Archive for the ‘painting’ Category

Studio visit with Anarchist/Artist…

June 12, 2008

Flora and I had been planning this trip up the coast for a couple of weeks. We intended to visit Anarchist/Artist, take him for lunch, see his local exhibition and then visit his studio. I was pumped, and not only because for a shut-in, like me, a trip like this is a special gift, but also because I so much enjoy spending time with Anarchist/Artist and see him pull out of storage one remarkable work after another. Prissy german Tourist, who is also friends with him, and I, both consider Anarchist/Artist one of of B. C.’s underappreciated artistic treasures. He is absolutely committed to his work and to living within certain stringent principles which he espouses. A man to admire, in the complete sense of admiration of coherent belief and practice as exemplars in living. He does good, does no harm, and lives gently with great respect for the gifts life bestows upon him.

Taking a ferry to get to his community is such a production. Because Flora is such a fine and intelligent companion, time travelling didn’t seem so onerous. En route, we discussed various points of politics and practice of the publicly funded gallery system. We admired the views from the ferry’s lounge, even though the day was one of lowering skies, greens, and misty greys. We watched a small motor boat struggle to cross the bow of the ferry up ahead, quite nervous and anticipating a small marine disaster. Some operators of small craft have little awareness of the speed of larger vessels. Our coast has a history of many accidents during such attempts to not lay by and let a larger boat have right of way. We were quite relieved to note the smaller boat scoot out of danger, by a hair, it seemed.

Once debarked, we made good time on the Coast road, and soon turned off the highway onto the dirt track where Anarchist/Artist’s cabin and studio nestled among a profusion of Rhododendrons, past bloom, and tall evergreens. An eight foot cairn marks the parking area. A bonsai-ed horse-chestnut tree in a planter stands near the front steps; its leaves perfect and tender green. Sweet woodruff carpetsthe foundations on either sides of the staircase. We peeked through the glass door to see Anarchist/Artist upright near his vomiting skeleton sculpture, happily sipping from a ceramic mug with a temmoku glaze. We tapped on the window. He came and let us in; greeted us with warm hugs and kisses on the cheek.

I invariably feel good whenever in his company. He is courtly, charming, beautifully spoken with an educated British accent. In his mid-sixties, he is aging as only men who have led a healthful and considered life age – gracefully and well. He lives a simple and aesthetic life surrounded by his work, by books, music, and growing things which he propagates for his survival and consumption. On his easel was a recent still-life study of a clutch of beets and their greens. This glowed in jewel-like splendour, made with reverence, vigour and beautiful marks. When asked if he got his vegetable garden in ample time this spring, he bemoaned that he had been reluctant to set out his cucumber seedlings because nights, even in June, have been so cold this year. He is fearful he will not get in his usual crop. He grows an organic cash crop, and exchanges for meats and other supplies. We wondered what kind of crop he might get this year. The weather has been so unusually somber and lacking in hot sunny days.

Flora sked him wher he migh want to go for lunch. we decided to blow the budget and go to a restaurant where there was a good chef. However, after we drove there we found it closed. We went off to a waterfront pub and sat outside under propane heaters ( a most unusual necessity in late spring at this latitude). We ate, drank wine with our pub fare and discussed his long career. Flora demonstrated by her demeanor that she much enjoyed his company. I listened and posed some questions and small observations. After all, our intention in visiting with Anarchist/Artist was to have the two of them meet and discuss further exhibition possibilities of A/A’s works.

After lunch we drove to the local Municpal Gallery, where A/A’s plein air paintings of local industrial landscapes were exhibited. I should hesitate to label them as “plein air” because they are qualitatively much different with what is associated with plein air paintings. They are really direct studies of industrial constructions in the landscape, and as such differ from the flabby, inchoate landscapes that are lately characterized as plein air paintings. A/A has an acute manner of distilling industrial forms, and way of notating the characteristic land, water and sky patterns of our region. As a collection, this exhibition should be bought by a local museum, as examples of a painter’s recording of the economic activities of a specific region. But, by God, there were several I would have loved to have for myself! We stayed in the gallery for a long time. I entertained myself by getting nose-to-painting looks at the marks he had made the paintings of, and studying his truly idiosyncratic use of colour. What a treat!

We drove back to his studio afterward and stayed for a couple of hours more. He pulled out from storage his more controversial and political work, some drawings and studies. We looked at his collection of seed-pods, bones, roots, a remarkable desiccated skunk, stones and dried insects. Much of his graphic work is inhabited by the presence of these objects as part of the symbolic vocabulary he uses. He has obviously developed his visual language over many past decades of consideration and study, and in his work offers permutations and combinations of them much as a poet does of words and metaphors. The energy and control with which he makes his marks is masterful; his skill developed by years of trial and practice. he is a remarkable colourist. While his political imagery is disturbing, it has the conviction of thought and belief, long considered, as underpinning. One may or may not like his paintings, his prints, but they seep into the brain, into memory, under the skin and won’t let go. Flora looked and looked, commented, asked questions. I asked to buy a book of his prints and one of his more anarchist print images for myself. But there is one remarkable painting i am going to save my shekels for, now. I know Rumpole wont necessarily like it, but usually he assents to my decision to acquire art that means something to me.

Flora and i realized after a time that we were almost going to mis the ferry home. So we said our goodbyes to and appreciation of the time Anarchist/Artist had given us. On the trip home we discussed how Flora might be able to raise funds to have an exhibition of Anarchist/Artist’s work at our Municipal gallery. We brainstormed over coffee and muffins and filled paper napkins with copious notes of our fundraising ideas. We agreed it had been a day spent in the best possible way.

Today I am exhausted, but happy at having had such a wonderful experience and opportunity. I just hope Anarchist/Artist doesn’t feel like we have wasted his time. And I am hoping that a local exhibition comes about from the meeting between him and Flora.

The hanging…

January 14, 2008

The rickety aluminum ladder spanned five feet on the floor and ascended ten feet in height. Terry scaled it like a young chimp, sure-footed; she perched herself at the top. Imperious, like a surgeon in surgery, she held out her hand and demanded “yardstick”. She steeled herself, centering her mass. She pulled the pencil from above her ear with one hand, with the other she measured a distance down from the ceiling and ticked a mark on the dove-grey gallery wall. She, then, aligned the yardstick horizontal from that pencilled mark and measured off a distance. Then she snubbed the yardstick up to the ceiling vertically and marked off a measurement equal to the pencil mark on the other side. She poked the pencil above her ear, and held down the yardstick. “Hammer” she called out.

Flora, the curator, hopped to it; she grabbed the yardstick and placed the hammer into Terry’s outstretched hand. She stepped back and joined Looking-for-Beauty who was standing back photographing the proceedings with her digital camera. I slouched beside them and watched this young woman perching so surely on that ladder. LFB showed me some shots on her camera screen. Great photos, even if Terry was shown from the back. She took some balletic poses; her oversized black t-shirt and black tights made wonderful, unexpected, shapes against her outstretched arms.

Terry fished some nails from her waistband, held one between her lips and made to fasten the other into the wall. A couple of efficient slaps of the hammer seated the nail. She stretched to the other side, plucked the nail from between her pursed lips, positioned it with a deft touch and pounded it into place. “OK, you guys, bring the scroll,” she said and turned from the waist to watch Flora and me roll up either end of the ten-foot paper scroll and position it between the ladder and the wall.

Flora and I unfurled the top part; Terry pulled it into place at the top of the wall and secured the hanging clips to the nailheads. She scooted down from the ladder and pulled it back a few feet. Flora and I unrolled the bottom of the scroll and let it hang. Terry stood back and appraised the level of the top edge. “It’s off level,” she said. “G, please bring me the big level.” She pushed the ladder back into its original position, scaled the rungs, grabbed her pencil with a flourish and held down her other hand to receive the level. She calculated, made a corrective pencil mark on the wall to raise one side of the scroll, handed down the level and exchanged it for the hammer Flora handed up to her. Within seconds she corrected the position of the nail and rehung the scroll,  now perfectly horizontal and vertical.

Once she had climbed down, we all stood back and admired the tall multi-media painting/drawing. We scanned the overall impression made by the rest of the works on the gallery walls. Terry had hung the large works with use of the tall ladder. Sarah and I had hung all the medium and small sized works. LFB had documented the process, and Flora had overseen the positioning and sequencing of the whole exhibition. We had worked largely in silence as a team and the installation seemed to have taken hardly any time at all.

I was so happy that I could do my little bit, in spite not being able to see clearly the measurements as Sarah and I worked with the tape, level, hammer, hangers and pencil. But it was Sarah’s first time in doing an exhibition installation, and I could help her routinize the system of hanging a series of same-sized works. It is a method much like riding a bycicle – once you have mastered the skills and routines, doing it once again even after a long absence is the same as getting back on the bike and riding off. I must say, I returned home afterward with a certain feeling of satisfaction. I like being part of a work team; it feels great to accomplish such a job.

At the exhibition opening next Saturday, Sarah, LFB, I, Terry and Flora will have the pleasure of seeing the young artist’s reaction to seeing his works hanging in the gallery space. We know his studio is not large enough to permit such a preview of how his series looks, up all together in a space designed for viewing the impact of this body of work. I know we are all hoping he will have a spurt of pleasurable satisfaction and pride when he first casts his eyes on all this. His work, after all has been a labour of love and deserves love of labour from all of us in bringing it to public viewing.

Cement Plant…

December 13, 2007


In 2004, on an August summer evening, Rumpole took me to take reference photos of the local cement plant. I planned to do a painting of the plant for a fundraiser for the local municipal art gallery the theme of which was – “Paint the Town.” To my thinking, local historical buildings and scenic views did not represent our town of suburbs, downtown core of cement buildings, malls with their massive concrete parking lots, the hard paving that we travelled on daily and were surrounded by, everywhere. For some reason, the cathedral of cement, from where all this suburban skin originated – the local Lafarge Cement plant – seemed an appropriate icon for ‘our town’.

So there we were, the two of us, at dusk. We wandered around the plant grounds. It felt abandoned, with a few cement trucks parked, ready to resume their next morning’s labour of moving wet cement to add yet more hard surface to the steadily encroaching spread of our community – bridges and overpasses, house basements, driveways and walkways, streets, mall parking lots – all multiplying like a grey mold. Rumpole didn’t seem to be as excited as I was by this place. He was more interested in making sure I took “The Proper Picture” and followed me around, taking the camera from my hand to see what the photos were like, and giving instruction on how best to take pictures. After all, it was his camera that was being used, and he has strong ideas as to what constitutes “good photos”. I was pretty pig-headed, myself, as to what kind of reference I needed to work from, so as we walked about in the failing light, we engaged in our usual heated discussion. Finally, I growled at him to back off and let me do my visual note-taking by myself.

There was something engaging about the persistence and vigour of the tall evergreen that flanked the plant. It suggested the power of nature to endure, to reclaim its primacy over any attempts to supress it. Thus it was this picture which I felt the most useful to work with and from.. It also approximated my idea of what constitutes the notion of “picturesque”.

This cement plant sits alongside a road many townies take regularly to access the ferry across the river. It is a landmark that goes largely unremarked, I suspect, not of as great importance or noteworthiness as the mountain that looms over our community, and which has been painted and photographed innumerable times. And yet, there it perches, this amazing structure, and has persisted in its peculiar architecture for over forty years. In terms of time, this is not so long a period, and yet as far as history of our town goes, its presence has been pivotal to the steady growth and spread over this region. So, how could it not be an important landmark, of sufficient interest to be used as an image representing the specifics of our town? I went with it, whole hog!

The painting, in oils on canvas, was three feet square. The scale was an important consideration to me. The painting grew apace, with a lurid and angry reddish sky. I delivered it to the gallery, still slightly tacky, as reds take a longer time to dry. It sat among the rest of the fundraising paintings and photos, like quite an odd man out. The mountain was represented at least in ten works; the parks, the dykes and historic buildings, nostalgia inducing, made up the rest of the images on offer. I could see that my painting might be a hard sell – not many people could live with a painting of an industrial subject, say, above their floral couch or looming over their dining room table.

At the fundraising auction, my painting did not incite vigorous bidding. A lady picked it up for $300. Well, at least it got some money for the art gallery, so that was fine. One thing though, I never took a picture of the painting for my own records, but that’s not so big a deal – it’s out there somewhere, even if it takes up a spot under someone’s bed.

A year ago, I was browsing through a second-hand store in town. Tucked in a corner, between a bookshelf and a ratty armoire was my painting of the cement plant. No price tag on it. I hunted down the clerk and asked him how much was being asked for the painting. $350, he said, “and it’s by a well known local member of the Mountain Club. It’s an original, you know – a real steal.” Later, that evening, I casually mentioned to Rumpole that my painting ended up in the second-hand store.

He studied my face, looking for signs of disappointment and dismay. “I’ll go buy it back. I like that painting.”

“Nope,” I said. “Once a painting is done and out in the world, it needs to find its way on its own. It has its own legs; let it end up where it ends up.”

“But, aren’t you feeling somewhat sad about it being remaindered?” he asked.

“Well, this is a good lesson about ego, self-importance, preciousness, letting go – it is a good lesson for me to think about.” I said.

Come to think of it – all those men who make roads, foundations, cement buildings do so in anonymity. I have my funny little signature appended to a part of my painting of the plant. The painting is one of many out in the world a mere speck of colour on a stretched sheet of canvas. It has served its purpose for me as its maker. It may, in its small way, cause people seeing it to wonder why someone might have lavished so much time and attention to crafting such an image. If it makes anyone, just one more person than myself, see the meaning, and importance that a cement plant has in our lives, my labours will have served their purpose.

The Drip…

October 20, 2007

Where is my mother, just when we need her to be here with a dish-towel in hand, lurking behind painters, ready to pounce and wipe, whenever drips course down paintings in progress?

Scenario: On the patio, I have set up my easel, canvas, buckets of water, upturned plant pots to serve as places to rest   paint tubes, brushes, rags, the ubiquitous cup of cold coffee, my ashtray and other necessities for painting uninterrupted for a morning. Mother materializes, unannounced and unexpected, at the corner of the house near the garden gate.

“Hi!” she says, “what are you doing this morning? I just thought to drop by and visit you.” ( She lives three miles away, and has walked the distance without calling ahead!)

“Oh, I’m painting this morning. Gotta get this painting off to a good start. Grab a coffee and come sit,” I suggest, meanwhile trying to contain my irritation with this unwelcome interruption.

I mix a good quantity of fluid acrylic, start to lay in divisions , forms and tonal areas.  Mother comes out the patio door, and, heaving a showy sigh, arranges herself in a nearby rickety lawnchair, in the shade of the roof overhang. She watches in silence for a while, then goes back inside. I carry on laying in broad marks on the canvas, change my mind, wipe out and resume building the understructure. A workable design begins to emerge. Also does mother, back on the patio again, toting a dish-towel. With noisy ceremony she resumes her perch on the lawn chair and mutters, “oh dear”.

“What? What?” I ask, gritting my teeth.

“You are making such a mess of that painting,” she grouses. “look at all those drips!” She leaps us from her seat and advances with the dish-towel clenched in her hand. Elbows me aside. Begins to carefully wipe all areas on the canvas where drips are coursing down.

I am stunned into silence, then into a realization that the poor dear is merely trying to save me from that dreadful painterly cliche – drips. On the other hand, maybe she is merely keeping up her practice of tidying me and my messes. Whatever! I start to giggle and snort, not only because this is so funny a situation, but also to hide my mounting frustration.

So where was Mother, or her spirit, when the numerous painters in last night’s art opening were in the midst of their painterly labours creating cliche after painterly cliche. And not just of technique, full of drips and artful ‘fuzzification’, but also of flourishes of brush which hid their inability to draw believable forms. Then of course, one must also not mention the pot-boiler character of the images, the flabby landscapes, romantic strollers on the beach, and unremarkable still lifes of wine bottle, wine glass and flowers in a vase.

I guess, because so many drips were left frozen in spot alongside attempts at bravura brushwork, so that paintings looked as if done in a fit of painterly passion and urgency, these paintings would be elevated from “bad” Impressionist paintings to “contemporary” Impressionist ones. The original Impressionists must be rotating in their graves!

Martha and I attended this opening. Rumpole declined to accompany us tonight. There was a good crowd sipping wine, eating canapes, gawking and chatting. A good deal of reverence emanated from the crowd.  After all, the venue was the lounge of a golf course club-house, quite toney.

I crept around the perimeter of the show with my nose near the paintings. Martha schmoozed. The work of eight painters was on show, but damn me, with a couple of exceptions, most of the paintings might have been done by one person. It felt a bit like landing in an exhibition and sale of the kind of work made by a painting mill. One where one person painted skies, then passed off the canvas to the next guy for him/her to paint the trees, and so on.

I grabbed a brochure to see what was up. Of course, this was all from a studio of acolytes and hangers on of a Luminary of contemporary Impressionism. Yes, Luminary was capitalized. The brochure was full of bad grammar, hyperbole and reverent mention of the influence of Pino and Nikolai Fechin. The name of Monet, if not the spirit, was invoked. Ah, so!

When we got back to my house, Rumpole poured us a cup of coffee. “So, how was the show?”he asked innocently.

“It was very well attended” announced Martha.

‘Lots of artful drips” I added, “but they could sure have used Mother and the dish-towel to sop up some of the excesses.”

The Blockbuster…

September 5, 2007

“Dry Sherry”, my friend who works at the VAG, kindly drove me to see what has been billed as this summer’s blockbuster exhibition.  The whole first floor of the gallery is occupied by this show, laid out in chronological historic order starting with Courbet and ending with Ben Nicholson and Mondrian.

The rooms seemed packed to me, but “Dry Sherry” assured that the volume of visitors expected did not materialize. Martha and Elsa had gone a couple of weeks ago, on the evening of the “cheap night” where there were cheek to jowl people squeezed into the spaces, and looking at the displayed works was made difficult by the crowds milling about. Apparently, that evening the lines waiting to be let in stretched the length of several blocks, and they had to wait in line for over an hour before being let in. DS and my visit was fairly comfortable, and we took four hours to go through.

A problem for me was that I couldn’t read the title plates nor the didactic panels unless I got really close to them, and this was made awkward by the stanchions delineating space that prevented closeness to the walls.  DS read titles, media and other bits of information out loud to me while I juggled wearing two pairs of glasses in order to discern the surface of the paintings, and the marks of paint handling which is a particular pleasure for me..

DS is a great companion with whom to see an exhibition. She has an extensive art history background and a truly open mind about what constitutes compelling art work. We discussed each painting at length and she had an interesting way of providing opinions and impressions of what she was looking at. We each made a note of which paintings we would like to go home with, to live with and which would provide many years of viewing pleasure. There were some pleasant surprises, such as the Manet portrait of Berthe Morisot painted in an austere tonal pallette of blacks, coloured greys and a rich variety of browns with a most assured, direct and economical manner of execution. It was extremely casual in feel when compared with a Tissot confection that was highly polished; and yet it was the Manet which I loved.

The Renoirs in this collection (Cleveland Museum of Art) seemed vapid, flabby and sugary to me and reinforced my strong aversion to paintings by him. The one Degas portrait exhibited, a sober portrait of one of his Italian aunts, reminded me of why I have revered Degas as painter; yet this painting did not have the polish of the Renoirs. What it did have was a wonderful series of painterly decisions  and false starts, a record of a process taken by Degas in realizing this study. I felt like he was talking to me about why the veil of grey halo around one side of the head was necessary to try out, and why the placement of the reds in the composition he decided to place in the apices of an implied triangle in the composition. It was as if his thought processes were being transmitted by the construction, and I feel fortunate in being able to have this privileged experience.

The three Cezannes provided so much satisfaction. The Monets nearby did not fare well in comparison with the Cezannes, to me they seemed to lack an coherence, an overallness that was convincing, and their construction lacked rigour to me. They were paintings that would yield me a lifetime of absorbed contemplation – I loved them!

Van Gogh shared space with a delicious Redon. I am not a lover of floral still lives, yet this Redon gem captivated me with its effervescent and fresh colouration – we stood in front of it in discussion for a long time. Of the three Van Gogh pictures, two were gorgeous landscapes with all the beautiful casually cloisonnist shapes and spaces characteristic of Van Gogh’s mature style and with the brilliant matrix of brush marks with which he guided the eye through and around the composition.  And the colour was joyous and celebratory. Van Gogh is one of my painting “gods”, has been ever since I was a young girl and these paintings reminded me why I have held his works in the highest esteem.

There was a restrained and austere Braques Cubist construction that allowed for sustained contemplation that was most satisying.  This one, of somber browns and greys, reminded me of the meditative cadence of a fugue. Nearby hung a Cubist Picasso painting of a Pierrot, audacious and dramatic in contrasts of light and dark, pattern and plain, full of an inventive variety of pattern possibilities.  While I admired it, it was not a painting I would want to tuck under my arm and abscond with, were I so larcenously inclined.  But the Braques – oh, now that might be a painting for which I would risk my reputation as a law-abiding woman!

Of the sculptures, there was a lovely subtle head of a child by Medardo Rosso, which I had seen in reproduction many years ago – it sat there quietly seeming to elude stillness. A number of Rodin studies in bronze, patinated almost to gleaming black, were a treat to see. I like to see the struggle of Rodin to realize form, captured in these sculptures and it is so great to be visually invited to partake of his enormous efforts.

“Dry Sherry” really liked the two Dali  variations of St George, one a pen and ink drawing, the other an etching.  We agreed that Dali had probably studied Ucello’s “Rout of San Romano” because  the echoes of horse physiognomy were so reminiscent of Ucello’s prancing horses.  In the gift shop, we searched for reproductions of these two pictures, but alas, only the mainstream masterpieces were represented by the offerings there.  DS is an equestrienne and she was particularly take with these two Dalis.

It seemed to me that the didactic panels for the works in this exhibition gave only cursory smatterings of generalized information, regurgitation of art history canon, and predictably familiar brief descriptions.  A few people wandered around with large telephones held to their ears, listening to the canned explanations. At the sound of beeps they moved from painting to painting. We had a marvellous conversation with a couple from the north of England who had an interesting bit of information to share about a Dali painting in which a group of three men seemed to be engaged in a not very vigorous tussle.  They said the men seemed to be doing Cumbrian wrestling, a form of stylized and restrained gentlemanly sport. So now “Dry Sherry” and I can Google up some interesting bits about this.

I feel thoroughly energized by this time “Dry Sherry’ and I have spent at the VAG.  The whole experience was such a treat, and I am delighted that I am still able to see well enough to have made a direct face to face with some wonderful paintings. And the companionship of a knowledgeable and sensitive viewer like her was a special treat!

Personal colour…

July 26, 2007

Ten years ago Prissy German Tourist and I audited an experimental painting course at a nearby college. We loaded up his van three times a week with piles of gear and materials and drove the 30 or so kilometers for our afternoon studio sessions. I had the dubious honour of being the oldest person in the studio and the students gave me wide berth.

We always arrived about an hour early in order to be able to carve out our own working spaces, array our supplies and ready work surfaces. PGT always prepared his colours at home. He decanted colours from off-tints  he bought at paint stores and put them in squeeze bottles.  In a previous incarnation he had been a commercial illustrator/designer and had defined his personal colour palette from his close knowledge of the Pantone colour system. He favoured clear pastel colours, both warms and cools and juxtaposed them with greyed colours which I associated with persistent depression. All of his work demonstrated a frayed, slightly morbid colouration, but could he ever strike a strongly individual temperature and mood in his use of colours. At the end of studio sessions, while we all walked about looking at each other’s productions, his work would be striking for its amazing colour pallette.

My own work tended toward the highly saturated, with jarring contrasts. I rarely used blue, red or yellow, and my colour preference leaned toward the secondary and tertiary colour combinations. I like modifying colours with their complementaries. The grey scale held its particular attractions for me, as well.

The rest of the students in the studio also demonstrated truly individual colour preferences.  Some liked tinkering with colour mixing; others just squeezed colour directly from tubes or ladled from jars and rarely mixed.

Our instructor’s colour pallette preferences remained a mystery to me until I made a visit to his studio downtown, later in the academic year. He never discussed our use of colour in studio during critiques and individual advice sessions, and this I thought very peculiar, given that we all laboured away, individually trying to come to grips with colour as it related to expression of ideas. So visiting this fellows studio proved completely surprising, especially in his personal use of colour in his paintings.  He favoured what I considered mildly adventurous men’s shirt selection colours – the kind that would be arrayed for a spring sale in a men’s clothing store, whisper colours, not outright declarative ones. “You like candy colours, but washed out ones!” I said to him.  But then his paintings were of classical, nubile female nudes, vaguely erotic in a chaste sort of way, painted laboriously with little hint of gesture in the work. “You use a conflicted Catholic palette!” I tentatively ventured.  This comment led to a discussion about temperament, emotional colourings in expression, and how to discover a personally meaningful way of making art for oneself.

Colours to me have the capacity to evoke taste and sound – this may seem weird, but then I also consider sounds to have texture, colour, sheen and weight. There is a term for this tendency to perceive sensory input in an intertwined and not separate manner – synaesthesia.  PGT experiences like this, and so did our college instructor.  I have had many friends who experience colour in this manner.  Over the years, discussing colour with people with this capacity has yielded some poetic descriptions, unusual ways of describing colour sensations.

In the scheme of things, of living in a complex world of strange phenomena and happenings, paying attention to colour expression and potential may seem frivolous to some.  However, it pays to be attentive to how much information colours can reveal. Scientists and doctors glean important information from colours they perceive. Ordinary people do as well discriminate about the ranges of experience frome pleasant to unpleasant, desirable to undesirable, safe to unsafe, based on their association with a range of colours and tones.

Colour is important to me, in that it influences my moods so much and yields so many moments of amazement and surprise.  Life is rich, and even as my abilty to see acutely and with clarity has been so hampered lately, colours retain their powerful presence in my life.

Gallery Hop…

May 26, 2007

Earlier in the week Lucky called, excited, and said she wanted to go to the preview of Heffel’s auction of Canadian art, most especially to see one particular painting by the Group of Seven painter Lawren Harris. She wanted to organize a trip to Vancouver so she, Barb and I could see a variety of paintings.  “Should be fun,” she said, “but, are your eyes up for it?” Was she kidding? “Oh, yeah!” I whined, “I feel like a complete shut-in! Even if I have to stand two inches in front of paintings and see some colour and marks I NEED TO SEE SOME ART!” So Lucky and Barb co-ordinated the time they would both be able to take a day and Friday became our art gallery hop date.  Yippee yay!

Naturally, Rumpole has to know of my movements and schedule, such as it is these days, and he disapproved of this upcoming play-date. “You are hopeless! You are going to stress your eyes and will spend the next two days whining about pain,” he rumbled, “but if you are so determined to go, at least wear your clip-on shades, a hat, and keep your eyes closed whenever you are not actually trying to see the art.” I reassured him that Barb would lead me about by the hand, me with my eyes closed, whenever we walked outside, and that I would take breathers whenever my eyes got tired.

Barb arrived early at our house. “Is that Barb sitting on our lawn?” asked Rumpole, “call her to come in for Heaven’s sake!” i trot outside in my housecoat and chastize her for not coming inside. ” I didn’t want to catch you guys in your underwear, charging about getting ready,” says Barb with a huge grin. (What? A sighting of two junior-seniors in their full early morning splendour is such a horrible thing to contemplate?) She comes inside, sits down in the kitchen and watches bemused as Rumpole makes a small fashion show of his tie selections. Once he has attained sartorial elegance, he kisses me on the lips and cautions “Take it easy today!” I roll my one good eye, like Quasimodo’s one eyed mother, at Barb; she rolls her two blue eyes in response.  We giggle, conspiratorial.

Lucky arrives in her hot bomb of a car. It is very funny, but we have all decided to wear black pants today. Whenever we do anything that involves going out to openings or art shows I jokingly state that correct attire for such occasions is anything BLACK.  At least today we are at half-way correctly dressed for a gallery hop. We pile into the car after some discussion of who is to sit up front beside Lucky.  I insist on sitting in the back seat – “How can I back-seat drive from the front?” 

On the way to Gallery Row in Vancouver , we discuss the ins and outs of living with 17 year-old daughters as both Lucky and Barb have daughters that age.  I say a quiet prayer of thanks for never having had a daughter, because surely remaining in a state of sanity and equilibrium is really difficult while raising teen-age daughters. Or so I have heard.

We arrive at destination’s end and find a parking spot, quickly. (Thank you, Parking Angel!) The voracious meter swallows up quarters and gives 10 minutes per quarter. I do the required feeding, and we troop into gallery #I, for what we estimate might take a fifteen minute visit. An hour later, Barb and Lucky, having made themselves completely comfortable there, have explored the front show space, discussed at length the work there, put a number of good questions to the gallery attendant and have got her involved in discussing the work, artists, pricing and valuation, and have lingered in the back room looking, looking and talking to eah other and me about the differences in paint marks, surfaces, colour and tonal limits, concepts. I sit on the large block of wood that is meant for sitting in the main gallery, close my eyes and just listen to their comments, questions and expressions of surprise and wonder, very satisfied that they are finding so much to discuss and express their opinions about. When we finally leave, and check on the parking meter, we find it requires further feeding, and once we have done this, they grasp me by the elbows and we stroll three abreast the block to Heffel’s.

Lucky is so excited, and goes about looking at all the work up for the internet auction. She asks the attendant where the lawren Harris painting she so wants to see is being kept, and is disappointed that it is buried somewhere in the store-room’s bowels and would be difficult to unearth and be brought up for her eyes to see. “Rats!” she exclaims, but the attendant hands her a good reproduction to take away, and she is somewhat mollified. On show are about fifteen paintings by various Canadian artists from about 1920s onward guarded by a smiling man in uniform. Lucky exclaims that all the paintings are so different, and asks why all the pre-auction estimates are so high.  So we engage the gallery attendant in a discussion about this. Soon three odd-looking, but sweet wire haired Dacshund gallery dogs meander out from the back office, curious about the noise, mill about our legs and sniff us up. All three of us are dog people and this visitation by furry, four-legged gallery attendants completely charms us; really adds to the whole experience. We leave.

The highlight of this gallery hop is a block up-hill on Granville, the Atelier Gallery. What is here is the reason I stubbornly insisted to Rumpole that I go on this excursion with the girls – a show of current paintings and drawings by BC painter, Robert Young, whose work I have admired for 40 years. On my last  weekly visit with Dr. L my GP, he teased me with information about there having been an opening at this gallery for this show.  Dr. L knows of my passionate regard for this painter’s work, as we have had spirited discussions in his office about matters pertaining to BC painters, and Dr. L jokingly commented that he was going to have his son start on a career as newspaper delivery boy so he could save up enough shekels to buy a Robert Young painting as a Father’s day present for him!

Well, we stayed in the Atelier a very long time, looking, considering, discussing, marvelling.  This painter has a most remarkably restrained manner of working, and this has an effect of stilling a viewer into a thoughtful and contemplative state. Lucky has a preference for more visceral painterliness in handling materials, more energy, greater abandon. Barb, on the other hand has a liking for measured control in working with paint – a slow, dreamlike manner of constructing images.  The result of their differing predelictions was a really thoughtful discussion, to which the gallery attendant paid close attention, and during which the gallery owner paused beside us to listen to,  a satisfied smile on his face.

My eye was sore, but, so what, pleasure of seeing this remarkable body of work made me forget discomfort.  The stimulating discussions among us had been most satisfactory. Barb and Lucky grasped my elbows and led me to the Alliance Francaise restaurant, where we ate light lunch and continued our discussion, most happily.

On the way home, driving through Friday afternoon rush-hour, I lounged in the backseat with eyes closed and listened to the continuing conversation between Lucky and Barb, most gratified that they had so much enjoyed this outing. And I had got my necessary Art Fix, which was worth two days of anticipated eye discomfort.

Thanks so much, you two gems, Barb and Lucky, for providing and sharing this marvellous gallery hop!

You can see Robert Young’s work in this show at :     Enjoy!

Laundry stories…

May 24, 2007

Degas made a series of drawings of women ironing – strong, sensitive images that show the depth of a woman’s physical engagement in such a task, of her immersion and concentration in skillfully carrying out of such a necessary mundane chore.

In my role of “Lone Arranger” I had to find a model for our Sunday afternoon sustained painting session. People seemed to be quite bored of painting a model plunked down in front of a draped cloth, looking languid and merely sitting with hands decorously and gracefully placed. Yet another “woman sitting doing nothing” scenario was one that did not make me eager to drag my easel and equipment to the hall where we did our painting. I wanted something a bit more toothy!

Our Lady of Perpetual Crisis had been sitting for me fairly regularly at home, and she was well broken in as a model. So, I posed the question to her that she consider sitting for our painting group for four weeks. “You know how you have such a love-hate relationship with laundry” I put to her, “and, especially how you absolutely loathe ironing?  How about you model for us doing ironing?” This tickled her curiosity and she agreed this might pose some challenge for the painting group, and much to my delight she agreed to be our ironing model.

I loaded up my largely unused ironing board, and OLPC brought her brand new, space-age, never before put into service iron. At the first session as painters were setting up their easels curious as to what  situation they were to paint, OLPC stood up the ironing board, plugged the iron into the wall socket and placed her daughter’s skirt onto the board and launched into a fairly relaxed pose.

Soon, sotto voce grumblings from the painters emerged into the stillness of the studio. “Who on earth is going to want to buy my painting of a woman ironing?” “This is too complicated!” “It’s going to take too long to establish the relative proportions of the equipment and the figure!”

I was very happy with this challenge and tackled the whole process with intent pleasure. The question of selling the resulting painting didn’t even occur to me, I just wanted to take on the business of looking and painting.  After the fourth week of painting this ironing study, members of the group insisted politely and firmly that our next model be a nubile young woman in a nice dress who just simply sat there looking sultry and decorative – no more zaftig middle-aged models doing boring mundane chores, please! The “Lone Arranger” was being demoted! Ah, well – such is life.

The following month, a number of us, all local painters, were requested to take part in a fund-raiser for the local women’s shelter. We were to set up individually and spend four hours painting, during which time an audience could walk about drinking cocktails and look at the process of taking a painting from beginning to completion. At the end of the four hours, each work was to be auctioned off and the proceeds were to be donated to the women’s shelter to help outfit families who had left behind abusive situations. This seemed like a worthy endeavour toward which to bend my energies, so I agreed to take part.

OLPC agreed to be my model, and she and I looked at  my big book on Degas, so we could find a reproduction which might serve as a basis for a variation on a theme.  We found the marvellous image of Madame de Valpincon resting beside a big bouquet of flowers.  She looked a bit tired and slightly bored, as if the chore of collecting and arranging the flowers had taxed her and she needed to take a rest.  I proposed to pose OLPC beside a huge laundry basket filled with a variety of flowery sheets, with a box of laundry soap and a squeeze bottle of Shout de-stainer, given how OLPC loathed her never-ending cycles of laundering.  She agreed that this might be fun to do for a four hour pose.

On the day of this painting performance, OLPC and I carted a carful of equipment – Photo-floods and their stand, electric extension cord, tarp for the floor to prevent making permanent stains, laundry basket, sheets, box of laundry soap, Shout bottle, easel, paints, brushes, solvents and gessoed panel and a bottle of good red wine for OLPC and me to share in order to dispel performance jitters.  We set up very efficiently and taped a large reproduction of the Degas “Woman with Chrysanthemums” to the edge of the table supporting the pallette and paint tubes, leaned my painting of “Woman ironing” next to it and laid a small notebook and pen under a sign requesting onloookers to share their laundry stories by writing them into the notebook ( as yet another way for viewers to participate in the process, rather than passively looking on).

OLPC was wonderful – she sat holding the pose, engaged visitors in conversation and encouraged them to write their laundry stories into the little notebook. I collected my personal bubble around myself, inside which I hid and worked largely unaware of having my activity monitored by many strangers. Sounds abated, except for the scrape and scurry of my paintbrushes, the activity of mixing paint, making marks obliterated my nervousness.  Drinking the wine also helped numb any feelings of sheer terror I may have had, the painting proceeded. Four hours went by in a flash.

I did not stay for the auction, but OLPC did.  She reported that my friend Kay bid up the painting and ended up taking it home. I was outside nervously nursing a cigarette and sipping a glass of wine while reading the curious laundry stories people had written into my little notebook.  OLPC came out, excited, and reported to me that someone wanted to buy my painting of “Woman ironing”.

Who’d think that such prosaic subject matter in a painting would capture someone’s imagination, compelling them to part with a sum of money for possession of it? Amazing too is the fact that images are so powerful that they unleash a personal connection in viewers strong enough that they would provoke them to mine their own memories for remembrances of situations surrounding simple activities we generally think of as ordinary, unimportant and which yield such a trove of stories which pique interest.

Thank you OLPC, and thank you Degas for propelling me in this direction the outcome of which was so rich!


May 16, 2007

Eleven years ago, Candy died from leukemia.  She was an abandoned black Lab we adopted after taking her for a week’s worth of daily walks, her respite from being cooped up in the pound.  Daily, she greeted us with great enthusiasm and grasped the rope in her mouth to indicate her eagerness to go for a walk in the woods adjoining the pound buildings.  We couldn’t resist her and gladly took her into our lives.  She was then 9 years old, and we were to find great joy in her for only two more years.

At the outset of this adoption, Rumpole announced rules for tolerable doggish behaviour – no being fed at the dinner table, no lounging on couches with human folk and, most definitely, no getting in bed with people to cuddle. Naturally, as such things go, he was the first to breach all of these permissions, in spite of trying hard to be firm and stern.  Candy had the most endearing habit of mugging with grins, so that his rather serious side slid away to be replaced with increased permissiveness. Candy became our 80 pound, grizzle-faced, four-legged child.  She sat beside Rumpole at the dinner table, patiently waiting for the choicest bits of meat he would slip to her. She reclined on the couch with her head on his knee as they read together in the evenings. She snuggled her bulk up to me in bed at night, heaving great, contented sighs.

Candy’s great joy was to take long daily walks with me on the dike, where she had her favourite swimming hole populated by frogs and turtles that basked on floating logs.  We always started with a long leisurely walk during which she chased her ratty tennis ball and brought it back for more throws.  Whenever she heard the noises of birds down near the river, she would make a mad dash into the thickets of tall grass and flush them out. She would return from these little exercises bearing a great satisfied grin, and occasionally a large stick which she then would carry to the end of our walk’s destination, the swimming hole .  Here we would play for an extended time, me throwing the stick, her fetching it back to shore. When she tired of the stick fetching, the tennis ball would go into the same service, and as she grew bored with this, she would find a pebble and bring it to me, indicating that she wanted to play fetch with it. Amazing, no matter where I tossed the chosen stone she would find it under water and bring it back. When she grew tired of all the running, swimming and fetching, she stashed the pebble in her cheek, grabbed the stick with her teeth, waited for me to retrieve the soggy tennis ball, and led me back to the car for the ride home.  Once we returned home, she deposited her found treasures in her customary little pile of collected sticks and stones beside the back steps and waited patiently to be rubbed down with towels.

We were bereft when she became very ill and died. Our familiar black companion was no longer shadowing us around. There was a huge emptiness in our daily doings. I kept up the daily walks on the dike, sat by the edge of the swimming hole throwing stones into the water, recalling the pleasure Candy had taken with her activities at these places.

One day, on the drive home, It suddenly occurred to me that I had to make some art work to celebrate and memorialize Candy’s impact on our lives. On returning to the house, I was completely abstracted and aimlessly wandered about outside and inside, casually assembling stones, sticks, studio materials and got hung up on the idea of maps as a way to show where our meandering walks had taken us in our little shared corner of the world.

The very next morning, I beetled down to the Municipality offices where in planning and engineering I asked to look at site maps of my immediate neighbourhood, and of the diking systems.  The clerk printed out a number of largish blueprint maps which I then carted home.  These treasures, spread out on the dining-room table, the coffee table and the studio table were available for Rumpole and me to study, to follow routes taken on walks with Candy.

On my solitary daily walks I carried a trash bag to collect samples of vegetation from places where Candy would stash some of her rocks. These samplings I would press in wall-paper sample books, then take to my local printer’s to colour xerox.  I collected cuttings form the local newspapers – anything to do with activities on or near the dikes, leisure and agricultural. I applied layers of powdered graphite to stones Candy had amassed at the side of the house.  I painted with white paint to look like ghost-sticks some of the sticks from her collection. Brought a bucket of sand and gravel back from the marge of the swimming hole.

For eight months, the maps became a departure point for a series of collage paintings.  The making of these was a meditation on the time and places which the companionship of this wonderful four-legged entity made as an indelible experience, to be savoured for a long time. Every act of selecting and combining materials became a small ceremony.

I learned much from making these map memorials.


April 17, 2007

As I write, now, I was supposed to be travelling en route to Mt. St. Joseph’s Hospital where sometime this morning my left eye was to be operated upon. Cancelled yet again, this surgery was supposed to happen on two separate occasions during the past two weeks. “Rumpole”, “Renaissance Man”, “Glasgow Girl” and numerous friends are beginning to show signs of getting fed up with “Driving Stepford Wife”, me, about the neighbourhood to shop for groceries, run errands or go to the library.  Surely these people must be really annoyed at the constant questions from me about things which are very clear for them to see, but for me exist in a strange underwatery blur. But they are a much giving lot, loving and supportive!

This morning’s “The New York Times” online, has a small article about artists and failing vision – “A new look at Impressionists’ failing vision.”  Monet and Degas suffered from failing vision in later life; this has been documented and much discussed vis a vis the changes in their late paintings’ stylistic changes. A link to the American Journal of Opthalmology, where is a new study of the vision of these two painters, was impossible to access. Only people with a medical number have access to this article, which is too bad, as it would prove most interesting and instructive!

There are three reproductions of woman at her toilette, by Degas, accompanying the article today.  Most interesting to me is the middle and last illustration, which purports to show how Degas may have seen the image which he painted in loose style with pastels.  This is eeriely similar to how I see with my coke-bottle thick glasses. Only the colours are much more clear than those which I see, which are much greyed as if seen through an occluding filter.  I have retinal problems, like Degas had, with the added complication of cataracts – so fuzzy form and changed colour characterizes the world I move through.

This is not altogether bad. The compensation is an organic blurring of hard corners and edges during daytime, and  wonderful jewel-like auras around lights at night. An effect this has on physical movement through my world is to slow me down, to move as if labouring through  water’s resistance.  This is an eerie, beautiful experience, one to be savoured as long as it lasts.  For, who knows what will be the changes to be accommodated to, in the aftermath of my (I hope soon) surgery?