.... comparable in conservation value to Point Pelee on Lake Erie... yet it remains lonely... derelict and for the most part forgotten despite its navigational and conservation heritage value.

So Linda ____ , of Napanee... this one's for you my dear! Thank you for the inspiration- it was a fun project and I'm pleased with the outcome. Get back to me at (613) 659- 3925... if it catches your eye as well. No strings atttached as I indicated during our afternoon chat. But as I assured you... you have... "first right of refusal"!

I have include jpegs which well illustrate the "Now and Then". Every now and then... each of us should look back over our shoulder to see how and where our path way has led us to the Now. Perhaps... it might just shape something to help shape our... or someone else's Tomorrow!

"The Way Things Were... at Point Traverse Light" - oil on canvas 16x20 inches
"Red Onion" lantern room offering light and safety to Great Lakes mariners through these treacherous... storm and shoal-laden waters.

" Pulling in Winter" - oil on canvas 12x36 inches.
Reflects the presence of fall migrating Canada Geese heading southward... just ahead of winter' harshness!

This is "a back in the good ol' days" watercolour sketch dating back to 1981.
It best reflects the present derelict.... neglected condition and forgotten state of this wonderful piece of Canadian Maritime History!

Good Painting and Happy Summer to ALL!!!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Afterthoughts.... After Van Gogh

Strange... how disoriented one can feel... even in the face of great joy and deep personal satisfaction! Yet that was exactly my feeling during our day with Van Gogh in Ottawa... and up until yesterday. My brain raced in the presence of the galleries filled with images and the words that were offered to guide your journey through the exhibition. The experience was not unlike that same feeling of visual overload that I have felt while painting in Algonquin Park... immersed in a sea of raw... raucous colour ... everywhere you look. It is simply... too much to take in. Every neuron and synapse in my brain seems to be firing simultaneously... every muscle twitching... so much so, that painting becomes almost painfully uncomfortable.

Certain music has the very same effect on me. I am absolutely overcome in the presence of genius. Examples the readily flood to mind are the music of jazz genius Django Reinhardt... anything from the classical genius of Antonio Vivaldi... and of course the Canadian songwriter and folk icon, Gordon Lightfoot. No matter the genre... genius is genius and very quickly displaces mediocrity. What allows certain individual's efforts to soar so far beyond their time and last for countless succeeding generations? Certainly  not gimmickry... or worse still... mimicry. Those persuasions are most always short-lived because the public at large themselves are restless in their own search for new experiences and change.

I was listening to a recent CBC morning radio interview with a renowned Spanish guitarist asking him how he was first drawn into this very complex musical form. He attributed his lifetime of interest and striving to hearing one piece of music by jazz genius Django Reinhardt when he was only a journeyman novice aged nineteen years. He described that event as being pivotal in his life's work simply because Reinhardt's music "spoke" to him in a "hidden language"... and that this language merely deepened his desire to gain further knowledge and understanding of it, enabling him to excel and move ahead to his current standard. He mentioned that every listening and every note reveals new insight and inspiration.

I asked myself, "Could that hidden language aspect in music also apply and be present in other art forms such as visual art and literature?" Could that be the element which draws me and so many others to admire and feel something special about an artist such as Van Gogh... or Andrew Wyeth... or Bernini... or Pollock? Could it also be that the individual artist finds a device in what he experiences and develops it as a conduit through which he passes language which might not be heard as such by everyone... but rather only those who respond to the resonating visual imagery.

The success of any kind of artist is dependent upon an ability to translate "the ordinary" which he or she perceives into a universally understood structure or composition based upon forms, lines,light, shade and colour.The addition of personalized elements such as brushwork in the case of Vincent further advance a stronger sense of language to the viewer's eye...  just as Django's rhythms and fiery finger work appeal so strongly to the ear. Whether the stimulus is visual or auditory, it remains that the information be internalized... felt and interpreted emotionally. There exists then a conversation that is deeply felt and personal.

Van Gogh struggled unsuccessfully during his entire life time for acceptance. His personal search for meaning in his own oeuvre was relentless and feverish... and just as painful as his personal search for inner peace and happiness. It would be his connection to the Natural World in France in the 1886-1890 through flowers at first and then the landscape that he finally found some semblance of peace and as he related to his brother Theo in a letter: "I feel I have a raison d'etre! I know that I could be quite a different man!... There's something within me." It is that "something within" that he felt that carries through his work right up until his untimely and tragic end that we all feel and appreciate. The energy of his almost manic brushwork ... stong sense of light.... rich colour and child like simplicity all contribute to making his work appealing.

One can learn a great deal from Van Gogh's painting style and his life. In viewing his work "Up Close" as one could at this exhibition.... you can see a constant state of experimenting that began as all art instruction must... whether through classes, or by individual study and constant practice with drawing from life. One thereby gains a necessary vocabulary of techniques involving perspective, values, and solid draughtsmanship of a host of subjects.

 His painting study began with the use of floral still life... as it did for so many of us as beginners. The lack of movement and the ability to structure simple compositions helps one gain confidence and experience and at the same time some time working with colour to help develop a palette.

The leap then is into the outdoors where more complex patterns and compositions can be found and interpreted. In looking at Van Gogh's studies one can see the dark tonal palette of respected European painters of his early search suddenly be replaced by the exuberance and brighter colours that were emerging as a result of Impressionists  active in Paris. While their findings are indeed interesting to him for a short time... you can readily see that their findings did little more than ignite this "feeling within" to create a unique vocabulary totally his own.No matter the genre... Van Gogh's work is perhaps the most easily recognized from across a room than all other painters.

On this Canada Day weekend, I completed a canvas 30x24 inches which celebrates my own special Eden... The Thousand Islands and  in "the manner of " Van Gogh perhaps. But other Canadians would also note the similarity to Emily Carr, a Western Canadian woman artist who like Van Gogh was a contemporary...  a rebel... an innovator... a non-conformist... a social misfit from a very respectable family background. There are endless comparisons  which can be rightly drawn between the two. But what makes their journey so similar... is that they had a vision... an "inner feeling" to which they dedicated their entire lives.

AJ  Casson, a respected member of the Canadian Group of Seven once said:

"Time is the only critic." And in the case of both... their time has passed, but their legacy of rich paintings will forever continue to inspire painters like myself to strive... to struggle...  to sacrifice and to listen to one's own heart... in an effort to simply find our True Selves... and peace through our painting!

"An Island Song of Joy" - oil on canvas 30x24 inches

Good painting to ALL!!... and a very Happy Fourth of July to my American neighbours and Friends