Sunday, January 25, 2009

"Anxiety Is The Hand Maiden To Creativity"

"Self With Shadow", 2008, 22"x28", oil on canvas

"The madness of depression is the antithesis of violence. It is a storm indeed, but a storm of murk. Soon evident are the slowed-down responses, near paralysis, psychic energy throttled back close to zero. Ultimately, the body is affected and feels sapped, drained."~William Styron

Recently I was asked to illustrate an article by the author and essayist William Styron, who passed away in 2006. The assignment could not have come at a more appropriate time. Styron  wrote about his personal experience with clinical depression so eloquently in his book "Darkness Visible". It made a huge impression on me, as I have suffered periodic bouts with depression and anxiety over my lifetime. 

I am honored to do this illustration, which is for a dog magazine called "The Bark". Keep an eye out for it on your local book stand in the future. It will be a portrait of a man walking his dog, simple enough, but hopefully it will have some weight given the wonderful text next to it.

There is still a lot of stigma attached to mental illness. I suppose it is rote to expect an artist to suffer some sort of psychological affliction if they are to get anything of substance accomplished. I have not asked many of my colleagues but I would bet that the incidence of depression and anxiety is no larger in them than in the general population. Of course this is pure supposition, but my own experience with depression and anxiety is acutely real.

I write about my own history with inner turmoil here because I think writing and sharing is cathartic. It gives one a sense of lightness to discuss what ails you. Perhaps some readers can identify with me. 

In terms of its connection to creativity, many would argue as T.S. Eliot does that "anxiety is the hand maiden to creativity". I do think that anxiety can be helpful in that you tend to get things done simply out of a nervous freneticism, but when it reaches its zenith you suffer and are literally frozen by your worries. Personally I find that when anxiety reaches this point I literally cannot paint. My mind sabotages my entire being and I am quite helpless until I figure out a way to overcome the situation. It is a battle, and I wish desperately that I did not have anxiety but I do think we are hardwired psychologically to a large extent. I know that there has been a hereditary link drawn with depression for example. So the question is: how to prevail over it?

Thus, if our minds are to a large extent as unique as our fingerprints, and as intractable, we really have to get creative if we want to overcome what haunts us. Exercise is my mental panacea. It distracts me. That is imperative with anxiety. I talk to friends; I take myself out of isolation, because that is where it really gets a grip on you, when you are alone. You can see a pattern here as, being an artist, I spend a heck of a lot of time alone. Ironically too, I cherish my solitary time, but this is the price I pay.

I have created some artwork while in the midst of turmoil. Two pieces are included below as examples. However, most of my work is not as overt, the inner strife is hidden behind the faces of my subjects, myself included. I do this because as I have said before, I want the viewer to wonder, to not have answers provided. Therefore they have to instill their own individual experience into the painting by providing personal context.

"Self-Portrait, Poignant", 2008, 8"x6", oil on canvas

"Self-Portrait, Between", 2005, oil on canvas, 16"x20"

With anxiety and depression the key is to get on top of the circular thinking, the what-if scenarios, and stop the thoughts in their tracks so that I can get on with doing what I love to do: creating art.

I realize that I will probably always struggle with anxiety, and depression to a lesser degree. If it must be however, I will equip myself with the strongest tools possible to get through it. Tireless support from loved ones is invaluable. Thank-you. You know who you are. I suppose I should be thankful and embrace these trials of the mind really. They are who I am, and I wouldn't want to be anyone else. 

"Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight."~Benjamin Franklin

Here are some snippets of paintings that will appear in my solo show on Newfoundland in November at Abbozzo Gallery in Oakville, Ontario. I am working steadily on new pieces each day. It will be an exciting show! You can find out more information about the exhibition on my website here. One of the paintings has already sold and the show is still 10 months away! If you are interested in seeing the pieces please contact Abbozzo Gallery.

On another note, Bravo! Canada filmed a special profiling my work in 2007. It will be airing on Bravo! Channel all across Canada on Monday, February 9th at 8:30am Eastern Standard Time. I hope you are able to catch it! It is on at an odd time but thank goodness for PVRs.

Have a wonderful day,


"Every experience is a paradox in that it means to be absolute, and yet is relative; in that it somehow always goes beyond itself and yet never escapes itself."~T.S. Eliot

Friday, January 16, 2009

Andrew Wyeth: Paying Respect To A Fallen Giant

"Master Bedroom" by Andrew Wyeth

"It's a shock for me to go through and see all those years of painting my life, which is very personal for me. It's a very difficult thing for an artist to look back at his work." ~Andrew Wyeth

Today the world lost one of its greatest painters. Andrew Wyeth passed away this morning at the ripe old age of 91. What a full life, and what a gift he shared with us. His artistic opus spans decades. He has given the world some of the most beautiful paintings I have set my eyes upon. Wyeth was a realist painter of the highest calibre, a seeker of truth within the details, a patient draftsman and unwavering devotee to his work. 

There are two books that sit next to my easel. One is a book of Lucien Freud paintings. The other one is an autobiography of Andrew Wyeth. In this book he examines each of his paintings and discusses how and why he did them, impressions and reflections on the pieces etc. It is wonderful to read how his mind works, how he solves problems, mistakes that were made and corrected and the overall emotional impact of the piece on him. 

I use these books as touchstones. They are friends and inspiration never more than an arm's reach away. I might not look at them for months, but they are there, a constant reminder of what can be accomplished with hard work and dedication. I am more influenced by Freud from a technical standpoint and Wyeth touches me on a more emotional level. Freud is the man of nudes, and I rarely paint the nude figure. Clothes are more mysterious to me anyway from a symbolic standpoint. Freud is unrelenting, a genius of colour and paint application and his work ethic is simply second to none. 

Wyeth however, scratches an altogether different creative itch. He is a man of emotion...yet hidden emotion; subdued, just out of reach. His paintings of solitary figures striding across snow-covered landscapes are truly haunting. There is a melancholia that pervades his work, a wistfulness and an echo of times past that we can see through rusty doors, the chipped paint of a windowsill, the tattered lace of a curtain blowing in the wind. At times I find his work so poignant that I cannot look at it for long, it brings to the surface my natural inclination to ruminate and I have to keep that in check. 

Here are three paintings from my work that are strongly influenced by Wyeth: 

"Back Stairs, Oil On Canvas, 36"x24"

"The Rasberry House", oil on canvas, 15"x30"

"Rob, Drifting", oil on canvas, 48"x36"

Technically his work is unsurpassed. I personally adore his watercolours but his tempera pieces are beyond measure. Even if I could paint that well, I have not the patience for the unbelievable details that he achieves. Truly his work is timeless. I love how his figures rarely look right at the viewer. His compositions are fantastic with a lovely balance through negative space. The seemingly arbitrary loose brushstrokes in some of his studies are far from haphazard. They serve to provide texture and movement to his work.

"Farm Road" by Andrew Wyeth

I could speak all day about this man who has shaped me as an artist over the years. Although I never met him, we are connected. His work resonates with me on a metaphysical level. I too seek to paint absence, to paint what lies beneath the expression, to create a world just out of sight. Thank-you Andrew Wyeth. Although you are gone, your work will continue to reverberate within myself and so many others. 

"I get letters from people about my work. The thing that pleases me most is that my work touches their feelings. In fact, they don't talk about the paintings. They end up telling me the story of their life or how their father died."~Andrew Wyeth

On another note, Bravo! Canada filmed a special profiling my work in 2007. It will be airing on Bravo! Channel all across Canada on Monday, February 9th at 8:30am Eastern Standard Time.  I hope you are able to catch it! It is on at an odd time but thank goodness for PVRs.

Dwell in possibility,


Friday, January 9, 2009

Twillingate and Fogo Island: Exploring Newfoundland, Part 5

The view from the lookout near the lighthouse in Twillingate, Newfoundland

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." ~Mark Twain

The last leg of my time spent in Newfoundland was spent in Twillingate and the surrounding area. We appreciated the different topographies and qualities of the east side of Newfoundland versus the west side. However I had heard that Twillingate was an area not to be missed. 

We departed Gros Morne National Park and drove for about 5 hours to reach Twillingate. This area of Newfoundland is known as the Iceberg Capital Of The World...numerous tours head out during the summer months to spot the icebergs and whales which are both abundant at that time of year. On our way towards our destination we noted with smiles the absence of law enforcement. The roads were narrow and undulating, clean, relatively quiet and boasted miles and miles of undisturbed forests. It brings me great happiness to look at a map of Newfoundland and Labrador and see that the centre of Newfoundland contains virtually no habitation by human beings...apparently it is mostly composed of bogs and forests, realms not very conducive to human settlement.  I have not been to Labrador but from what I hear it is even more remote and undisturbed by development. 

The view from our hosts' backyard in Twillingate

We explored Twillingate for really only one full day but it was enough to get a taste for this gorgeous corner of Newfoundland. When I see those lovely commercials advertising Newfoundland Labrador on television, the ones with the cliffs and clotheslines flapping, that is what Twillingate is to me. We drove up to the lighthouse beyond Crow Head, a truly stunning drive. Near the lighthouse are a web of hiking trails, some very steep, and we meandered along them for a good distance. 

The rather abbreviated sign at one of the small restaurants in Twillingate

The view along the road at Crow's Head on the way up to the lighthouse 

Not surprisingly, I did not get a picture of the lighthouse but preferred to capture the sunset. The quality of light reminded me a bit of Alaska with a similar palette of colours.

While in Wesleyville a new friend had suggested exploring Fogo and/or Change Islands. We researched the two places, knowing that we could not cover both areas in one day. We settled on Fogo Island and preceded to plan our ferry trips to and from this little piece of paradise.

This graffiti that we passed on the way to the ferry was, like all of the other graffiti we saw in Newfoundland, quite tasteful, and even a little artistic!

The small town where the ferry departs from is called Farewell. I adore the names of places in Newfoundland....they range from the charmingly optimistic (Come-By-Chance, Bumble-Bee-Bight, Heart's Content, Heart's Ease, Comfort Cove, Little Paradise) to the melancholic (Famish Gut, Confusion Bay, Misery Point, Empty Basket, Breakheart Point).

When I think of Newfoundland I think of purple-blue water, stalwart rocks, uninterrupted miles of trees and the open expanse of possibility.  We drove on to the little ferry that took us over to Fogo and were met with an area of Newfoundland that was even more unique than we anticipated. There is a strong Irish presence on FogoFogo Island has a faithfully preserved fishing stage on the Dwyer Premises. We visited this piece of history and were greeted by a lovely woman who showed us around and also took us up to Lane House Museum, the oldest house in Tilting. 

At the far side town an Irish cloverleaf stands near a cannon.

The beautifully preserved fishing stage, flakes and wharf of the Dwyer Premises

While touring these historical places I was struck once again with a somber feeling at what a difficult and often short life many Newfoundlanders once lived. Many families had children numbering into the double digits and would have been a challenge to support. They had to subsist on what small amount of money they could earn from their cod fishing. Their lives, sometimes brief, were hopefully full of happiness despite their hardship. 

The beautiful little town of Tilting

The view from the trail just outside of town. The trail continues around the cove after passing by the Old Irish Cemetery which is purportedly the oldest Irish-Catholic cemetery in Newfoundland. 

We approached this interesting little farm near the trail that we were hiking along. I love the supports that ballast the fence. There were sheep who eyed us suspiciously just to the right of the frame here. 

We stopped for a few minutes at Sandy Cove Beach on our way out of Tilting. The colours of the landscape were so vivid, even the lichen seen here on this rock were shouting out their personalities. I loved the blue tinge to the rock compared with the orange of the lichen...a perfect example of the inherent resilience that ALL the inhabitants of this land possess.

Further along the road towards the ferry that would take us to Farewell we spotted this beautiful church, back lit by the sun. Berry-pickers were everywhere, and I ate more jam in two weeks than I have in my whole life. Cloudberry jam was my favorite, followed closely by Partridgeberry jam. All of it was delicious and I happily dined on toast and jam very frequently as Newfoundland has a dearth of vegetarian options! 

The church on the road to the ferry

On our way back to Wesleyville from Twillingate we were told that Pike's Arm, a nearby lookout, was quite stunning and worth a stop. 360 degrees of beauty greeted us at the top of steep flights of stairs. The land seemed to rise effortlessly out of the water like whales breaching and heading back down to the depths below. These strings of little islands formed a beautiful archipelago dotting the horizon. If you are in the area, I highly recommend stopping in Pike's Arm, Twillingate and  Fogo fact it is hard to recommend just one place to experience as they are all very special. If you wish to see a painting that I recently completed about the return trip to Farewell you can read about it here.

For two weeks we saw no moose...not a one. I had been warned numerous times about them, to avoid driving at night, to avoid driving at dusk and of course to avoid driving early in the morning. Nevertheless I had expected to see moose over our two weeks in Newfoundland and we were beginning to wonder if we would ever see one. I kept saying "you wait, we'll see one before we leave". Sure enough, on our way to the airport in Gander, our wish came true.

It was about 8am and we rounded a bend in the road to come upon these beautiful moose the road. They looked at us rather skeptically and I stopped the car lest they feel threatened and become aggressive. In a moment they had disappeared into the woods as quickly and deftly as they had appeared. 

As I have mentioned before, the lack of air pollution lets you see clearly right to the horizon in Newfoundland. Here the light was refracting off of raindrops in the distance, giving them a pink hue. It was a fittingly moving image as one of the last that left an impression on us as we headed home to Ontario.

"To live a creative life we must lose our fear of being wrong."
~Joseph Chilton Pearce

Here is some information on my solo exhibition in November 2009. If you have any questions please contact Abbozzo Gallery. 

You can read about some of the paintings for this exhibition on my other blog, Heather Horton Artwork. 

Newfoundland Portraits
November 5-22nd, 2009
Abbozzo Gallery, Oakville, Ontario
Opening Reception November 6th, 7-10pm

Have a wonderful day and take good care,