Archive for December, 2009

Eggs for breakfast

December 20, 2009

I’ve been feeling cut off from my writing and posting of imagery. So much goes on at this time of year that we can easily get distracted from our main purposes.

This morning when I boiled up two eggs for breakfast, I was struck by the reflections of these eggs in shallow water. I cook them in a small fry pan, mostly by steam, which is just one of my little ways to reduce energy consumption. The stove doesn’t have to heat up so much water ergo less use of energy.

And, no, I’m not depressed to be posting almost black and white photos of eggs.  I really was excited about how subtle the egg form is and how it catches light.  I was equally excited about placement of them. In some of them, there is a faint reflection in the bit of water that remains in the pan. It’s elegant!

So here they are:


December 19, 2009

McCoffee Watercolour on a full sheet of Windsor and Newton  paper (24×32″)

I’ve struggled over this, my latest watercolour, over two months or more. I love this guy in camouflage having his coffee at MacDonald’s. It’s cool inside and dimly lit, no need for those shades, but they never came off. He can see out, you can’t see in.

He’s got a colleague with him, with his mitt wrapped around  his coffee, but you can’t see him, and Mr. McCoffee is not looking at him anyway.  McCoffee is alert, his ear stretching out to hear conversations around him. He’s finished his food – two empty boxes, a big white napkin scrumpled up on the left hand side.

Below, the table there is a profusion of pattern – the South West Indian flavour in colour and shapes and then McCoffee’s hand sitting idle.

It’s a slice of life, arbitrarily cut off on all sides. If I’d asked him for a photo, he would have straightened up and posed. This way, I got him – his erect quasi-military bearing, his ennui. At the same time, from a work-lifetime habit of being at the ready, all senses alert, you know he is very aware of what is going on around him.

The only thing that defines the edges of his arm is the shift from the camouflage pattern to the upholstery pattern. That was particularly difficult to achieve. Every time I painted something in this area, I had to stop and check if everything else was in value still, or I had to bring the other things up to the value of the last addition of colour. The other difficulty was working in such a dark range of colours in watercolour.

I’m used to the brighter range of colours, so working in the dark ranges was a challenge; and so was working with the napkins, both above the table and below. White is always defined by its shadows.

The painting probably refers most to the geometric genre of composition, but there are some difficult things here – the table top goes from left to right in the picture plane, cutting the painting in two unequal parts. Maybe it works on the “Rule of Thirds” also. What allows this composition to work, despite that dark force moving across, is that just above the line, the most interesting objects are compiled, disorganized, one after the other like a batch of unruly and  unkempt children standing in a row. There’s the napkin and then the MacDonald’s cup, then the boxes and then the coffee cup, each item demanding attention. The figure is the upright, perpendicular force, with the complicated details drawing the viewer in.

The man looks outwards to the right and this, composition-wise, could be a difficult and unwieldy thing, but in this image, there is tension between the person whose arm we see, which makes for a mystery. Who is his companion? What does our protagonist see? It keeps us in the image; and though it goes against “the rules”, it works.

I’m going to pack this one away for a while and come back to it with fresh eyes – maybe a week from now. Maybe there will be some minor adjustments, but I think it’s done.

Can anyone tell me what organization this uniform represents?  This fellow has a few stripes on his left sleeve.

Christmas is coming. I’ve invited people for Christmas day dinner. I need to pack up my watercolour gear and put it away so that I have use of that table. Like many of us, I suppose, I am very busy with seasonal events and preparations for Christmas Day.So I’ll probably be back after following Christmas, so….

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Reflections -Lucy Adams and Claire Moore

December 14, 2009

I had a bit of business at Fort Langley on Friday and popped into the Fort Gallery. Mrs. Stepford came with me. I was really sorry I hadn’t taken my camera with me or I could have shared more of this excellent exhibition with you. Nevertheless, here are two images, one by Lucy Adams (the mirror pieces done with three squares of glass tile painted; and the sculptures by Claire Moore.

It closes on the 20th, so if you are in the area, hasten to see this show. I am very attracted to Moore’s sculptural compositions done with river rocks topped with little figures, mostly black but some seeming to grow right out of the rocks. She has managed to match the rock colour exactly. Every one of them has a humorous title that makes you ponder the human condition and have a good chuckle with her.

Lucy Adams’ glass creations multiply into infinity the apparently simple images that she has painted on them. They aren’t so simple. When she constructs a geometric shape, like above, precision is required so that the image repeats itself and swirls into itself without awkwardness.

It’s much like having been able to freeze-frame a kaleidoscope and study its repetitions. They are clever.  The only uncomfortable thing I felt about it was that I saw myself in the images and didn’t really want to see myself.

The work of both these artist is beautifully displayed in a gallery that is essentially all white. It enhances the work. The question is, how does the work blend into or fit into a new context? The simple answer is that the work will always blend, because it will pick up whatever surrounds it.  But when one of these reflective works then picks up a complicated surrounding, will the complications distract from the imagery that is repeating on the glass?

Were I to purchase one of these, my first question would be “do I have a space to put it that will honor the work and allow it to speak for itself?”

Mrs. Stepford and I had quite a conversation about three dimensional work as we drove back home.

Sculpture is a tricky thing. It needs space. It needs to be in a decluttered area to really come into its own.  As a result, one can’t have a lot of it unless one has a lot of space.  Context is the ruling factor.

The great thing, though, is that in this essentially experimental gallery, there is the opportunity to try new things, to see how they work. The emphasis is not on selling but on expressing ideas; though the artists would be really pleased if the work was purchased (and many had already sold although the exhibition had only been open for a few days.

The prices for the sculptures were around $75 which is more than reasonable for the work that has gone into them; and the ideas in them are priceless.

So, hie thee to the Fort. You will find this an excellent exhibition to take time over and you will get some great chuckles from the humor that underlies and inspires the work.


Andrew Tong

December 8, 2009

Dreaming of a blue sky, Andrew Tong, Oil on panel 36×36 inches

With all good intentions, I meant to write this weeks ago to whet your appetite for an exhibition that is opening on Thursday (Dec. 10, 6:30 – 8:30 pm) at the Elliott Louis Gallery in Vancouver. Now the opening is upon us and the exhibition is already up. It’s really worth a good look, so if you get a chance, it’s at #1 – 258 East 1st Avenue, just north of Northern Way in Vancouver

I had been in for a bit of business and took the time to see the show that was on. There were a few of Tong’s paintings up with other gallery artists’ work at the back of the gallery and they held me transfixed with the detail and the ability of Andrew Tong to reach, retain and define that space between reality and subconscious. Now you will be able to see a full solo show of his works. It’s a great opportunity.

Andrew Tong, you may remember, was one of the artists in the Drawing Show in August, who exhibited small but very precise illustrations of nursery tales with a morbid or violent twist – nothing so overt as a graphically described horror, but there always seemed to be a menace of some ill-fortune underneath and waiting to happen.

It is rare that an artist of minute illustrations manages to also paint large scale canvases but it was exactly this that held me riveted to the works I saw.  There is so much going on in them and the workmanship is so fine and detailed that there is lots to absorb one’s attention for a first look and then plenty of things to discover or rediscover when you come back to look again.

Enemy of the State, Andrew Tong, 48×48 inches inches Oil on panel

In Enemy of the State, a child holds a toy pistol to his hostage teddy bear. There are ambiguities to ponder. Is it a girl or a boy? Who is the child looking at?

The child has a pin stating “I am 3” but the eyes of the child are old with sadness,  disabused of his childhood through war perhaps or maybe a surfeit of television, news or family violence. He is interrupted in his activity, suspended from the fatal shot of his blindfolded hostage. So the question must be asked, is it the toy bear that is the enemy or the child who perpetrates the age-old practice of man which is war?And in the detail of the khaki-coloured  background symbolic of military, there is a small drawing of a city scape. Are those the twin towers standing proudly, an air plane barreling towards them, unconscious of their upcoming destruction?

In Dreaming of a Blue Sky (above) two children stand to military attention before an old house. In the grey sky, bombers fly; a warhead stands like a pillar, equally at attention. Bombs are exploding at the horizon.  Is it smoke from explosions or just bad weather that colours the sky? The sad looking children all dressed in Sunday best are waiting for the skies to clear, perhaps dreaming of a day when the airborne violence will no longer be a part of their daily lives. His imagery is at once overt and challenging and yet understated so that you miss something if you don’t take the time to seek it out.

On a more illustrative bent, Vespula vulgaris serves to show Tong’s awesome draftsman-like abilities  in realism;  and similarly, Origins of Violence, although the first of these is only 20  x 24 and the second is 36 x 36 inches, the difference in scale being critical as a measure of difficulty, and a tribute to Tong’s versatility in being master of both.

Tong chooses smooth surfaces (oil on panel, plate or hot-pressed papers) to achieve the detail. His small drawings can be magnified and still appear perfectly executed; his oils are built up with detail through glazing. There is great mix of realism and abstract. There is a stillness, trapping an image in time, and yet activity like bombs descending or planes flying past.  There is smoothness and yet texture (like the distressed wall in Origins of Violence). And yet all of these contrasts seem effortless. It’s the same effortlessness of a Gold medal skater flying perfectly through a quad jump – you might not even notice the degree of excellence achieved in a split second but through years of  practice,  if someone didn’t point it out.

I invite you to explore the richness of Tong’s imagination. There are plenty of images on his page of the gallery web site at:

Take time to delve into the metaphors. allusions connections he makes; enjoy the craftsmanship and detail. And if you are in the Vancouver area, make sure you see the show.  Photographs are wonderful if you can’t get there, but seeing the real thing in the proper scale is a hundred times better and this will be an exhibition not-to-be-missed.


December 10th.

I had understood that there would be a larger show, and in fact it is the smaller illustrations that are being shown at this time. I thought about revising the text, above, to reflect that and have decided to leave it alone. It flows.

The main thing I wanted to do with this post is to bring Andrew Tong to your attention; and I think I’ve accomplished that.

I like his work and think it is not only visually interesting in subject matter and iconography and there is also a great degree of finesse in the  craftsmanship.  We’ll just have to wait for a show of the larger works. Hopefully there will be one!