Saturday, October 31, 2015

October Opus

                             "Silence... is indeed golden" - oil on canvas 12x20 inches   SOLD

The crisp, frosty early morning air and the river stillness are punctuated only by the "Chip-Chip-Chipping"
Of gathering testy male robins readying themselves for a hasty retreat from the imminent cold
My morning star hanging high and ever bright soon disappears
As the fading night yields to the reddening awakening of the morning fireball sun

The once dark island galleons soon lit... reveal the oranges and russets which vibrate against the purplish distant shoreline
The flat planes of sky on still water soon shift in shape and hue
As the river current pushes them willy-nilly where it wishes

The river is changed this morning... its misty river spirits rising in the new light of dawn
It seems an urgent journey bent upon
"I would watch the river longer
But I too... must journey on"
Farewell October!

PS: Two lines noted within parentheses above are borrowed from one of the poems of a friend Mary Fleming Graham in her anthology of short verse Great Blue. Thank you Mary!

A safe and Happy Hallowe'en to all trick-or-treaters!!!

Our resident rogue-Friend... Deb's beloved "Mr Chips" (Long Tail) into the Hallowe'en spirit... stocking up on his favourite treat black sun flower seeds. Nice costume Chips!

Happy Hallowe'en ... ALL!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015



What is splunder?
A splash of rain
A dash of thunder
Through this I blunder...
To Eternity

I have always enjoyed and been inspired by verse... of all kinds. I have always read it... created it and encouraged my classmates to share their poetic thoughts. Poetry and prose are creative "connectors"... conduits for further personal thought.,.. exploration and expression.

Many of the poets that I admire and favour are well known to those who share my need to read verse. Others are unknowns. People ... young and old alike who dare to lay down their thoughts to paper... and to share it.

Poetry was always present in my weekly curriculum planning. Often... on lazy summer and spring afternoons, I would take my entire out into the deepest part of the playground which lay bounded by a gently flowing Butler's Creek.

Within minutes, that meandering creek couched small groups or individuals in quiet solitude... responding in their own way to what they saw... heard... smelled or simply felt. It was magical to observe normally boisterous and sometimes bored adolescents obviously harmoniously tuned into the natural world... no devices necessary.

What they all produced... to the boy and girl was poetry in its purest form. Both they... and I revelled in this activity... and I quickly joined them "at play" in Never Land. I wished never to return to stuffy... too hot classrooms. Our willow world... babbling and bubbling with endless possibility and freedom was the beginning of a path that many of us would follow for life.

The memory-evoked poem "Splunder" above was written on one such idyllic early summer afternoon c.1969 at Westminster School, Brockville. It was penned by a beautiful and gifted young girl named Lois. Would you ever guess... that she was twelve years young... but "an old spirit"... even then? She went on to create a lifelong acting career in theater as a regular cast member at renowned Shaw Theater in Niagara-on-the-Lake and the Stratford Shakespearean Theater in Stratford, Ontario.

Clearly... integrating the Arts into our early childhood education remains essential to the success of gifted students in their later lives. But as well... it offers an introduction and personal basis for respect by all students for the Arts... and therefore culture - specifically... their very own!

I am the product of such earliest influence and encouragement. My love of images from the Natural World... the Arts and my love of the printed word support such a belief. In an age where the love and fetish for technology and electronic dependency preempts the use of imagination... there still lies an opportunity for each of us to... "slip the surly bonds of earth... to go where none has trod on silver... to reach out and touch the face of God."

Capt. John Gillespie Magee said it all for me as an artist in his beautiful poem High Flight. But it speaks no more or less eloquently than twelve year old Lois in her terse... forceful bit of "Splunder.

Here is my "second voice" visual poem... recently painted en plein air in the company of my long time painting pal Frank Edwards. Perhaps it enjoins in spirit and meaning the wonder felt by the above voices. It is intended and fittingly brings to a close this autumn salute to the richness and pageantry of a rapidly fading October... a once-in-the-year pageant of sights... sounds and raucous colour

Good  Grasping ... or Painting !... to ALL!

"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp.
           Or what's a heaven for?"

"Andrea del Sarto" by Robert Browning

"Fall's Final Fanfare" - oil on canvas 10x12 inches

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Curiosity... The Cat... and Other Thoughts

Lately, since the mural's completion... my time and thoughts have been dragged off to personal areas of my daily life where painting has [out of necessity] to be placed on a back burner. Nonetheless... creative thought continues... animated by surrounding stimuli. The beat goes on...

I can honestly share that throughout my entire life I have been drawn as much to searching for the "Why" factor that drives artistic thought... as to actually finding methods to paint better. I feel that they should be in balance at least.

When I was engaged in teaching children of all ages, it was apparent to me that their sense of curiosity was at all times insatiable and entered into every aspect of their lives. Their sole desire was to explore every single new environmental discovery... until they understood it. Then they quickly moved on to something new and more appealing. Learning was a continuum of self-directed learning.

I continue to share their need to explore  the realm I find myself a part of... and I can truthfully offer that I can discover a circus in a single square foot of grass... just by looking... purely out of curiosity for a long enough time. Gradually... that circus world unfolds and reveals itself to me. I have many times referred to this process as "Imagineering".

Unfortunately perhaps, we are forced to live from middle childhood onwards in an adult realm where rationality and responsibility must reign out of pure necessity to earn a living and to raise families. Perhaps, it is again curiosity that encourages us to return later in our lives when we have more time and space at our disposal to consider and participate actively in creative pursuits.

There exists an old adage dating back to earliest times.  When I heard it in my earlier life, it never failed to "rub me the wrong way." It still doesn't.

"Curiosity killed the cat."... But Satisfaction brought it back

The first half of this phrase implies that curiosity is a negative attribute...  ie poking one's nose where it doesn't belong and that such a practice can lead to unpleasant outcomes and negative experiences for adherents of the practice.

When I look broadly at the human thought process, it seems to me that it divides itself neatly into two divergent camps. One camp is based upon logical, or rational thought. It tends by its very nature to be directed towards narrowed paths and finite points defined by clearly sets of  rules and laws... which guarantee mediocrity or conformity. This is the camp of the "ordinary man."... born to follow rules and to be led in his/her thinking.

The second camp... the creative or artistic thought process tends to be dependent upon divergent and expanding thought. This questions existing values and rules, or at the very least expands upon them and leads to new knowledge and freedom of expression in my mind. This is the camp of the Artist.

Therefore, the outcomes are vastly different and can often pit one practising group against the other group. This can even be true for the individual who finds him or herself conflicted by the inner struggle between the two camps when one is attempting to enter into a new genre of painting. Coming from a public educational system, we are in fact an amalgam of both camps. This creates inner confusion and self-doubt... whenever we try to cross artistic boundaries.

My own belief and practice involves viewing curiosity... as a catalyst or crucible in which rational/ real and artistic/creative thought can be combined... each supporting the other. What I am suggesting is that the rational can be blended with the creative to produce a new thought process that might bear traits of both. IT more likely leads to new growth... and most definitely elevates... Satisfaction and Joy.

Here is an example of a simple visual exercise that I am about to undertake to simply explore such a possibility. It involves rethinking and reshaping my impressions regarding a Thanksgiving still life which is currently on our kitchen table. I chose these objects from the start based upon their unique shape ... colour and fall feel. They simply pleased me... each on its own basis. But as I looked at them further... curiosity carried me into that zone we all strive to enter and remain in.

What does the still life stir within you? Does it stretch beyond simple objects placed as a Thanksgiving centerpiece? I'd ... be curious... and would love to hear your ideas about this exercise before pursuing any specific actions. Sharing is essential to artistic growth for us all. No one should ever feel they are above learning from the ideas of others.

Get back to me... if you have your own thoughts on this subject. You are welcome as well to run with the still life "Idea" yourself... if you felt inclined to do so.

Good Fall Painting!... to ALL!!!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Blessings... and Thanksgiving

"Bountiful Blessings" oil on canvas 30x24 inches

The usual time that I set aside each year  to complete a theme of Thanksgiving seems to have eluded me this year. I might have time to sneak one in before Sunday... but Life seems to continually be jumping in the way. To make sure that this important family event is recognized for its importance to me and my family... I have chosen this all time favourite which now hangs in the cozy Midland, Ontario home of my lifelong friends, John and Carol Philips. It was a refuge for me during some difficult personal years and they... along with their home continue to be blessings in my life.

The painting was made en plein air in one sitting during one lovely fall afternoon in the beautiful garden of our dear friends Rolly and Grace Hallyburton. Deb and I were married in this very same garden a dozen years ago. Grace had filled the wheelbarrow which had belong to my grandfather with a cornucopia of fall harvest and flowers. I knew that in painting it... I was preserving and passing forward several blessings... from my maternal Gramp Birrell to John and Carol. The painting is indeed intended to be a dialogue between the viewer and I.

 I have added yet another Thanksgiving subject in the form of a second painting tribute which describes the blessing I received in being born to two special parents. I use it frequently when thoughts of my parent's presence and influence... especially in the month of August are at their apex. "August ... on my Mind" conveys the deep and  rich memories surrounding my early Sherman life. It is a universal... in my memory trove of paintings.

THank you BOTH... for all of the rich blessings that I still carry with me... and hold close to me for comfort... each and every day!

                                         "August... on my Mind" - oil on canvas 24x18 inches

Although 2015 has been tough and very trying year for our family... the adversity we faced as a whole family in facing Allison's cancer has drawn us together in an unexpected and strengthening fashion. We have learned quickly the true value of time and each other's presence in the scheme of our daily lives. We have learned to get on with what life brings to us daily... to count even our smallest blessings... and to live more fully in the Now.

We shall be together as a family to share part of this upcoming Thanksgiving Weekend doing what many of you will be busy at as well. I wanted to post this painting with our heartiest Happy Thanksgiving wishes early... to all of my Friends living in Canada... and a Happy Columbus Day celebration to my Friends in the USA... just in case Life gets in the way again... as it has been doing lately.

We completed The Breast Cancer Walk in KIngston on Sunday. I will post again soon focussing upon the rich and moving event. Stay tuned...

Rich blessings... Happy Thanksgiving!... and 

Good Fall Painting!!!... to ALL!!