Archive for May, 2010

Val Robinson 2

May 23, 2010

Val Robinson with her painting, BC Fireweed #3

From April 28 to May 16th, Bette Laughy and Val Robinson showed at the Fort Gallery in Langley, B.C.. Unfortunately I was travelling at the time and didn’t get in a timely blog notice of the exhibit.

Originally I posted information about Bette, but I didn’t have much information about Val and no photos.  Tonight I saw Val at a meeting and she forwarded some to me. I decided to do a separate post on her work and here it is:

I was there for the opening. My first impression was of Val’s big juicy canvases of wildflowers. They are about 3 feet by four, maybe larger. I’m going on memory here. The technique is impasto and expressionist.

She loads her brush with juicy paint and manipulates it in fresh daubs that define her imagery. In this first image, BC Fireweed #3,  there is no doubt that this is a tall, impressive flower with bright pink petals. The supporting stem waves in the wind,  with the red, rust and gold colours changing the length of it as it catches light. There is fresh air and vibrant joy in this work.

There were two more expressions of Fireweed in this exhibition with consistent verve and colour. The remainder of her images were of British Colombia scenery.

Flowering Sage by the Thomson River, Val Robinson, oil on canvas

In Flowering Sage,  Robinson captures the essence of the Thomson River desertic landscape in the Interior of British Columbia. Along the dusty banks of the river, sage blooms in the spring bringing an unexpected swath of colour to the sandy coloured slopes. It is a fleeting moment in the annual calendar of its landscape, a short vernal moment in an otherwise hot and dry area.  Again, Robinson works with  a liberty of brushstroke and  a freshness of colour.

I like that Robinson is not bound by photo-realism, but finds a way to express the essence of what she is looking at.  There is a generalization in the way she models the forms, but there is specificity in the shapes. Just reading that last sentence makes me realize the duality that is at work here.

For example, in the Fireweed painting Robinson has been specific about the form of the plant, how the individual blooms come away at various angles so that the space of the picture is divided up in interesting shapes. Yet, when Robinson paints, she is not bound by the detail of the plant. A leaf is a  single brushstroke – she finds no need to explain in paint that there is a line of paler light that goes up the mid-rib vein of it. She feels no necessity to paint specific markings on the petals.

Water reflections on the Fraser River, Val Robinson, Oil on Canvas

In this last image, Water Reflections on the Fraser River, Robinson has the same exuberance and a completely different palette of colours.  Here, I sense either an autumn reflection or a sunset one. The shoreline is dark but in the foreground, there is plenty of light, so it has an upbeat feel.

I’m less enthusiastic about this painting. The colour of the grasses doesn’t work for me and they look mechanical compared to the remainder of her image which she has painted as freely and juicily as the Sage and the Fireweed.

Of her own work, Robinson writes, ” I love painting because it gives me the freedom to express myself emotionally with colour —express my interaction with the physical world….  The painting balances me out more in my life.”

She speaks of the fabulous nature of British Columbia and her enthusiasm for painting the scenes and flowers that are the muse for her paintbrush. In this she succeeds well.

Robinson is  a new member of the Fort Gallery and I am curious to see how she  will develop in her new paintings in this sensual, expressionistic style as she goes forward from here.

Sculptor Kent Laforme

May 22, 2010

In a spacious garden near Victoria, sits  a collection of broken-looking columns of marble and scattered chunks of stone. If I focus on this littering of  raw rock, I can believe myself in Italy, in a sculptor’s yard  – maybe Brancusi’s , Michelangelo’s or  Jean Arp’s.

Some marble pieces have been shaped and molded to a nascent forms, waiting for the remainder of the object to transform. Other blocks of marble have not been touched, simple monoliths for future projects. The finished pieces are sitting in the studio building across the way; or like the meditating figure in the garden, holding court over a calming garden pond.

Surrounding this yard of stone is a vast lawn and across from it, a lovely architect designed home set into a hill  and banked, further back by a sheltering grove of trees.

It’s been a busy time for me. I was away for a week in Victoria, B.C. on a long overdue visit to friends.

One of my friends there is a patron of the Arts. She seeks out upcoming artists and likes to give them a boost. Her house is a treat, filled with the treasures that she has found along the way.

While she was teaching, she met Kent Laforme’s aunt, and when the aunt passed away, she became close friends with her sister. In this way, she met Kent and became familiar with his work. There are a few of his marble pieces to be discovered in my friend Ruth’s large and beautiful country garden including a swan and an elephant, both shaped with an abstracted vision akin to Brancusi whose minimalist work Kent admires and has studied in depth.

We were invited to come see his work. Unfortunately, our timing did not coincide and I did not meet the artist himself. Nevertheless, his mother was happy to show her son’s achievements and we were able to have a good look in the sculpture workshop, the show room and throughout the house.

The house is built on a post and beam style with wide open galleries and great places to show large works of art. Everyone in the family seems to be involved in creating works of art, including Diana who, under tutelage, has done some stunning abstract works.

After commencing his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Nova Scotia College of Art and DesignKent in 1991,  Laforme won a year’s scholarship in sculpture to Pietrasanta, Italy in 1993 where he promptly went, leaving everything behind, not knowing a word of Italian, and with no place planned for him to stay. He managed to find his way, stay for three years and come away from his experience a much-changed, mature sculptor.

One of his important projects there was to carve a crocodile. In creating this piece, he was tasked to use every different cut that is practiced by sculptors. It’s like an apprenticeship piece where the whole gamut of technique needs to be displayed.

He has a penchant for simplicity of form. He has created several portraits including an oriental head reminiscent of the Buddha, and his mastery there is evident.

But realism and detail are not the backbone of Laforme’s current practice. He has recently created a series where he expresses more modern constructs, using, for example, a tee-shirt cast over a bottle to develop an model for reference. The series of work that he created in this genre were the subject of an exhibition in a major Vancouver commercial fine-art gallery recently.

Here, then, is a gifted sculptor, capable of a wide range of styles and capabilities in marble and other stones.  He has made his mark early in his career. It will be interesting to see him develop and find his personal stamp in the long run.

As this is not a medium in which I feel qualified to comment, I will let you enjoy my photos from the afternoon – not only his finished sculptures but the lovely play of light and shadow on the chunks of stone waiting their turn for Kent Laforme’s chisel and hammer.

Ruth’s elephant

Abstract forms

Raw – Stefany Hemming

May 22, 2010

Hollow, Oil on Panel, Stefany Hemming, 20 x 20 inches

I happened to be down at the Elliot Louis Gallery again last month just after the Stefany Hemming show went up.

In this, her second show at the Elliott Louis Gallery, Hemming is depicting tangles of twigs, roots and vines in swirling masses, often evoking nests, but sometimes just providing huge natural-like pattern fields.

The panels she works on are large and it is sometimes just this factor of size that makes these works remarkable.  The mark making process seems to be so freely made without hesitation as if error and second considerations were simply impossible. It makes for  very freshly executed paintings and on such grand scale paintings, this is both physically and emotionally demanding.

I examined the paintings from afar and from up close. It’s one of my ways of determining the intrinsic value of a work of art.   Does it look as freshly painted  up close as it does far away? Does the pattern read from afar or get lost in a blur? Is the surface of the painting finished or does it lack consistency upon closer inspection? Is there overall composition in the far view; and is there sufficient interest in the near one?

What fascinated me about these images was just that freshness that has been achieved in laying down the paint. It seems to have arrived in one single gestural stroke going round and round. And yet the overlapping of the ribbon-like shapes shows no pulling through of the paint. It’s controlled and meticulous, and there are subtle variations of tone that had to be added in later. It’s a mystery as to how it is achieved.

Hollow (detail) Stefany Hemming, Oil on panel

I suspect that the whole “ground” of the painting is covered with a fairly liquid oil paint of a single colour and then a scraper is used to gesturally scrape through, leaving bands of the under colour to emerge as the figure. Then touch ups must be made to achieve that seemingly-effortless crossing of lines and the clarification of what is forward and what is behind in the overlapping of the ribbon shapes.

Gather, Stefany Hemming, Oil on panel

From a practicing artist’s point of view, the technical process is unique. From an imagery point of view, there has been almost a fad of nest imagery and another of pattern fields.  Hemming’s work surmounts the ordinary through her meticulous process, her gestural freedom and the sheer magnitude of the imagery.

Thicket, Stefany Hemming,  oil on panel

Hemming describes her art exploration as  an ” obsessive, ritualistic, instinctive practice which embodies all the contingency, uncertainty and instability of the real. It promotes painting as documentation of the intangible, evidence of one’s humanity.”

In this,  I can relate that the act of painting of the imagery may be obsessive, ritualistic and instinctive, but the end result has a feel which is none of these. Instead, these large works are quiet, still images.

This is perhaps because the composition is overall. There is no story to tell. The nests are empty; the balls of string static; the branch-like structures do not go anywhere.  As such, Hemmings description of her work as embodying “all the contingency, uncertainty and instability of the real… and … as documentation of the intangible, evidence of one’s humanity,” does not work for me.

There is nothing here for the viewer to link evidence of one’s humanity. The objects that are depicted are tangible and recognizable. There is no message coming through of contingency, uncertainty nor instability.

For me, this is typical example of art-speak – the ascription of esoteric  language  to justify one’s work; and what is written is disconnected with the imagery.

Having said that, I find these works interesting, particularly in terms of technique. They represent a quality of contemporary work that remains at once abstract and representational at the same time. For me, these large works are beautiful for their gestural freedom,  for their timelessness and their stillness.

There’s still time to see the exhibit at the Elliott Louis Gallery,  at: #1 – 258 East 1st Avenue, Vancouver, B.C.

For a greater selection of her paintings, see her work on the web at :

Bette Laughy

May 19, 2010

From April 28 to May 16th, Bette Laughy and Val Robinson showed at the Fort Gallery in Langley, B.C.. Unfortunately I was travelling at the time and didn’t get in a timely blog notice of the exhibit.

I was there for the opening, though.

Bette Laughy had several smaller paintings, mostly the same size in a 18 x 24 inch range.  I was rather confused about these because the were such a radical departure from her previous work. I had a feeling that she had just taken a course from Bob Ross, the television art-lesson presenter. It wasn’t the Bette Laughy that I had ever seen before. These were landscapes with ponds, lakes, waterfalls or woodland glades.

So when I got back from my travels, I asked her for some photos of her work that had just been shown. It would help remind me of her paintings and I would present a few for her and help me to find a commentary.

She wrote me this:

With respect to my show, I consider it to be quite raw. My background is in music, writing and graphics. I have the knowledge of technique in all three to feel confident to just go forward, freely, to express anything I want. In painting, I did not have that confidence, and was very aware of my self-critique and inhibition. I felt I had to draw everything out in detail first; I was copying photographs; I became a stick-person artist in any workshop; I could not work past that inhibition. Paintings took a long long time and a very painful execution. If you want to see some of my former work, my website is

About six months ago, I put all my paintings in the basement. I threw out my photographic reference. I put blank canvases all over my walls. I put away my acrylics and watercolours and worked only in oils. I overdosed on Bob Ross. I put away my tiny brushes. I took out very big brushes and several palette knives. I experimented with mediums. I did landscapes and florals, which I’ve never done before, but I thought about what people want to buy as opposed to what I want to say. I became as mundane as I could possibly be. I didn’t care – was just happy that I could complete a painting in a matter of hours instead of a matter of weeks.

It’s been like a brisk sea wind blowing through my art practice. I’ve always felt that being close to water cleans out my mind, my soul. It was very hard to make myself let go, and still is, but it has been a good discipline. I don’t draw my paintings any more; I paint them. I leave my reference – if I use it at all – on the other side of the room, only referring to it if I really need to find out what something actually looks like. I think about grounds, harmonies, transparents and opaques, soft and hard edges, contrast, center of interest, composition – anything but subject. I thought I had become very loose indeed until I had this wonderful opportunity to show with Val – guess I still am a little on the tight side.

I will go on to draw back into this lush medium, to apply the technique to portraits, to think about what I want to say. Two steps backwards to set the stage for taking one step forward. Fun. Relaxation. Good stuff.

Those words of Bette’ Laughy’s all of a sudden made perfect sense of her exhibition.

It’s a brave thing for an artist to do, to step out of the comfort zone and into the unknown. When I looked at Laughy’s previous work on her web site, I see some quite original imagery. It’s bold. It seems to have a link to computer-generated imagery. For instance, there is a piece called Warm leaf, cool leaf and it’s evident that Laughy has been playing around with pushing the colour balances. She’s used her computer reference and then painted with acrylic.

From an outsider’s point of view, Laughy’s earlier paintings were controlled but experimental in the imagery. How was a viewer to know that this artist was beginning to feel boxed in by her realism? Or as I like to say, she had painted herself into a realistic corner and then could not get out!

But Laughy knew. And Laughy took that brutal, almost soul-wrenching step to figuratively go feet first back through the wet paint to find a new way of painting – a way out, no matter what happened.

If I had tried, I could not have expressed it better than she has, above. Her determination resulted in a series of paintings which step out of her norm and which have given her a new way of handling paint. And for this, I say Bravo!

That being said, these paintings looked so much like Bob Ross’ work that it was uncanny.

Laughy said, ” but I thought about what people want to buy as opposed to what I want to say” and I think that this is a mistake, from my own hard experience.

First, any time I have ever followed through on a thought to paint something because it might sell, I’ve fallen on my face. Anyone I’ve spoken to who has tried it admits to the same. When the artist’s personality and personal choices are absent from a work, it’s tangible. It doesn’t feel right.

Secondly, Laughy has an interesting perspective in her earlier work. I like her subject matter and her previous explorations into abstraction.  What’s needed now, it seems to me, is for Laughy to carry on with her feeling of freedom and go back to some of her own imagery, to her own point of view, bringing to it this liberty in brush and paint handling, while putting back in the depth of idea.

The creative block – writers’ or painters’ block – that freezes an individual, preventing them from finding interesting subject matter or interesting explorations on the technical side of painting,  is a frustrating thing. It happens to us all.

In an earlier blog, I addressed this cycle which I see as akin to the humanist philosophy of seeding, growing, reaping and laying fallow as a personal growth pattern.  For an artist, this usually translates into a period of learning how to paint technically, then a marrying of technique and idea. Next is a period where these two seem to flow. Production is easy because technique has been mastered and the ideas are developed.

At the end of  such a productive period, all of a sudden, there seem to be  a paucity of ideas, and the technical facility begins to feel false or surface-deep.  It’s too easy to do what one knows, but it has become boring to the creator of it even if the viewers still need to ponder it in order to grasps it. And since the artist is so steeped in it,  he or she doesn’t care whether others think it is interesting or not. The principal thing is that the artist has run up against a brick wall.

Coming out of artists’ block is a challenge. It needs a kick start. Sometimes this is accomplished with setting oneself a technical challenge – even if it is not founded in meaningful ideas. Sometimes returning to a former discipline like life-drawing will at least keep the technical abilities up until a new theme has been found. Sometimes new ideas will come out of doing automatic drawings or paintings, ones that don’t ask for anything but freeing one’s mind before laying down marks and images. It’s abstract and without too much premeditation. It requires a game plan – like using only three colours, making marks with the full width of a brush; or like using a huge brush and making oneself try to draw things realistically. It’s grist for the mill. Eventually something comes out of it – not necessarily, maybe even hopefully – not something one expected.  Et voila! A new direction slides into place and a new track for art adventure begins.

Laughy is her own best critic. She understands what has happened in this series and is prepared to continue forward in explorations with her various media. It will be interesting to see what comes next for Bette Laughy.

Maple Ridge Art Gallery – Steve Amsden

May 15, 2010

Above Cerise Lake, Steve Amsden, acrylic on canvas

There is a great municipal art gallery in Maple Ridge, British Columbia. It seems to have a mandate that allows for community participation as well as allowing for some excellent shows from afar.

Recently there has been a superb pottery show coming from the Shadbolt Centre in Burnaby where there is a wood fired kiln called an “ombu”. My next door neighbour came home with two trophies from this exhibition  and if you are curious about it,  you can look it up on

Her two pieces are quiet and superbly crafted with that understated quality I so admire. They sat for a while on her coffee table and then they migrated to the mantle piece where they are now comfortably at home.

While I love pottery,  I like it to be practical, and I’m not likely to purchase a piece if it isn’t.  On the other hand, if I like a painting, I have a terrible time resisting, even though the number count of paintings I store in the basement seems to increase day by day as I  a) paint more paintings and b) continue to purchase.

On Saturday, I had some out of town visitors who, in the past, were serious art collectors; but retirement from the workforce inevitably follows these acquisitory habits,   and the downsizing syndrome kicks in. They now live in a single wide, very long trailer as a means of economizing. They’ve passed on the bulk of their paintings to their children and now live with only a few chosen remainders of their once grand collection. But that doesn’t stop one from looking, does it?

After a few chores at Ikea and Lee Valley (where I bought a point driver gun for framing), we had a very short time to react if we wanted to see the Stephen Amsden exhibition at the Maple Ridge Art Gallery on Dewdney Trunk Road at Civic Centre Road.

I drove at breakneck speed along the Mary Hill Bypass to get there within five minutes of closing time.  While I was getting the parking stub for the vehicle, Leo and his wife went upstairs to get into the gallery. It was too late.

But Leo has had a lifetime of business practice and he knows how to persuade people to his purposes. With his charming foreign accent and his enthusiasm, he convinced the gallery attendant that they would be sorely disappointed if they did not get to see this show. First, it had been highly recommended by a friend (me) and second, they were out-of-towners, so they would not be able to come back. With a very dignified kind of wheedle, they got permission to go in, even though he had arrived just at closing time, and by the time I got there, the gallery was closed to me, but I could see them inside.

I knocked on the plate glass window. Luckily it was the new curator staying late and she and I get along just fine. I was able to join them.

I had intention of purchasing one of the paintings, but I have so many. What to do?

Pitt Lake and Golden Ears,Steve Amsden, acrylic 24×30 ( my favorite)

I looked again at the show and found my favourite painting – an acrylic in blues both ultramarine and manganese and the forest green of the hills. In this one, the mountains are dipping into the sea. There is a highly patterned, horizontally-oriented foreground of water, and a mountain of highly textured trees and then a very flat summers-day blue sky with two plumes of cloud emanating from behind it.

It’s not unusual in composition, but it is unusual in texture.

By chance this evening I was looking through the Heffel Gallery upcoming auction catalogue and found several Lawren Harris paintings which are quite similar in style to Amsdens. Amsden’s love of Harris show through in emulation of both the stylized mountains and colour preferences.

Amsden also draws his sources from the Pointillists (Georges Seurat), the Group of Seven, and more recently he has been influenced by the Australian Aborigines, following a vacation in  Australia. He combines these in a very personal mix.

Golden Ears White, Steve Amsden, acrylic on canvas 30×40 inches

An avid hiker and mountain climber, Amsden has travelled to obscure places in British Columbia to find places to hike and camp. He sketches on site, but he refers to his photographs while painting in the studio. This tends to result in a more studied, more premeditated look than that achieved by the overly-vaunted plein air school.

This is a strong exhibition. While he follows about three different styles throughout, it very easy to tell these are Amsden paintings. There is a consistency of colour and a constancy in the imagery.

Jutting landform, Stephen Amsden, acrylic on canvas

I first met Steve Amsden when I was teaching up in New Denver, B.C. , a place with a single school, kindergarten to grade 12 with about 100 pupils per year. I knew no-one in the area, and he and his wife were quick to invite me to dinner to meet other teachers of the staff.  His wife was teaching elementary school and a colleague of hers brought along another painter, Patrick Yesh, who has been quite successful in his career.

As a result of this meeting, Steve and Patrick took me to meet Les Weisbrich, a well established illustrator, commercial artist and fine artist who had immigrated to New Denver with his family from Los Angeles. Consequently, Patrick, I and another teacher began to meet weekly with Les Weisbrich  for lessons in watercolour.  It was a surprise to me, then , when I moved to this area to find Amsden and his wife had moved to Maple Ridge to teach and had been established in the area for a long time.

Manning Park Meadow, Steve Amsden acrylic on canvas, 24 x 30

He loves the high peaks, but is equally comfortable describing beaches and woodland places. His stylization of trees is quite unusual.

Manning Park, Steve Amsden, Acrylic on canvas, 24 x 30

Speaking again of the stylized trees,  Amsden has explored a new vein of imagery akin to the Plains Indians.

Lone Hemlock, Steve Amsden, acrylic on canvas, 24×30

It’s quite a departure from the highly charged pointillist technique and the colours are radically different as well. Here, the tree reads more like “tree spirit” than “tree”. While the exploration into new territory and the coloration are remarkable, I am not fond of the paintings in this vein. I find that the acrylic does not adapt itself to flat surfaces well, and this is critical when the imagery requires flat surfaces.

Raft Cove, Stephen Amsden, acrylic on canvas

The achievement of a successful painting depends on getting everything right at the same time – composition, rhythm. texture, surface qualities tonal balance, etc.  In Raft Cove, Amsden has set up compelling,  sweeping rhythms of sand and driftwood that contrast with the incoming white caps following a quite a contrasting rhythm. This is one of those paintings where texture and pattern cross over and intermingle inextricably with each other.

Near Lawn Point, Steve Amsden, acrylic on canvas

Just at the front door of the gallery,  Raft Cove sits with another small painting, Near Lawn Point. I ended up purchasing this one. I found the stone beach delightful in texture with care taken on each rock – with many variations in colour and size of the pebbles on the beach. The incoming tide has the sunny disposition of a summer day and follows through on the textural theme.

Sunlit trees, Stephen Amsden, acrylic on canvas.

We had arrived late, kept the gracious curator at her desk a good half hour before we left.  It was time to go.

In parting, I took one last look back at the whole collection of Amsden’s mountains, sea and forest paintings.  There is a breath of fresh air in the room. One can get lost in the scenery and yet there is personality ringing out of each work.  They have a curious quality. They are easy to read – which is often not a compliment – but in this case there is so much technical and stylistic mix and such good variation in colour and form that each painting deserves a closer look.

If you are in the area, the Maple Ridge Art Gallery is open from Tuesday to Sunday,  and the show is on until May 29th. There are several write-ups of his exhibit, so I recommend Googling his name if you want to know more.

Show notices

May 4, 2010

I’ve been inundated by family members who, at great effort, came great distance to see my show which is showing (by appointment only) at Hycroft Manor at the University Women’s Club in Vancouver. Both my sister and I are showing.

What with preparation, hanging and the reception (plus a household full of visitors), I’ve not had much time to  write.

I would like to notify you of Stephen Amsden’s show at the Maple Ridge Art Gallery in Maple Ridge, B.C. and Bette Laughy and Val Robinson are showing at the  Fort Gallery in Fort Langley. There are two weeks still for each of these exhibitions.



An interesting site

May 4, 2010

Dear Guss,
Normally I don’t ever allow a comment that refers back to advertising. But when I looked at the beautiful designs on your site, I thought my readers might like to visit and look. It must be a translation because the English is unusual – a bit quirky. So I”m sending my readers to your site for a good look.

That’s what I answered to

It’s a modern design site and therefore commercial, but the designs are really very creative. What convinced me for certain, though, was the translation. I am guessing that the site originates in Spain and that the translation has been done automatically, which gives for a very humorous read.