Thursday, November 26, 2015

Reaching Southward... Beyond the River

Looking southward this morning... towards... "the rocket's red flare"... and thankfully there were "no bombs bursting in air".

... proof in the light... "that our two flags were still there"... united!

It seems so impossible that scarcely two hundred years ago that the peacefully flowing river that separates our country was indeed the only barrier that prevented greater hostilities between the two countries than was acted out. The War of 1812-14 was like the Civil War preventable and unnecessary. And all of these decades of time and casualties later... it is lost... mostly ... in the deep sands of Time.

After 911... the heightened fear that gripped the world at large and particularly the United States necessitated closer scrutiny to Homeland Security... most especially where no fence existed. We here on the River... on both sides have felt the discomfort and  intense scrutiny when we pass from one country to the other since that time.

My own family ties have existed even before the wars mentioned on both sides of the river and continue to this day. I am proud of that fact. We have dear friends who live on that side... but come to share summers with us here in this summer Paradise.

Let us hope that Republican rhetoric never creates actual fences to create further alienation and discord between two peoples who have chosen to be together... yet share different thoughts and values. Fore bearers came to this New World to escape intolerance and persecution... to create a climate and life based upon Peace and Freedom.

It is not chance that the base of the Statue of Liberty... a gift from France to a fledgling nation should bear an open arms welcome to the poor and displaced. Let us have the courage... together as Free Nation States to open our minds... hearts and borders to those who need safe refuge from tyranny and even certain death.

Let us form a two country coalition built upon brotherhood and love. Let us "trump" those who would devalue and dishonor the the sacrifices already made to continue create the harmony that has governed our two neighboring countries peacefully through financial and political conflicts... and terror.

I reach across this fence-less border today to wish all Americans... and especially my blogging Friends...a Happy Thanksgiving and continued bounteous blessings!

Good Painting! ALL!!!

A Rockwellian timeless view of Thanksgiving... 1921

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Longevity... Friend?... or Enemy?

In the Beginning...  

" A Few... of My Favourite Things" - tempera on drawing board 10.5 x 7.5 inches

I rediscovered this small intimate study amongst my eldest daughter Lisa's belongings in her studio on Kerry Point... a mere three kilometers east of Rockport. I had completed it in 1979 as a part of my undergraduate studio art program portfolio. I much later offered it to Lisa when she was decorating the many walls of her own new riverside home. The painting is a portrait of sorts because its compositional elements were carefully chosen and drew together a concise impression of my interests at that particular time in both my personal and painting lives.

The elements of this still life consist of my "uniform" at that time. I was rarely seen without my "one bag carried all" sketching kit... my khaki military-style hat bearing a badge which read... "Smile at Someone Today". Lastly, my trusty denim blue jeans... still my pants of choice daily.

The backdrop is Lisa's bed in our Camden East home in the special bedroom I had decorated for her. The antique arrow back chair... was one of a set of four that Joan and I had purchased because of their lovely lines and comfortable backs and seats. The set, also including a matching oval pine table still grace Joan's dining area in her home.

I was a full blown water colorist in that era with my interests directed towards the school of High Realism and the work of its North American masters (whom I admired greatly and emulated). They included American icon Andrew Wyeth and his Canadian counterparts Ken Dandy and Glen Loates.

My interests were in capturing exactness of draughtsmanship and texture... embedded in their moody and nostalgic milieu. While I did achieve a certain degree of pleasure and major sales success in following this path... there was always a state of interior restlessness to paint more loosely within me.... and more in the outdoors.

It was during this same period that I was working on obtaining my undergrad degree in Art History at Queen's University. As a part of those studies, I undertook taking "for credit" winter studio courses in drawing and painting. Over time... that I was first introduced to other media such as sculpture, printmaking, collage, abstraction, figure life drawing and color theory.

In this heady new environment, I was no longer painting specifically for either pleasure or sales. I was on a new pathway of discovery and vast change - the very kind of change that continues to propel my creative journey today. The new media expanded my artistic working vocabulary and horizons and launched my voyage of discovery and learning.

If my previous artistic awareness was not shaken to its very roots by these two decades of searching and playing... then it was surely my eight weeks of study and painting in Venice in 1989 which completely humbled and transformed me. This epiphany remains the pivotal point in my growth and development as an artist... a person and a teacher. The experience melded all three together instantly.

Longevity has such a hollow ring for me personally. There is a great hidden cost for striving only to achieve longevity in any field. Any struggle to retain it over a long period of time can only be justified in my mind when one can retain a truly honest passion for maintaining it in one's life. Using the term longevity in terms of "job security"... or in reference to Art is foolhardy. A loss of commitment in either direction results in a lack of growth... resulting in a lack of personal initiative  and fulfillment. Such conditions create stasis or equilibrium.

Longevity need not imply a lack of... or willingness to change. Nor should it imply a patently blatant "flip-flop" driven by boredom or lack of vision. Perhaps, in a sense... creating art is as organic as Life itself... and is therefore always seeking change as a necessary part of its existence.

Perhaps painting and Life flow... much like the river that passes in front of us... quietly, but ever moving towards its final destination - the sea. Since we journey in separate craft... but on the same river pathway we are all free to make individual choices about how we journey.

One could choose (foolhardy, in my estimate) to swim against the flow, or current. This would most certainly lead to rapid fatigue and likely abandonment of the task. One might also choose to rest at the oars and simply drift with the current... making little effort to do other than go where the current took one. That might include getting caught in an eddy... where one would remain indefinitely... justy going in endless circles.

My choice would be to steer the craft... row a bit... rest a bit and to seek out places of interest towards which I could encourage my craft to explore further. I would make no effort to back paddle against the current. I would rather use the memories of where I had been, or what I had seen to be included in the interpretation of what was before me. Simply put... I would choose to paddle

Fully in the Now... "cause Yesterday's Gone... and Tomorrow hasn't arrived"

I choose to pull forward this small painting image posted by me only a week ago. I need not create another tribute of Remembrance because none could be more personal to me. Its every detail and raison d'etre embody the continuing deep sense of loss and grief that I share with a particular family. But in the truest sense... it applies universally to any person or family who has suffered the loss of a son, daughter, mother, father... or friend through armed conflict.

I continue to hope and believe... that during these tragic days we can together find a place in our hearts to plant seeds of Peace and Goodwill. These can be shared with ALL our brothers and sisters wherever we live. Together... we can present a common force to displace and diminish the intended fear and chaos created by a misguided... deranged and violent few amongst us.

Let us each create Light and Truth through our own actions and work. Let us each... in our own unique way share these and the blessings of our own safe havens with those unfortunates who struggle to leave the darkness in which they currently are forced to live. Let each of us... in our small corner... Shine on!

In closing today's post, I offer a sample of Lisa's painting from the same era as Favourite Things. Her creative spirit which travelled alongside me then... continues healthily today ... on its own. "She" now carries the spirit of generosity blended with her creative strength in to her adult life. I can assure you that the time spent together mattered then. It still does... under her own terms.

It is in the eyes of our children that we live with and for... that positive change can have a chance to live on. "They"... and our Art... are the seeds of Hope that we can plant now that will yield the best chance for Peace and Happiness to succeed us... in a Future and Tomorrow... that we shall never see.

A Lisa "original" watercolor dated 1975. That would make her eight years of age at the time.
"We" are greatly blessed... and "I" am exceedingly proud!!

Happy upcoming Thanksgiving Day to my American Friends!...  My prayers to France and Africa!

Good Painting!... and Peace... to ALL Friends around the World!!!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Sympathetic Resonance

The Beach Boys understood the concept and used it when they cruised to the top of the pop music charts with "Good Vibrations". Scientists and piano tuners make use of the physics involved when one tuning fork emits a frequency of sound that is picked up and repeated by a second tuning fork. They share a common frequency that harmonically links them... even without them touching.

 A similar sympathetic resonance exists between humans... given the right circumstances. Good feelings... moods and energy seem to elicit the same feelings from others around us.  However... the opposite is true as well. Negativity and ill feelings breed similar states and responses if we are exposed to "the downers" in our world.

It really comes down to personal choices for each of us. Being with positive and uplifting people enhances our spirits... our health and well-being... and our creative energy. Each of these personal needs combine to create happy... healthy and motivated individuals.

In creating our art... we strive for excellence and to be different. Both are difficult tasks to achieve, and neither can be achieved overnight. The words strive to me... denotes a lifetime commitment to a path of learning that is exceedingly demanding of our time and resources. I have learned from my own experience... that despite having made many fine painting friends along the way... the downside is that this means we must search most of the time... alone.

If we are not alone physically... we must be alone intellectually to work out and to satisfy our own unique interests and needs. Often they collide... or are out of step at least... with those around us. WEe must strive to be our own very best critics because listening too closely to... or mimicking those we admire truly defeats the very goal of creation. We will never find the True Creative Self... that is contained and housed within each of us.

We should endeavour to self-critique continually... and ferociously... ridding ourselves of inferior ideas or works. Some paintings we make are cul-du-sacs... dead ends that lack depth or a level of quality that displays individual growth and excellence. Not all works deserve a signature... nor a place on the wall. They can be kept to remind us where we have come from... or they can keep us warm on a winter night in the fireplace.

There are pieces that deserve further thought and consideration. Laying them aside where they can be seen allows for germination and perhaps a new direction of thought and action. Here is an example of  just such a piece that I have just spent "extra time" in the studio. It has lain around for a full year and quite frankly was one step away from being "frisbeed"

The painting was completed under very poor weather conditions last November. It was a typically dreary November day on the river... and I sought refuge from the weather under the eave of a friend's cottage. While the height above the subject was interesting to me... I could not resolve many parts of the painting because of having to fight with the canvas between showers. It lacked light... and most truthfully reflected accurately my own dismal interior feelings about the day.

Here is that grey and dismal plein air canvas... round one... to Mother Nature!

                                             "Taylor Central" - oil on canvas 20x16 inches

I even returned to the original site at the best time of day to take advantage of better weather and lighting conditions. Still... the spirit of the place failed to move me enough to warrant reworking the canvas as I often do on occasions like this one... Second "verse"... same as the first!

So I made the decision to scratch the subject and not to waste further time trying "to make a bad painting better." I sanded away all of the peaks of pigment thoroughly and set the canvas aside for a "rainy day" ... in the studio. It was pre- toned for action at least!

Last week, my painting pal Frank and I went on a painting misadventure... our purpose to catch the last bit of fall colour hanging' about. Lots of digital images returned with us... but the day was a bust in terms of painting - disappointing for me!

A week or so later and I was sitting at my computer reviewing the pix we had taken on the trip and this p[articular landscape caught my eye almost immediately. At first... the reason was unclear to me why I should be attracted to this particular image. Then... as I looked over my shoulder towards the base of my easel, I caught sight of the recently sanded loser. It was lying exactly as you see it above... its original vertical position now horizontal. Here is the landscape image  that caught my attention.

Can you see what resonated in my mind at that AHA moment???

Look at the larger shapes in both images. These major compositional lines and shapes share an uncanny similarity. Any differences can be easily reshaped to conform to the similar traits that they share

This image below shows my lay in loosely and quickly painted response... making use of the digital image to guide my brushwork. You can see that I take liberties and seek not to absolutely copy the photo... just as I customarily do when painting in the field. This stage took about an hour to complete. I took a break and came back to finish in a second hour at the easel.

This is the finished painting... in my humble opinion far superior to the original grey flop. I hope that this exercise that I have shared with you resonates the great sense of accomplishment and joy that I now feel in having not given up. Listen to your head and heart. Paint what you love... with commitment and energy. Make the process fun. Accept defeat graciously... but ALWAYS on your own terms.

Have the courage to take chances... and fail. Walter Campbell has this to say about failure:

"Where you stumble... there lies your treasure."

                            "Autumnshine, Blue Mountain Road"  oil on canvas 16x20 inches

Good Painting!!!.. and "Good Vibrations"... to ALL!!!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

"A" Words... Autumn... Austerity...Adversity and Adaptation

How appropriate that Autumn translates fall. Fall is often associated with loss as is the case in Autumn when there occurs a loss of foliage, colour, time and light. In thinking about the two terms autumn does indeed reflect upon a "falling away" ... or decline of warmth and growth that is associated with the high time of summer. It is, as well easy to understand the decline of our emotional high as we anticipate the approach of winters long and cold presence.

All that is visible around us in the natural world bespeaks loss ands a sense of austerity which for so many people develops into a deep melancholy and sadness. It is why Remembrance Day dovetails so perfectly with November. It seems that the two are austere and fitting companions for the same calendar month.

Austerity conveys and encourages other meanings for me personally. Austerity yields an opportunity for one to more fully explore and discover truths that otherwise lay overridden... or hidden in other seasons. Brilliance... in any form can be blinding to the "ordinary" eye. It tends to overwhelm and evoke a sense of awe... both of which unwittingly undermine Truth.

Austerity pares away the wrappings and trappings of colour and complex forms... to reveal new insights and possibilities. It encourages simplicity and economy of expression. It more readily encourages the creation of visually tacit... terse and provocative visual poems that defy painting conventions that are overly detailed and ornately structured.

                                                           The sentinel stands
                                                      To face winter's icy cold
                                                            Unyielding... stoic

                                          "November's Sentinel - oil on panel 10x8 inches

Adversity visits us all at various times in our lives. It has many faces - death, illness,divorce, financial misfortune, business failure, loss of one's job, disasters - the list is endless. Adversity is a reality that none of can avoid... nor deny at any length. It must be somehow dealt with eventually. We must be able to move on beyond the usual human question... "Why me?"... to survive and continue our journeys.

We can best navigate safely through these precarious waters using wisdom and knowledge from trusted family, friends and mentors. We need to progress beyond pride and fear to face our adversity with sound foundations of Wisdom and Truth. These sources can only be effective when there exists a mutual basis of Trust and Respect. Neither can be given... they must be earned.

Adversity in one's art creation can hardly be defined in terms of a lack of sales or critical comment. Adversity would more likely be attributed to our loss of powers of perception, or a physical disability which hampers or prevents working. Even in  these most feared circumstances, one can discover individuals who have risen above such challenges to continue creative lives. What comes to mind  in this regard... is my final A" word - adaptability.


Deb and I treated ourselves to a rare... and much deserved night at the movies last week. At the strong urging of our youngest son Bryn, we went to see The Martian, starring Matt damon. Do go and see this film!

What a powerful film masterpiece this is... for many reasons. The plot is spellbindingly brilliant and riveting. The acting skilfully blends the serious with the silly... fear with relief...empathy tinged with uplifting spiritual joy. The 3D cinematography combines with the Dolby Surround Sound to yield for the viewer as close to a truly martian experience for us who never will voyage to Mars... or wish to do so. The scientific information presented during the two hours plus completely baffles one's sense of time and space.

But most of all, it clearly reveals through Damon the complete wonder and breadth of the human spirit and our ability to adapt to adverse conditions and top solve problems . Therein lies a new sense of hope within me. A Hope that we, as a species can overcome the increasing ecological and political threats to our earthly existence on our fragile planet.

The complex and often vicious society that we currently live in (as is demonstrated in last evening's unspeakably atrocities in Paris) underscore our need for Hope and Faith and a pathway to world peace. But how is that to be accomplished in the face of such barbarism and unholy conduct under any religious grounds? Where does violence end... and at what cost - again?

It is scarcely a few days since I stood with many other residents of Brockville, my home town... to remember. In my own case, to remember a young man lacing up skates at an early morning hockey practice. Little did any of us know or dream, that scarcely a dozen years later Matt Dawes would offer up his life in the service of his country and the war-weary Afghans. Adversity!

All of us who remember Matt have undergone our own paths of adaptation... though I personally cannot begin to understand or fathom how his family has been able to move on and to cope. All that we can do is to move on and re-dedicate a portion of our time and energy to using our lives to promote... preserve and honour his and so many other lives that have been sacrificed to insure peace... or the hope for it.

I choose to make art which embraces Sharing... Generosity and telling Truth. I was deeply honoured to be asked to offer an enlarged giclee representation of the smaller original painting that I presented in Matt's honour to his wife Tara and son Lucas to be hung in the Band Room at Royal Military College, Kingston. It was presented to RMC at last year's Remembrance ceremony and now hangs in the very building renamed to Matt's honour.

                            "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" - oil on panel 12x10 inches

This small painting travels beyond being a "traditional" still life. It is my hope that all of its elements and design  encourage the viewer to respond in thought to the question offered by the title. It is meant to be a dialoguing device to stir emotional thought.... and to perhaps motivate peaceful action.
Creating art should go beyond representing "what is." It can... if thoughtfully pursued register "what might be". That is my Hope and my goal for my own work.

I wish to close out today's post on a positive note... simply to further share some favourite plein air "haikus". Enjoy!...

"The most important thing a painter can do is find a good place to sit."
- J.E.H MacDonald  (Group of Seven Painters Member)

In closing... come sit with me...while I share just a few good places of my own... where I sat and painted some plein air "haikus". Enjoy!

                                            "Autumn's Adagio" - oil on panel 8x10 inches

                                  "Galeairy Lake, Algonquin Park - oil on panel 8x10 inches

                                    "Sunlit Algonquin Highlands" - oil on panel 10x12 inches

                                         "Madawaska Relics" - oil on canvas 16x20 inches

                                  "The Watcher", Combermere - oil on canvas 16x20 inches

                         "Autumn's Closing Act, Algonquin Park" - oil on canvas 20x24 inches

Good Painting!... and ALL!!!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Pausing to Remember...

November's changes bring with them a sense of reflection that quite naturally usher in an urge to look back and remember. We longingly recall the now lost warmth of summer and the rich color and pageantry of autumn now quickly faded. November reflects a pause in human activity... a perfect time to remember... and offer thanks for the blessings in each of our lives.

On Wednesday, many of us here in Canada and around the world will gather at cenotaphs to briefly remember and honor the too many women and men who unselfishly offered up their dreams and tomorrows to preserve and make possible the peace that we have lived under here at home. They too... shared places in our garden of humanity... but were viciously plucked before their lives had scarcely begun.

There are many ways to honor them. Let me count some of the simple ways. One can wear a poppy. One can take time out to attend a Remembrance Day service in one's community. One can simply lower one's head in privacy for two minutes at 11:00 am... and remember with thanks. One can conduct their own lives to include small acts of kindness and service throughout the year. There are so many ways to make their sacrifice have purpose.

I choose to offer this annual blog of remembrance to individuals within the realm of my own existence who made the supreme sacrifice for Canadians like myself and my family. I , as well will be in attendance at the Remembrance Day services in my home town, Brockville to continue to keep their memory alive. Doing these things helps me to feel that I am passing forward my own personal experiences to honor their memory and sacrifice.

                                                                   The Sentinel...

                                                         Before the parades... Cenotaph in Brockville

                    My friend and Korean veteran Jack... parading ... for his final time in 2014

                              "Where Have All the Flowers Gone"... my anthem and tribute to

                                 Captain Matthew Dawe... gone but never forgotten Matt!

Matt's Dad Colonel Peter Dawe and Matt's son Lucas presenting The Matt Dawe Memorial Sword
                              at Royal Military College Graduation Ceremonies in Kingston

CPL Nathan Cirillo... ruthlessly gunned down o October 22nd, 2014 by a homegrown terrorist
                                    while guarding The Canadian War Memorial in Ottawa

              Another fatherless young boy.... Marcus...  robbed of his dreams and family birthright

These are but a few of my reasons for setting aside a few moments of time in my life. I feel their loss... I do my best to pass forward simple kindnesses in my own fashion to honor them . Every day is a chance for me to repay my debt to them. This blog... an expression of my freedom of speech was made possible by their combined sacrifices.

Choose to remember...
Lest we forget!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Is Not Autumn... Pure Poetry in Motion?

"Winter is an etching, Spring is a watercolour, Summer is an oil painting and Autumn is a mosaic of them all"  - Stanley Horowitz, author

                                               "Harold's Gone" - oil on panel 8x10 inches

Autumn in Canada is such a remarkably stirring season. Breath-taking... in both its vibrancy of colour and short duration. Most Canadian artists wait for this season and for the once-in-the year opportunity to sling raw cadmium pigments at will. It offers respite from pesky flies and temperatures that do not punish... neither with heat or cold. Autumn is in short...  painter's paradise!

This morning, I pondered how much Autumn might be compared to the Japanese Haiku poetic form. It struck me that both were squeezed into a relatively small portion of time to digest the whole that they represent. Both present terse, but deeply spiritual... or at least... thought-provoking experiences that force one to consider them beyond face value.

The tangible essence of each depends upon uniquely distinct traits which are predictable in their rhythm and sudden finish. Both create their substance from a natural world experience and setting. Juxtaposed between two extremely different landscapes, Autumn heightens her mystique and majesty... using raw colour and quiet to bespeak her eloquence.

I have not attempted to write a haiku for a number of years, but have always have loved the challenge of doing so. The exercise found its way into my grade seven and eight English curriculum and young writers like Lois stepped to the challenge with much zeal and success.

Haiku Format

Haiku typically consists of three short lines and usually has a theme based upon a natural world experience. It most always follows this structural form:

Line one has five syllables or beats
Line two consists of seven syllables
Line three has five syllables

Usually descriptive words like adverbs and adjectives are to be avoided because they stretch line length and rhythm and create awkwardness in choice of language.

Rhyme is not usually included or is it  necessary.

The subject matter considered in the first lines is often juxtaposed to an entirely different thought or image. This creates intended an ambiguity which causes a second level of more abstract meaning... or a puzzle of sorts that must be considered by the reader.

Here is a photo that I took upon which I have based my haiku in this post. Just "Me"... thinking and having fun outside the usual (paint) box. I hope that this might pique someone else's interest.

                                                                  Ginkgo and Maple
                                                          Both yellowed by autumn cold
                                                                   Culture has no play.

Painting a Haiku Styled Image

On a purely personal level, I believe that a good landscape painting should translate in one's own personal language rather than attempt to directly copy Nature. It should be a deeply felt and display interpretation and risk-taking. These factors add up to true creativity and offer ownership to the artist. Using another poetic term... paintings can be construed to be lyrical odes... or tributes to a subject that captures one's soul.

I prefer to embrace a purely impressionistic approach to subject matter and colour in my working method. This choice basically derives from my earlier interest in the Canadian Group of Seven Painters... blended with influences of American Impressionists I admire like John Carlson, Emile Gruppe, Robert Henri and Paul Strisik... just to name a few.

A purely interpretive style based upon the tenets of simplicity and bravura have been the goals that I aim for. I hope to produce paintings which encourage a dialogue with the viewer and the use of their own imagination. I am including this autumn cornucopia of small plein air sketches which in my mind possess a "haiku" quality in their rendering. The term "painterly" comes to the fore in each of them because they are painted quickly... yet carefully in a purely alla prima method. Within the title lurks further insight to my underlying interest in this choice of subject.

Enjoy... and Happy Fall Painting!... to ALL!!!

                                                                       "Signalling Fall"

                                                                "Faith of our Fathers"

                                                                  "Beyond the Fence"

                                                      "Canon... in C... Crimson ... Major!"


                                                             " First Ice Sculpture"

                                                                "Early Autumn Gold"

                                                                     "Sunlit Cedars"