Monday, May 25, 2015

"Off the Wall... Intentionally!"

Creating in an "off the wall" fashion can be accomplished in a myriad of  diverse and different ways. I would contend that the act of being "off  the wall" is indeed intentional in my own case for a variety of different reasons and situations.

From a purely personal artistic point if view... from time to time, I tend to simply tire of my usual painting processes... and in painting "pretty pictures." That is, painting predictable landscape subjects which tend to become the chaff for my own painting interests and for those of a host of many other landscape artists I meet in my daily life and on line.

It is very difficult to stylistically separate ones self from market-driven subjects and the seeming dependency upon "old paths" which can... over time become personal compositional loops, or traps. Such blinders impede artistic growth and development, but worse yet, they can become dispiriting and often lead to artist's block.. creative stasis...becalment. Call it as you like... it is artistic paralysis.

When I feel the symptoms of this condition creeping into my work and psyche, I simply stop and go to a file folder where I store the "sugar plums that dance in my head" from time to time. These are simply project "notions"... that run against the grain of my usual thinking and planning. "Ideas"... that challenge the idea of simply painting out of reflex. They demand deeper thought which I refer to as "Imagineering" to pull them off. They demand a totally  new approach... new materials... new tools perhaps... or simply an unusual format to present and build the "Idea" upon.

One Madcap Collaboration... The Paint Box Gallery with Mad Michael's Restaurant

Here's one "notion"... that caused quite a commotion at Mad Micheal's Restaurant in Wyebridge, Ontario. Michael and Kay, who own and operate this "madcap" smokehouse eatery offered Deb and I the opportunity to undertake a zany project to compliment the outrageously different dining experience that they offered their always full house of summer evening dining patrons.

We jumped at this opportunity because we enjoyed the complexity their menu offerings... combined with highly eclectic decorating tastes and their relaxed and welcoming  dining ambiance. The decor was simple... but intentionally outrageous. Michael's puckish humour and food mastery was ever present... and never more especially noticeable than during the meal... when he came from the heat of the oven fires of the kitchen to greet diners... table side. One felt important. How off the wall this dining experience.

Did I mention that you could stroll the paths that passed alongside the gently flowing Wye River? Or that you could sit and have drinks inside the full-sized Plains Indian Tepee that Michael and Kay slept in during those hot summer nights while you waited to be called for dinner? Always wacky and "off the wall" presentations... new ones throughout the entire season. Little wonder that they could shut down for the winter and head south to rest... play... and find a plethora of new spices and recipes to infuse into the next season's offerings. It also left time for Kay to carry our her road managing duties for the very popular "Blur Rodeo" musical group on their tour circuit.

Michael's challenge thrown at The Paint Box Gang: create a unique... one-of-a kind chess board on which folks could play chess inside the tent. The pieces stood just over one foot tall. He gave us full artistic licence to come up with this mammoth board game. We were thrilled!

Deb took care of the actual basic board top design and colour. Her unerring draughtsmanship precision with line and eye for colour worked the outer colours of mad Michael's magically converted General Store and Post Office building... dating back to 1863. You can Google Michael and Kay's web site at  to really get the real scoop on their business and genius... and as well... see where we drew our own "off the wall" interpretations to satisfy Michael's vision and purposes. Not easy!

We had the winter to consider our concept and to carry it out to open their next season. I actually did some plein air work around the premises on the outside to gather ideas. Gradually... the ideas came to fruition... one by one they tumbled out... as they came to mind... until Deb's solid graphic was edged with my own contributions. Here's a quick look at our game plan outcome

Get the idea(s)? To repeat one overheard kitchen at Michael to match my own "off the wall"phrase:

"Doing the wrong things... for the right reasons"

We are very proud to be a part of Michael and Kay's quirky dining establishment and outlandishly successful dining alternative. Long may they serve food... "off the wall"... and exquisitely unique!

PS I did get to play one game on the board on one late fall afternoon over a wonderful piece of apple pie  and freshly brewed java! Thank you Michael and Kay!

Sunscreen... A Functional Installment Piece... Simply A-maze-ing to complete!

This difficult and challenging project was by all means completely "off the wall." It would function as a screen/room divider...paintings one one side based upon summer themes... and clothed on the other side in cafe curtain style by an exquisite summer fern fabric in varied summer greens. That art form... beyond my grasp was jobbed out to an accomplished seamstress.

This "Idea"... or undertaking required a great deal of thinking... planning and and execution of a concept which reached well beyond my painting ability and process. It required visualizing... the constructing the armature or framework before undertaking the first step in the painting part. Talk about walking backwards through the process!... Talk about thin ice... start to finish!

I began by going to a swampy area where I had first noticed these very straight and lithe chokecherry saplings alongside a large beaver dam. I harvested a number of select pieces... some of which I maintained the overall structure of twigs and branches. These would form the three panel lattice frame work upon which I would insert the canvas panels of varied dimensions.

I decided upon the following make up of regular 3/4 inch stretcher bar canvases. The central panel stood tallest of the three panels. It featured a natural Gothic arch... with twiggy branches slipped into drilled apertures creating a natural web effect. The arch housed a vertical 14x11 inch canvas depicting a late summer closeup I had done of a milkweed plant. Complete with opening pod and yellowing leaves... it suggested the end of summer.

Below that is a summer wildflower bouquet... symbolic perhaps the "canning"of summer's harvest in all its richness and diversity.This canvas measured 24x20 inches... and below it both canvases had to fit the now imposed twenty inch width of the panel they were within. Both scenes represented swamps laden with lily pads... and one showing the first flash of fall colour.

The right side panel has a 30 x 24 inch plein painting focused upon a reddening stag sumac and a July swamp filled with lily flowers. Below it is a cascading waterfall on a 20x24 inch canvas... again a plein air piece completed at the Newburgh ON mill site on a sultry July afternoon with my pal Frank Edwards. The overall width of this panel measured 24 inches.

The left side panel was again 24 inches in width to create symmetry. It did... however vary from the opposite side in that it housed but one canvas... a deck view composition created from the pool area of two teacher friends when I was house-sitting for them. The screen was completed in Ray's workshop in one week of full days and nights.

When it came time to mount the canvases to the lattice frame I realized (too late) that the uneven sides of the chokecherry staves would not allow for flush mounting. So... after some deliberation... and a lot of sweating... I came up with the idea of cutting individually sized chokecherry discs... each center drilled to create a kind of washer/spacer to allow flush mounting. I used black drywall nails to fasten the canvases directly to each of the outer edges of the staves.

Mission accomplished! This installation drew a lot of attention and raves at the solo show "Summertime Dreams" in which it was the tour de force... and that pleased me. Sadly... however... it never sold as a whole. It languished in our Hillsdale Paint Box Gallery for a couple of years until my pal Rolly Hallyburton suggested that I break it down and sell it as single paintings. I admired his salesmanship and business ethic... so I reluctantly agreed to do so. Before we shipped out of Hillsdale to move to Rockport, all pieces had been sold and their total sales value exceeded the original asking price of the screen itself. How strange the marketplace at times!

And the latticework? It stands proudly the centrepiece in a floral focal point in Grace and Rolly Hallyburton's lovely and peace-filled lakeside Eden - the garden in which Deb and I were married.

Was I defeated? Hardly so. I will end this second "Off the Wall" post with two quotes that best share my philosophy about creatorship. From one of my favorite inspirational authors Paulo Coehlo in his masterwork "Manuscript Found in Accra".

"The defeated are those who never fail."

From the words of my all time favourite Beatle-Lennon Anthem... "Imagine" comes another closely followed personal mantra.This project does indeed demonstrate clearly the presence of an unusually masochistic side of my creative spirit. Sometimes... I crave the need to dream and fly beyond my Self. Long have I been called a "day dreamer"... by those who did not understand. Lennon speaks for "Me" in every respect... and all of my "Be"- ing:

"They say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one."

Read any paper or watch the news this evening...

And just pause and  Imagine!.... Join me... next time for "Off the Wall" - Part Three

Stay tuned....

Good Painting... and "Imagineering" ... to ALL!!!


  1. name is Sherry and I am an off the wall freak. Seriously, Bruce, I love unique pieces of art that travel off the beaten path. That screen with all of the paintings is so may have done better "parting it out," so to speak simply because of price. I imagine as a whole, it would have been - while well worth it - a pretty penny. I am not saying it wasn't worth it, but it would have kept me away, for sure. And sadly so. What a brilliant idea that was. I also love the whimsy of the chess board! You and Deb are a phenomenal and formidable team!!

  2. Good morning Sherry! Thank you for your your directness in describing your response to both pieces!

    Art should always be about "moving the marker"... creatively. For most artists... $$$ often form the key ingredient guiding their creative decisionmaking. That has NEVER been so for "Me"!!!

    Painting to the market... or painting using the constraints or challenges set by another never has motivated me. I guess... in this respect I have always been a loner of sorts. I believe that "Freedom"... is not merely a word Sherry. It is an essential... like water and food upon which I have always thrived... and been happiest. And as we can see all over the world presently Sherry.. Freedom often comes with great personal costs... not excluding suffering>

    That's my take anyway... to each... his/her own!!!

    Whimsy tripled in my life with Deb's arrival in it. Our "communion" spiritually... artistically and personally is my greatest blessing... and I know it!!!

    I wish you the same dear Friend! "You"... deserve it! Now stand up... and demand it! "You"... are worthy!

    Warmest regards... and Thanks!

  3. Hi Bruce, what an interesting couple of projects. Inspiring for you and inspiring to read about as well. It was a pity that you had to break up the screen, but good that the pieces all sold. They were maybe paintings that wouldn't have been created individually, so I suppose the lesson is that it pays to be flexible and open to opportunities.

    All the best,

  4. Hi there Keith!... Thanks for your visit... and everything you have said..."right on the button."

    I will offer this brief preamble for my next post... in the making simply because we share a common path...and you fully understand.

    "In the middle of difficulty ... lies opportunity."

    Do ya think??? HA HA!!!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,