Sunday, March 18, 2018

"Both Sides Now"


The satisfaction I received with having completed the BIG project with a small and limited tool box had scarcely registered for me when I found myself already in the throes of thinking about another project... one which I had placed for too long on the back burner. The project itself was pushed forward and encouraged by a comment from my friend Keith Tilley in his comment regarding "the BIG." He readily recognize my underlying message and reason for undertaking this huge project.He commented, "You don't need a lot of fancy equipment to make good art." He got it!... and that was payment in full for me for the effort. I hope that some of you "get it" too... and take courage to risk taking on the BIG in you own lives. Dare to dream! Thank you Keith!

 I  finally decided  to either dump this draft which has been circling around unfinished for far too long in my mind... or simply to delete its sketchy commentary and move on. Like a troublesome sketch or painting, not all starts deserve a finish. Some merit a good scrubbing off early on, as opposed to "saving them" or, putting a frame around them. Most of the time when painting in the field that decision and solution arrives very easily and painlessly.

However, in this particular post I kept finding myself drawn to a very cogent consideration before deleting the "idea". The post quite clearly defines how forcefully and effectively that music plays into my thinking and how important music has been to my painting process over the years. Though I am very eclectic in my musical tastes, my preferences tend to lean towards embracing a blend of classical music with Canadian folk traditions.

Another reason for "keeping the faith"is that it provides me a long overdue opportunity to thank two very special friends, Carol and John Philips of Midland, Ontario. Our bond of friendship stretches back... far into our "primordial past,"a simpler time in public school when school chums played marbles together in the schoolyard. During summer vacays,... we swam together during the seemingly endless hot summer days and played Red Rover until darkness ... or our parents' call  summoned us to head home, bringing that day to an abrupt end.

Later in our adolescence, we danced our way through high school at "Teen Town." The local Masonic Temple was the Friday night (lightly chaperoned) hangout where Jivin' Johnnie  spun 45's every Friday night along with his pal "Hat Badge" Ian Wilson. More than one "first love" was kick-started on that dance floor... mine amongst them.

Time and distance have thankfully been unable to separate us and we have remained friends ever since. So I would like to offer this post as a tribute to this couple o' blessings in my life. You Two... have truly made all the difference in my many and varying lives, Thank you BOTH!! I love you ... forever!

This blog's title derives from a blockbuster Joni Mitchell hit from the sixties. The melody and its lyrics speak to me still and never fail to carry my heart joyfully back to those simpler times and life moments.

All three of us have seen and experienced "Both Sides... of life, ever so clearly... to reach the Now. Mine arrive with Allie's passing and theirs... unimaginably, through their own tragic loss of two of their three children - both gone treacherously... and tragically too soon.

 I could never understand how they as people and as a couple survived this tsunami of a continuous life time of grief. But they did and I bore witness throughout the ordeal. It has been their example...  and their constantly joyous presence and their continous contributions to my life that has encouraged me to undertake my own journey to recover renewed purpose and Happiness. I owe them a great debt of gratitude for their generous and unconditional love.

Like most in my "Boomer Generation," Canadian Folk and rock n' roll music formed the main diet for our listening and dancing pleasure. I find that many of my compatriots remain locked into that tradition even today. Fortunately for me, I grew up in a family where all types of music was valued and played. My Dad was a local musician of considerable note, very respected for his unerring and willing ability to successfully "sit in" on piano in any musical genre. All Sherman's and their children have gone out into the world with music embedded deeply in their hearts... albeit in a variety of different ways.

"Both Sides Now" borrows from the musical spirit and genius of Canadian folk singer Joni Mitchell. I have deeply admired and identified with her on so many significant levels. We both share so many crossover commonalities in our values and lives. We both have performed music. Both share a rebellious nature and idiosyncratic traits in our persons and our  thinking. Both of us share a love for creating art. A large difference between us in fame does not play into this from my view... nor does it matter.

Through her beautiful music... I have come to truly know and respect her on so many levels. I have chosen to share and expose you to a newer cover by Joni of "Both Sides Now," It is soft and mellowed out... minus the bopping care-free  version from the past. I selected it to present to each of you... because it speaks so eloquently and intimately to the listener. It's worth the listen... start to finish in my view. Enjoy... 

                                                                   "Selfie" ... by Joni                                                                                     
Is this not "Me"... or "You"... or not everyone who has lived life... on "both Sides" of youth... and experienced life "from near and far"??? And still somehow "it's life's illusions we recall"... and if we are honest.. none of us "really fully knew ... [or understood] life at all"... till Now... in these later years.

A Time When Art and Life Become One

Novelist Jonathan Swift said it best with this quote

Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others."

I would contend that an artist is an individual who incorporates that vision with their own unique gift and hard work to bring it into reality in whatever medium they choose to work with. We all do that in our own unique fashion. Whether fame is achieved in the doing of that, or not...  DO share your art with pride and conviction.

I found a Chinese proverb which I painted on the top of a side table gift that I gave to Allie to mark her under graduation. It read:

"One cannot hold moonlight... but may you always put your dreams in the Light... make visible what without you may never be seen."

"The Great Wall"... of Rockport

No... my reference is not to that iconic ancient wall that for centuries kept invaders at bay in China... it is rather my ironic and musing view that this wall here in Rockport performs rather the opposite function for the resident who has gone to the considerable expense to have it constructed. It is intended to keep out the influx of summer crowds of wandering visitors (many from China)... who do not respect the rightful privacy of residents and landowners in this very small village. This problem is more than annoying when the numbers expected each summer rise into the hundreds of thousand. No ethnic slur is intended ... just a revelation and reality check!

This year right through late fall and up until the first snow fell,  I visited with two stone masons who were vigorously trying to complete the most beautiful dry point (no mortar) stone wall just as you enter or leave the village. Despite the deep cold, they battled with the elements and the very deep cold, showing no apparent regard for their enemy.

I could not... not stop to visit as I passed by on my daily walks. I asked, "Is this work not hard on your body and particularly your hands?" They assured me each time that despite the fact that neither wore gloves and both dressed very lightly... they were warmed by their work and the progress that they made. It was their trade... but at the same time it was their Art... and their passion all rolled into one. And that serpentine structure spoke to me... as strongly and clearly to me as it did to them.

On each occasion, I heard sweet music long before they came into view. Each day that source of music changed... according to which mason was laying stone down. I mused how strange... or maybe not ,.,, that their wall had a very strong  visual  musical rhythm of its own.

Hmmm. I wonder...

The wall was at last finished and they have long since moved on to their next project which...  I've been told is in California, But their serpentine musical wall still commands my attention... my respect and demands me to paint it. And I have - twice already. I was very pleased by the result of my first wee 8x10 inch canvas. It really captured the afterglow of that winter day... as it played against the wall itself and Church of the Redeemer behind it. It definitely captured this very new... and remarkable modern piece of heritage. Here... two heritage traditions from different eras rest peacefully side-by-side. Out of annoyance and bitterness ... emerged beauty... and Art.

                         "Late Evening Light at the Wall and The Church of the Redeemer"
                                                  Oil sketch on canvas 8 x 10 inches

The wee oil sketch sat on the floor of our studio and each time that my eye was drawn to it, I was dragged into deeper thought, until one evening I decided to take my camera and visit the other side of the wall to see what painting potential, if any might lay there. My curiosity was rewarded and I uncovered what would become the very first painted view of this piece of heritage. It surely will not be the last, by any stretch of the imagination.

                                "Along the Wall to the River... and St. Brendan's RC Church"
                                                           Oil on panel 8x10 inches

Here in this quiet riverside hamlet lie the physical  and remaining reality of a deep and abiding schism which split the Roman Catholic faith apart during the period of the Reformation. Though the deep anger... bitterness and even armed conflicts have dissolved over time, "the spiritual divide" continues to separate God's flock into separate places of worship - by choice. The two paintings... each done on opposing sides of a physical barrier... Metaphorically still a "wall" exists and whimsically reflects that truth to me visually. Just the Joni in me... humming along to the tune of... "Both Sides ... Now!

"Closing Time".... Thank you Leonard Cohen!

Good Painting...  and my blessings... to ALL!



  1. Good evening Bruce. I am probably going to have 'Both Sides Now' playing in my head for a day or two now! I don't mind though, because I've always liked it.

    That wall is an impressive piece of work. When I used to live in Northern England, dry-stone walls were a feature of the landscape. We have some here as well, along with the type made by sticking flagstones upright in the ground. I've always admired the work that goes into them; an art as well as a skill.

    It was nice to see your views 'from both sides'.

    All the best,

  2. It's a shame that the wall was needed , tourism is a double edged sword sometimes, but it is rather magnificent and also sympathetic to the landscape both in the real and in your paintings.

    Best wishes.

  3. Glad that you enjoyed the post Keith! Your comment about carrying that tune in your head uncontrollably for a number of days speaks to the power of song. It is a transporter that defies time ... space... culture, or any other barrier that can divide men!

    That drypoint tradition which one can find in many places scattered around Ontario derives directly from tha part of England where you came across it. It was introduced by early English settlers to "Upper Canada" (Ontario) during its earliest settlement.

    I am pleased to discover and note through your comments and presence Keith that my thoughts and ideas surrounding this theme... are found... "on both sides now!" HA HA!! How cool is that?

    Good Painting and Happy Easter Keith!
    Rich Blessings!

    PS Snd me you snail mail address... I'd like to share a "little bit of something with you."

  4. Hi there Lisa!... Yes... it is indeed fortunate that walls have to be built and just maybe... the gesture is a bit over the top. But the simple fact remains, that privacy is being continually eroded and violated an a daily basis... and grows exponentially worse by the year.

    Therein lies the problem... "on both sides... Now." Tomorrow might be too late... and yesterday's gone." Me thinks I hear another song coming on! HA HA!!

    Better head to the easel... or go out... "Walkin' the Dog"... HA HA!! Song is in the air everywhere. Keith's not the only one afflicted! HA HA!

    Good Painting and Happy Easter Lisa!
    Rich blessings!

  5. Hi Bruce, I had no idea that Joni Mitchell was an artist as well as a singer! I don't think her smoking so much is a good idea though! apparently she smoked since she was nine years old! Though she does have some health problems now. The story of the wall that seems to divide is interesting. Two churches, very nice paintings. Friends who share the grief of losing a child, who inspire everyone by their courage. I keep thinking about your message, there is a lot here to appreciate. Often we tend to grasp a message that will mean something to us individually. Music seems to be way of measuring time, a tune will send us flying back in time to that exact moment we remember hearing it. Carry on the painting Bruce Spring is here and it is time to welcome new life!

  6. Good morning Lass!.. A grey... and dull day here in Rockport... a strikingly different day than yesterday which filled with sunshine. I personally find these grey moments very difficult ... and it becomes soeasy to derail my spirit and energy.

    I have another smaller piece on my mind... but am drawn to head into another larger canvas. The mural project so elevated my energy and outlook. Today will be a research day... maybe it might move quickly into a "doing day"!

    I am glad that the music and wall ideas brought you some memories and "soul souvenirs". Walls and fences it is claimed... " make good neighbors." That might be true in some instances. But music weaves together people from every class... colour race or religion seamlessly.

    For me personally... it is portable and does transport the spirit to ethereal heights. It just keeps ... "lifting me higher than I've ever been lifted before." HA HA!!

    Thanks for dropping by and sharing!

    Enjoy your own version of spring and Good Painting Caroline!
    Warmest regards,

  7. What a very full post today, Bruce! I understand the wall and am glad they were doing it right - what a beautiful, artful thing to create, love the serpentine aspect leading to the view of the church (and your painting of the church and wall are lovely). While reading posts today, I’m given music, as well - remembering old songs and newer versions. I always enjoy a nice, long visit here and take away many small gifts as I go into my own day - we had 3 inches of snow but wamer days are predicted - can spring be far behind? The birds seem to say it’s just around the corner and I saw a Mama bluejay feeding her baby today - babies already for these hardy creatures. I keep returning to the building of the wall - just knowing and choosing the correct stones...perhaps that says something, too. If we must build walls, let’s choose the best, most beautiful stones to lay down and build up with an artist’s care to what lies around us. Have a wonderful week, Bruce!

  8. Good afternoon Rhonda!... Thanks for dropping by and for sharing your wonderful thoughts and impressions. I am so happy that you can discover something worth carrying into your own artistic life and work.

    No snow here to speak of... but still too cold for birds to do any more than think about breeding and nesting. Spring is definitely in the air... and not too far off. Pussywillows are bursting forth and the daffies and tulips are just lately poking above the ground!

    This fence will be a real hit with summer visitors and their selfie fanaticism. It certainly can't be overlooked where it is located and its serpentine movement is so intoxicating in its line and each of the stones in the wall are so loving laid down by caring hands!

    Good Painting... and Happy Easter Rhonda!
    Warmest regards,