Early Foundation Work
Several interventions or suggestions that have clustered together during the last week have led me to lend some thought to stepping away from my usual landscape interests. The first intervening thought strangely occurred during a recent morning plein air session along the Parkway. I had decided upon the location because the subject, a long vacant two-storey stone Georgian home suddenly became a sudden bee hive of activity. It seemed that the long neglected interior was undergoing significant stripping out and the stone exterior was being repointed... from the chimney tops... right to the basement level.
What had long appealed to me was the unusual character of this landmark along the river. It loomed as looking misplaced in comparison to other wooden architecture in the area... all of a lower architectural pedigree. In passing by it each time over many decades, I never stopped feeling that the building had a story that it wished to share with me... that it possessed a spirit and personality that made it seem more like a person than a building.
During the three hour plein air session, I discovered a great deal of historical information about the Gray House, its owners and its early history. The last surviving member of the Gray family, a bachelor had passed away during the recent ice storm.
It relieved me too, to learn that this elegant Georgian-style country house was being prepared by developers for potential buyers... a much gentler fate than I had worried about - demolition. and another loss of heritage. Instead... the house would record another chapter of renewal and beauty for visitors along the well-travelled Parkway.
"Seen Better Days -The Gray Homestead- Landon's Bay" - oil on canvas 20x24 inches
One could truly call these paintings portraits because they contained details that easily identified them as unique structures to people who live in the area. Though the paintings are often rendered in an impressionistic manner they maintain the distinct personality traits which separate them from other buildings around them.
Here is an ink drawing from a three print series, "Kingstones" that I created and sold in 1976 for visitors and residents in Kingston. The city of Kingston is fondly referred to as "The Limestone City" because of its multiplicity of stone buildings. The sum total reflect a cross section that easily spans the entire range of architectural styles in Canada. The limes stone used is found locally and was easily quarried and put into use directly from within the city limits .
This building is known as Gildersleeve House and is located very centrally in downtown Kingston. It currently houses legal firms .It was originally built in 1825 as the prestigious Georgian-style home of the prominent Henry Gildersleeve family. Directly behind it you can see another exquisite limestone masterpiece... St. George's Anglican Cathedral.
The list of important limestone construction buildings is endless in the City and environs. Not only was the availability of the material to do so present locally... so was the numbers of skilled trademen. They were Scottish master masons who had been brought to Canada to construct the Rideau Canal from Kingston to Ottawa, Fort Henry and the KIngston Penetentiary by the British.
India ink and pen rendering on lithograph paper - 24 x 30 inches
Rideau Street Row Houses - Pen and India ink on lithograph paper 24 x18 inches
Grand Trunk Railway Station - pen and India ink on lithograph paper - 24 x 36 inches
Enough said about buildings being treated as portraits. My view of buildings as "sitters" for portraiture opportunities yields one great benefit to the artist - They don't move and can hold a pose for a long time. Another plus lies in the fact that most are constructed of lines and angles that are easy to read as you construct them.
Buildings were a lead in which supported practice and variety for me as an artist. I felt comfortable and unobserved while I worked. There was no scarcity of willing subjects... where I chose to live, or set up my easel. I view the study and comparison of these subjects as a launching pad for entry into later human portraiture attempts.
My journey proceeded slowly into another genre of painting... a step closer to human portraiture... but still distant for someone as yet unskilled in anatomical and figure drawing experience. The elements of this genre were "kindly" to a newbie too. Though not yet human in their form... they did elicit human comparisons- in my mind at least,
Onward the journey...