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!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Jubilant July... and Summer Glory

Gallery business and personal life issues have kept me away from my painting schedule. I have not been able to get away to paint as regularly as I usually do. But I have learned and accept that sometimes Art must out of necessity take a back seat - sort of... HA HA!

July has seemed to evaporate and the clock is running... as our gardens tell us that. Each morning I head down to the dock to regale Mr. Golden Sun's arrival and to use the silence and solitude to plan my day. I have to pass along the length of our flowerbed which lines the approach to the Gallery... and on each occasion the garden reveals new change. I feel much in tune with the precision and rapid shift in floral dominance... as change occurs as regularly as a clock.

The much awaited annual arrival of the host of day lilies in our garden has begun to fade. Their radiant reign... rich in colour  is almost fully run its course. Black-eyed Susan's... bluebells... wild Queen Anne's Lace... now podded milkweed and this year... unwanted mushrooms on our lawn under the apple tree signal the sly approach of August. Summer is surreptitiously slipping away.

I did manage an enjoyable plein air day here in Rockport... shared with my Rochester NY painting friend Paul Taylor. Paul, like myself is an unabashed "River Boy" driven to paint and share river views we share in common... or on two sides of the river. On this occasion... the main ingredients we focused on were SSSSS... Sunlight.... Solitude  and Structure. We found that at SSSSSS ... Seaman House... nestled on Old River Road on the other side of the Parkway. I took Paul there because the owners have created lovely gardens to couch their historic stone cottage home.

"Summer Glory... at Seaman House, Rockport" - oil on canvas 10x12 inches SOLD

Here is my small canvas which recorded my own responses on that outing. I have saved it to use here because it fits into the theme of today's post SSSSSplendidly! Another river friend person... just arrived thought it splendid enough too. SSSSpendid enough to hang a SSSold sticker on it two days after I hung it in the Gallery!

In closing... here are some floral bouquets from our Islesview Garden for your viewing enjoyment - your own personal Rockport Garden Gallery Tour! Enjoy!!

Deb's Nook...

Good Painting...  Gardening and Happy Summer... to ALL!!!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Super Heroes and Heroines... Beyond Comic Books

A Whole New Meaning For "Comic Relief"...

All that remains of the seventy-five year old icon of comic collectors is "his red hair and toothy grin."
No longer the bumpkin of the yesteryear "hip" era... he has been just lately transformed into an overly suave, Bieber-like bobblehead "Bad Boy" by the Archie Comics empire. His Riverdale High gang have suffered a similar fate. An upgrade? I wonder...

To quote from Toronto Star's columnist's description in her July 9th, 2015 column... "Archie's best friend, Jughead, still wears a crown, but in every other respect he looks more like a stoner than a jester."

Despite the suggestion by the chef executive officer that the brand was emblazoned in readers' minds as a nostalgic stereotype and that the wave of emerging indie titles was sweeping into comic book stores"... my own very late teenage lads still hanker for an Archie in their stocking and even to this very day continue to display copies on their bookshelves in their college rooms. This behaviour hardly fits with suggestion of the chief executive officer at Archie Comics... "that Archie was moving down the path of irrelevancy."

Liam... aged... a tall and intelligent fifteen..."in quiet conversation"... with Archie

As I was out doing chores this past week, I found myself tuned in to our local WNPR radio waves and happened upon an interesting broadcast which dealt with the phenomena of super heroes such as Superman. As a youngster, I always enjoyed reading Superman, long with other favourites Like Donald Duck, Little Lulu, The Black Hawks... and the Classics for 15 cents... just to recall a few.

Trading comics regularly with other neighbourhood kids was a passionate 50's pastime for kids like myself who were on a limited allowance. I went door-to-door soliciting... with all my trades in my CCM wagon. Looking back on this activity, the social and educational benefits were huge. It taught me salesmanship and helped me develop self-confidence and new friendships aside from my school chums. It also increased my penchant (which continues to this day)... to prefer to read books accompanied by pictures.

The public radio broadcast also reflected upon the creation of the comic book heroine Wonder Woman in the mid 1940's. Her fortunes soared because of huge appeal to male readers due of her statuesque beauty... and she captured the imagination and consciences of young girls and women... who saw her persona as an opportunity to elevate the possibility of heroism in women - unheard of in a time with the accepted and unchallenged dominance by powerful male images of conquest such as Batman and Superman.

Perhaps the rise of female characters/heroines in comics coincided with the necessary emergence of women in the work force during the war years which sparked the soaring popularity of Wonder Woman... enabling her to continue to maintain her popularity as the most dominant super hero figure of all time and right up until today.

Comic books introduced us all (in a skewed manner) to the notion of what heroes and heroism was about from a very young age. In my own mind, the notion focused too strongly upon control and dominance... magical powers or superhuman physiology attributes. It did disservice to the notion and probability that heroes and heroines could be... and were actually very "ordinary", in every sense of the word. They might actually be neighbours, friends, family members... or our Selves! The possibility of that  purely a matter of perspective... and an active Faith in one's Self.

Beyond the World of Childhood's Version of Pulp Fiction... The Real "Super Man"

This picture below forever changed my own measure of what a true hero was for me. I believe that it also did so for many other individuals ... world-wide. Terry Fox was indeed a quintessential Canadian teenage boy... until he lost his leg and his youth to cancer. However, that loss caused him to set out upon a lonely marathon to raise money and public awareness. He created an alternative to viewing himself as the "victim" of the cancer. He used the remaining tool... his leg which had carried through track meets alongside his new prosthetic leg. 

He began his long Marathon of Hope on the east coast of Canada... "one distance between telephone poles" at at a time on his arduous pilgrimage and along the way. His magnificent act of courage and grit gathered momentum... undreamed of amounts of money from adoring public and world-wide press attention, as his epic journey unfolded kilometer by kilometer. Children and young Canadians in particular were captured by his selfless courage and determination. They greeted him like a pied piper in every hamlet, village town and city that he passed through. 

Singlehandedly... this very ordinary cancer-stricken curly-headed youth captured the hearts and respect of all Canadians... and most especially..."He" touched my heart and changed "Me" forever when I met him the first time in June of 1980 as we passed along the Trans Canada Highway at Havelock, Ontario. As fate would have it play out... we had rented a twenty-six foot Winnebago to embark on a Cross-Canada adventure of our own. My eldest child Lisa was thirteen... my daughter Allison barely a year old... not walking and teething.

My wife Joan and I knew that with Lisa's impending move to Manitoba with her second family members that our close time together was drawing to a sad close. This was to be a special opportunity to see Canada in a lasting fashion together. It certainly became that and remains with all of us to this day as a highlight of our early years as a family.

Ironically... when I was in the thrall of passing through the magnificent Rocky Mountain Range... Lisa was sprawled up top over the cab... devouring  a steady diet of Archies. I was so angered at what I considered " a slight"... in the face of the beauty that surrounded us and... very high cost we assumed to make this possible for her. That view... as I have come to discover was purely a knee jerk response to my own obsessive and unreasonable need to record every turn of the road and view between Kingston and Tofino. Sorry Lisa... you were entitled!

When we were headed home after being eight weeks on the road... we met Terry again at Thunder Bay. As I reached out my hand to him as I passed... I knew in my heart that "He"  was at a more critical stage beyond merely "running on empty." His face continued to reflect the true grit that had carried him the distance 5573 kilometers over the 143 days... but his eyes revealed to mine when they met... the deeper danger which lurked beyond the surface of his tired face and more laboured gait.

A scant three days later, he would be forced to abandon his epic dream Marathon. On June 28th, 1981... Terry Fox's magnificent Marathon of Life was drawn to a sudden close by pneumonia and complications related to the spread of his cancer.

Though his physical Marathon of Hope was drawn tragically to a close, its vision of Hope continues to fuel the ongoing September ritual worldwide to sustain his dream in his honour. The Terry Fox Run For Cancer has raised more than $600 million worldwide to date and continues to flourish unabated. 

Terry was awarded the Companion of the Order of Canada... the highest tribute paid to [ordinary] Canadian heroes and heroines. To date, he remains the youngest Canadian to receive this singular honour. Statues have been erected at three points along the path of his intended journey. I have been blessed to have visited each of them.

Starting dip of the prosthetic... Saint John's, Newfoundland

"Final leg"....Victoria, BC

                               Me and Terry... reunited at Thunder Bay

This is my visit the middle marker for his incredible journey is at Thunder Bay... the exact place where I met him for the last time. It was a tremendously humbling and emotional moment relived for me. The deep pride tinged with great sadness was overwhelming. It brought back that special moment and glance that we shared. It reran the movie of the precious events in my own life which led to my teaching partner Leslie Coleman and I assuming a project with our combined classes for learning disabled children to lead a school filled with youth at Polson Park Public School in Kingston.

I had always been a fitness freak of sorts since high school... running 10k distances or more to stay trim. Leslie and I came up with the idea to use our daily K-Club fitness group to spearhead and restart Terry's Marathon... virtually and collectively... kilometer by kilometer until we, as a group finished the distance "from sea to shining sea."

Our wee band of sixteen  "challenged learners" issued their agreed upon challenge to an auditorium of their peers and teaching staff at a special Friday morning assembly that they led. During the next week our K- Club membership instantly... and dramatically swelled. The noon hour and after school three block neighbourhood and schoolyard circuits revealed clearly that the torch that Terry had thrown had been picked up with the zeal and pure sense of honour that lives within each child I ever met.

Personal K-Cards were punched daily with their mileage by our monitors and rehung each week in the hallway outside the main office on a board with a map. Each Friday our lads showed a National Film Board movie which recorded the area that we were [virtually] passing through during that week... and the red woolen line edged its way inches at a time towards "Mile Zero" at the Pacific Ocean... Victoria, British Columbia.

I was dreadfully ill with very bad flu/cold that gripped me for too long on the day that our final virtual destination was reached. That illness faded in the presence of the euphoria that our school felt collectively. Was it simply chance that this Marathon concluded on February 11th... my birthday??? It was not ever planned to be so. The UNiverse reveals itself in mysterious ways!

MacDonald's Restaurant of Kingston contributed a school-sized Cross Canada Cake and orange drink for all to commemorate this victory. The Whig-Standard newspaper featured a picture of our wee band of lads with their cake. Their smiles richly recorded their inner newly-held belief that "disability" is just a word... and that they could "have their cake and eat it too".... just like their "normal" peers.

That accomplishment and memory remains the zenith moment in my own rich personal teaching career. It remains that for me because it represents the fusion of Terry's dream... my connection to him and the realization that like him a group of otherwise unsuccessful... unnoticed small band of boys proved to the peers about them that they had the power within to summon up "super human" accomplishment and good... beyond even their own dreams.

This is the essence and raison d-etre for this too long and [seemingly] "art-less" post. Within each of us lies the "Hero/Heroine" we can become... when passion and need engage to allow what is necessary to accomplish acts of bravery and courage. We simply must Risk and then take the courage to Act.... and Believe.

Faith... especially in one's Self is a powerful tool for enablement. Faith often must be maintained without the actual physical presence of an outcome. It must be doggedly maintained in the face of great adversity and fear. It is an elixir for the soul... a medicine for body... the candle of Hope in a vast Darkness. Dig deeply... if you have need. It's there to be used within each of us. 

Be the Hero/Heroine... that you see in others!

Post Script
These are not merely words thrown carelessly about. These words are shared from my current life and situation of adversity for our family. Little did I know... or dream that I would have to re assume a Marathon of Hope at this point in my long life. Neither did I dream, that this venture would be in support of the wee teething baby Allison who was with "Me" on that fateful journey when Terry Fox and "I" intersected in our parallel earthly journeys.

Cancer is again the enemy... and yet Hope and Faith remain in our hands to do battle. I have been working out an outline for a course of action to personally address this adversity... beyond being with my darling Allison during the course of her treatments and recovery.I choose to end this post today with a direct quote from Terry Fox which is forever etched upon the Victoria monument to his incredible dream and journey. It reads:

"Somewhere... the hurting must stop."


A Heroine and a Hero.... May 26th, 2015.... pre-chemo. Here... we are commencing our common Marathon of Hope. 

"Donations"... of good vibes and prayers are gratefully received.

Rich blessings and Good Health!... To All

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Rewind ... and Back to Forward

Today is Canada Day... a dreary and rainy one in Rockport... though the sun did manage to shine through the greyness for a few encouraging hours this afternoon. Though the predictable influx of tour buses with hordes of Asian visitors kept pace... the usual steady flow of independent travellers was down over previous years for certain. Somehow... it didn't really seem like Canada Day for me personally. Perhaps that "rainy day feeling" as well...  incorporated the worry and sadness that has lately beset our family due to Allison's sudden health crisis.

I worked in the Gallery throughout the day and did make a number of sales of smaller offerings and I did sell one 8x10 inch riverscape canvas... so that this post is not at all intended as a "grumble". It is rather an attempt to reflect upon the copious blessings that offset the situation mentioned above. Weather and health issues remain outside our best attempts to control... or even to predict them. Often they arrive and catch us unprepared. The secret of dealing with these rests entirely with one's attitude.

Allison has just recently completed her second chemo treatment. Though she does experience nausea and at times an ambivalent appetite... her worst complaint seems to be the reduction of her usual high energy level. She continues to live in her usual manner... going to the university to do some work and some writing to keep up with those deadlines. I cannot at all fathom how quickly she has come to face this opponent with such candor and bravery. But I am... so very proud of "Her". She is made of that "good stuff" that separates the gifted... from the ordinary.

                                                     Forest Spirits... Forever Soul Mates!

Tomorrow morning, I will head up to Kingston to be with her and her Mom while she has the port implanted in her chest... the port through which the remainder of her chemotherapy treatments can be more easily and safely administered. Another of the "continuing education" events that I had never expected... or planned for. But I am becoming highly educated as to just how deeply embedded and active cancer is within our society.

The fear coming out of this realization is only offset by my constant amazement at the resources and treatments that are available to those who suddenly find themselves victims and hostages to this dreaded disease. Add to this revelation the presence of a legion of dedicated... caring and competent medical personnel... at all levels. We are deeply blessed in this country we live in for the availability of the multitude of health services offered in hospitals right across the country.

So... on this "different" Canada Day for AWB... I would like to reach out... recognize and thank each of the specialists, doctors, nurses and support staff in our medical profession and hospitals. Canada is a place of greater Hope because of the good work that you do on our behalf. Canada is a truly unique and special place that I am deeply blessed to call my Home.

Happy Canada Day... to ALL!

In closing I offer these glances back at favourite paintings which document my pride and my enjoyment over a lifetime in painting the Canadian landscape.... east to west.

 "Morning Has Broken, Stonehurst South NS" oil on canvas 24x30 inches

"Rustico Lighthouse, Rustico PEI" - oil on panel 20x24 inches

"Les Grands Couleurs de Charlevoix"  - oil on canvas 4x3 feet

"Silent Night" , Farm Point, Quebec' - oil on canvas 30x36 inches

"The Dimming of the Day, White's Falls, ON " - oil on canvas 4x3 feet

"Northern Thunder Chippewa River, ON" - oil on canvas 12x16 inches

"Still Soaring, Indian Head Saskatchewan' - oil on canvas 12x16 inches

"The Real Canadian Idylls, Kananaskis, AB" - oil on canvas 3x4 feet

"Squamish Light, Squamish, BC" -  oil on canvas 3x4 feet