Friday, April 3, 2015

"Good" Thoughts... on Friday

Today is Good Friday... the first day of an annual holiday weekend celebrating Christian Easter. It is a happy time for children's Easter egg hunts. It is also importantly, a time set aside for family gatherings for dinner... which is in our plan for later today. Generally speaking... it is a holiday... embracing Spring... and Happiness. Paradoxically... it is also the time of the Passion... or Crucifixion of Christ in Christian beliefs. It is a story which retells the incomprehensible pain and agony for Christ in his sacrifice for Mankind. Strange in life... how the original path can become overgrown... even unseen fewer choose, or are taught to follow it.

I shot this photo as I passed the Roman Catholic Cemetery on one of my nightly walks not so long ago... when winter was still deep and cold. It drew to my attention the cold and the barrenness of death... yet at the same time, the presence of Light... though fading at the end of this February day... offered me a feeling of Hope... and continued Faith!

I include myself in the masses who have "stepped off" the path. There was a time... ever so long ago now... when my parents and particularly my dear Mom blazed that pathway for us as children. I know the difference this morning because of her teachings... and I thank her, in her absence... for that gift of knowledge. I, at least have the basis and foundation for understanding of the real meaning of Easter... and Good Friday in Christian terms.

Though I have indeed wandered far off that earlier path that "She" led us on in early life, I have not surrendered her teachings. I have continued to hold my personal belief in God or in Christ based upon my deep sense of Faith. I have rather cultivated my own personal kind of spiritualism which blends her teachings with my own deeply held beliefs into a workable model that I can commit to and practise in my daily life.

I have no need to edge my Self into a pew in any denomination every Sunday to feel  God's presence in my life. He is with "Me"... each and every time that I "speak" with Him in my prayers... or every time that I stand in awe and reverence... in his magnificent and ever-expanding outdoor cathedral. I can truly say that my experiences in some of the most majestic man made cathedrals in Europe rarely match the feeling that I have each time that I choose to "attend service"... when painting en plein air..

I felt compelled to offer this opportunity to share a "conversation" today because it is timely and because the wonderful blessings that I felt this morning... as I listened to thousands of returning Canada Geese moving over me and along the river. There is magic everywhere about me... and the "goodness" of Creation trumpets Hope and Renewal in my own spirit. Sadly... I have no paintings to share this morning to accompany my words. That would mean that my second "voice" would be be more mute than is usually the case.

So I have decided to share with you... the paintings of an artist that I still consider a mentor of my journey... though I never met him. His name is Tom Thomson. Tough considered a member of our Canadian Group of Seven by many... truth be told,he stayed more to himself in his painting journey and drowned under mysterious circumstances on Canoe Lake in July of 1917. That mystery remains unsolved even today, and became the legend upon which the Group "surfed" to create their own reputation... direction and fame.

I began my painting journey copying his and others of the Seven and I do in fact owe much to the very spirit of my work. Algonquin has become my own place of painting worship over thirty odd years and is really my second Home... after the Saint Lawrence River.

Here are some of the paintings that I admire from Thomson's vast oeuvre of 8x10 inch plein sketches on birch panels. Does that ring a bell? I wonder...

This small plein air sketch on a birch panel first sealed and primed with shellac is typical of the hundreds that Thomson painted in his canoe trekking and fishing through the maze of lakes and streams within the Park. This one is simply titled "Spring in Algonquin Park" (1916-17) ... as was always the case. Many lacked either signature or title at his untimely death. That task became the task of his Group painting friends. He would often burn sketches in his campfire before anyone laid eyes on them while he camped. He never placed much significance on approval or acceptance. He lived a solitary existence to paint. The landscape was his mistress... and muse. He died ... as I believe he would have chosen...peacefully in their arms.

This is a large now iconic studio painting on canvas 127.9 x 139.8 cm that now hangs in the National Gallery Collection in Ottawa and is viewed by many... including myself, as among the most iconic of his works. It is titled "Jack Pine". 

Here is the small 8 x 10 inch panel created en plein air by Thomson that served as the reference for the larger studio-conceived masterpiece. Despite its smaller scale... it has a bravura and spirited... deeply felt response and accurately and better portrays the passion which conjoined Thomson with the Algonquin wild

During my period of introspection and planning for the solo show that I recently opened in Kingston, I stumbled across this illustration that I had purchased and had fully intended to have framed and hung in my end of the downstairs studio. I discovered in tucked safely away (and forgotten) in a veritable sea of papers and projects.. as yet not accomplished. It was simply adrift in "floatsom n' jetsom" of paper reminders... that to Deb's chagrin... are everywhere at my end of the space... and are "lost at sea"! HA HA!!

My argument is based upon my observation (and contention)... that such Epiphanies are to reappear (miraculously it seems to me anyway)... when they are most useful to my purpose and current thought. Today is in fact one of those moments. And lest ye be a non-believer... this illustration is the pen and ink illustration work of... Tom Thomson. It is a beautifully rendered decorative landscape format bearing a quotation from the poet Henry Van Dyke. This graphic was created by Thomson when he worked as an illustrator at The Grip Design Company in Toronto with other Group members. It now hangs in The McMichael Collection in Kleinburg, ON.

The Van Dyke quote speaks so eloquently of the man... and quite frankly... underscores all of what I have tried to express to you this morning in my conversation. It is my goal to continue my own journey... much in the same vein and with the same purpose as expressed in these words, Could we all endeavor... from this Friday and forward to put into practice in our own lives such goals and directions... both our own lives and the livers of other travelers we meet would find greater Peace and Happiness?

I wish to leave you with these thoughts... an yet another Thomson relic that I have acquired and now is hung in a place of honor in our home. The hand pulled graphic is a large silk screened reproduction of "Northern River"... my all time favorite work by Thomson. It was created by Sampson and Matthews printing in Toronto shortly after Thomson's passing in 1918. Below it is a poetic tribute created by his Group friend and fellow artist J.E.H. MacDonald. The tribute was placed on a brass plaque and is forever embedded in a cairn built by group members on a tiny island on Canoe Lake... where he passed so tragically from this life.

The characteristic which I most admire about Tom Thomson as a man was his Humility. This unfortunately is something which I view sadly ... as missing in life of many others around me... including many artists. In my mind, it is as important an ingredient for successful and happy living as talent... position... or wealth. The potential to include this desirable attribute in one's cache and to be recognized and admired by others for it... is simply to consistently practise it.

" Northern River" silk screen... a bad photo because it is glass-covered

Note" The tribute commences.... "He lived humbly, but passionately with the wild..." What an epitaph for all of Mankind... could we but earn it!

"I"... am greatly blessed to have been raised and spent most of my journey in such a beautiful  country and nation... where "Peace"... and "Happiness"... are more than mere words!

May it continue to remain so... I will do my best to pass these values and principles forward!

Good Painting ... to ALL!!! ,... and Happy Easter!


  1. Bruce, I seem to be a melancholy by nature so I always drink your words. Thank you for them each time you post. I love seeing Thomas' work here. I'd not heard of him but I can see his influence in your work for sure. I can see maybe a tip of the hat in his work to a couple of other artists as well and can think of at least one other artist who maybe was influenced by his work just from my blog reading. If that made any kind of sense. I'm a bit of a mess this a.m. so may be stumbling over my thoughts. Hope you know what I mean.

    Happy Easter to you and your family, Bruce. Hi to Deb. I'm ready to see more of her stained glass work, by the way...(hint hint)...

  2. Good morning... and HOPPY Easter Egg Sherry!

    Perhaps "Romantic"... capital "R" fully meant... and understood is a better choice of words to describe each of us! Being such a person in today's word is a difficult path... and one which is not fully understood by most of the world around us. Just my take on it my Dear!

    I hope that in showing the similarity and debt that my own work owes to Tom... as only one of many mentors... others might come to realize that "nothing is really new" in art... except the date and faces. We all "sponge up" what we are drawn to and admire... give a lively shake and come up with a "spin" on the older idea.

    Few of us will ever be unique in what we produce... or think... for that matter. Being humble and accepting that... without surrendering our innate passion to create in our own fashion is attainable ... and should offer us the Joy and pleasure that we all seek. Maybe that's the spire we should "aspire" to HA HA!!

    Hope that your "mess" passes soon Sherry! My thoughts are with "You"!

    I'll put a bug in the Deb's ear about the glass. She's just entered into the beads and jewelry mode today... and can't get into the stained glass without proper ventilation for the lead soldering. That will begin when we are moved into the Gallery... coming soon! Stay tuned..

    Again... Happy Easter Sherry! Keep the Faith!

    Warmest regards!

  3. Happy Easter to you and Deb. Thanks for sharing this artist with us - I like this work and it has a bit of the Emily Carr look to it (they were, perhaps, contemporaries who both went to the woods when people were not that interesting!). You, too, go to the woods for your solitude and your refreshment - and there is nothing like nature to put us back on track inside ourselves. Have a wonderful spring.

  4. Good morning Rhonda!... Happy Easter to you and your Family! Thomson and the Seven really have had a tremendous influence in the direction of decades of Canadian landscape painters like myself.

    They led us abruptly away from the lingering influence of drab tonalist style of the European Lowland countries so dominant in the 19th century... and infused bright color and homage to themes of the wild... as they had discovered it in Scandinavian art. Thomson led them... and the rest of later... into the wilds of Algonquin Park... and the rest is simply... Canadian Art History... as we know it today!

    My love affair with the wild and landscape... follows their lead... but I sincerely hope... leaves evidence of my own interpretations and discoveries on my later journey. They indeed have been my compass to orient myself in my own painting process.

    My Muse... leadeth me beside still waters... and it restoreth my soul".

    Happy Spring... and good luck with your own fine painting and explorations!
    Warmest regards,

  5. Hi Bruce, thanks for introducing me to another artist that I hadn't heard of. These paintings by Thomson look as though they could have been influenced by Japanese wood-block prints. I wonder whether there is any evidence that he was interested in Oriental art.

    All the best,

  6. Good morning Keith!... Thanks for another visit... and for as always... leaving me with "food for thought". It is always a wonderful pleasure to share and to chat with you!

    We often share so many similarities in our separate approaches to painting and going out to meet life... it is uncanny. Our common need to be curious and to expand our knowledge is ever present. I enjoy that... and your company!

    Your observation noting a possible influence of Japanese wood-block prints and other influences in the art world of Thomson's era and life is justifiable... though the very Seven he painted and worked with in the advertising and illustration industry always maintained that his work was purist.

    I do not subscribe to this view that they held for a number of reasons. He certainly never traveled or studied abroad... but I maintain that their very presence and firsthand knowledge of European trends like Impressionism, Fauvism,Cubism and Art Nouveau in their own artistic development would have assimilated in some form... no matter how sublime in Thomson's painting methods and interests.

    I think that you point is worthy of a deeper look and a possible post tom further answer your questions. Stay tuned... and thank you once again Keith... for such intelligent and cogent remarks. This is why I blog!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,