Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Artistic Accents

"Your style is the way you talk in paint."
~Robert Henri

I love accents...I love to listen to them and try to imitate them, usually poorly. I am fascinated by them. Why is it that we all have accents and yet we never hear them? Our ears easily discern even the hint of an accent in others, sometimes twenty years away from it's land of origin. They are fluid, they change and shift with time and the influence of circumstance. They are amorphous and yet take shape on the tips of our tongues. I have noticed that people who move to a new country pick up the local accent more quickly if they are eager to embrace their new home. Others retain their homeland linguistic nuances and they barely fade with time.

I think that we all have our own artistic accents as well. I have had friends and family remark on landscapes that I have painted, saying "now THAT'S a Lake Ontario sky"or that's an Ontario winter, etc. I suppose it is more noticeable in landscapes but even our colour palettes in still life or figurative pieces sometimes reflect our own personal milieus. Choose any contemporary or historic culture and there is invariably a consistency over the general body of art produced. So many things comprise our environments; the light, the structures, the people who dwell in these places. All of these elements, when drawn together and transcribed in art, form their own identifiable personalities, their own unique voices.

The leaves are beginning to form on the trees. Have you noticed? Well, at least they are where I am, here in Southern Ontario. It is a promising and beautiful sign, but also it makes me a bit rueful. You see, I love to paint stark, naked landscapes, trees devoid of leaves, horizons a rainbow of greys rather than lemons and limes. I love the monotone palette found from October to March. I will paint verdant vistas if I have no choice, but by nature I gravitate to simple, uncluttered and barren surroundings in my paintings. The reasons for this are just a fondness for that subdued palette...and frankly, I don't like painting all of those leaves :)

The Newfoundland trip creeps nearer. I must figure out the general plan and not try to do too much in a short period of time. I want to play it by ear to a degree and see how I feel in the tiny village where I am staying. I really enjoyed The Shipping News, so to know that Ms. Proulx wrote the book while staying in this cottage makes the stay all the more appealing. I look forward to meeting the local people and seeing if they are amenable to being painted. From the pictures that I have seen of The Rock, the stark landscapes and water-hewn cliffs look like somewhere I want to capture in my work.

I have not travelled a lot by comparison with my friends and family, but I would agree with the many who content that travel is the most effective form of education. I would be a happy woman indeed if I was able to have a great journey every couple of years and paint the people and places that I encounter along the way.

My movie tally rises slowly. I am at 62 films this year...108 left to go. Tonight I watched "Nanking", from 2007. It is a heartbreaking documentary addressing the attack on the city and the hundreds of thousands who perished and/or were affected by it.

Listening to: "Rise" by Eddie Vedder

“Travel can be one of the most rewarding forms of introspection.”
~Lawrence Durrell

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Bastet's Feast

"If you could invite anyone from history, dead or alive, to have over for a dinner party, who would be there?" My good friend Jim asked me this question a couple of years ago and it occurred to me recently that I never gave him an answer. I have mulled it over and culled from an exhaustive list these finalists...
Lucian Freud, Alfred Hitchcock, Ludwig Van Beethoven, William Shakespeare, Henry David Thoreau, Diane Fossey and John Steinbeck. There are seven because including myself that would be a nice round number and frankly, I'm petrified enough trying to cook for myself let alone seven amazing individuals.

Freud is on the list because his unrelenting work ethic, his ability to paint flesh like nobody's business and his frustrating stubbornness at not granting interviews. If he was at my table I could corner him and make him tell me his secrets.
Hitchcock is there because I am fascinated at the demons he tried to exorcise through film. He clearly had abandonment issues, was eccentric beyond compare and was a master with a camera. Rear Window is a perfect example of his cinematic brilliance.
Beethoven, in my opinion, wrote what his heart felt more than any other composer I have ever known. I cannot hear Missa Solemnis without getting goosebumps to this day. To have an auditory vocation and to be deaf on top of it proves that the music came from somewhere celestial.
Shakespeare. What more can be said of him? He wrote what the soul feels unlike no one else. Plus, he wasn't all pretentious and highfalutin', which he could have been. In each of his puns, soliloquies and sonnets he expressed his genius.
Thoreau, that paragon of simplicity, an unfettered life and such a keen observer, must also be included. To appreciate things just as they are, to live as lightly on the land as possible, is so admirable.
Diane Fossey spent the better part of her life devoted to helping conserve and protect the mountain gorilla. Her tenacity of purpose and unwavering efforts in the face of the utmost hardship saves her a seat at the table. To fight for those who do not have a voice to do so holds a place very near and dear to my heart.
John Steinbeck, who didn't think he deserved his Nobel Prize (pshaw), is one of the best storytellers I have ever known. To describe familial epochs so fluidly, so naturally, so sensitively, is unparalleled in my books.

So that would be my ultimate dinner party...with vegan fare of course. I know Thoreau wouldn't object to the menu but I know Freud is quite the carnivore so hopefully he wouldn't protest too much.

I was driving in my car yesterday and singing....while I was singing some ideas for paintings came to me. I wondered if perhaps the act of singing stimulates parts of the brain that govern creativity...or perhaps singing might serve as a conduit to creative ideas.

Today I took a hike through the Arboretum at the Royal Botanical Gardens. Magnolias and Eucalyptus are in bloom with the most heavenly bouquets imaginable. I was looking at the back of the blossoms and thought that most of the time we like to take pictures and concentrate on the front of the flower, the vibrant, pollen-coated side. The back of the flower is just as beautiful to look at, with the important task of holding up the pollen and most attractive parts of the plant in the hopes of pollination happening and thus ensuring survival of the species. What lies behind the blossom, underneath, is just as magical as what we gravitate towards usually on the opposite side. It is the road less traveled by.

I just finished watching The Swimmer, with Burt Lancaster. It is quite unlike any film I have seen before. Lancaster is brilliant, as a man on a voyage of self-discovery as he crosses from one side of his town to the other by way of his effete neighbours' pools. It is definitely worth a watch.

Listening to: Claire De Lune by Claude Debussy

"This above all: to thine own self be true"~Shakespeare

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Epicurious by nature

“Freedom is the greatest
fruit of self-sufficiency.”

Epicurus, a philosopher in Ancient Greece, believed that in order to live a fulfilling and happy life we should seek tranquility, avoid pain and overindulgence, be self-sufficient and enjoy the companionship of good friends. Not a bad group of tenets to live by really. Epicurus also believed that the physical world was composed of atoms that continuously collided with each other randomly. Quite insightful, considering this was over a thousand years before the theory of particle physics had been developed. I think he really had some great ideas and I try to implement them into my daily life as much as possible. It is a huge cliché, but the best things in life really are free. Sometimes I cannot believe that we are composed of so much space and that the spaces between the atoms are greater than the solid bits.

Things have been really on an upswing around here recently. I have completed the first of two paintings of Jade, which I will attach tomorrow when I have a decent picture of the work. I have been in contact with some great collectors and supporters of my work, some fantastic folks who I am very fortunate to have met. All of these interactions feed the soul and provide a great sense of community. There are some great projects coming up that are just under the surface. I will share them as they develop.

My friend, who is also in a creative field, and I were talking the other day about how fundamentally our vocations and what we produce are one really NEEDS artwork. It is a scary thought that when anarchy hits, be it in the form of a pathogen, economic collapse or any other number of scenarios, we'll be the first to go:) Oh well, at least I can draw pictures of people on the sidewalks, running by in the midst of chaos to chronicle the madness. However, until that time comes, if ever, we shall endeavor to continue producing work that is special to us, in whatever form that may be.

I was speaking with my friend John today and we were talking about Andrew Wyeth, that modern day master of art. This man is a genius. There are two books by my easel constantly. One is a book of paintings by Lucian Freud. The other is a book by Andrew Wyeth. His watercolours and tempera paintings are something almost otherworldly. I have attached a link to his official site at the top. Please have a look. You won't regret it. I love Wyeth's treatment of light and shadow...amazing compositions and a fantastic melancholy and sense of absence in his paintings that I really identify with.

Today's Pet Peeve: Modern day strollers. They are behemoths! When I was a child I had a tiny, collapsible stroller. If you folded it up you could swing it and hit a golf was compact, small and practical. Today these strollers are so large that in a pinch you could toss a tarp over one and camp safely underneath. I'm surprised you don't see a line-up of the things down at the DMV getting license plates.

Listening to: "All I Need" by Radiohead
Watching: Starting Out In The Evening. Fantastic film with a stellar performance by Frank Langhella. Rent it. If you love literature, fine writing and effortless acting, you should see this film.

I dream a lot. I do more painting when I'm not painting. It's in the subconscious.
~Andrew Wyeth.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Unexamined Life

“Remember tonight.. for it is the beginning of always.” ~Dante Alighieri

So what do you think? Is the unexamined life worth living? To be totally id, without reflection, without self-correction, without a second thought, would that be a life well lived? I think not.
I firmly believe that only through introspection, only through a bit of self-analysis can we learn from our mistakes, cherish the experiences we have and create good memories from them. I think an unexamined life would be a very hollow one indeed.
Mind you, the pendulum can swing the other way and we can wallow in overanalyzing our motives, our actions, ourselves so that we make ourselves sick. The Greeks had it right...all things in moderation. Only through balance can we achieve optimum health in mind and body.

I have been feeling really positive about my work; where it's going, where it has come from...what I want to say with my paintings. I do want so badly to convey an undercurrent of emotion in the paintings. As you would see a frozen river with water running slowlly underneath it, that's what I want to try to do pictorially. I have been spending more time on each piece...working an extra day or two to make sure it really is done to my satisfaction. The extra few hours can really make a difference I find. I don't like heavy-handedness in terms of narrative....for the underlying "dialogue" I prefer nuance, a hint, a glimmer of what the subject might be going through. Providing all of the answers is no fun...I want more questions to be asked than answered.

On a very cool note, my friend DB, who runs a Stephen Colbert fan site, has informed me excitedly that his friend went to The Colbert Report in NYC with her son as part of the "Make A Wish" program for sick kids to video her son visiting the set. On the video of the visit, DB saw that my painting of Stephen hangs, all framed, on a wall in Stephen's office. How amazing is that? As DB says, it hangs "On a brick wall, so you know he had to have someone drill a hole for a screw to hang your pic on." Thanks for the great news DB! I'll be smiling about that for a long time!

Friends really do make the world go around...I am so fortunate to have friends that are like the siblings I never had. Gayle, Melissa, Jim, Kevin...they are a special breed and I cherish them. I had a wonderful evening out with a bunch of them on the weekend...we had a lovely late Thai dinner...good food, great people, stimulating discussions (including the ever-re-hashed theologically-themed one) and an AWOL feline to boot.

Pet Peeve today: People who put change on top of bills when they hand them to you. It sounds silly, but if they put coins on the bills, the coins slide off and you're like a waiter spilling a tray of drinks...I notice it every time...

Song I am listening to: A Lack Of Colour by Death Cab For Cutie

Saturday, April 19, 2008

I refuse to be Sisyphus

"In the depths of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
~Albert Camus

This is a pretty uplifting quote from Camus, who had rather bleak view of the world and our place in it. Camus believed that all life was fundamentally meaningless, and thus was a constant struggle until we shuffled off this mortal coil.
He advised us to revolt against this meaninglessness by living a life as full as possible, whilst knowing that the inevitable creeps closer each day.

I agree with Camus in the sense that we must embrace life to the fullest, and I do agree with his opinion that life really is a happy struggle, but I try not to dwell on the tomorrow, only on the today, on the here and now. I disagree with him that life is meaningless though. It seems as though he thinks that the end point, death, is what defines life...what gives it meaning, like some finished product at the end of an assembly line. I say that even if there is nothing after death, a meaningful life can be distinguished by what we do each day between birth and death. Not to get too cliché here but isn't it the journey that counts and not what lies at the end?

I was thinking yesterday how frustrating it is when areas of darker valued paint dry is infuriating. When I apply the dark value initially it has the value that I want, the colour as well (I mix each black every time I apply the paint to canvas), but then, two days later, it dries 1-2 values lighter...the only apparent remedy is a nice coat of varnish....four months later! I do love mixing my own blacks...painting with black and very dark paint is like painting snow...there are so many colours and nuances found within that it is never one, solid colour. I like to mix each dab of black every time...many artists premix and get large amounts of one, consistent colour...but I prefer the variation of looking at a section of "black" and seeing blues, reds, greens etc within that darkness. I suppose they do it to save time but I much prefer mixing it as I go.

I have attached a wonderful little segment on Lucian Freud, my painting hero. Charlie Rose interviews two close friends of Freud's. They talk about the artist and his creative process. Quite interesting.It is about 35 minutes long.

Film I am currently watching: The Thin Red Line. I know, it's older, and I never got around to seeing it...who ISN'T in this film? It's like The Breakfast Club of war movies. Terrance Mallick is all about the sweeping, long shots in The New World so we'll see how he handles this one.

Listening to: Recycled Air by The Postal Service
Painting: The lovely Jade. Two paintings, one study, one larger.

"Paint as you like and die happy".
~Henry Miller

Thursday, April 17, 2008

My Oxygen Sensor

"Oh, of course their tryin' to screw ya. No one know what they're talkin' about! It's like, "Oh, seems you need a new johnson rod." Oh! Yeah! Johnson rod! Well, get me one of those!

George Costanza, that wise paragon of all things debauched and pinch-weaselly, said it best when he claimed that mechanics can get away with whatever they want. Actually I'm being unfair. I trust my mechanic....I'm just resentful that The Pebble needs a new oxygen sensor. Or so they say. My goal is for my car to live to be 20 years old...less than three years left!

I have subscribed to a new podcast called Existentialism In Literature And Film, offered through UC Berkeley. I find it very interesting and nostalgic, especially since it will discuss films as well. I have not studied philosophy since university. I will never forget reading Sartre and Camus as well as studying various philosophers' approaches to art and beauty. Second year university at McMaster was one of the loveliest of times for mind-expanding discussions with wonderful friends over meals at the campus pub.

Nonetheless I do have a bit of a love/hate relationship with philosophy. On the one hand as individuals in this crazy world we strive to understand ourselves, consciousness and what the heck everything means. Philosophy has lots of nice little compartments and categories for this theory or that concept, but at the same time I sometimes think that it is really just pretentious drivel...that it's all irrelevant and for us to just stop debating and get outside and experience what we're talking about already. However, hearing in this podcast how everyone from Plato to Nietzsche formed their opinions of humanity and metaphysics is just plain cool.

Above is my newest painting, "Gayle, Snowshoeing". It has taken forever but I am pleased with the result. Tackling larger paintings is still rather intimidating....there's something comforting in approaching a small canvas...but with a larger surface to cover my brushstrokes become stiff and tame compared to the looser, more confident brushstrokes of smaller pieces. I am trying consciously to change this behavior and try to just relax with the larger pieces.

Currently I am watching Judgement At Nuremberg. Montgomery Clift is brilliant here, but all of the cast are really. It is a powerful courtroom drama dealing with such horrors that apparently the cast had a very difficult time with it...which is more than understandable.

Pet Peeve of the day: Putting ice cream on warm pie. It mixes together and melts into a messy mixture of pie filling, and ice cream and soggy crust... I can't handle it!

Song I am listening to: Njosnavelin by Sigur Ros. It's fantastic.

"Well, I guess I'll have to pick myself up, dust myself up, and throw myself right back down again!"
~George Costanza

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!

I had a wonderful day at the Blackwoods' yesterday. They are such generous inspirational as well. David is a real renaissance man, a true artist whose discipline and skill feed my mind with ideas and renewed vigor about my work and my path as an artist. I am truly so very fortunate to know them and to have them in my corner. They helped provide me with information and advice on the Newfoundland trip. The trip is now 14 days, which will provide opportunities to stay in bed and breakfasts on the east and west coasts. I will be able to get to Gros Morne National Park...a true highlight of the trip for sure.

I continue reading Walden and being moved by Thoreau's parsimonious approach to live frugally and with minimalism in all respects is a truly admirable quality. I am thinking of going through boxes that languish in the other room and just purging what I have not used within the past six months. Fortunately, with a few moves in my lifetime, I have not accumulated much...just baggage that can't be seen...just kidding.

I watched Reservation Road tonight. Very tepid and quite disappointing. Great cast of actors whose talent was wasted on a film that was over-directed and lacking in depth. The characters were not developed enough for me to care for them when they shed tears and were going through your money and time and steer clear of this one.

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life".
~Thoreau, Walden

Thoreau has such a great philosophy here. The schism between need and want really has narrowed until it is indiscernible sometimes...through clever advertising and the Jones's next door...we covet what we think is better. Perhaps we equate what we see as "better" with happiness. "I will be happier if I have "x" or "y"", rather than looking inside, and seeing that we already have everything that we need to be happy. I really do want to try my best to eliminate excess in my will be challenging but where there's a will there's a way.

Today's creative conundrum is how to effectively make the seemingly mundane interesting. I am about to start a small portrait, and, while the subject does interest me, I want to avoid painting it in an ordinary fashion. I want to create interest through the application of the paint. I look at Freud's portraits and am just amazed. A simple head study that has such wondrous magic within it...the paint seems almost capriciously applied and yet, when examined carefully, is very thoughtfully executed...he is amazing. I have heard that his latest painting may well fetch the largest sum ever for a living artist...excellent...we don't yet have to be dead to make a living in this crazy, ear-chopping field!

Listening to: Your Ex-Lover Is Dead by Stars.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Ockham's Razor

Occam's razor (sometimes spelled Ockham's razor) is a principle attributed to the 14th-century English logician and Franciscan friar William of Ockham. The principle states that the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible, eliminating those that make no difference in the observable predictions of the explanatory hypothesis or theory.

I find this theory fascinating and quite logical on many levels. It challenges the notion of assumption, of superfluous presumptions attached to any concept. As human beings I think we might tend to embellish explanations for things, events, moods, behaviors etc, especially if we are feeling sensitive or insecure about said issue. If we pare down our thoughts and distill the most simple reasoning I think it would save a lot of time, grief and energy.

In my artwork I do strive to apply paint simply, loosely without being arbitrary, a mixture of careful and careless perhaps. I am not a blender of paint on canvas by and large. It is conscious. I like to see paint. I like to see brushstrokes and texture inherent in the paint. I think paint wants to be seen and not lost within scraping and scumbling so that it is smooth. However I'm in the minority here as the majority of the classical painters glaze and layer which produce beautiful work...luminous. I just prefer the other road.

Finished another small piece today...onto the snowshoeing painting that seemingly is taking forever. If I don't finish it this week I'll be really ticked off with myself.

Tomorrow off to David and Anita Blackwood's studio in Port Hope. Can't wait! This man is an inspiration and faithful patron of my work. Thanks to him there's a cute little red cottage waiting for me in Newfoundland. Sadly, David informs me that I'll have a tough time finding vegan food on The Rock. I'll live on oatmeal and dry cereal but I'll be so happy that it won't matter! I have to start thinking about my method and approach to the trip and how I will accomplish my goal of painting the people who live there while summoning courage to ask if they would sit for me briefly while I take their picture. I have attached David's link here.

An eventful couple of days around here. Went to my friend Zorica's art opening with the Women's Art Association in Hamilton where she snagged Best In Show for her painting. Fantastic. Had a great vegan feast at Conrad's house filled with a diverse group of people. Lots of laughter, stimulating discussions ranging from the glory of avocados to cholesterol to soccer.

Two pet peeves: 1- people who smirk while listening to their ipods at the gym.
2- chronic lateness.

Two things I am grateful for today: 1-my friend Anne in BC. She bought a painting from me and that means so much to me. She is one of a kind.
2-no surprise here....chocolate.

Song that I cannot get out of my head today: All These Things That I Have Done by The Killers.

"If, then, we would indeed restore mankind by true...botanic, magnetic, or natural means, let us first be as simple and well as Nature ourselves, dispel the clouds which hang over our own brows, and take up a little life into our pores". ~Thoreau, Walden

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Secret Heart

I'm going to try to keep this blog as straightforward and casual as possible...otherwise I will cave under some sort of phantom pressure to say insightful things regarding artwork, movies or whatnot.

Headed to Toronto today to see my friend Shaun's art opening. Met up with other friends and we had a great time attending the opening as all of us are artists with varied opinions. We really enjoyed Shaun's work as usual and convened to discuss what we thought of everything from hyperrealism to abstract art (I don't generally like abstract work). We agreed that a world in which everyone liked the same thing would be very boring indeed. I mentioned that I enjoy it when people don't like my work as well as like it as it provides a nice counterpoint and a different perspective.

I am working on two paintings right now. One is a companion piece to Self-Portrait, Acute which I completed last week. My good friend Anne in BC has already claimed it as hers which is wonderful. I know that she will cherish it. It is a special piece and I am so pleased that it will be in her home.

The second piece is one I have been toiling on for sometime...mostly through procrastination. It is Gayle, is 36"x48". I am pleased with it but it seems as though I've been working on it forever.

I must really get to the Newfoundland paintings that I have promised Emma Butler gallery in St. John's....I want to create three solid works to make a good statement at the gallery. It's like a courtship want to put your best creative foot forward and not make any blunders if possible. You want to make a good impression and hopefully develop a long term relationship out of it all. I have attached the link to Emma Butler Gallery

Today I did a photoshoot with Jade, my friend Chris' wife. She is a beautiful person in all respects and will make an excellent subject. She did a wonderful job at the shoot and it was a pleasure to shoot her. I expect to get two to three paintings from our session today. She is expecting a baby in June so I really wanted to paint a baby bump before the wee one arrives!

I am aiming to surpass my movie watching record of 167 films last year...I am at 51 now...currently watching Iraq In Fragments...

I have finally cracked the spine on Henry David Thoreau's seminal work, Walden. I bought it years ago but am really giving it a bash now.

"“So thoroughly and sincerely are we compelled to live, reverencing our life, and denying the possibility of change. This is the only way, we say; but there are as many ways as there can be drawn radii from one centre. All change is a miracle to contemplate; but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant.”
~Henry David Thoreau, Walden