Thursday, July 30, 2015

Inside... Not Just Outside

We all began our creative journeys... driven mostly, by the urge to lay down what lies in front of us as accurately as our early limited technical skills allow. We continue to follow that practice religiously as we paint... no matter whether inside using photographic reference, or outside painting en plein air. We even fortify this goal by reading "how to" books... pouring over  the techniques and works of other artists we admire... in the hopes improving and of discovering a style that we can claim to be our own.

In my own creative journey... and at this stage of my searching, I have finally "arrived." No!... not at the discovery of a distinctly unique personal style, but rather at another more real and satisfying perspective upon which to base further searching. I have discovered that technique and style only address what is found outwardly. I have further discovered the very great value of looking inwardly and learning to respond to a voice that I have listened to... travelled with and learned to trust over a lifetime.

In looking back over my own journey, I realize that Art and Life have operated for me as cohorts. More plainly speaking, Art and Life can share common structures and processes which often mimic each other. Applications can exist that are interchangeable in both directions. One often fuels and energizes the other.

My artistic and personal lives have always relied heavily upon the freedom to act independent of "rules" which I continue to believe limit discovery. Both search out and often respond vigorously to seemingly "happenstance" interjections from ordinary daily experiences from a wide range of unrelated sources.

A single word or phrase from a radio broadcast that I am tuned into for simple listening pleasure can trigger a clutch of painting ideas or a theme. No specific outcome is intended, but simply falls into place and suddenly comes to life... inside at first... and then finally outwardly through painting.

I save bits and scraps of paper which often litter my computer desk for days... often unmoved for several weeks. Then finally... somehow everything coalesces and the urge to paint takes over. Sketches... digital reference and sentence fragments combine to formulate the "Idea". I refer to this process as "Imagineering." 

On a few special occasions, the initial response to an "Idea" seems unresolved... or perhaps more correctly, the original concept continues to hang about and morphs into yet another internal response. It might even "chain" itself to a new concept which embraces the two separate "Ideas." This is for me true creative pursuit... creation through slow and thoughtful distillation.

A more recent example... now hung in the Gallery follows this pathway is "River Dance." It is very obviously and strongly different to visitors entering a roomful of my usual impressionistic fare. Few pass it by without commenting ... or asking why this piece varies from the rest so greatly. Some even ask whether the work is even mine.

These comments please me, and in fact support my creative purpose to intentionally set out make it different. The fact is... it makes people search beyond the surface alone for more meaning.  Is that not what "good" art should do? Should it not encourage viewers to go away still thinking... or asking for direction? Remember that rare and special movie that you saw... which you could not stop thinking about or discussing with others? That's what earns any art form the prestigious honour of being called and remembered... as a "Classic".

"River Dance"... A Work [perhaps still] in Progress

Stage One

This first version of the initial "Idea" experimented with a purely lyrical and intuitive response to the Algonquin landscape...  which I have painted in throughout almost forty years and in very season. Since I know it intimately... visions of it are burned into my psyche... and it never fails to inspire wonder... awe and reverence for its sanctity. It is a place inside "Me"... that exists outside. There exists a symbiotic relationship for me and The Park. It struck me that this location was universal... and could be found in just about any corner of this wilderness park.

The 10 x 8 inch panel outcome likely comes as close to abstraction as I care to explore... except that there is little attempt to treat any part of the painting in terms of anything more than forms... in relationship to others in the composition. Even the palette chosen runs against the normal grain of my split palette harmonies. It is indeed quickly painted with little attention to a need to conform with what I usually produce. I found the exercise quite liberating... and still thinking about its possibilities long after its actual conclusion in 2009.

"Algonquin... Intuitively Speaking" oil on panel 10x8 inches

Second Stage

I was offered an opportunity to give a painting workshop at Geneva Park (near Orillia) for the East Central Ontario Association of Artists... a group that I had long painted with in Algonquin Park. Many of its members seemed struck by the fact that I preferred to paint rather larger en plein air... whereas at the time many of them painted smaller sketch formats.

I decided to title my workshop "Supersizing Your Work"... basing the larger 18x14 inch demo upon the original sketch. The smaller version offered a comfortable proportion... so that I could demonstrate how my thinking could be fashioned around the original smaller piece. I used a simple grid consisting of two converging central and diagonal axes.

It is very clear that the second stage follows a similar compositional path based upon an intuitive approach utilizing stylized elements within the landscape. However, one can easily see that I have chosen be more attentive to colour and detail to lift the painting to a new level of visual interest. Edges are softer and colour harmony is more true to my regular split palette colour mixing. The dream-like feel led me to title this piece "La Berceuse d'Automne" (Autumn Lullabye)

"La Berceuse d'Automne" - oil on canvas 18x14 inches (2009) SOLD

Stage Three

Again, this piece remained within my imagination... and two years later, I was again offered the opportunity to conduct another painting demo for the same painting group ECOAA during their annual painting retreat held at Bark Lake, north of Peterborough. I thought that this would offer me a wonderful moment to demonstrate the value of years of painting en plein air. I decided to use the original small fall sketch... converting it without reference from fall to winter on an 18x14 inch toned black canvas.

It would demonstrate very clearly that years of painting outdoors enables one to transcribe details from any season directly into another canvas without any difficulty. In fact... such an exercise heightens the creative response because one is drawing totally from one's imagination and memories.

What I had to try to include was the sense of the effect that winter cold has upon pigments. I omitted any use of solvents to thin the paint whatsoever. I scuffed on the initial minimal paint roughly and then applied increasingly larger amounts of pigment upon the black toned canvas. The interplay of light and shadow over the various forms proved addictive and opened up new possibility... and direction... for another day.

Mixing of colour was conducted right on the canvas rather than on the palette. That kept the colours fresher. I elected the "a stroke laid... is a stroke stayed" method... choosing not to disturb passages I had committed to. The result was I believe a good rendition of a plein air product. Once again... my creative juices were piqued once more... and I "imagined" a further tussle with the "Idea". However... that next adventure would not get underway until five years later... and a move back to the Saint Lawrence River.

"Algonquin in Winter" - oil on toned black canvas 18x14 inches (2010) SOLD

Stage Four

"Algonquin in Winter" sold immediately from the floor at the conclusion of the demo. It was even argued (unsuccessfully) that it should have been made open to bids... and that I had priced the work too low to the lady who had the courage to make the first offer. Those decisions remain wholly with the artist in my mind.

I would have been happy just to have brought the work home with me really... because I had felt the presence of a desire to explore the "Idea" further. I did take a number of good digital shots of the image after signing the painting... just in case the feeling remained... and it did!

The resulting 36x30 inch canvas... entitled "Minuet d'hiver" (Winter Minuet) is again a recognizably Algonquin landscape in winter that closely mimics the previous paintings in structure and content. However... it takes no stretch of imagination to immediately pick up on my preoccupation to create rhythm and interaction shared by certain elements... most noticeably the trees.

I had an immediate feeling of a Rococo ballroom... and a stately minuet being performed in a gaily lit tapestry of pomp and majesty. I purposely played up this unabashed romanticism... simply because I wanted to imagine... observe... and actively play - the way that only a child understands. Painting should be a joyful act!

I was not finished though - "the dance" would continue... in another time and space!

"Minuet d'hiver" - oil on canvas 36x30 inches (2011)    SOLD

Stage Five

It was during my winter preparations for my spring solo show in Kingston that I decided to expand upon the Algonquin "Idea". Coming to live back where my early life had begun opened up new portals of learning which previously were unknown to me.

I came to discover... through Deb's active working relationship and association with The Frontenac Arch Biosphere Network that the Thousand Islands region had received a UNESCO World Heritage designation because of its diversely unique land and water forms, flora and fauna. This vast ecosystem/biosphere stretches from Algonquin Park to the north... southward through Eastern Ontario to include the Thousand Island archipelago itself. It travels further southward into Northern New York to include the famous Adirondack Mountain Range... famous for its recreational facilities and its forest industry.

I again chose a toned black canvas to paint on. I find that rich colour can be achieved... while contrasts seem to be kept without really even trying. The surface... dark and brooding invites introductory exploration... and I prefer white chalk and use it like charcoal... in reverse. Its the teacher-blackboard thing hanging about! HA HA!

"River Dance" depicts a quintessential landscape which could easily be said to exist in any part of the Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve... or on either side of the Saint Lawrence River. It includes the Precambrian rock... oldest rock on the planet, firs, spruce and vast fresh waterways. Its beauty is unparalleled.

I have chosen to carefully model colour and form beyond my usual level. I do so... to impress upon the viewer the need for each of us to actively embrace a personal and active role in responsible stewardship of this land and water treasure.

It can be surely lost through misuse of its resources... poor planning and development. It can be lost more certainly through public apathy and indifference ... mainly due to inadequate education in the public school system. All of these threats can be avoided... or overcome... Now!

"River Dance" is more than a painting. It records the influences of the many mentors who have influenced and contributed to my journey. Can you see Emily... Lawren... and maybe... even Vincent? They are all in there. My work is but a fusion of influences. But the "Idea" comes from within me. Will it be my last go around with the "Idea"???....
Stay tuned...

Look upon it as an invitation... to join in the dance. Listen to the music that comes from within. Paint the rhythms you feel... the visions only you can release. Feel the ultimate joy that only comes from seeing that vision on canvas or paper... knowing that it is yours alone.

Won't you dance???

"River Dance" - oil on gallery wrap canvas 40x30 inches (2015)

Good Painting and Happy Summer!!!... To ALL!


  1. So we look out and see something different in the "same" landscape because we bring something different to it each time = happy dancing and happy painting to you!! Lovely work!

  2. Good Morning Rhonda!... Well said!

    Happy Painting and Print Making... Dance on!

    Warmest regards,

  3. Very beautiful paintings and very interesting art blog !!!
    Have a nice and creative week !!!

  4. I love the winter piece especially and can easily see why it sold immediately. I also love especially the sharpness and clarity of the last piece. All of them are gorgeous though, Bruce! I love your heart to teach and lay down your thought processes.

  5. Good morning Art -Traveller!... Thank you for visiting ... and for leaving such encouraging comments!

    May your own week be filled with creative thoughts... and good painting!

    Do drop by again!

    Warmest regards,

  6. Good morning Sherry!... Wonderful to have you visit and to share your impressions and thoughts!

    I am glad that you enjoyed the post and the series of paintings. Sharing is a part of creation. What is a garden... without visitors to share its beauty>

    Have a great summer Sherry!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,