December 18, 2013

A Day of Studios

Artists talking studios are like fishermen talking the size of fish. So said one artist of a show on Valencian Artists' Studios we checked out yesterday (now that we've finally recuperated from the flu and extreme coughing).

The recently deceased sculptor Andreu Alfara in his studio in Godella.

The thesis of the show was that an artist's work and personality are inseparable from the organization and feel of his or her studio. Some studios are rats' nests while others are ads for a cleaning service. Some are converted warehouses and some converted farmhouses. Some could be chunks of Piccadilly Circus or Times Square and others the dens of aesthetes. Some stick with an artist for decades and others come and go overnight. Some are light and airy, some dark and murky. Either way, the 46 artists of this exhibition agreed a studio reflected greatly on the work - it was virtually a part of it.

The show was divided into stations. In each was a studio shot, an artwork, an explanation of the artist's art, and the artist's reflections on his or her space - great contextualization and in my experience rare for a gallery of this stature. Kudos to the curators.

Afterwards we headed for Alejandro Casanova's in the hopes he'd open up his space for us. Studios are sanctuaries, designed to escape the world not let it in, the show had explained. Alejandro is a good sport. He shares a large apartment with 7 other artists. They split on the rent. Each gets storage room wherever they can find it, mostly in the halls. After a coffee, Alejandro was happy to open up. Right away a bouquet of turpentine and tobacco hit us. We wandered around and chatted with the other artists. We poked at their work. Alejandro unwrapped a few giant paintings and asked our opinions on them. We left dizzy but inspired for a second time.

Now as for my own studio, seriously, if you measured it from head to tail...

December 8, 2013


So we're back in Valencia and one of our first stops, like usual, was the IVAM, where I discovered the the abstract painter Rafael Canogar. He's known for his "informalism," or work from instinct, that's spontaneous and painterly rather than formal. He says he's avoided "academicizing himself."   

I wasn't allowed to take details but the paint is thick and lush. In some pieces it's applied over handmade paper.

December 5, 2013

Soft Cloud Passing

Just dropped this piece off at The Bartlett Gallery in Alton.  It's my first time showing at the gallery and I'm happy to hop on board.  If you haven't been it's an amazing space with giant windows overlooking a sculpture-bedecked waterfall and exposed brick and cement walls, in the historic Alton Mill.

The title of the painting comes from an Ellen Bryant Voigt poem:

If the dream is a wish,
what does she wish for?

Soft cloud passing between us and the sun.

36" x 48"
Mixed media on board

December 4, 2013


If you're a big nerd like I am and spend time looking up word etymologies, you'll see that "contretemps" comes from fencing originally. It's a kind of psyche move meant to provoke a counterthrust from an opponent. It also means an inopportune occurrence or small disagreement. Curiously, in Spanish it's a setback. And literally, from the French, it translates as "against time."

I used a couple of source images for this painting, one of a woman bending over and talking, seemingly, to a leaf, which I replaced for a squirrel.  I then put the bag in the woman's hand, as if it were contested by the squirrel, and put both lady and beast in a setting that mostly came from my head but looks very much like the laneways near my house.

The painting will be hanging in Strata Gallery in Elora until December 15.

Mixed media on birch
48" x 60"

November 19, 2013


It's been a long time since I've seen an arnie or even heard the word, but when I was a kid my dad used to bring the shiny metal balls home from work to play with.

They were great for marbles or jacks because they could smash through anything.

I've been interested in metal ever since.  A few months ago I painted on it for the first time.  I began with steel and learned how to attach a wood stretcher to it.  Then I rusted the surface using various concoctions in order to create interesting abstract patterns.  I locked these in (well, sort of) using a rust neutralizer and potion that took ages to research.  Finally, I painted on top of this patina and, when that was done, varnished down everything.  A long process but I was happy with the results.  At least until the rust started to eat through from underneath and to turn everything a uniform coffee brown.

I haven't given up on steel but because I now realize the only option is to use auto body materials, and that will require a bit of an investment in cash, I've switched to aluminum, a metal that does not rust.

Here's my first stab at a piece I don't mind showing.  Unfortunately, the camera doesn't pick up what I think is the best part, the sky.  I've left the metal bare there and polished areas so they refract light in different directions.  The scene jitters and shines, especially as you move around it.  

So far untitled
Acrylic on aluminum
30" x 40"

November 11, 2013

The Ward No. 5

Here's a piece I reworked recently, depicting the intersection of Ontario, Manitoba, and Arthur Streets in Guelph, once a thriving commercial hub. You can still make out where the bank, butcher, and other town mainstays used to be.

"The Ward No. 5"
32" x 40"
Mixed media on panel

November 8, 2013

The Ward No. 8

Busy these days working on my show at Strata Gallery in Elora, opening on November 22. For deets click this.

Here's a recent piece I've titled, ingeniously, "The Ward No. 8." Took me a while to get it right.  Actually, "right" might not be the right word but I've given 'er all I have for what it is. Knowing when to stop is a tricky thing, more about running out of options and feeling fatigued than a bell that goes ding-ding. I guess as an artist it's inevitable you have to live with doubt and as the saying goes, the only thing we fear more than death is uncertainty.

But enough Plato. Originally in this piece there was a figure in the foreground covering about half the scene, sketched out loosely so as not to detract too much from everything else. Then I erased the dude and for a long time had nobody. Then the light was screwy so I reworked that. Then I re-added a figure, but smaller. Then the greens looked neon lit...aghh!

I finished it quickly and threw it up on the wall, but there, visible - like a haunted portrait whose eyes follow you - it talked to me, taunting, tormenting. So down it came. I turned it around and put it in the dunce corner. I guess I'll turn it back around in a week and hopefully, by then, it will have clammed up.

The Ward No. 8
36" x 36"
Mixed media on panel

October 22, 2013

Guelph Studio Tour - Thanks for Coming

Just wanted to thank everyone - all 182 according to our loose tally - that stopped in this weekend for a peek at my studio and work, imbibed with us, and shared a few words.

It was a great weekend that broke many cliches: octogenarians and pre-teens that stumped me with sophisticated questions about art, people who looked like they fixed cars for a living that bought my work, and purchases of pieces I thought would never go - due to their size, subject matter, or experiementalism - at a casual studio tour.

Thank you!  And now back to getting over a bit of hoarseness from all the blabbing I did.


Here's a painting I sold on the weekend out of my home, as part of the Guelph Studio Tour.  

It's 48" x 60" on panel, mixed media.  Lots of people ask me what I mean exactly by mixed media.  Anything beyond standard paint and gesso, basically.  This piece includes a shopping list that would be too long for a small label: regular acrylic paint, acrylic spray paint, paint I made out of rust dust and walnut stain, something called bitumen of Judea, sawdust, bits of archival tissue paper, and collage using quality magazine pages - all applied in a way that will maintain the archival quality of the work.

I called the painting "Interflorescence," a word I made up but suggests a blossoming or flowering in between or behind other things, somewhere unexpected.  (It just dawned on me that the solo show I have scheduled for November-December at Strata Gallery I've titled "Serendipitous Encounters" - it seems I'm all about seizing the unpredictable these days).

I like to keep the figures in my work slightly enigmatic, so with the potential to create stories around them, but if I had to say something about this one I'd say he or she (the gender is ambiguous) has been caught unawares by the sudden light and colour of this most sexy of places, and has paused for a moment to register the action.

The light coming in is odd, something I only noticed after I had finished the piece.  The patchiness hints at a struggle in the sky between the sun and clouds, between lively or appealing and blasé.  Also, it's hard to notice in this shrunken digital reproduction but a subtle ring of light, from the sky to the pavement, arcs around the figure.  That was a happy accident.

October 18, 2013

Guelph Studio Tour this weekend, Oct. 18-20, 2013

If you're stuck for something to do this weekend, our home and my studio in the backyard will be open for the annual Guelph Studio Tour.  I'll have old and new work up, including an experiment or two.  We had a blast last year and are expecting the same for this year.  We're at

117 Johnston Street
Guelph, ON
(See Google Maps)

The tour runs on the following days and times:

Fri 7pm - 9pm
Sat 10am - 6pm
Sun 11am - 5pm

A brochure including a map of all the local artists involved can be downloaded at

Hope to see you out!

October 13, 2013

Readers' Choice Award

I'm not sure who but someone nominated me for a 2013 Guelph Mercury Readers' Choice Award and I managed to win the bronze award.  Thanks to everyone who voted for me.  And for all of those who didn't, you can expect a visit from Skull, my personal enforcer.

October 11, 2013


On a walking tour of my neighbourhood last year, the guide, a local historian, mentioned a building that is now a condo.  I remember visiting it with my grandmother to buy bits of cloth and yarn.  The guide said it used to employ over a thousand men, and it was just one of the many factories and foundries in the neighbourhood. 

Today you can make out the old structures if you look hard, but it requires a bit of effort.  If you're lucky you'll spot an old timer glancing back at what used to be, full of stories and nostalgia, both good and bad.  Talk to them.

Acrylic mixed media on panel, 18" x 18"

September 20, 2013

Peeping Pergola

Here's my latest effort to paint the most banal, most immediate scene possible and make it somehow interesting. For me it evokes old, working-class Ontario, perhaps Hamilton or parts of Toronto or even where I live now, the Ward in Guelph. It has a certain nostalgia to it.

I mostly improvised the work, and played fast and loose with the colours, sense of light, and especially texture.

I sold it, happily, to someone who had a good view of similar improvised architecture in Little Italy in Toronto a weekend ago.

"Peeping Pergola"
36" x 48", mixed media on birch panel

Detail of the texture

September 16, 2013

In the dead of winter...

In the dead of winter, when I long for sun and life and start losing perspective, these shots of my neighbour's garden could just be the reminder I'll need to get me back on track.

Here he is rounding up wasps with his bare hands.

Hard to tell from the image but a few of those tomatoes are the size of small cantaloups.

High up and out of reach, teasing the racoons.

The wiry pergola is now a giant parasol.

Tied up into dreadlocks.

And while I'm all earthy and farmer, I was thrilled to have attended a debate with Michael Pollan on the weekend. Lots of tough questions that he answered with genuine concern and honesty, the same power of explanation I've experienced in his books. I find the mainstream and even liberal media quick to criticize Pollan - perhaps because he's so articulate and an easy target - but for me he's much more than the "foodie" label used to dismiss his arguments.


September 13, 2013

Johnston Street Party

Here's a little flyer I did for our annual street party, now 11 years running. If you happen to be in the area - or even if not and are just looking for a good time - stop in and say hi

September 12, 2013

Cabbagetown Art and Crafts Sale - Thank You

I wanted to thank everyone who came out to see me at the Cabbagetown Festival in Riverdale Park West on the weekend. It was another great show, even with the full day of downpours on Saturday. Many folks I've had the pleasure to meet at previous shows or had seen my work elsewhere stopped by to say hi and I got the chance to chum it up with more fellow artists. Also, lots of invigorating discussions were had about art and the state of the world and, to cover my expenses and then some to keep me going, I managed to sell a handful of large paintings. I couldn't have asked for more.

See you again next year Cabbagetown! I'm already looking forward to it.

Next up is QWAC, the Queen West Art Show and Sale in Trinity-Bellwoods Park, September 21-22. Another lively outdoor show.

September 11, 2013


Here's a picture I sold on the weekend in Cabbagetown. It's a highly interpreted view of a storefront on Queen St. in Toronto, but it could be anywhere in the downtown, even elsewhere in North America.

Mixed media on panel, 36" x 30"

What I like most about it is the texture, hard to see in digital form. It always pays to see art in the flesh in my experience. Anyway, in the walls is a bit of crackling medium I've only just begun to fool with and in the shadows and elsewhere are bands of impasto. The wires and their shadows on the walls are scratched in.

For me, the figure leaves something for the imagination. His casual yet anticipative gait along with the long evening shadows, the cafe setting, and warm Mediterranean colours reminded me of a tertulia (if you can, read the Spanish explanation), or a person who attends tertulias, a contertulio.

Audibly, contertulio has a whimsical, bubbly ring which I like, too.

Tertulias are common in the Iberian and Latin American worlds. They're social gatherings held in cafes, bars, and other public venues, with literary or artistic overtones. The closest thing in English is a salon or Viennese-style cafe, except they still happen today, and they aren't necessarily for the same educated elite as in the past. I've witnessed many in Spain, raucous ones, and every time it struck me as why they don't exist in the same way here.

Anyone up for starting one?

September 5, 2013

Nest of Hollow Bosoms

I called this picture "Nest of Hollow Bosoms," which comes from Shakespeare's Henry V:

O England! model to thy inward greatness,
Like little body with a mighty heart,
What mightst thou do, that honour would thee do,
Were all thy children kind and natural!
But see thy fault! France hath in thee found out
A nest of hollow bosoms, which he fills
With treacherous crowns

The painting doesn't have a lot to do with war (in Shakespeare's case, preparations for an invasion of France, which would ignite the Hundred Years' War), except that as I painted it Syria, a country I've visited, was on my mind.

Rather the line "nest of hollow bosoms" haunts me in another way. A nest should be home and the bosoms (read bodies) that inhabit it should be nurtured by it, full of heart and life.

In the painting, however, the lone bird on the wire is at home - or at least a familiar sight - but also far from the trees we associate with wildlife. It is somehow unnatural, misplaced, away from the busy street and safe but now surrounded by empty garages, the way a child in a large suburban park might have the grounds to themselves. And yearn for a riskier, less certain life.

"Nest of Hollow Bosoms"
30" x 36", acrylic mixed media on panel

September 3, 2013

New order of panels

School's back in and I'm looking forward to cracking this new order of blank panels, including a few juicy 48"x60"s.

September 1, 2013

Fenceless End

So should depictions of landscape include humans? Believe it or not, I've been tossing that question around for years, and I've had some big arguments over it with fellow artists.

Throughout history, most representations of land don't seem to have included humans. Say landscape and what comes to my mind are fields, ponds, and mountains. Perhaps flanking trees, clouds on the horizon, the sun bright and shiny. Bob Ross.

We all know the Group of Seven with their scenes of vast, virginal nature. They made the wilderness and north a part of Canadian identity, but also, in stripping away people, especially natives, justified a form of colonial expansion.

There's something about depicting the outdoors and wanting to own it. In this episode of Art 21 I watched recently, featuring an artist I love, Rackstraw Downes, he lets slip while working en plein air, "I get very possessive of my places … I want them to myself." Later he mentions he's interested in big open spaces that are empty.

Technically, it's tough to paint humans convincingly, and even tougher to incorporate them in so they don't jar or look cartoony or look like they were painted by someone else with a different style. A figure always steals a lot of attention, even if it's pushed away to the sides.

Then there's the question of just what or who is the subject of a piece. Is it the drama of light? The design elements of the environment itself? Or is it the traces of human presence: track marks, scratches, or architecture?

Personally, I lean towards including humans. I don't know many spaces without them and my goal as an artist is to be real and true to my lived experience. 

Here's a painting I finished a few months ago. I showed it once and then let it sit in my studio. Something bothered me about it and I think it was the emptiness.

So I added a figure. Actually, "added" sounds easy. I sweated and struggled to get the few strokes just as I wanted them - clear enough to indicate a person and ambiguous enough to bring action and interest to him or her.

Here's the detail.

I titled the work "Fenceless End," which has a nice poetic ring to me, a quality of optimism. The title reminds me of the line "Jump and the net will appear," a familiar pep talk to any creator.

August 9, 2013

Oakville Art in the Park - Thank You

Thanks to everyone who stopped by my booth in Oakville on Monday, and to the Oakville Art Society for putting on the event.

It was an idyllic day in Waterfront Heritage Park, with masts on the horizon in the port and cumulus clouds overhead, and lots of discussion about art.

July 22, 2013

Urban Landscape Workshop Postscript

Last week I had the great pleasure of running a workshop on painting the urban landscape in acrylic and mixed media. Held at the Wellington County Museum and Archives, 15 enthusiastic painters turned up in temperatures that soared into the 30s. Fortunately we had the museum's largest space, fully air conditioned with large windows and a stereo system, freshly brewed coffee on the ready, in which to work.

The week's theme was pushing out of our comfort zones. And so we didn't spend all of our time indoors. We spent a part of each morning en plain air sketching, painting, and scoping out scenes with digital cameras. On two occasions we set up in nearby Elora - on sidewalks, along the river, and in industrial ruins - in sight for anyone to see (and point their fingers and laugh, which of course no one did).

 Okay, here I am pointing at something, but it isn't a painter.

Sharon on Mill St., the shade no longer over her. Remember the key to a successful plein air painting is in the shade.

 Halyna searching for material.

Val under spotted cover of a sumach.

In the classroom, we continued to push outside the boundaries by playing with unfamiliar materials and tools, and such head-scratchers as negative space and the differences between value and colour. 

Incorporating collage.

One exercise in loosening up was a version of a brush off. Using a small 5" x 5" canvas, I projected a scene of a tree in snow and gave everyone 30 min. to depict it using anything except a brush under an inch wide and colours that were not the primaries or black and white. The final pieces showed that everyone is ready for the real deal.

The finished works lined up together. 

In the end, it was an intense, full week of creative immersion, exhilarating but also exhausting, more or less my experience of making art all the time. On Friday afternoon, though wiped, it was hard not to feel gratified by the results. Seeing the recognition that something had been learned and hard won was rewarding for me, as the teacher of sorts, as was the chance to get out of my head and articulate, in words, the instincts and feelings I have been pouring into my work.

Here is a selection of finished pieces. Everyone had something to show off, and except for a couple who either slipped out early or were too shy to show their work, I got shots.

Karen Huband. Love the creeping shadow and softness of the grass.
 Karen Huband. Struggled to keep the sky orange, but it was worth the effort.

 Judy French. Fantastic handling of foreground and somehow getting purple and green to work together.

Val Roy. Powerful colours, texture, and suggestiveness. A glorious warmth.
Sharon Wadsworth-Smith. Kudos for tackling this uncommon view of Elora, developing the textures in the walls, and making that figure in the background pop.

Donna Zuccala-Wren. Wonderful consistency and simplicity. Reminiscent of Pepi Sevilla?
Tanya Qureshi. Almost menacing. Gothic. Awesome!

Janice Ferri. Beautiful sense of light and play of cool and warm colours.

Halyna Myers. Breathtakingly ambiguous sky, with tonnes of mood.

Monika Lassner. The car butt. Love the subject matter and colours.

Monika Lassner. Perfect sense of value and just the right warmth. 
Mary Helps. Love the expressive brushstrokes in the sky and the overall warmth.

Nancy VanVeen. Great mood. Big struggle to get the road right, and it paid off.

Sharon Wadsworth-Smith. Nice sense of light and shadows on the ground. And mostly painted on site!

 Val Roy. Another large piece worked on site. Great light and warms, even in the shadows. I love the painterliness of this piece.

Carolyn Sharp. Great sense of movement with subtle colours. Brilliant.
Willow, Lorna, Susan: I'd love to add something from you. Do you have an image of a larger piece you could mail me?