Posts Tagged ‘art philosophy’

Disappearing Species

December 14, 2012

Mausoleum: Red List Lament, Doris Auxier, 2012, Metal framework, piano scrolls, vellum, paint, light box.

Is it a temple or a mausoleum?

Disparate elements in this installation create an eerie, warm feeling. From a distance, I felt as if I were being drawn into a Zen temple with oriental scrolls marked with calligraphy. A closer view reveals that the scrolls are not oriental at all, but player piano scrolls with sentimental words to old songs printed on the side to match the tempo or the music as it plays. The words, like Asian writing, read from bottom to top, contrary to our usual top down habit of  reading.  Hanging between these scrolls are ephemeral charcoal drawings of plants made on vellum or parchment paper, glazed with beeswax to create the same golden timbre of the piano rolls. They glow slightly. An odor of beeswax has all but been erased but lingers gently.

In the centre of the arrangement, there is a four-foot tall glass container lined with fiber glass insulation and lit from the interior. It has the feel of a stele or a mortuary box. It’s as if it contains a soul. A dying soul.

Detail, paintings on vellum, with beeswax

The piece is, in fact, a lament. It documents 14 species of native plants that have almost become extinct in the Gary Oaks area of Vancouver Island, near the city Victoria. They are red-listed – a designation that is assigned when a plant becomes endangered and threatened with extinction.

Doris Auxier, the artist of this deeply sensitive installation, is keenly involved with using her artwork to alert viewers to the ecological, environmental situations concerning endangered species.

She explains:

“While player piano scrolls are still in existence, the piano itself is rare. This makes the scrolls that were dependent upon the piano/infrastructure/system virtually useless, existing mainly in antique shops and museums. Similarly, the plants on the red list can be grown from seeds saved from the plants, but they can’t survive if the ecosystem is destroyed. The plants become museum objects that exist in research gardens and other limited environments.”

Mausoleum: Red List Lament, is a reflection on nature, displacement and loss.

Detail, charcoal on vellum, beeswax

Accompanying Auxier in this exhibition, print maker, Edith Krause has created a series of prints beautifully constructed, on the same theme.

She too laments the loss of habit, citing the importation of non-indigenous plants whose incompatibility with the existing ecosystem results in a disastrous  destruction of the local plants. When an early settler, Scotsman, planted a bit of broom he brought with him from his homeland – that hardy shrub with a cheery yellow flower – little did he think that the plant would aggressively reproduce to the point where it would rob the delicate native plants of their habitat. It’s the well-known “Butterfly effect” where a tiny decision ends up playing havoc with the environment, inflicting irreparable damage.

The Butterfly Effect No. 1: Western Sulphur, Edith Krause, Screen-print, digital print, acrylic, plywood, hardware

Each of her art pieces consists of a Plexiglas panel suspended a half-inch in front of a secondary image on plywood. The base image on the plywood appears to be a close-up view of butterfly wing, while the suspended image in front of it on Plexi is a map of the Victoria area where loss is occurring.  Superimposed on the map in black is a screen print of one of the invasive species causing the decline of the Garry Oak; like an obliterating force.

These “prints” are beautifully executed. The effect of transparency gives depth to the images. The three-dimensionality produces delicate shadows. It confirms the fragility of the plants, while the map imagery underlines that the city has superimposed itself upon a natural setting, disrupting the natural order and contributing to the demise of endangered species.

This is a thoughtful exhibition worth seeing. It’s at the Fort Gallery until December 2nd, 2012. The address is 9048 Glover Road in Fort Langley, B.C. Hours are Wednesday to Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.

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Thoughts on selling art work

November 26, 2011

Xanadu Gallery

I weighed in at the Xanadu Gallery blog today.

http://www.xanadugallery.com/wordpress/?p=1165&cpage=1#comment-2021

I found many good suggestions for an artist to talk about sales with people who come on studio tours, or friends who come to see my work.

It’s worth a read, for any artists out there struggling as we all do for sales in a  downturn market, or any market for that matter..

Personally, I don’t want ever to spoil a friendship nor a potential one by being too commercial or pushy even if I could dearly use a sale.

Here was my contribution to their blog:
I think of Art Studio Tours and visits to my gallery as advertising rather than sales opportunities. Though it’s obvious that the paintings are for sale, I don’t talk about that until someone asks. The prices are mounted beside the paintings. I’ve learned to set out less to see than more.
I do offer to allow the more interested visitors to browse my art storage after I’ve told them how to handle the pieces, and then I check on them from time to time. Sometimes it takes them a few visits before they come back for a sale; but the seed was sown at the first meeting – relaxed and friendly like a open house party. Mostly they are quite amazed at my accumulation of work and they bring people back with them to see it.

I invite friends and new visitors to come back at any time “I’d be happy to make you a cup of tea or coffee and let you browse to your content. Just call before you want to come.”
I get sales from people who came a year before and remember something that stuck in their mind that they had to have.
For anyone who has made a big purchase, I have a stock of small framed sketches 8×10 inches or smaller, and I will give them the choice of one as a bonus.
That being said, I too would like to be much better at turning a conversation of interest into a sale.
I’m always amazed at people who talk up their work by discussing the number of layers of paint they have used or the number of hours or months it took to execute the painting. For me, that’s not the point of the painting. However, people are interested in the process, so it doesn’t hurt to describe how one works. The more patrons know about the work, the more engaged they become.

Therein ended my blog response.

Let me add that,sales are important to an artist. Besides the money part of it, it tells the artist that he or she has succeeded in reaching the heart of the viewer. A sale encourages me to create more, as if the visual conversation I was seeking to engage has begun.

But I never want a friend/potential purchaser/client to feel uncomfortable about a sale; or to make a purchase they feel pressured into. It can only cause harm. I want them to be 100 percent happy with any purchase they make, because they re going to be my advertisers.They need to be proud of what they have bought.

I’m happy to take the work to where they live to put it up where they want to hang it, to see if it works. I’m willing to exchange a painting if they not happy with the original choice, even years later, because they have moved, or they have changed their tastes or whatever. Within limits of course. I’m not offering to fly to New York from Vancouver on spec, just to let someone see how it might hang in their location, for example.

And so it goes.

I’m happiest when I have my work up in shows. I’m working not so much on individuals sales, but on creating an updated resume that demonstrates the merit that has been accorded my work by other art professionals.

There’s show coming up at the Fort Gallery, Small Wonders, in December. All the gallery artists are bring out smaller works to show. It should be very interestnig. The work will be up by the 7th of December and runs to the end of the month. If you get a chance, come along and see what’s there. You never know. You may find a treasure.

The Fort Gallery is at 9048 Glover Road in Fort Langley, B.C., open from noon to 5, Tuesday to Sunday.

Thoughts on the artist/dealer relationship

July 30, 2011

This discussion began as a thread of comments on fellow-blogger (and photographer) Mark Whitney’s web site.

For the whole thread see:

http://markwhitneyphotography.wordpress.com/2011/07/18/mount-hope-cemetery/

Mark Whitney’s great website with his current photos of graveyards and mortuary monuments generated a discussion of what was appropriate to sell in a gallery; and whether or not one could sell paintings with headstones and mortuary architecture as principal subject matter. Here’s what I replied to Mark, which becames a more generic discussion of artists and dealers. My last comment on his blog is about artists bringing work on-the-edge for show and  the dilemma that may arise when it doesn’t fit a dealer’s requirements to be able to sell the work

I’m not sure that the younger generation is in the position to buy much art; and if they do, it might just be the lower priced stuff. But it’s a completely different market than the boardroom/home consumption market.

I know the “artistic freedom” arguments of the artist very well. In the last years, I’ve come to appreciate what good dealers can do for artists that artists cannot do for themselves. They often assume an enormous rent, month by month, that has to be paid through sales. In order to do that they have to find rich clients – it’s not by hundred dollar sales that they make it, but by ones in the thousands.

To do that, they need to spend a lot of time and energy on advertising which, normally, is prohibitive for the artist. They keep a staff on, in order to keep the gallery open, and they often pay writers and/or curators to write blurbs for each show.  They foot the bill for the schmoozing opening. And in the end, they have to pay for their own living – and it’s not necessarily a high one. The 2 dealers that I’ve known a little bit more than grazing-shoulders-in-passing acquaintance have looked professional and well-to-do in their gallery surroundings, but their own lives are oft fraught with the worries about the next set of bills, and often,how to pay everyone at the end of the month – because everyone comes before they do – staff, artists, writers, advertisments, promotions, telephone, IT and electricity bills.
So when they are upstaged by an artist with images which they have a clientele for, they have to scramble, and he may not have a single sale. What does he do then? He has either to have deep pockets or an understanding banker.

Artist’s side of the coin?
I thought about this artist’s new work in context of some of my own (and mine hs been slightly edgy, but nowhere near as accessible as the skull-in-the-imagery guy). It’s my works that are ten years old that sell. It takes people time to get used to them, it seems. It’s curious. I think that may be so for many artists (not counting the purely commercial who are pumping out works to fill the living room decor needs of the nation). And of course, the artist has the same problems of paying bills at the end of the month. It’s a double edged sword.

In all that, it’s a miracle that new work emerges. It’s the artist who moves forward his vision from ordinary to extraordinary, who leaps the bounds of convention, who changes the direction of the norm and finds new ways of “speaking” to their viewers. Without their dedication to express themselves in exploratory ways, we would still be back in the chocolate-box works of the the 19th Century. Instead, we’ve been able to absorb some pretty challenging work – Impressionists, Abstract Impressionists, Pop artists,  installation artists, post-modernists.Each of those movements was unacceptable when it emerged.

Our all-time example of this is van Gogh. Couldn’t sell a painting in his life-time, but is worth multi-millions now that he’s dead. Strange isn’t it?

Where will you be on Saturday?

July 26, 2011

Where will you be on Saturday?

Would it tickle your fancy to attend a free event where graffiti artists will tag a piece of your clothing  that you bring (a hat, t-shirt, shirt, etc). The event is free, but if you want to get something tagged, you need to donate something to the graffiti artist. One hundred percent of the donation goes to the artist.

Easer, Absolute Zero, 48×24 Spray paint on wood

 

Four of the artists will be working on their own paintings in the gallery –

It starts at 1 p.m. on Saturday July 30th at 258 East 1st Avenue in Vancouver.

It’s the same artists as I was talking about in my just preceding blog.

K

Robert Mitchner – Measuring our self-worth as an artist

February 27, 2011

I visited my artist friend Susan for tea yesterday. After a long hiatus, she is trying to get back into drawing and from there, back into painting.

I always feel privileged to see Susan’s work, especially since she feels quite hesitant about it. And I always feel privileged to spend time with her, too, because she went the art school route of education – something I always desired to do, greatly – and she met the fledgling art potentates of our corner of the world, now biggies, and talks about them as if they were just ordinary people, not the stars-of-the-art-world that I’ve come to consider them.

And so it was yesterday when we got talking about Ann Nelson whom I’ve not met, and Robert Mitchner, both of whom my friend visited within the last week or so.  Susan led me to their  web sites so that I could see their work and we sat together, delecting upon the imagery and talking about it’s merits.

Today she sent me this link regarding an article in Galleries West magazine concerning an upcoming exhibition, but when I went looking for the date of it, it was copyrighted in 1999, so I’m more than 10 years too late!

No matter, it’s a very perceptive interview article and I thought I would share it with you.

The Mitchner article by Fiona Morrow is at   http://www.gallerieswest.ca/Features/CoverStories/6-108168.html and is illustrated with a few of his major styles.

It’s odd, I think, that so many good artists are self-deprecating and modest about their work. We believe in our work enough to keep on doing it. We may even be privileged to get our work into the best galleries in town. And yet, the last paragraph tells it all. Mitchner feels his notice has been minimal; and his impact on the art world has been little.

I would counter that selling is not a measure of an artists worth; and we may never know the impact of our shows on other people. My perfect example  in this case is Mitchner himself.

Susan said to me, “Have you ever seen Robert Mitchner’s work?”  I replied that I had and could describe precisely the style he worked in. I could visualize the farm series as we spoke. That exhibition was thirty years ago. I never met the man; but his work impressed me  and stayed with me.  It is beautifully crafted, precise, clean, technically beautiful. The paintings were large and the compositions complicated; yet the work was serene and there was nothing that jarred. I remember them as perfect paintings.

Again I say, I never met the man. Nor did I have the opportunity to tell him how I felt about his paintings. I didn’t have money to purchase at the time, and even today, I could not afford his work, but I loved it. But he never knew it, and so thinks he has not made an impact on the art world.  I disagree. How many others, like me, saw the work and loved it but had no way of communicating that to the artist?

It is a constant problem with artists – how to measure one’s worth as a painter (or sculptor, or musician or actor, etc.).  It must not be tied to how much notice we get in the newspapers and art journals.  It must not be tied to how much money we make from sale of our art work. I’ve seen some wonderful work not sell for many different reasons – hard economic times, the people who love it are not wealthy, or viewers love it but have small living quarters and no place to put the work that they desire passionately to own. Pragmatic circumstances get in the way.

Conversely, I’ve seen dreadful work sold at great prices and acclaimed because it sells, but it’s not good work; and I’ve seen dreadful work sell time after time for even modest prices while stunningly beautiful work sitting beside it  does not find a buyer. Money is not an adequate measure of art work.

It’s a concept that I struggle with still. I’ve had very little notice of my work either, but I’ve had more than some and I’m grateful for it. I produce far more than I sell and as a result have a basement full of paintings and drawings, some framed, some not.

I decided a long time ago that I would feel successful if my peers liked and valued my art works. That means those artists whose work I admire for their imagination and skill return the compliment and admire mine. It also means those organizations who have honored me with an offer to  exhibit my work in a public place; or a gallery that I respect who agrees to take my work on, to display, to rent, to sell.  If my work was appreciated by the art colleagues that I worked with while teaching art; or by a competition that had some cachet, then it helped bolster my self-worth as an artist and I was happy for the feedback.

I feel confident about my work now, most of the time. There are still days of questioning; but mostly I know what I am doing is right for me. But of course, it took me forty years to get here; and it wasn’t always so.

Back to the point. If you would like to see some lovely work, Google and check out Robert Mitchner’s web site and also the link, above, for that excellent article. See what you think. I think it is beautiful imagery and of high quality and I hope you enjoy it too.

My favorites are the Gorgeous Gorges.

Modern Times – Andrew Tong

February 11, 2011

Mine, Andrew Tong, Acrylic on board, 20 x 16 inches.

Remember Charlie Chaplin and his movie “Modern Times”?

Andrew Tong  takes inspiration for his new series of paintings to look social ills like  Greed, Selfishness, Ignorance, Self-Delusion  of the 21st Century for his latest surrealist paintings. He challenges the viewer to re-examine society’s stated values and take measure of what really is going on in the world we live in.

In the painting, Mine, Tong shows a little boy packing a pistol on his hip – presumably a toy one – but the face has a decidedly adult cast to it, and he seems quite ready to pull out the gun and shoot. Does this symbolize that adults are behaving in a childlike manner where it suffices to say “Mine” whether ownership lies with the individual or not?

And does the child, surrounded by sheriff-like stars, one red, one white, one blue, represent America, the aggressor, laying claim to the world – if not owning it physically, at least controlling it through guns and explosive tactics?
The car in the background is in flames. The big orange sun is setting  – or has it turned orange from the fumes of carbon emissions, conflict or some other man-made disaster?

In the upper right hand corner there are some symbols from the sky – a new moon, two different stars. Rather, these are state symbols – the Star of David of Israel, the New moon with star of Turkey (also appears in the flags of Turkmenistan and Tunisia) and the third symbol is not so clear. These provide a clue to the areas of the world in which greed, both corporate and national, play greatly in their destiny.

Over the surface of the painting, insects crawl – aggressive ones – the wasp ants, and a dung beetle – caught in trompe l’oeil paint. These represent the survivors of change, those who can adapt to their rapidly changing environment despite the catastrophes that occur.

These are not easy paintings. They require engagement. Though the separate parts are painted realistically, each of the individual parts relates to a greater whole. They hold together like a cynical poem with an elliptical feeling, where the viewer has to bring them together. The overall impression is disquieting and meant to be so.

Andrew Tong’s show is on now and runs until  February 26th at the Elliott Louis Gallery in Vancouver. It’s a major exhibition with twenty-one of his newest work and  well worth the visit. Check out the other paintings on the web-site:

http://www.elliottlouis.com/dynamic/exhibit_artist.asp?ExhibitID=426

Windows – Larry Green, Maggie Woycenko

January 25, 2011

Gallery artist,  Maggie Woycenko and guest artist Larry Green showed at the Fort Gallery in Fort Langley, B.C. in January 2011.

Maggie Woycenko

Myth, Roofing paper, art paper and paint on canvas, Maggie Woycenko

I’ve photographed  Woycenko’s Myth complete with shadows because she has been exploring with paint, canvas,  paper and thin sheets of aluminum, producing works that defy the second dimension and edge into the third. She tells me these are the result of a voyage of discovery into an area where she has not worked before.  She’s flirting with sculpture but she hasn’t left the flat surface behind.

In the Christmas group show, we saw her first invasions of the picture plane with small wooden windows inset into the canvas. Now the piercing is not formal but more free-form. And following on, the images get more and more dimensional.

Street Noise, Maggie Woycenko, Oil on Canvas with wooden inset

Reveal, Maggie Woycenko, oil on aluminum on panel.

There are many things I like about Woycenko’s work. Everything works all at once. That is, the surface of her paintings are developed with an implied texture, although the painting is applied thinly, and her colour sense is excellent. She has her own colour identity in variations of gray, usually a subdued range of colour, but nonetheless expertly modulated. She knows how to mix paint and marry it on the canvas. In addition, she always has iconic images ( the windows, the coloured balls, the letters) sufficiently in evidence to establish a spatial composition which assures the eye is restful but watchful while contemplating the work. And now this sculptural element is present, with the forms creating shadows on the wall that holds the work; and the balance of flat to form is harmonious.

Small Talk, Maggie Woycenko, Oil on canvas 16 x 16

In the work, Small Talk, I have the sense that she has captured the idea of a visible and evident surface personality with an underlying secret, the red, being exposed by this thin layer of metal  opening up a can of sardines, so as to speak,  and letting the Pandora-secret out.

Works, Maggie Woycenko, oil on canvas with various added papers.

If this work is just preliminary to a future series, perhaps bigger in scale, I am eager to see how this series develops, matures, morphs. This series is already very rich and self-contained as is, but knowing the artist, there is always more exciting work to come.

Larry Green

Sspaciousness, Larry Green, mixed media

There are two hanging boxes in the window of the gallery. Each has glass walls and one side that is open. The first is called Spaciousness and has butterflies suspended in it.  The second, Invisible walls, has two dragon flies. The idea behind them is about beauty and confinement. The butterflies and dragon flies do not realize they are trapped since the walls are invisible.

Invisible Walls, Larry Green, mixed media

Through this work Green seeks to express the difference between space which is a defined containment and emptiness which is not contained.

The remainder of the works are essential two dimensional in the sense of being flat or almost flat; but these works are intellectual works and in that sense of the expression, anything but flat. What you see is only the beginning of the meanings that are implied, suggested, divined.  They invite the observer to meditate upon the possibilities.

Selfother: Confusion, Larry Green, mixed media

In Selfother: Con-Fusion the image speaks about relationships where people fuse together in mystical union. The Self becomes the Other into a single entity, the Selfother, no hyphen. At same time, this leads each individual to new feelings, new ideas, new introspection. As the two personalities fuse into a relationship, the original, separate identities undergo change  producing a state where the outer known face may seem the same but the inner face is in the process of new-definition.  It’s not exactly clear what it is. It’s edges are blurred and the core is out of focus.

Green has created a deep framed box to express this state of being. A photograph of Green’s face is clearly visible on the front piece of glass while at the back, a less clear copy of this image covers a piece of glass. Lined up with the centre of the piece of art, the face is quite clear, but move to one side and not only do you see the slightly confused image on the mirror moving as the observer does, but the observer also sees his own reflection mixed up in it all. It’s a clever representation of the Selfother idea.

The Movement of Attention, Larry Green, mixed media

In The Movement of Attention, there are six images of nudes in a grid. Different body parts are highlighted in colour in each of the six. It implies that the observer of the body (the artist) focuses on different parts at different times, giving emphasis to those that arouse attention as one’s eye scans the subject .

Artist looking at Patron looking at Nude, Larry Green, mixed media

In Artist looking at Patron looking at Nude, there is another photographic image of Green’s face superimposed with the same linear drawing of a nude as in The Movement of Attention. In this image, the artist is looking out at the Patron (the viewer) and the nude stands between them, figuratively, on the surface of the artwork. Again, very clever! The artist is not absent in this work of art but very much present, obliging the observer to take into account that the work did not magically appear, but was conceived and drawn by its creator.

In Illumination the message is that a subject can be considered as forbidding or uplifting. The meaning we put upon an image is coloured by the mood of both the artist and the viewer.

The future? Larry Green, Mixed media

In The Future? the artist ask us to consider where we think we are going in the future. Messages overlay the photos set in a window frame.  Do we want clean air, clean environment, electric cars? Or by our inaction, will we end up with a ruined planet.  The photos contrast the possibilities before us and reminds us that the choice is ours.

There are two photos in the back room. Abject Ignored and Abject Realized both show a beggar on the roadside. In the first, two women pass by, ignoring him. There are words that acknowledge the various items in view just as the women, in passing, would have had to observe – curb, cobble stones, etc.

Abject ignored and Abject Realized, Larry Green, photograph

In the second, there is a statue of a figure with a book in hand. Death is on its shoulder.  By inference, the statue is representing the abject figure’s hopelessness and spiritual death.

Named Windows, this exhibition of  Green’s and Woycenko’s work is intriguing,  because there are layers and depth of meaning to each work.  The common thread of the windows helps to  unify the ensemble.

What I did today…

December 12, 2010

Captain America 12 Midnight, automotive enamel on board. 36 x 38 inches

My friend phones and says, “Haven’t seen you lately,” and I explain that I have been to Europe and saw a lot of contemporary art.  I recounted my journey briefly.

“I haven’t been around because I’m  being a bit of a hermit,” I add, “because I’ve had family staying with me and then I had repairs on my house that meant some difficulties with contractors.” I rattled off a litany of things I’d had to do since I returned from travels.

The upshot of our conversation was that he invited me to come to the opening the Elliot Louis Gallery, on Saturday afternoon. So today I took a trip into Vancouver for the reception of the Takashi Iwasaki solo show.

First stop on the trip to town was my faithful framer. I haven’t been there since before my show in July. It’s been a while!

I had three things to frame, and then a selection of  pre-cut mats to find. When all the business transactions were done, I and my friend Dorothy who  was also picking up things from the framer,  went to the 5th Avenue Terra Breads Cafe for lunch.

I never thought that a Foccacio bread with cheese, dill and potatoes (yes, roasted potatoes!) would be a good thing, but it was absolutely delicious – fresh from the oven and hot – like a pizza without the tomato sauce.  Dorothy was in a devil-may-care mood and plunged for a very wicked cinnamon bun drenched in caramel sauce. “You only live once so you might as well enjoy it,” she says as she tucks in, though we’ll both have to commit to some serious gym time to compensate for today’s food sins.

The Takashi Iwasaki show is on from November 30 to December 31st. It’s called Memories in Colour. I wrote about him recently here in the blog during the summer when the Drawn Festival was on so if you are interested in seeing more, visit artiseternal.wordpress.com/2010/07/29/drawn-ii

Kamidaredentou Takishi Iwasaka Thread on black canvas

The works in the show are mostly small, the smallest is 7 inches square and the largest is 14 inches square. They are done in stitchery in the finest detail, describing an iconography that looks like science-fiction doodles. They are bright and happily coloured. The images appear to be non-representational but occasionally they seem to have distorted, elongated figures much in the nature of Salvador Dali’s extruded people.

In smaller pocket galleries off the main space, there were some other treasures that I was delighted to see. First of all, there were three pieces by Tom Forrestall who was already a major talent in the late 1950’s with his egg tempera work. He attended the Fine Arts Faculty at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick and has worked in a style dubbed Magic Realism.

Falling Rider, Tom Forrestall, 20x 30.5 inches, egg tempera

His painting Falling Rider is remarkable for its detail and the impact it has once one realizes that the foreshortened body caught mid-air is crashing into a monster boulder head first.  The visored cap is flying away. The horse is startled but is not fleeing.

Second startling thing about this painting – the painting surface and frame are not a rectangle. The lower horizontal edge is much longer than the upper one giving an additional impression of the image hurtling forward into space.

The technique of egg tempera is painstakingly slow so the approximate 20 x 30 Falling Rider is big for this medium.  A much smaller painting, 8 x 7 inches, is ambiguous – Wreck in the fog. There are plenty of smallish boulders in the foreground and one is more brown than the others. Is it a rock? Or is is a dead body slumped over the damaged side? There’s a mystery. It is at once peacefully still and ominously foreboding.

Forrestall’s small nude is not, in my opinion, as successful. The technique of egg tempera requires small pointillist dots of colour. The female body ends up looking a bit furry rather than smooth-skinned as one might expect. The lighting isn’t quite right, for a Realist.

It’s interesting that he has written on the verso of the painting:

“It is part of my expression to distance myself from reality, this painting is entirely made up…it [is] real in one way and not in another”.

For a painter pegged as a Realist, the  statement seems rather contradictory.

His years of craft show through. He is a master of his medium and these works of his are lovely and rare to see in this corner of the world.

The paintings that I was most fascinated with though were those of 12 Midnight.

12 Midnight works with neon in some works, car enamels in Captain America, (see the image at top of the blog) calling on pop art and comic book imagery for his inspiration. There are two silk screen prints displayed, one with Woody Woodpecker, green dollar signs in his eyes, holding a big bag of money.  Gunland Series: Greed is the title. Another silkscreen print has a cowboy figure firing at Cat in a Hat called Gunland Series: Losing Your Innocence in a Parallel Universe.

12 Midnight’s large painting is on a wood panel and is painted with car enamel. The Captain America figure is  hard-edged and outlined like a comic book but the background is a mix of shiny car enamel and mat colour where the paint has soaked in.The contrast between the flat and the textured areas make this painting very visually rich. If I won the lottery, of all the ones I saw in the gallery, this is the one that is most dynamic and adventurous.  I would be pleased to hang it above my fire place.

There are other works of art by regular gallery artists to be seen – Helma Sawatsky, Carolyn Stockbridge, Frances Semple, Stephany Hemming and there is a large triptic of Jack Shadbolt. It’s a good show and worth a trip down to 1st avenue to see it.

When the schmoozing was done and we had inspected the pieces one by one, I went my way back home, parting company with my friend. It was a long trip home, just the thing to allow me to ingest all that good contemporary art that I was privileged to see today.

One hundred and eighty degrees

December 11, 2010

A really good picture looks as if it’s happened at once. It’s an immediate image. For my own work, when a picture looks labored and overworked, and you can read in it—well, she did this and then she did that, and then she did that—there is something in it that has not got to do with beautiful art to me. And I usually throw these out, though I think very often it takes ten of those over-labored efforts to produce one really beautiful wrist motion that is synchronized with your head and heart, and you have it, and therefore it looks as if it were born in a minute.” (In Barbara Rose, Frankenthaler (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1975, p. 85)

Wandering through museum after museum in Europe this summer, the thought I came up with for my own work was:

Be braver. Sweep away restrictions. Lean over the edge. Hang on by the rim if necessary. Try what you have always wanted to try. Work big.

I was swept away by the inventiveness of the art – much of it totally non-representational.  I also saw tons of Medieval art, especially the Gothic work done around 1200 a.d. So there was a wonderful mix of things to look at – not only in the museums and galleries, but in the streets as well.

I’ve come back all fired up to paint new imagery, to try a series of non-representational work that will perhaps lead into something else. While I’m doing it, I’m trying to remain open and experimental, for me.

I add that, “for me”, because I know that this kind of work has been done before.  You might say the work is derivative, and it well may be. The thing is, if I don’t explore this avenue, I’ll never know know what is at the end of it, will I? I’ll never know what I might have discovered.  Being safe  ends up also being static, repetitive, derivative.

There’s that word again. Derivative.

I believe that we are all influenced by our favorite painters; that we aspire to emulate some of these favored ones. To copy them would not be right, but to play with their concepts, to build on their ideas – these are fair challenges to take up. One’s own personality will come through in one’s own work.

Yes, there are great forgers who can copy another artist’s work flawlessly, to fool the public into believing it is from the master’s hand; but for the vast majority, we bring our own abilities, our own personality, our own skill-sets to the canvas and the results will carry our own personality, our own aspirations, our own interpretations. It’s valid to go there; it’s not valid to copy (without acknowledging or accrediting the original artists).

And so, brave as I want to be, adventurous as I have vowed to be, I have embarked on a series of large watercolours using a palette of graphite grey, yellow ochre and burnt sienna. I just haven’t been able to leave the representational sector. I’ve needed a crutch, a handle to hold onto, an old woman’s cane to steady me as I go. Yes, I am painting from things I have seen – but hopefully, you will not recognize them, when you see them.

The first six are done. They represent concrete floor repaired with a resin that fills the cracks and spreads either side of them. It is a warehouse floor with dints and scratches, with these large lines of resin making random patches in a different colour; and spots of paint from some former activity. Now this glorious floor is being recorded in watercolour – the floor of the Geneva Museum of Contemporary Art. 

Since I’ve been back in Vancouver, I’ve been noticing the repairs in the asphalt on the road – a thick black linear brushwork flanking either side of a breach in the paving. I’ve been noticing the lack of repairs where tree roots emerge on sidewalks, lifting the concrete, breaking it, and then, over time, growing grass or weeds in it.  So simple.

From this latter exploration that I have done in photography, I’m hoping to find a more imaginative group of figures – anthropomophic – animal like or human-like but not.  I’ll just see where it goes.

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 www.bettelaughy.ca

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.