Archive for July, 2009

Plein air

July 28, 2009

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I was invited to join the local art club’s plein air paint-out today and I accepted. It was in Florence’s back yard – the two acre parcel of the total seven that has been developed with house, Florence’s studio. a green house,  and orchard. It’s very beautiful; very out-in-the country-like. It’s what I remember of my great-aunt’s place before they totally redeveloped White Rock. The house is 1960’s modern, though. It’s a Frank Lloyd Wright type of house, close to the ground, single level blending into the landscape as if it had always been there.

The sad thing is that Florence is now in her eighties; her husband died last year. Her adult children are convinced she must move.  She admits that she can’t manage a seven acre place herself. Her offspring are building her a new place in West Vancouver.

She sighed with little-accepted resignation. “It’s not just the house. It’s thirty years of memories and more. It’s all of my studio, the paintings, the books, the materials. It all has to go.”

I got thinking on the fragility of life, the fugitivity. What is left after a lifetime of work, of raising children, of keeping house and keeping family history alive, of painting and creating?  In the end, you can’t take it with you. But in the meantime, when you are trying to clear it up, what do you do with it? It becomes a problem.

It strikes home. I’ve been working in the last month or so, giving a concerted effort to recycling various things that I’ve inherited that I don’t particularly want to keep. Last week, I found a box of father’s writings. I can’t read them. They’re all in Engineering language. I don’t understand it’s content nor do I have any sense of the importance of it. I think I will call the University and ask them if they want to keep them. The other members of the family aren’t interested; and amongst the younger generation, there is no one likely to develop an interest for them, even later in life.

The thing with plein air or outdoors painting, is that you have to bring everything with you – paints, palette, table, chair, drawing or watercolour pads. I had forgotten a table but I had a cooler in the car which I up-ended and used for one.  The lid of it I used to set my art bag and camera on since the grass was heavily laced with dew still.

I picked a landscape to transfer to my watercolour paper and then  settled myself into my transportable folding chair. The landscape photo, above, is what I chose to paint. Here’s what resulted from my endeavours:

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While I waited for the first wash to dry, I got out that pad of Yupo “paper” that I experimented with some months back. It’s a slippery paper and if it doesn’t sit absolutely straight as it dries, then the paint goes southwards and loses all its definition. Control-oriented as I am, this is not a comfortable thing for me, but I”m not going to waste the paper, so this was a good opportunity to see if I could get anything with it today.

Here’s the Yupo solution:

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I tried some photoshop adjustments that were not successful. It’s not quite as garish as it looks here.  The blue is less metallic looking, but the yellow is as yellow as what the finished work looks like.

I felt that in neither drawing had I got the branch arrangements right so I went back and did a pen drawing. There was an implied heart shape to it that I felt I did not capture in the watercolour paintings.

Here’s the pen drawings”

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And here I’ve pinked in the implied heart shape:

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In all, I must have had two hours to do all this . Shortly after two, I headed back for home. When I went to get in the car, I burnt my hand on the metal, it was so hot out. Heat gathered all day and in the end I believe I heard 37 degrees was the highest it got.

It’s cooler out now, at half past midnight. It’s so hot nobody wants to do anything. I have the fan on and have reduced the heat in the house by one degree, but it’s not going any lower. Tomorrow will be another scorcher.

Drawing Month in Vancouver

July 26, 2009

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Bruce Pashak, Dionysus in India I, oil and graphite on canvas

I had to be in Vancouver on Tuesday so I invited Mrs. Stepford to come with me as company for the long ride. I had a couple of chores to do.

I had to pick up some photos at the Big Box department store in Coquitlam and, in Vancouver,  mats to frame my entry to the Painting on the Edge exhibition.

Let me do a plug for my favourite framers. They are great people and reasonably priced – Final Touch Frames on Fourth at Quebec Street. While I was there, I looked through the pre-cut mats in search of a bargain and true to form, always I found a few 8-ply acid free ones to take home. I love matting things up in 8 ply.

We had the rest of the day to explore the galleries, a rare treat in itself. This month ,  it was Drawing Month – a celebration of drawing in lieu of paintings – in several of the best commercial galleries in Vancouver. Even the Burnaby Art Gallery had a focus on drawings with an exhibition of B.C. Binning. He was a founding professor of the School of Architecture at UBC. For a biography, B.C. Binning is in Wikipedia and there is a separate site through Google for images, though few are drawings on it.

I’ve seen this latter exhibition three times now, it is so good. It’s just drawings, but such good ones. I took Elizabeth to see that exhibition today and she came away with a new understanding of the excitement of drawings. Binning’s are so direct, curiously incorrect (anatomically, realistically incorrect), but so spot on that they are a delight to inspect.

On Tuesday, though, we had a list of about six galleries to go to.  We started with the Elliott Louis Gallery especially since Mrs. Stepford had studied with Bruce Pashak who figured largely in the  exhibition. I had seen his studio with her at the Parker Street Studios in the Downtown East Side both before and during the Vancouver East Cultural Crawl. I was just as excited as she about seeing his work in a gallery setting.

The Elliott Louis Gallery has moved recently and now can be found a block  east of Main Street below Great Northern Way in a warehouse district. Both the Elliott Louis and the Catriona Jeffries Galleries are here, side by side, with exciting contemporary work.

Bruce Pashak’s drawings are full of things to look at. First of all, he has a stunning sense of draftsmanship. In the largest of his works, a diptych, there were two panels about six feet by four feet. The entire canvas area is prepped with gesso and paint and then Pashak draws in graphite on top of this preparation.

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Bruce Pashak, Equivocal Litanies, Oil on Canvas 64 x 96 inches

In the centre is a female figure, lithe and beautifully formed wearing a diaphanous garment.  At her buttocks is an apparatus that appears to be a bustle, from afar, but on close inspection is a complicated image which I tool to be a bird-wing’s skeletal structure morphing as it descended the picture plane into a network of roads like on a map. Is this bird’s wing an implication of angelic status?

A bird hovers before the woman’s breast, beak perilously close to the nipple, creating a tension, conveying an uncomfortable physical sensation to the viewer of how that might  feel if the two actually made contact.

A third of either end of the two panels is collaged in a rather Rauchenbergian abstract composition incorporating  dribbles of coloured paint, letters and paper cut-outs.  On the right hand panel just left of this abstract statement  are several animals drawn in graphite,  stacked one on top of each other  in a totem pole fashion – rabbits, fish,  salamander, snake, a duck and new born puppies. Each is so fitted together so that it appears to be copulating with the one above.

It’s a bizarre but beautiful collection of images making the viewer somewhat voyeuristic at the latent sexual tension in it and at the same time, there is a tremendous peacefulness in it as if the woman and the bird have been frozen in time forever for our close inspection of natural and youthful beauty.

The piece is full of dichotomies. In the technical execution of the work,  the loose, expressionistic outer edges of the panel opposes the tight realism of the animal totem, the bird and the figure. In the subject matter, the realism of the central images compete with the random-seeming, loose and non-representational ones on the far edges . But the integration of drawing techniques and painting techniques marry seamlessly. The Drawing/painting reads well as an image from afar and provides intricacies and fine detail to be enjoyed when close up.

Pashak’s figure images appear to be drawn from  Greco-Roman or Renaissance imagery. He executes them in graphite directly on the canvas. In other drawing/paintings in this exhibition, the faces seem to be constructed in a grisaille technique with fine layering of a light grey glaze built up to produce a refined, anatomically-accurate image. It looks almost like a pale black and white photograph, but is finely hand crafted.

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Bruce Pashak Dionysus in India II Oil on Canvas, 16 x 12 inches

Several of Pashak’s images were included in this exhibition. Themes run through them, with turbaned heads, skeletal structures, historical referencing and his attention to human anatomy.

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Andrew Tong, Ring-a-ring-a-Rosie,  Pencil on illustration board, 8 x 7 inches

Andrew Tong showed small illustrative drawings that depict nursery rhymes – Ring-a-Ring-a- Rosie, Little Miss Muffet, Humpty Dumpty, and Mary Mary. These are not sweet children’s illustrations. There is a twist of horror just under the surface. In Mary Mary, the figure is gently holding  a fly in her hands as if it were an offering. Her head and torso are correct, but after a minute of inspection, you see that the legs coming out of her skirt are spider’s legs. Humpty Dumpty has a flying fish hovering above his head. In one image there is a broken and dismembered doll tucked discretely at the bottom for a person to discover after they have ingested the primary image in the drawing. In another, there is a hand crawling out of a large sea-snail’s shell. One of the figures is wearing a gas mask.

Tong’s drawings are uniquely drawn in graphite on paper. They are crisply detailed and clean, like exquisite miniatures and reminiscent of Hieronymous Bosch.

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Scott Plumbe, Farm House, pencil on paper, 8 x 10 inches

Scott Plumbe also is drawing minutiae in small perfectly executed graphite drawings. In an eight by ten inch drawing called Farm House,  he has depicted an interior with bushel and woven baskets stored on shelving. The weaving on each basket is described in the finest of detail, as is the wood grain on the end wall.  They are simply amazing, technically, in their hyper-realism but so complete  that there is little dreaming or thinking to be done after first view.

I much enjoyed Carolyn Stockbridge’s series of Blue Cloud drawings. There is a series of about six images on 26 x 20 paper, each containing a blue cloud. Beneath the cloud is a garden.  In one, there is a shower, complete with a bathroom shower head streaming water into the ground, nourishing the plants, and continuing directly down under the ground to become roots. In another there is a rock garden, not in the traditional sense, but with a quirky sense of humour, Stockbridge piles pebbles one on top of the other like plant stems and like Inushuk, the Inuit standing stones. A garden tool, an edger, connects the blue cloud to the soil, acting as a tree trunk so that the cloud is both cloud and tree. There’s a lot of delightful cleverness and visual punning in these drawings.

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Carolyn Stockbridge, Blue Cloud and rock garden, mixed media, 26 x 20

Her work is inventive with a keenly personal iconography as is Nancy Boyd’s. It’s supported by excellent drawing skills,  so that where precision is required, both artists  are able to meet this challenge, but where they chose to use loosely described or abstracted marks, there is an equal measure of liberty in the mark making.

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Nancy Boyd Against the cold #9, mixed media on drawing paper,  38 x 25

Nancy Boyd’s series is called Against the Cold. A plant with long sword shaped leaves is wrapped at its base in a blanket to protect the roots from the cold. The drapery of the cloth wrap is described tonally in soft graphite only and then the  plant is line drawn in graphite and coloured with light green watercolour washes. Four of a series of ten drawings are on display,  each approximately 26 x 20 inches.

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Nancy Boyd, After Muybridge: Animals in motion, graphite on paper, 21 x 37

Another of Boyd’s  series, After Muybridge: Animals in motion spins off the work of Eadweard Muybridge, an early photographer fascinated by motion. Muybridge was challenged to prove whether or not a horse ever undertook unsupported motion during his gallop. Muybridge devised a method of making simultaneous photographs as the horse ran, there by providing the first proof that the horse actually did lift all four limbs off the ground as part of its running motion.

In Boyd’s work, she uses two stuffed toys connected by a string and pulls one up while the other one descends. She records five positions as the toy elephant and the toy rabbit rotate through this rotational process. The toys have personality. In the first and second positions, the elephant seems to be helping the rabbit down. In the third the rabbit seems to be helping heft the elephant up and in the fourth the rabbit seems to be worrying about whether or not the elephant will make it. In the fifth, the elephant is now up and rabbit seems to be exhausted from the endeavour.

In After Muybridge No 2, Gibbon turning While Pinned a toy gibbon turns, again in a series of five images.  The drawing is impeccable. The shadows add to the strength of the composition. There is no hesitation in her work. It’s beautiful.

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Teresa Sapergia, Untitled (Deer), graphite on paper, 58×32 inches

Teresa Sapergia draws large. Her magnificent unframed works are of animals, with graphite as the medium.She explains herself thus: ” I am interested in that fleshy body that lifts, falls, hovers and searches for its own likeness, a figuration that wants to find similarity within an image made of marks and dust.   The transient form that is at once animal, magical, fantastical and ordinary.

A reminder of Durer’s famous rabbit, Sapergia’s  rabbit drawing is the only one of her six drawings in the exhibition that is static.  Her drawing, Hawk and Owl, faces one raptor against the other in flight, caught in an angry tension of fight. She is adventurous in her use of her medium, as much drawing with it as with the eraser that takes away what she has already drawn. It gives a lively, dynamic feel, echoing the dynamic spirit of the animals she chooses to portray.

The deer drawing is unusual with only the leaping deer appearing. There is no context to help the viewer “place” the animal. I rather like this elliptical approach where the view is asked to participate in the imagery. What has frightened the deer? The drawing, again full of tension, demands that the viewer contemplate where the feet will land and will the deer find purchase on the ground for the next adrenaline filled leap, because this animal is in flight for it’s life.

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Teresa Sapergia, Three Wolves, detail, graphite on paper, 58 x 96 inches

In Three wolves. again there is no context, no extraneous background; and the drawing is filled with aggressive tension. The mark making is literally pounded onto the surface, then some removed again with eraser to create a dynamic, bristling fur texture. The viewer is face to face with three nasty, hungry wolves at eye level.  Eat or be eaten!

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Derek Dunlop, Palm I, mixed media on paper,  30 x 22

Derek Dunlop draws in a post-modernist elliptical manner, as if traced around an object. He is drawing with subjectivity, borrowing his images from various media including television news and reality programs.  His drawing is the antithesis of Scott Plumbe’s. There is no particularity. In fact, most of the imagery is difficult to read and his artist statement does not seem to be compatible with the imagery.

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Jeremiah Birnbaum, The Irony of Protection II, charcoal on  canvas 24 x 24 inches

Jeremiah Birnbaum also has an artist statement that does little to explain his imagery.  Only in his comparison to passport photos does the statement link to the work. Four large drawings, each with one frontally pose face, drawn on gessoed canvas stare back at the viewer in a lifeless expression. Tonally, the images have a very limited mid-range and compositionally, I found them unengaging.

Lastly, Mandy Boursicot exhibits several drawings in a French Ninteenth Century Academic style of the studio masters’ anatomy lessons. There is no question. Boursicot knows how to draw. She draws with precision and accuracy but for me, idea is missing.  In her artist statement, she speaks of the importance of shadow and things to come.  I see beautifully crafted figures in a Century old style. I think Boursicot has much to offer, but it is, as she says, in things to come.

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Mandy Boursicot,  Valentina seated, graphite on paper, 17 x 10.5 inches

This is an exhibition not to be missed.  It represents several methods of drawing, running the gamut from abstract to hyper-realism and passing by the illustrative, which, by the way, I have no trouble including in Fine Art when it meets the quality evident in this show.  It is on for the most of August.  Try to find time to go there. And if you are a buyer of art, you may just find something within the means of your pocket book. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have one of these in your own home to marvel at?

To see all the artist’s work available at the Elliott Louis Gallery, you can link to:

Sketching on site

July 24, 2009

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Swatch encouraged me to paint on location. It’s too much equipment for me to carry when the prime purpose of my walk is to walk briskly to get my cardio exercise.

It was an overcast day today, the temperature was in the mid-twenties. I thought I would have no need for a camera and instead I could take  a pocket sketchbook about the size a small Moleskine along with me today. My drawing implement was a Pilot H-Tecpoint V5 Extra fine permanent ink pen – much like the old Staedler technical pens. I stopped a few times along the way, trying to get the rhythm of the place I did a memory drawing of (see last post). I stopped at the chicken feeding spot, too.

Here’s what I sketched. Maybe I’ll colour them in tomorrow.

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The sun came out late in my walk and I regretted not having the camera with me. One of the farms looked so beautiful in the late afternoon sun. The roof took on a reddish colour, more like old rose and it sat there with this soft colour contrasting so beautifully with the freshly mown hay surrounding it. They hay will be picked up tomorrow, I think.

I also saw a family of five in a canoe, each wearing an orange life jacket; and the boat was cadmium red, light. It just looked so beautiful and so peaceful, moving up river, this bright vibrant red and orange, gliding low-down between the narrow gap of the river, the water looking green and the tall river grasses too, but lighter. Yellower.  It would have made a beautiful painting.

And here’s a thought for the day quoted out of the book I’m reading (which I don’t recommend, so far) called Restoration by Rose Tremain. (Penguin Books, 1989).  A foppish, useless rich young man is taking painting lessons. His painting teacher tells him,

“… a picture must be composed so that no part of it is “dead”, so that wherever the eye wanders, there is interest, whether it is in the detail o the hilt of a sword or a minutely rendered rowing boat on a distant Arcadian shore. ”

The young painter goes on to say, “We furthermore approached the question of distance and perspective: how hills, for instance, which are further away will seem paler and less well defined than those which are near, and how the sitter’s nearness and vigour will be emphasised if he or she inhabits a pool of light.”

Just a tidbit to think about.  Certainly good advice for traditional paintings. The rules have changed so much in modern day painting and drawing, that the foregoing would only be one of several comcepts on composing images today.

Painting from Memory 2

July 20, 2009

I went walking early again today. Same place, on the Alouette Dikes. Nothing has changed. The temperature is steady around 25 degrees for an hour and then it heats up. When it does, I refuge myself indoors.

I took another good look at the bridge. It’s a tough composition because the bridge is such a driving horizontal force without a break that it tends to drive the eye right out of the picture. It’s only the surrounding shubbery that could save it.

The other memory describes where the dike pathway  is midway in the image. I see the image as four quadrants, with a centre much like a pin wheel. One is the blue sky with small (distant) cedars on the bottom of it. Beside it is a tall, round shaped tree that does not have a very visible trunk, so it really looks round. The third is the shadow from this tree cast over the ochre coloured grasses.  The fourth is a sunny sweep of grasses down into the hollow, the level of the fields. But now, when I try to draw the pinwheel, I can’t fit these elements in as I saw them. My logic gets in the way. It’s couldn’t have been like that.

As I was walking, I was looking for this spot that I had so carefully memorized. Today I couldn’t find it. Was I dreaming?

Here’s the painting

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Painting from memory

July 20, 2009

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Without my camera, without even a drawing pen and paper, I went walking on the dikes today.

For the twelve years that I was caretaking my aging mother, often I could not  take the time to paint and so I would paint in my imagination. It wasn’t good enough. I wanted to preserve beauty or anecdotal incidents, a bit of humour, a slice of life, but time was consumed elsewhere.

I promised myself upon retirement to go out walking every day and to paint every day but I’m far from keeping that goal.

Today, walking without the camera, I set myself a task of remembering what I saw and challenging myself to painting what I remembered. Don’t laugh! I had three sites in my mind and came home with one. I left the other two behind somewhere. I can’t remember quite. Perhaps they fell in the ditch or got covered in dust from the gravel path. Maybe they are tucked into the grasses like a daytime bear, so camoflaged that I can’t see them.

In any case, I took up that challenge. When I got home, I got out the brushes and the paint and fired up the painting arm.  Since I didn’t have the camera, I can’t show you exactly what I saw.  Somewhere in between the inaccuracy of my brain and the inaccuracy of my painting techniques, I came up with this gem.

Then I searched back in my archives to see if I couldn’t find a photo of the area I was remembering. When I wrote about it, I said,

There was the way the dike path split the marsh grasses like a bolt of lightening diminishing to its pointy end far off in the distance, only to be stopped in the mid ground by two small poplars and the heron tree. Overpowering everything were the pure blue  mountains, receding in distinctly shaped layers of progressively lighter hue.

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but I realized that when I painted it, I didn’t get that awesome size of the mountains to show. It was a fun exercise, but I’m not entering this one in any local painting contests, that’s for sure.

When next I go walking, I’ll try to find the two other ones that I lost and give them a try.

It’s an interesting concept, but I think it needs a lot of work.