Sunday, February 22, 2015

My... "Tangled Garden"

"The obedient in art are always forgotten.... The country is glorious but its beauties are unknown, and are waiting for a real live artist to splash them onto canvas. Chop your path. Get off the car track."

- A.Y Jackson (Canadian Painter and one of the founders of the Canadian Group of Seven) in a letter from him in Montreal to Florence McClement of Berlin, Ontario - 5 Mar 1913

"I" am unabashedly... and will always be primarily a Canadian landscape painter. The landscape around me... wherever I have lived, or painted has continually offered me joy and the inspiration to paint. I have been blessed to have been able to visit and paint in all but one of the ten Canadian provinces. Next year... Deb and I hope to visit Newfoundland to complete that lifetime goal.

Canada is such a vast and diverse landscape... stretching some 4025 miles, or 6521 kilometers from east to west. Each province undoubtedly has its own unique landscape features that cannot to be found in any of the others. In my own mind, there exist commonalities which mimic those found in the others... however slight they might seem to others.

The greater commonality that I discovered on my journey was the consistent presence of genuine friendliness of the peoples in each region. I offer that a landscape is as much defined by the people that live upon it... and by how they choose to utilize it.... as its physical beauty in itself. I have spent my lifetime trying to knit together these discoveries that I have made during my own artistic journey.

The breadth of my painting garden has been large... and to some degree... tangled by twists and turns in subject matter and style. But I believe that finally... in the preparation of this show... my work and thinking have become distilled and filtered into a new direction and path that I shall continue to travel from here onward..

I have primarily learned to paint through being exposed to the landscape itself... and by self-education through exposure to the works of artists that I discovered and admired along the path that I have taken. Among these... and foremost are certain members of the group of Seven... simply because their work depicted the landscape that I was most familiar with and their works were more readily available for me to study.

A.Y Jackson was my first mentor of sorts. The fluidity and fervor of his brushwork laid out the Canadian landscape before me to travel upon. It was a kind of "magic mystery tour" for me... a young wide-eyed lad trapped in a smallish River community. His work helped transport me to places early in my life that would otherwise have been unavailable to my eyes at that young age. I copied his works... and through this process... I discovered how painterly brushwork and the imagination could be paired to create a unique style.

But it would be many years... and mentors later... before I could actualize that learning into becoming my own "voice". Each step led to the next and gradually the learning that each mentor offered... garnered me a better and fuller understanding of the craft of painting. It has been a long journey... and I have only come most recently to more fully realize that the journey to become an "artist"... is a lifetime pursuit and that just calling oneself that does not necessarily make it so. I humbly offer that each of us will never fully "arrive" during our time on earth.

I offer the answer as to when this might occur using the words of another Group of Seven mentor... A.J Casson. This master colorist taught me how to "see"... and to use varied greens that occur naturally in the landscape:

"Time is the only critic."

Time is indeed the very solution for many things in many aspects of our lives. As human beings... our growth and developmental unfolds on its own time frame in stages... and not in great leaps. Within this development there exist periods of stasis... plateaus. It is so with painting as well. The Muse comes and goes... ever leading .. and we following. Four key "P" words are important to remember in my mind: Patience... Perseverance... and most of all... Passion.

"Tangled Garden" is a 48 x 60 inch oil on panel by another founding member of "The Group"... J.E.H MacDonald. It was simply a painting of his own garden... late ripening in fall... filled with wonderfully decaying elements in the physical garden he cared for and loved in Thornhill, Ontario. When it was first exhibited by The Group.. art critics denigrated it called it "from the School of Mush"... unworthy of the title "Art". MacDonald... as eloquent in oral expression as he was in paint shot back indignantly and remained unyielding to the critics' raves.

Today... his iconic masterwork is housed on the walls of the National Gallery collection in Ottawa. I have stood in front of it many times... and still I stand with very genuine sense of "shock and awe" - the exact feeling I had when I first came face-to-face with it at ten years of age. His work taught me about the value of painting the things around you that you have a passion for. It taught me to paint from my heart... ALWAYS! the work itself is a studio piece, but it owes its origin to a small 8 x10 inch birch panel... done en plein air!

This picture of a picture from my well-worn copy of "Tangled Garden", a biography of MacDonald's life and work. It does no real justice to the painting itself... but it does lend you an insight into his manner of painting. It is a decorative...a tapestry-like rendering, much like those appearing in Canada and the USA in response to the impact of Victorian Art Nouveau movement which embraced Nature and garden themes in European centers.

Here is a stained glass church window from roughly the same period which again adopts the decorative... tapestry natural theme motif so evident in Tangled Garden... Florid landscapes... filled with a sense of open space... light and rich color!

"Create a beautiful lie."

This advice comes from American water colorist Edgar Whitney. What both he and and MacDonald practiced... as do I...  since passing through the awkward and frustrating stage when I sought out perfect compositions from Nature and copied them slavishly. The real joy and full purpose of the artist is to interpret what lies before you. To lie... is to merely embellish... create at will in response to the feeling that the subject evokes within you. Spit it out! It needn't... no ... shouldn't be a perfect facsimile!

I would like to share these words by another artist of renown which likewise underscore this last premise.

"If I were called upon to define briefly the word 'Art', I should call it the reproduction of what senses perceive in nature... seen through the veil of the soul."

Amen ... to that... Mr. Cezanne!

In closing... I humbly offer my latest "work in progress"... to be completed this afternoon. Could it not also be titled fairly as... "My Tangled Garden"? The site is located right behind our Gallery. Discovered the "idea"... as I was gathering leaves to decorate the Thanksgiving table in October. 

Today... I give thanks to the mentors mentioned above in the post for the inspiration they passed along to me when I was growing my own garden. Without each of you... this painting... my journey and my joy for life would be greatly diminished.

"I" am greatly blessed...! Welcome to "My Tangled Garden" - oil on canvas 30 x 24 inches

Good Painting... and Gardening... to ALL!!!

"... and miles to go before I sleep."

Post Script - Project complete... ready for signing. On to the next canvas!


  1. J. E. H. MacDonald. I have to look him up as I love his "Tangled Garden." So exquisitely beautiful!! As is your own Tangled Garden, Bruce. You have moved out of your own yard to capture the natural gardens in your area. I love that. I can see more of the world. I love trees in all their incarnations, from sapling to sad dead trunk. I find them so beautiful and majestic, always. Your colors are amazing, as always, Bruce. Thanks for the explanation on the lighting in last post. LoL At least my eyes weren't deceiving me!

  2. Good morning Sherry!... Thanks for another quick visit and encouraging comments!

    There is beauty all around us... where ever we happen to live... we just have to look... sit a while...and come to "see" and appreciate that it is present in our lives!

    We can all feel truly blessed... it is a matter of personal perspective - Choice!

    Good Painting!... and Good luck with the job search!

    Warmest regards,

  3. Tangled Garden has always been one of my favourites. Your painting, Bruce, is truly lovely. Gardens are a rare treat to paint in!

  4. Hi there Karen!... "Tangled Garden" has always been a favorite Group painting of mine ... and its creator JEH... the true master and leader of the this iconic Canadian group of painters.

    His love of solitude... family and garden... his abilities as a teacher... and his eloquence with words set him aside from the rest. In my own view... he was truly a true "Renaissance man". I admire him deeply for these things.

    I thought of him immediately when I stumbled upon this natural garden in my own backyard. Just had to paint it!

    Happy Gardening (Soon).... and Painting!
    Warmest regards,