Posts Tagged ‘oil painting’

Visions & Vistas, Michal Tkachenko

August 24, 2012

Isle of Arran 8,  2009, Michal Tkachenko, Oil on Mylar, 40 x 60 inches

I met with Tim Bissett, enthusiastic Art Consultant, in Vancouver about a week ago, expecting to have a half hour conversation with him over coffee at Terminal Avenue Starbucks. I’d done a small restoration on one of my own paintings for him – a mere scratch, but oh! what a poem it was trying to get the colour and the surface quality to match. In the end, it looked perfect and Tim was pleased.

Instead of a half hour, we talked two; and at the end he says, “Do you want to see the exhibition that I curated?” He had sent out the invitation to the opening on short notice and I hadn’t been able to attend.

Thy Otways sorrows, and lament his fate!, Michal Tkachenko, Oil on Canvas, 36×36 inches

It wasn’t far away, in Railtown  district, on Alexander Street in Vancouver. It was easy to get parking, a miracle for downtown, and was free for an hour. The show was in a small theatre studio space with dark walls which off-set the paintings wonderfully.

Michal Tkachenko, a native of Vancouver, lives in England but comes a few times a year to paint and visit her family.

Lately she has had access to Chatsworth House, the great manor used in many films including Pride and Prejudice and The Duchess. She has painted the dining room complete with period-style candelabra, paintings and epergnes in an opulent, free-brushing bravado. The walls are bright red and so they provide a rich background to the various pieces of decor set out on the table or sideboard.

Chatsworth 4, Michal Tkachenko, Oil on Canvas, 48×48 inches

Bissett describes the palette as beautifully haunting. Perhaps it is. The first word I thought of was Gothic, which elicits a ghostly sensation, especially since these sit on a strong butter yellow wall and the grey and white of the image seem even more pallid because of their exhibiting surface.

I don’t have a strong feeling for these interior landscapes, but I fell in love with the other series, a series of English landscapes, capturing the moodiness of the moors and other bucolic scenes.

In the Chatsworth series, Tkachenko works in oils on canvas. In two of the Vistas, the Isle of Arran works, Tkachenko works in a more contemporary medium of oil on Mylar. It’s equivalent to working on a smooth plastic surface and similar to working on glass. In this method, the oils don’t accumulate in thick layers. Rather, they must be freshly laid onto the surface and that must be done in quick, sure strokes.

Red Field 2, 2012,  Michal Tkachenko, Oil on Canvas, 18×20 inches

These works show Tkachenko’s mastery of the medium. They are expressive and freely painted. There is no hesitation apparent. The colours marry in a lovely series of moody greens and reds, the opposites providing a great balance of warm and cool. The sky is luminous – the kind that is perfect for an outdoor hike into the pure English wilderness that has barely been touched by man’s intruding hand.

If you would like to see these lovely paintings, Visions & Vistas has run its course, but there are still several paintings for sale. Viewing can be made by appointment only through Tim Bissett, the curator of the show. Call 778-322-1333 to schedule viewing,  or e-mail to


Simon Shawn Andrews

August 2, 2012

Cherries in a Bowl, Simon Andrews, 4 x 6 inches, oil on board.

Don’t you love this image, with the cherries looking so succulent, and the remainder a subdued mix of greys which allow the glass and the cherries to speak for themselves? This is a very small painting, but exquisite, deceptively simple, beautifully perceived.

I keep up a conversation with Simon from time to time.

I’m always interested in his work because it’s simply luscious. Almost entirely still life, at this point. At least, the things he shows on his current web page are all in still life mode.

So I asked him yesterday to send me a place where I could look at his work.

Apples and pitchers, Simon Andrews, oil on canvas  10 x 10 inches.

He replies that he is only showing on e-Bay now.  It’s counter-intuitive. You have to look them up one by one. So I wrote back and asked for a place where I could look at them as a group. He says, “I sort of have a gallery link here,,,,”

Take a look at his work on:

Everything has been sold except two. Maybe he has been painting and not posting. I’m hoping so.

His latest, Apples and Pitchers, is still available but the last price on auction was going up and up, and worth every penny that’s been bid so far. So, I’ve bowed out on that one and am waiting for another more in my price range. I really liked the Bowl of Cherries too, but it’s gone.

I hope you enjoy them.

Visiting Jim Gislason

July 25, 2012

At the end of a short gravel drive behind a rancher-style house in South Surrey (B.C, Canada), is this small barn with a small door on the right hand side. Stepping into the dark interior, there is an unfinished room with not much of interest in it. But beyond that, behind a partition going the length of the barn, is the fairly simple studio of Jim Gislason, an artist with enviable credits for his print-making.

The room may be simple, or should I say, austere, but the work going on in it is nothing of the sort.  There is an intellectual theme running through his paintings based on ancient civilizations and myths which I described in an earlier post at the moment of his solo exhibition, “Kings and Queens” at the Elliott Louis Gallery in Vancouver  two years ago.

Gislason is the type of person I enjoy a good conversation with. He’s a fine poet and a talented painter in addition to his work as a print maker. He has a tremendous knowledge of English literature and some obscure ancient literature as well (whence come his titles). He quotes from traditional British poets as well as current song-writers such as Bob Dylan. It’s obvious that he has the ability to internalize what he reads or hears as song, to synthesize it and then to recreate it into iconic visual language. Let me say that in a different way:
Gislason has a capacity to absorb ideas from the world around him, to think profoundly about it, mill it about, and come up with some very original, symbolic art work. What is more, he is very articulate about what he is doing. It’s ingenious.

To express his ideas visually, he has devised a unique and complicated way of working.  He was fascinated with printmaking techniques, especially silk-screening. In earlier times, this process was used mostly for making posters and advertising. In the late ‘Fifties and early ‘Sixties, this process was brought into the art domain under the name of “serigraphy” to distinguish it from its commercial twin.  The process is technically intricate.

A very evenly and tightly woven piece of silk is stretched over a frame. A masking liquid is painted on and then, once it dries, it can be used to make multiple images  of the design by use of a squeegie pulling ink over the screen. Where there is no mask,  ink goes through. Where there is a mask, none goes through. Several same-sized screens can be used to make overlays of color, so the imagery can be quite complicated and colourful. Mask-making methods have evolved over the intervening years. Even in the late ‘Sixties, photo-transfer masks were being used. They were produced first by exposing a photographic film that could be applied to the screen leaving an emulsion that performs the masking function. Colour separation applied to this process allowed for some fairly realistic images to be produced. Gislason uses the photographic process complete with digital manipulations to create imagery on his silks.

Silk screen with photographic masking showing on LH side and ‘inked’ areas on RH side.

In the process of using serigraphy at the beginning of his print-making career, Gislason discovered that he liked what happened when the inks went through the silk and left-over inks stayed on the screen instead of transferring to the paper. Now he doesn’t bother making multiple images. He has discovered, created a new way of working that hangs somewhere between print-making and oil painting.

I’ve often wondered how he could create his works in this manner because his ‘canvases’ are so large.  Now that I’ve seen his studio, I understand his process better. His squeegie is short – maybe just a foot long. In traditional silk screening, the artist would have a squeegie that was just slightly shorter than the rectangular frame’s shortest side. The artist provides ink to the surface and then pulls that puddle of ink from one side to the other of the total rectangle.

Gislason uses oil paints instead of inks to provide more professional, durable and lightfast pigments. He works on a small area at a time, not worrying about doing the whole width at once.  The advantage to Gislason is that, while extrudes them through the screen, he can modulate colours as he is working. That means that his colours are no longer flat, as is characteristic of traditional silk-screen printing. He can also modulate the good side before the paint has hardened with palette knife or other tools adding another texture or glaze. It enriches the colours and permits modification of parts of the overall surface so that the textural quality of the entire piece is as varied and as interesting as the rest of the imagery.

The final product, technically speaking, is beautifully crafted with several different aspects all working together – the modulation of colour, the variety and interest in the tactile surface, and the imagery which is not incidental to the whole. It’s no longer a handmade print on paper, but is the screen itself. There is only one image, not multiples on paper.

“My work is figurative,” he says. “Always figurative.”

I have to think this through, since I see so much abstraction in the works leaning against the walls, pinned to the wall, or stacked in the far end of the barn. The face or the figure is somewhat incidental in the overall. In my mind it’s just another shape, but with recognizable detail. I express my question and he answers, “Without the figure, there is little engagement.” He shows me the one and only non-figurative work in the studio and I easily see what he means. The figures are focal points that call out to be explored, considered.

Mostly the figures are heads only, often a head tipped back on the neck, mysterious, evocative; but there is an image with a donkey and another with a one legged person, wings embracing the the figure from behind the head, which gives the impression that the other leg is there, but in shadow. Or is this one of the Queens, seated on a throne, with a single foot coming forward? For me, the ambiguity is a pleasure because then I need to ponder the work and engage with the figure. There are things to discover.

In explaining his imagery, Gislason theorizes, quotes philosophers and classic writers. He speaks of the difference between logic and myth. Logic is linear thinking, cold and calculating. Myth relates to feelings, poetry, magic. It’s the latter that he wants to have shine through in his work. Yet when I look at his silks, I see that there is an equal balance. The overall image may meet the emotional quotient he is seeking, but the formal qualities of the work – the placement of shapes and objects, the overall design are painstakingly considered.

His eyes light up as he talks. His energy bristles but is sure footed. He is a mystery. It’s these contrasts that he resolves that make his work interesting. Logic and myth. Simplicity and complication.

Work in progress containing map imagery

The new work incorporates images of maps, with small block shapes of them repeated to make large continents on the canvas. He continues with his luscious build-ups of texture, impasto painting which contrast with rich coloured flat areas. When you look from afar, it’s one image; when you are close up, there is so much intriguing detail. The edges are still pinned with clear-headed push-pins. They are part of the imagery, holding in place the soft silk edges which act as a signature framing element. The new works are in progress, not yet finished, up on the wall while he ponders the next step, the next modifications to the first layers of paint and the imagery. Orange and cadmium yellows predominate, but most often with a contrasting turquoise to set up a glowing vibration of colour.


Details – Fingerprinted edging with push pin; repeated block of map image bordered by impasto brushwork.

I left the studio feeling very privileged to have been welcomed into the inner sanctum. If you want to see more, check out his web site at

Many thanks to Ted Lederer of the Elliott Louis Gallery who arranged the visit for me and accompanied me on the journey.

Check out the Elliott Louis Gallery at

Read about the philosophy of Myth versus Logic in this document:


June 19, 2012

River God, Kristin Krimmel, 1979,  9.5×12 inches, oil on board

I went looking on the Internet this morning for a definition of marouflage. I had hope to send the information to my art dealer friend in Vancouver, but the best information that I got was all in French in technical terms and I didn’t have the oomph to translate all that.
I used the marouflage technique in painting in France during my studies at Art School; then tried to explain it to someone in English. I’m finding various definitions, but not as limited and specific as this one.
For me, it’s a technique whereby one glues a secondary surface over a support (canvas or board) and then proceeds with painting. I was using a marouflage of paper on marine ply, but could as easily have been using paper on canvas. The purpose was to provide a smoother surface and to eliminate or diminish the effect of the support surface (the weave of canvas, the grain of the wood) and control the absorbency.

I began with a complicated technique using rabbit skin glue and plaster of Paris. First, the glue (available in granulated form) was heated with water to a fairly liquid, smooth consistency then painted on the board.  A layer of kraft paper was then placed on top of the board, and a second layer of glue brushed on. When this concoction dried fully, a second mixture was applied made of the liquid rabbit skin glue and plaster of Paris. It provided a white, home-made gesso that formed the ground for the painting – the layer that the paint would attach to.

This white layer was dried then very smoothly sanded. The process was repeated a few times until to a polished surface white surface was achieved.

Figure in red, 1979 Kristin Krimmel, 12 x 12 inches, oil on board.

I was a devoted student of the classic techniques and could be found many evenings brewing up my mixtures and preparing lots of panels so that I could work on them the next day in the painting studio. If I wasn’t preparing mixtures, I was delving into any books I could find on technique.

I came late to the process. I had studied in Vancouver and received a teaching degree in Fine Arts, but I felt woefully my lack of confidence both in my drawing abilities and my knowledge of painting. After four years of teaching and several years of getting my life in order, I had an opportunity to spend a year traveling and I chose to do it by living in Rheims, France and going to the regional art school. That I ended up staying four years at the school is a whole long other story.

Being in an art school allowed me to explore what I already knew and to add the education that I thought I was missing – the classical techniques and the draftsman-like ability to draw or paint things realistically.  In the end, I came to terms with my inability to draw photographically. I even eventually understood that I didn’t have to do so in order to create good art.

Sometimes there are clouds in one’s life. We think we are being deprived of something and the whole world will fall apart because of it. The professors didn’t know what to do with me because I was already an art teacher, so they felt it would not be appropriate for me to learn the way the others were learning. I was proscribed from the basic drawing classes – from classic plaster casts, from perspective lessons and so on. So I sat in my corner of the studio and turned inward, building on the lessons I’d had in university back home. I felt deprived of what I had come to learn.

Instead, I embarked upon some marvelous journeys of discovery. I read everything I could get my hands on, spent hours in the local museum and the Maison de la Culture which brought in very good shows.  My art history prof set me up with the Dale Carnegie Library (yes, this mid sized town in France was given a library by the philanthropist just after the World War I, and was constructed in magnificent art deco style) where I was allowed to handle the original manuscripts housed in their collection.

I was introduced to Mademoiselle Voisin, a lovely elderly lady – she seemed old to me then, but I must be her age now, it’s frightful to think of it. She was the docent for the very important cathedral in Reims – a Gothic cathedral which was the place where all French coronations took place from medieval times until the revolution in 1789. She had a wealth of information about the cathedral and knew all of its esoteric secrets that she delighted in telling. In addition, she collected foreign students around her on Sundays for tea and delighted in feeding them cakes and cookies while encouraging conversation in French and the making of friendships.

I was a model student. I was there at eight in the morning and left at six at night (with a good French break between twelve and two for lunch). Two days a week, I came for evening figure drawing classes. When I went back to my bare apartment, I continued on with my projects and mixtures and experiments until late at night.

I am essentially a lazy being. Maybe we all are. Eventually, I became tired of the long process of preparing my boards with plaster. I thought to myself, why do we need so much plaster? I started to prepare them simply gluing the paper on and forgetting the plaster.  It worked just as well for me, and I was able to paint more and prepare less.

Three apple trees, Germany, Kristin Krimmel, 1979, 24 x 17 cm, oil on board

Marne Vineyards, Kristin Krimmel,  1979, 17×24 cm, oil on board.

It was a very productive period for me, and a lovely way to paint.  Who knows? Maybe I will come back to it.

A selection of Kristin Krimmel’s paintings are found on her website at


John Koerner’s retrospective

June 28, 2011

Orchard 2, John Koerner, 8×10 inches, watercolour on  illustration board, 1963

There’s a tangible buzz mid afternoon in the Elliott Louis Gallery on Saturday. June 25th.   Celebration time is six o’clock, but the preparations are no accident. Everything is well planned to ensure the guests are greeted warmly and that they enjoy themselves during the two hours that follow. Those who cannot be there for six are arriving early, circling amongst the fifty -plus paintings of John Koerner, one of British Columbia’s most respected artists, and likely the oldest, too. He’s nighty- eight and not missing a beat.

Many of the paintings come from private collections, and they span a sixty year career of this remarkable artist.

The Lighthouse: Opus 119, John Koerner, acrylic on canvas, 42 x 52 inches, 1995

I fell in love with his paintings many, many years ago. Particularly, I loved his use of blues and turquoise in his landscapes.  I contemplated getting one of his oils, years back, but it didn’t happen; and then ten years later, was able to purchase a small watercolor, which I cherish still. It’s called Orchard 2 and is about 8 inches by 10.  I promised myself that, one day, I could purchase an oil and remembered the one I’d seen at the Diane Farris gallery on that early occasion. Then, miraculously, a still life in oranges and peachy colours came up at auction and I got it. I was thrilled. To actually own one! It sits in my office and I see it every day.

Just look at the paintings here. They are fresh and alive. There is no hesitation nor overworking. All the colours are harmonious,  clear and sparklingly clean. In the Lighthouse: Opus 119, you can see how he establishes depth of field with the large bouquet signifying the here-and-now, and the lighthouse, small in the distance, an ever present available guiding spirit.

Now I was here, well before the crowds would arrive, at leisure to get up close and contemplate each painting carefully. I can find new things in his paintings every time I look. There are ways of using acrylic so that it creates it’s own texture like when oil paint separates slightly when diluted with water. It’s a glaze that leaves a pebbly surface – hard to achieve while still maintaining control in acrylics. There are the overlays areas of small strokes  built up in a stained-glass like fragmentation. Most of the paintings contain  a compendium of different marks that can run from flat and smooth, to build-ups of jagged, direct ones, overlaid one upon another, giving a richness of pattern or depth of color. And, holding all this together is an overall composition of a meditative nature and a sensation of light.

Hikari 3, John Koerner, Acrylic on Canvas, 42 x 52 inches

The Lighthouse Series was inspired by the Point Atkinson Lighthouse – a monolithic white tower in West Vancouver, visible on a clear day from the University of British Columbia where he spent his career teaching in the Fine Arts Faculty. The lighthouse recurs in many paintings, signifying the source of light and the power it gives to guide us spiritually, inspirationally and physically.

The Pacific Gateway series, implies the link between Canada and Asian countries, as well as signifying peace, a visual play on words with “pacific”. In addition there are paintings with a Japanese flavour with suggestions of Kimono shapes; and a some paintings of African landscapes.

Harbour Reflections, John Koerner, 36 x 36 inches, acrylic on canvas, 1960

I couldn’t attend the opening due to another engagement, but once my other event was over, I hastened back to the Gallery to join the celebration. It was all but finished, but the attendance had been spectacular – well over 200 people had come. There were still at least 40 people there. John Koerner had already gone. But the symbiotic energy that was still reigning in the gallery  was exciting to join.  People did not want to go home!  Ted Lederer who owns the gallery greeted me in his usual enthusiastic fashion and immediately introduced me to David Bellman and Meirion Cynog Evans, the team of curators who had put up the show.

“You have to see this,” says Ted, leaving me with David, Meirion and a well known art collector in the back office where incoming new art is put out of the way of the day-to-day activities.

Up on the wall were some of Lionel Thomas’s late works, flowers on canvas painted in tempera, some geometric abstracts and exceptionally, about ten, two- sided copper enamel works. Size is approximately 8 x 10 inches. They are framed so that they can be seen as sculptures, free standing,  The color are brilliant (because copper enamelling is a process of affixing glass onto a metal base), with lots of pure bright hues of reds and blues. They are like jewels.

David Bellman and Merion Evans are in the process of preparing the Lionel Thomas collection of his works for an up-coming exhibition at the Elliott Louis Gallery. But that’s another story, since this was the celebration for John Koerner.

I couldn’t stay long; but was long enough to bring back some images to share on this blog.  Here are a few more favorites:

Still Life, John Koerner, Gouache, ink and paper collage, 1965

If you live in Vancouver, hasten to see this show. The  exhibition is very short – just 10 days in all, and it’s taken almost 20 years since the last retrospective of Koerner’s work.  It’s an opportunity not to be missed. It’s located at 258 East 1st Avenue, just one block east of Main and one north of Great Northern Way.

Check out the the Elliott Louis Gallery web-site. Lots of the Koerner images are there – but you will want to see the real thing. They are very tasty!

Drawn II

July 29, 2010

Three images by Takashi Iwasaki

Sharpenkunshimetsukegram, drawing on paper, 10 x 7 inches Kamidaredentou,16 x 16 inches, embroidery; Sauceireminidenkikasa, drawing on paper, 10 x 7 inches

For the second year running, Vancouver has held the Drawn Festival. It’s an International call for artists working in the medium of drawing, which seems to have no borders to its definition. The Pendulum Gallery at Georgia and Howe is the venue, this year, for the resulting exhibition.

Completely separate from that, several galleries  in Vancouver reserve time in  July and early August to hold uniquely drawing exhibitions. Lynn Ruscheinsky is a curator working for the Elliott Louis Gallery who selected Takashi Iwasaki and Mary Hrbacek for the show.

I was in the neighborhood picking up framing for my own show at the Fort Gallery, and decided to check it out .  I was lured in by what looked like luscious large charcoal drawings of tree trunks.

The large drawings (30 x 32 inches) by Mary Hrbacek were counter-foiled by some very delicate small drawings (7 inches by 10 inches) by Takashi Iwasaki, a Japanese artist.  This exhibition could not have been easily hung since the work is diametrically opposed in nature.

Iwasaki’s small drawings are shown as well as some of his stitchery. The drawings act as maquettes for the needlework. Both from their fineness and delicacy, I assumed they were made by a woman, but when I spoke to Katherine who was tending the gallery, she informed me that, no, it was unusual, but these were the workings of a young man!

The drawings are finely executed, echoing some of the most inventive schoolbook doodling I have ever seen, with the shapes reminiscent of Paul Klee, the coloration of Wassily Kandinsky  and the spirit and balance of Joan Miro. They could be classed in the realm of Surrealism. There is no reference to objects and  as such are a good example of pure abstraction.

Seen from afar, one could be excused if they thought they were looking at oil paintings, for the larger works. Up close, you can see the threads sewn ever so precisely to fill in the shapes created by his imagery. There is no room for the slightest error. It’s impossible to take out a patch and put in another. The  threads are laid so well that there is no sense of surface texture – a block of them will be all at the same height and so reflect light as if the block were a single colour with no texture. It’s a pretty marvelous marriage of technical virtuosity and esoteric imagery.

The colours are light and clean – with either a white background or a black one, sewn over with clear yellows, pinks, robin’s egg blues and reds.

I like Iwasaki’s philosophy. In his artist’s statement, he says,”Life is too short to take gravely all the time. I want to delight in what I can when I can.”   That spirit shines through in his work.

If I had two words to sum up this body of work, I would say “purity” and “playfulness”.

I took a look on his web-site and was surprised by his prolific output.  More than that, with this very geometric and abstract style,  I was surprised to see that he has some work in a high-realism vein.  For an artist to shine in both domains is quite unusual and speaks of an incredible creativity. He’s only 28 years old and has already garnered awards and a CV to die for.

Mary Hrbacek’s work, on the other hand, seeks animism in her images of tree trunks and speaks to an eco-disaster agenda.

Borrowing directly from the statement on the Elliott Louis Gallery web-site, her works are explained thus:

“To Mary Hrbacek, a tree is a thing of spiritual sustenance and renewal. Her trees are endowed with human-like qualities become the embodiment of mankind’s condition: the rising sap is the spirit of life, sexuality and regeneration, the barren winter branches and broken limbs foretell of immanent ecological disaster, disease and death. Hrbacek’s trees exert a powerful emotional influence.”

The charcoal drawings look great on the web site with  a range of dark and light that does not show on the originals.  In the latter, the tonal range is reduced to black and white with few dark grey variations between, and the detail of the form gets lost.  I liked best the drawing where the shift from the black shapes to the white are blurred as charcoal tends to do (Monster and Multi-faceted).  The greater majority though, were clean-edged to the point where the eraser rubbings on the paper show, roughing up the texture, not to any visual advantage.

When an artist depends solely on shape, the shapes need to be interesting and they need to move the eye around so that the viewer can continue to enjoy the image. It is in the nature of trees to branch out which lends itself to a “Y” shape configuration and Hrbacek has achieved a good variety within this restriction. The overall darkness in the imagery serves to emphasize the sense of a threatening eco-disaster. In this aspect, Hrbacek speaks to the prevailing global concern for the future.

As an outgrowth of these drawings, there are two large acrylic paintings, also of trees. The addition of colour is a miracle to these forms. The painting, Split Decision, an acrylic on linen, sings with a bright clear sky; and the mastery of form and shape through shadow are in excellent harmony.  This is a painting one could live with for a long time .

The other coloured image, acrylic on canvas,  “A secret” returns to two tones – the sky colour and the trunk colour – and has not the same joy in it though the animism is quite clear.  The right hand side of the trunk reads like a torso with its arms embracing the left part of the tree, reaching to encircle it and to whisper a message to the crotch of the branches. It is sensual and dark.

In fact, in many of these denuded tree trunks, one can imagine body parts – arms waving, woody knobs that look like breasts, and torsos thick with muscles.

Hrbacek’s own web-site also provides a broader vision of what this artist is capable of. The web address immediately following points to her tree paintings, but you will also be able to see some of her installation and other three-dimensional work  which, like Iwasaki, shows the depth of creativity in this artist. Hrbacek paintings.html

While the hanging of this show must have been difficult because of the strong opposition of the two styles, it nevertheless is quite elegantly done so that one can enjoy the delicacy of the small, stitched “drawings”  in an intimate close up way, and then face the other direction to enjoy a wide vista, a forest of charcoal trunks in their substantive strength and variety. It shows the openness of the Drawn Festival jury to select widely opposing styles, not limited by a single vision, but welcoming to a variety of styles and expressions.

Look for more images of Iwasaki and Hrbacek on

and if you are in Vancouver, go take a look.

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.

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.

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.



North Shore Mountains

April 29, 2010

I’ve got to be quick, this evening. It’s already after the witching hour and I have to get up early in the morning to deposit my paintings for their hanging at Hycroft in Vancouver. For any of you who are living in the area, the show opens on the 2nd of May with a reception from 2 – 3:30.

I used to live in an apartment in the False Creek, Mount Pleasant area of Vancouver. We were on the third floor up which had a glassed in balcony. I could look across to the North Shore Mountains and see in 180 degrees from Point Grey to Burnaby Mountain. The view was terrific!

Often I would find myself painting another oil that only had to do with the mountains themselves. I painted them in summer and winter, spring and fall. I painted them early day and late day, with snow on them or with the slopes laid bare by the heat of the sun.

Since this is my own work, I’m simply going to show them to you. No commentary more than I’ve already done. I’ll let you out there be my critics…

This is the largest at 24 x 36 inches, oil on Canvas.

The remainder are 16 x 20 inches each.

Summer night sky

Moving clouds, 16 x 20, oil on canvas

Originally, I was going to put them all in one frame somehow, but the logistics of it were not easy. Now I have some front loading frames for them and they look super compared to unframed.

I hope you like them,