The maple syruping season certainly started off late from what I have heard... and production was not going to be at record levels. However... the necessary below zero nights and sunny warm days which keep the sap running seem to have fairly consistent for a lengthy time. I had wanted to get out to local bushes to find out, but time simply was not there to do so. Hopefully, I might not be too late to find some still at work... even if only at the cleaning up process to get some first hand facts about this year's run.
Suddenly, my eye caught the shape of the New Moon hanging pale, alabaster and not yet fully transformed... high above Wellsley Island. At that very moment, my mind left the River and I found my thoughts suddenly shifted back into the "sugarin' off " mode again. The moon had always been the trigger which kept dragging me back to this idea. Some "Ideas" simply require more thought and exploration in my own process. One begins to wonder... "Do I have the idea... or ... does the idea have me?" I wonder...
I have certainly played with the "Idea", or concept which draws upon the presence of the moon during the maple syrup months, mainly because night plays in heavily into the activities at shanties. The gather-to-boil operation goes on unceasingly all day and night during the run. In the older method, fires under the pans had to be stoked continuously with hardwood fuel until the product was completed. Then they required dampening down, so that the syrup didn't caramelize and burn. This can occur quickly when the temperature becomes too high or if the syrup is not drawn off soon enough. Sugarin' off is a precise and exacting process and is labour intensive... My "jobs" this week now seem pale in comparison. Shame on me!
I have never spent a night in a shed, but I have talked often to families around Ontario whose members have spent all of their Springs doing so... and usually with a glad heart. Through their reminiscences, I do feel a kind of sense of "being there." It was a unique family time when hard work was tempered by laughter and sharings of countless coffees, teas... or "other" beverages, meals and catching up on life. It was all a part of the sweet maple magic tradition. It was the "gold standard "of that early pioneer economy.
I had hoped to create a large painting this season which drew together a number of previous studies and paintings which I have made over the years, but that will be a story... for another run, I fear! I did make one more study however... which will join the others as "seeds"... to encourage further exploring. I will offer it here, along with the others which form a body of thought... around which that larger work will evolve and come forward... whenever.
Hope that you enjoy this sweet news and views" from the bush"... up here in in the still Great White North!
This wee 5x7 inch memory painting created in February of 2009 is "sweet"... syrupy and just a form of playing around with colour, mood and form. I just push and pull memories from my past into and out of the picture plane. I would call the product simply a "shorthand" note-taking or composite overlay of ideas which "might" work... or not!
Here is an earlier study in a new form of a lino cut about 6x6 inches. It is an extension of the "Idea"... only on this occasion in 2006, my interest has shifted away from the shanty as a whole form and the time of day has shifted to a later hour and the picture format is square. I love the strong feeling of black and white to play with when exploring. I think this strategy harkens back to my early beginnings when ... like most young artists... pencil and paper are the primary tools... and colour is threatening. I feel comfortable in this medium... despite the fact that my technique is truly rudimentary and rough! Many "mistakes"... but the act of play is fun... and the only real goal of the exercise!
At this juncture of my process... I shifted "voices." That is... I left my visual expression and crossed over... easily... and romantically to the "second language"... free verse. I have always enjoyed creating poems or... "voice thoughts", as I refer to them. Sometimes, they follow exact poetic form and even rhyme scheme. But on many more occasions, as is the case when sketching with pencil and paper... they are loose and painterly "etudes"- studies... as is the case with piano practising. Here is that "etude"... shades of "Moonlight Sonata"... HA HA!!
A Sugar Moon
Moonlight falls the length of the maple stand
Guarding all with silence until the return of spring.
Somber silhouettes in the winter night,
Their arms reaching... thrusting ever upward into the inky sky
In the vain hope of capturing the celestial disc.
The now deserted shack sits patiently awaiting
The return of the excited voices of those,
Who pass the long nights
Sharing labour... laughter
And their sugar secrets.
Will they return again this spring perhaps?
Not again... will this shanty fill with sweet smell of sugary steam,
Not again... will the empty pans now left to rust away,
Ever yield another gallon of liquid gold-
This sweet taste of Paradise found here once...is lost... forever!
Back to visual expression... and we arrive at this 7x5 inch nocturnal study done after an evening walk at Sheppard's Bush and Conservation Area in Aurora. The focus on the one end and cupola/ ventilator area of the shed and the time of day are maintained .The treatment is still "shorthand" and note-worthy at best!... Just play!
This 22x18 inch vertically formatted canvas shown below was completed totally in the studio and is based on the note taking and shorthand of the preceding studies. While highly imaginative really, it deals with that feeling of "oneness" in the outdoors... being in touch with the land as our forefathers were. This painting deliberately avoids the presence people and man made objects which might not appear to be in harmony with Nature. The shack itself... made of wood... using the resources of the woods it resides in is unobtrusive and blends with its natural surroundings.
"Sugar Moon at Sheppard's Bush, Aurora, ON" - oil on canvas 22x 18 inches
"Sweet Dreams" - 16x20 inch oil on canvas is yet another take on Sheppard's Bush. Note the shorter shed area and squattier appearance. That was deliberate as well because I was demo-ing to a group from a pen and ink sketch in which the "real " appearance was shown. My message was to leave the well-used path and take ... "the Road Not Taken" approach ! Even the backdrop of fir was changed to further make my point.
This 8x10 inch sketch was last week's study... using a new "Idea" found while trekking en plein air out on the Ridean River region near Newboro. It represents a first push into a new idea. Where will it go???... Who knows. But here is a second run... and further thought about at it completed this week. The joy of making paintings for me comes out of being able to search out new paths leading away from a set direction. The process is indeed a voyage of discovery. The truest pleasure ... is in the voyaging... and not the arrival. For at any destination... there must remain always... the opportunity to "sail" again.
"Out of Service... and Time"- oil on panel 8x10 inches. A jaunty... playful exploration of an idea... which will have its time... whenever...
Good painting!... playing!... and fair sailing!... to ALL!!