Saturday, July 26, 2014

Using Memories... as Painting Tool - A Two Act Play

This post is dedicated to my longtime musical pals Jivin' Johnny Philips and his lovely wife Carol of Midland, Ontario. Without your love... your friendship and your music... I could not have survived to paint these pictures... or to write this blog. Bless you both Badgers!

"Every man's memory is his private literature."
- Aldous Huxley, English Novelist


I have discovered over the years that there is so much more to "painting" than the simple act of getting the right perspective.... values... colour or capturing the scene before you if you are painting en plein air. The same can hold true if you are painting in the studio. Painting "pretty pictures" is something any artist can accomplish with practice and study... in any genre one would choose to paint in.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have struggled to address a long past due commission... but found myself withering at the prospect of having to deal with a mess of now almost meaningless photo reference images to begin to piece together in my mind... the panoramic view necessary to create the design which the client desired. The short of this sad tale... I was stuck... and finding every reason in the garden... wherever... to avoid the task. The clock has been ticking.

I managed to regain my painting momentum... and courage... with three plein air treks with two painting pals. Stay tuned... and I will post the results of the other two after this post which jumped ahead in my queue of "to dos". I feel compelled to share my wandering path over the past weeks... if for no other reason... to offer credible proof and support for my thoughts in the introductory paragraph of this post. Bear with me!

Two weeks ago, Deb and I were offered a pair of free tickets for an evening at The Thousand Islands Playhouse in nearby Gananoque to attend a performance of the multi-award winning play "Jake's Gift". Both Deb and I were at first reticent about attending... but the critical review on the Playhouse web site piqued my interest, so we decided to have an evening out on the town... a rarity for us in our busy summer season.

The Play House Theatre comprises of a larger Springer Theatre for major productions and a second smaller Fire Hall Theatre... suited for smaller audiences offering more intimacy and contact with the players. Ironically, The Play House was once the home of The Gananoque Canoe Club which was the site for Teen Club dances where my high school chums and I danced the summer nights away... pressed sweaty cheek to sweaty cheek for the "slow ones"... with those lovely Gananoque girlfriends we each had and adored. Mine was simply... Mary.... and could we cut a mean rug together ... jivin' to"Wild Weekend" by the Buffalo Rebels and  all the hits performed by local heroes Brian Onley and the Monarchs from Kingston.

The smaller venue was the perfect setting for "Jake's Gift". We could almost touch Julia Mackey, the play wright and the sole member of the cast. This gifted artist brilliantly and seamlessly shifted from each of the four personas to the other... never losing the tempo of this poignant legacy of remembrance.

Isabelle, the precious but witty old "soul child"... we've all met those encounters a curmudgeon-y, gruff and grumpy old veteran of WW II, Jake...  who is attending the 60th Anniversary of Juno Beach in Normandy. He comes seeking to make peace with himself... and to visit for the first time in 60 years... his brother Chester's grave... before Time has its way with him,  as it has with nearly all of the veterans who served in that conflict.

Along the way, Mackey injects Isabelle's straight-laced Grandmaman... a woman survivor of this epic event, but who lost her husband to the Germans in that same tragedy. Further along in this encounter... enters a high school teacher who has brought a group of band students from Hamilton to participate in the celebration and to visit the vast Canadian cemetery at Beny-sur-mur... where 2048 Canadian casualties during that campaign are interred.

Through vivid insights into the memories and dreams these four characters, Mackey constructed a deep and inner private appreciation of "gifting"... the need for gratitude and remembrance and for "Me"... a confirmation of my belief that as an artist, I must continually search for new projects which go beyond making "pretty pictures".

If you possibly find yourself in an area where Julia's play is playing, I can promise you an evening which will move you tears... swell your heart with pride... and your head to dream new dreams.

Julia... I have long had a desire to visit Normandy and these cemeteries on my "bucket list". However... sadly, it would seem... that this will not likely occur. But because of your brilliance as both a writer and a performer... I was at Juno Gananoque, Ontario... for one brief hour on Thursday, July17th. That defies normal time, space and perspective. The wonder of art... and perfect artistry.I laud and thank you Julia for fulfilling that journey with a memorable evening of theatre.

Beny-sur-mur Cemetery, Normandy. The graves in this vast war dead cemetery is fully maintained by French school children like Isabelle... one grave being that of Chester, brother of Jake. Such a powerful and perfect simile to create a personal act of remembrance... on a stage so very far away.

This small oil painting titled "Where have All the Flowers Gone" was created as my own personal act of remembrance of a young life lost in faraway Afghanistan. Captain Matthew Dawe was a hockey and school chum of my son Andrew. The painting includes a beloved Marine Corp Band Trumpeter from my boyhood... lilacs from the village of Barriefield where Matt and Andrew attended school together... and where Frank and I painted so many plein air paintings together. The other props speak for themselves. The painting is a "universal"- it transcends any need to explain meaning. Its construct... goes well beyond simple reality.

Captain Matthew Dawe... puts a face on each Remembrance Day for our family and those who admired him for his service and leadership... and for his ultimate sacrifice. Never forgotten Matt!

The painting now is in the hands of Matt's Wife Tara and son Lucas... and a facsimile larger giclee of the painting hangs at Matt's Alma Mater in the Band Room at Yeo Hall, The Royal Military College in Kingston,ON... commemorating his sacrifice and presence at RMC. 

There are many ways to serve... and as insignificant as you might think your own contribution / voice might seem in the overall scheme of things.. your thoughts... and actions using your own artistic expression count .
Art matters!!!

Lest we forget....


"Music is a warehouse for your memories."

Last evening we were again gifted with a brace of tickets for an evening out at The Brockville Arts Centre... in my early childhood and growing up years... The Regent Theatre. "Back in the day"... kids ruled every Saturday afternoon matinee. The Bowery Boys, The Three Stooges, Roy Rogers, Flash Gordon, Tarzan, Bomba, Lash Larue, just to name a few... were the fare, Admission was 12 cents... a box of popcorn set you back 10 cents... leaving 3 cents for an after matinee treat consisting of three tar babies, or blackballs for a penny at Howison's Store. Those were the days when a 25 cent (earned) allowance carried a lot of incentive to help out at home.

Last evening... the fare again trotted this pair of Rockport residents and a theatre filled with other greylings... like ourselves down another decade on memory lane. "Feelin' Groovy"... is a show featuring The Music and Times of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel by an All-Canadian tribute band featuring the musical genius of Jim Witter and his sideman Ian Tanner. They are backed by a drummer, keyboard player and guitar man.

Their near-perfect renditions of their hits from the Sixties of Mrs Robinson... Scarborough Fair... Feelin' Groovy... The still haunting Sound of Silence... For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her... The Boxer... I am a Rock... Cecelia...  America... If I Could... were interlaced continually with a mesmerizing light show and projected images of Life Magazine covers ... theatrical marquee posters and iconographic photographic journalism stills highlighting the ordinary... and the tumultuous events during this decade of change. Each song triggered a memory of a person... place or event in my own journey. Quite simply... it was an rich evening of travel in time... backwards.

Music has long had a powerful effect on me and my painting. Coming from a family which embraced music and song in all parts of their daily lives... it was an easy transition for me to use it as a tool to enhance my creative spirit... but more importantly... it was a vehicle promoting spiritual healing... a personal "Bridge Over Troubled Water." The song... an anthem... for me was the "final note" that the evening concert music by Witter and Friends. My heart swelled... as I rose instantly to my feet ... joined with everyone in the theatre who shared this evening of song and brother and sisterhood to offer our gift of applause in return for their minstrel performance.

Judging by the unabashed gyrating that some performed in the aisles in the closing set... and the buzz that droned along with us ... filing out familiar doors to King Street. I was not the only one with music as a fundamental element in my DNA. In that moment... I knew that they and I were... "Homeward Bound."

I offer these musical "painting notes"... all owe their origin to music in terms of subject. But as well...I must confess that I was "under the influence" while painting them... PWI... with music!

This painting could well be the poster child cover for this musical soiree event. 
                                                       "Lost the Sixties."

But then again... so would this small still life dedicated to my Mom  and Dad's legacy of music fit seamlessly with the gift of these talented musical artists.
                                                          "Thank You... for the Music"

My personal portrait tribute to the life and cherished memory of Tim Berry... "The Guitar Man" speaks to a deeply held personal expression... fuelled by the spiritual capacity of music... to transcend even life... and death.

In closing this lengthy meandering and musical interlude... I will share an unexpected occurrence in the parking lot immediately following the show. I recognized a face...much older now... next to me... as we returned to our car. The is always the case for me spoke of my football coach in 1962. I took the courage to ask if he was Bruce Bracken. Much surprised... even startled... he stammered back. "Yes I am. ..Who might you be?"

I gleefully replied..."I am Bruce Sherman... Mr Bracken." The immediate shift from being perplexed... and replaced by a HUGE smile will remain with us both... long after our hug... brief catch up chat and his promise to visit us at the Gallery in Rockport. Time can erase many things in life... but team sports... music and the Arts are the adhesive which binds us forever..spiritually as people and a culture. These entities are what separate us as humankind from other species.

Finally... "As Time Goes By"... my Dad's closing number at this gigs with his band Don and Buddies... also the theme from the blockbuster movie Casablanca. A still life with many memories and moving parts... the soldier from Matt Dawe's tribute... my BCI Ram football treasure which links Mr Bracken and I... and the cup that Mary  "McKetch" MacEachern and I won together in 1959... as Jive Champs at... The Gananoque Canoe Club / Thousand Islands Playhouse! Serendipity????.... Me chooses to believe NOT!

"All my life's a circle..."

The Circle Song
- written and performed by Canadian folk icon Joni Mitchell

Long may they... and we prosper!

Good Painting... and Summer Listening... to ALL!

"Ain't nothin' better in the world you know,
Than lyin' in the sun with your radio."

- Lighthouse


  1. Wow! Bruce! Your paintbrush and your "pen" paint beautiful pictures. Such talent that you have....

    Every blogpost takes me to a place I may never visit. Thank you!

    I have done so little this year, but hopefully will get back to painting soon. I understand the "stall" part of things!

    Thank you again for this post!

  2. Good evening Wendy!... Thank you for this great endorsement of this blog. I felt especially moved to discover the depth of blessings in my life... as encouraged by the experiences of seeing these two plays.

    I must remind you that frommy perspective.. your blog takes "Me" ... similarly to places and causes me to rethink my own journey in terms of your own wonderful photos, paintings and evocative thoughts. We share parallel journeys in many repsects... I think!

    Thank you for visiting and taking the time to comment. I deeply appreciate your kind gesture and opinions.

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  3. Oh such great memories you've shared, Bruce! And while I've seen all of these paintings before, placing them in the context of your memories and thoughts is awesome! You've captured in words my thoughts and memories of music...and there is a thread in there, I think, that while maybe not successfully, that I try to put into my paintings perspective brought on by memories and experiences...I hope one day to be able to do this half as beautifully as you do!

  4. Good morning Sherry!... Thank you for your visit and these uplifting words!

    The purpose of my painting and this blog is to share with others. Both are equal and legitimate "voices" that I have always used to express my views of my world and my inner Self. I am transparent ... to a fault, I believe... but I DO NOT hide my Truth. I stand up and speak my mind... and leave the judgement of its worth... to others.

    "Hope"... is a word you used this morning Sherry. Keep that precious consciousness alive within "You"... always! Believe in your Self. Believe in your worthiness. "You"matter... to Me"!

    Good Painting and Happy Summer Sherry!
    Warmest regards,

  5. The entire post is absolutely mesmerizing, Bruce!
    These pieces are MUCH more than merely pretty pictures destined to a life hanging on a wall. And your tribute to Matt is deeply moving.
    I share your connection with music and so much more...( I played and sang in clubs for a number of years).
    Very well written, my friend.

  6. Thank you Dean... for these rich and meaning compliments. Coming from you... I value you them for many reasons... and on many differing levels. Though I have yet to met you... I feel that I know you... and that our values are so similar!

    Thank you for dropping by.... and for offering these gracious gifts!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  7. Bruce, thank you. thank you. thank you. I am in tears but they are somewhat joyful. a beautiful post. beautiful paintings, beautiful words. when i saw your painting of my Tim and your words it brought me such joy. i will get back in that saddle and ride. indeed!

    thank you my dear friend.

  8. Dear Suzanne... I am so very moved that my post reached out and touched you in such a profound way!

    That words... music and art have that capacity and are able to enter into the private spaces of each of us... truly demonstrates their importance as tools to help each of us to not only give spiritual support... but to receive it.

    Your words from yesterday have reached me at a time when I have been "struggling with my own demons." Thank you for your uplifting words and "presence"... they bring me Peace and Joy as well!

    Do get back to your easel Suzanne. The world is a brighter place with every post and new painting that you offer to the world. Tim would encourage that same response to your sadness.

    Rich Blerssings and...

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards and a hug,