December 1, 2014

The Ward (No. 11)

Number 11 in my series on the Ward in Guelph. Shipped today to the Elora Centre for the Arts for the Artcetera Holiday Show.

Acrylic mixed media on birch panel
30" x 40"

November 12, 2014

Solvitur ambulando

Solvitur ambulando, "it is solved by walking." That and a little chemical help, too, though walking is healthier.

Here's a good article on the link between strolling and creative thought. 

This painting, by the way, will be showing shortly at MJG Gallery in Leslieville for "Hidden in Plain Sight," with photographer Tommy Vohs. The show runs from November 17 to 30, with an opening reception on November 20 during Wunderlust in Leslieville. MJG is at 1028 Queen Street East, Toronto.

Hope to see you there!

Acrylic mixed media on pane
60" x 24"

October 26, 2014

A fire poker and rail spike hook

If you've been through my studio, you'll know I've been thinking a lot about sculpture, especially in metal. Here are two mini projects I completed and gave to friends recently. They were excuses to play with my new welder and build my skills at the anvil and forge.

A fire poker for an outdoor firepit.

The handle.

The pokey bits.

A railway spike repurposed into a hat hanger.

Malas Hierbas and Againt the Wall

Insanely busy with art these days. Here're two more chunks of me out the door today, just airing a bit before packaging. Thanks K and W for the generous hospitality at your home. Very inspiring.

I gotta say I really enjoyed painting these two. They're chunkier than my usual work. They also, I think, skirt the genres of urban and naturalistic landscape. There's something about the random, uncontrollable quality of nature reasserting itself over the land that we ever domesticate, only temporarily, with concrete and bulldozers that absolutely appeals to me.



Against the Wall
Acrylic mixed media on birch panel
36" x 36"


Malas Hierbas
Acrylic mixed media on birch panel
36" x 36"

October 16, 2014

Crossroads

Here's a large piece I'll have up in my home for the Guelph Studio Tour this weekend.

"Crossroads"
48" x 60", mixed media on birch panel

October 7, 2014

"Strange Beauty" in the Hamilton Spectator

My show "Strange Beauty" at Focus Gallery was reviewed very generously by Regina Haggo in the Hamilton Spectator.  Check it out.

September 25, 2014

Colville at the AGO

My hopes were high going in to the retrospective of Alex Colville's work at the AGO this weekend, even if I knew little about the artist beforehand, being the bad Canadian that I am.

In the Globe and Mail, James Adams, whose comments I generally appreciate, gave it a lacklustre review based on the show's curation rather than the work itself. In this deflective, industry mode, I thought, the work could actually be good.

Then there's the slow turning away, I think, from the conceptual, "post-skill" art every MFA is taught these days in the académie to more popular representational subject matter, which seemed to be what Colville was all about.

Entering the show, the realism hit me first, both the tight representationalism and the focus on everyday social matters ("It's the ordinary things that seem important to me.").

The paintings are of banal interiors of Colville's house, his wife in domestic attire, animals, trains, bicycles, and chimney stacks. If you want exotic, an escape, this isn't for you. The art is extremely personal, but it is also charged with existential psychology, and laced every so often with a sense of the surreal. For its full effect to wash over you, you have to linger with it a while.

Take "Target Pistol and Man" (1980).

 

Colville sits at a table, there's snow outside, the décor is Spartan. Pretty mundane, but then what's with the pistol? What's with the way it hangs almost crooked in the air? And how about the piercing stare? Either he's about to kill someone, maybe you the viewer, or do in himself. The tension and sense of danger is palpable and the ambiguity, without it being totally relativistic in the way abstract art can be, makes you want more.

Not surprisingly Colville's paintings pop up in The Shining and in theme and style have been compared to films by the Coen brothers and Stanley Kubrick, as Jesse Wente discusses here and here.

Also fresh are Colville's unusual juxtapositions, arranged normally into equally atypical compositions. "Ocean Limited" (1962) and the iconic "Horse and Train" (1954) weren't paired in the show but I think they fit nicely together.

 

Both depict solitary figures against typically austere and dark backdrops, facing off against the machinery of modern life. In the first, the showdown is direct and visceral while in the second, it's contemplative. The works were painted eight years apart and I can't help think the horse was meant as a stand in for Colville as an ambitious young man while the walker, still the artist and still taking on the big battles, has now become wise and world weary.

Compositionally, pairings don't usually work in a frame. Nor do wide open centres. But because Colville is astute about facing his subjects inwards and drawing your gaze in, they do here, at least for me.

I get that part of the Colville aesthetic is its Gothic minimalism and cerebral quality, but it's also what made me wonder why paintings and not photography? If anything I would've improved it would've been the handling of the paint itself. The images are paper flat and the strokes robotic and stiff. In other words, there's no dance, no painterly quality, no sense the artist was enjoying himself, which deadens the work, as though the darker forces in them have indeed won out

Thoughts?

September 16, 2014

Workshop for COAA in Orillia

As with any firsts, I had no idea what to expect from the workshop on contemporary landscape painting in acrylic I had agreed to offer for the Central Ontario Arts Association at YMCA Geneva Park in Orillia this past weekend.

Secretly, I hoped it'd be worthwhile because it had proven difficult to free up the time.  Not only did I have to leave the kids with my most loving and beautiful partner, whose own schedule is packed these days, but I had to push the opening reception of my show in Hamilton to the less ideal Thursday evening before the Supercrawl, not to mention miss out on hundreds of opportunities to interact with my people.

But my credo (or is it a dare to myself?) as an artist has always been, "Jump and the net will appear," and happily I tumbled into a wonderfully productive time, replete with the most generous souls, as artists tend to be.

Geneva Park was a discovery.  It's a sprawling conference centre with a nice camp feel and, by all looks, tonnes of history.  The food is scrumptious and shimmering Lake Couchiching, set behind old oak and evergreens, is special.

On the Saturday evening, a few dozen attendees put on a talent show that included some decent drag and had me in stitches.

In a time when university art schools no longer offer the traditional skills, retreats of these sorts, where artists get the chance to share their knowledge and experiences, seem vital to me.  I hope they can carry on well into the future.

I need to thank everyone who helped make the experience possible: Aitana of course, the Focus Gallery guys for being understanding, Carolyn Sharpe for approaching me initially and proposing me for the gig, and Lakshman, Shanta, and the rest of the exec at the COAA for taking a chance on a youngster like me.

On Saturday, we had a walkabout to see the work that was being made in each of the different classes.  Here are a few snaps I took.



 





September 8, 2014

Cabbagetown Version 3

Another successful showing, my third now, at the Cabbagetown Art and Crafts Sale this weekend.  Thanks to everyone who visited, pitched in a hand, and patronized me with a purchase.  Big warm radiant vibes to you as always.


Here was my tent, clean and empty, with nice mottled sunlight hitting it, before the big rush on Sunday.  Notice the banner hanging from the top right corner.  I was awarded the 3rd Prize, meaning I'm waived into the show next year and I got some prize money.  Cheers jury.

August 28, 2014

Rhapsody Anthology

I'm delighted to announce that a painting of mine was incorporated into the cover of the 2014 Rhapsody Anthology, a collection of poetry and short stories by Guelph and area writers.  That makes three books now that have used my artwork, making me wonder whether I couldn't develop book covers (potentially other kinds of covers) into a larger side gig.

The anthology is published by Vocamus Press and will be launched at their Book Bash to be held at the eBar on September 28.

The original painting, incidentally, is a few years old and hangs permanently at Bisson Dentistry in Guelph.


August 22, 2014

Faiers Lane

I came across this scene during a walkabout, in search of a coffee and somewhat lost, in Toronto's Leslieville in the spring.  I immediately sketched it out, snapped a few photos from different angles, and then turned it into a painting in my studio a few weeks later.

I was happy to discover the passageway had only recently been designated "Faiers Lane."  From the 2013 Toronto Council minutes: "Dr. Alan Faiers has worked in Leslieville for three decades at the intersection of Queen and Logan where he has dedicated himself to the service of his patients.  He is a doctor whose work, delivering babies, making home visits, and helping patients deal with the problems of addiction reflects the best traditions of Canadian Medicine.  In some families he has delivered babies through several generations."  

I love that, not only the designee but the fact Toronto is paying homage to such people in such living, public places as laneways, rather than to the stodgy "Queen," "King," the land speculator Joseph "Bloore," Sir George "Yonge," etc. of its major thoroughfares. 

"Faiers Lane"
Acrylic mixed media on wood panel
10" x 24"

August 3, 2014

July 24, 2014

Art on the Street Plein Air

A week ago was Art in the Street in Guelph and since I wasn't participating as a vendor this year, I set up instead with my easel and paints and painted a small piece on location, which after a long hiatus of work outdoors, felt like the Tin Man getting a squirt of oil.

Here I am, looking down Quebec Street to the crowded fair.


And here people gather.  A good crowd of tai chi-ers showed up to do their thing.


I worked from 9 am to 1 pm, about as long as I could bare in the open sun.  18" x 24", acrylic and collage on board.


Strategies I used: way less people than the original, a narrower street and a tilt to it to give it more interest, exaggeration of colours to get away from all the greys in the original and to convey a sense of summer warmth.



  

July 8, 2014

Another successful TOAE

Good times at the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition on the weekend, though a serious urge to sleep now.  The weather and turnout couldn't have been better.  Tonnes of hugs and help from old pals (thanks especially to A & R & J, M & C & E), and though I wasn't supposed to see my family, they couldn't resist a surprise visit on Friday.  I feel fortunate to be so supported.

I also had many a great chat with new friends and old acquaintances, found spots for a bunch of paintings, and was presented with many promising opportunities, including a few teaching gigs.  The staff of TOAE were amazing in making the weekend run smoothly and communicating with us artists throughout the buildup to it.  Kudos to the team!

Of course at a show like this, with thousands of people coming through, you get every comment in the world.  My favourite was from a small woman who looked to be in her 90s.  "You're a good drawer but your colours are vile, man."

Here's an image, courtesy of Olga Oreshnya

Until next time!

May 23, 2014

"Strange Beauty" at Bartlett Gallery

Join me at Bartlett Gallery at the beautiful Alton Mill tomorrow.  I'll be on hand solo with the girls, chatting art and probably imbibing.

Check out the image gallery for photos of the work.


May 20, 2014

Muslim Struggle for Civil Rights

I'm happy to announce that Aitana's book "The Muslim Struggle for Civil Rights in Spain," based on her Ph.D. dissertation in the History Department at York University, has hit North America, or at least one copy that arrived in our mailbox last week. It's her first major work in English and it was, having joined her for the ride, an enormous feat. Information can be found on the publisher's website and copies can be ordered online through various sites, including Amazon.

If you haven't noticed the cover design is mine. It's admittedly cheeky, the old generation on a park bench and an immigrant in motion, waving a Spanish flag modified with Moorish arabesques. Each eyes up the other, one with its back to the horizon and one facing it.

Look out for promotional events soon.

 

May 14, 2014

Bas-relief Redux

Here's a piece I've already posted, though now with one major change.  People can be tricky in paintings.  Better or worse now?




May 12, 2014

Blacksmithing Workshop

Did some coal iron forging for the first time on the weekend at a workshop held by the Ontario Artist Blacksmith Association. I managed to make a bunch of hooks, leaves, a hat holder, half a blade, and a set of tongs.   Though my arm is sore from all the hammering, I feel great, aggression free, and already thinking of ways I can set up my own forge.

Here are a few shots.








May 6, 2014

Shine Forth

I miss cubism, and there is something just so cubic and sliced up and 4-D about rows of inconspicuous boxes painted rainbow colours, slapped together with leftover materials, and containing god-knows-what.  Don't forget the essential gaucho on bicycle peeking around the corner. 

"Shine Forth"
24" x 60"
Acrylic mixed media on panel

April 29, 2014

Lisgar

Building, building for the wave of shows about to hit me. Here's a depiction of the laneway behind the Drake, looking particularly scrubbed and sunny. The figure in the foreground was done with a combo of paint, collage, and stenciling using spray. The sense of motion and ghostliness it conveys is nice. I'll probably be doing more people like this.

Lisgar
36" x 48"
Mixed media on panel

April 23, 2014

Do-si-do

A little number to mark the melting of the snow and the thawing of the ground after a long winter. Couples spilling out of backyards and waltzing in laneways is a sure sign of spring, ain't it?

"Do-si-do"
Mixed media on panel
36" x 36"

Now that the sun is back at least half of the time I can work thick and chunky, put the panels out to air, and actually dry them fast enough to keep on working without pausing for a week, as you can sort of make out from these details. And to bury the winter, call me crazy but I made a paint out of the ashes from my neighbour's wood stove. Turns out screened ash of clean firewood makes a good charcoal-esque medium.





April 8, 2014

Capers

Latest out of the studio.  Struggled to get the sense of motion and light, coming straight out from the horizon, right. I used spray and stenciling and some fancier refracting paints, gold and a transparent glass paint.  The kid in the foreground is reminiscent of my own little joy-seeking bird terrorizer.

"Capers"
Mixed media on birch panel
36" x 48"

March 26, 2014

Bellwether

My latest in aluminum.  Darn hard to get a decent photo of a shiny surface but in life the polished sky coruscates depending on the angle of light.

"Bellwether"
Mixed media on panel
24" x 24"

March 24, 2014

Bas-relief

Latest piece out of the studio, to mark the vernal equinox.

"Bas-relief"
Mixed media on panel
36" x 36"

March 19, 2014

Workshop at the ECFTA

This week was the first time in a few months I didn't head in to Elora for my workshop on landscape painting. It felt weird not to have to prep anything or to get the chance to see the same familiar friendly faces.

Teaching gigs like these, I'm learning, don't pay much, aren't easy to finagle with my daddy duties, and can be a pain in the winter when it snowstorms every other commute in, but there are also huge benefits to doing them. Teaching gets me out of my studio-cocoon and forces me to talk about, or at least show with my hands, what I do, how, and why I bother at all. Teaching allows me to model the openness and sharing I believe fuels communities. I try to take risks in the hope I'll discover something new, even if it means flopping sometimes. It's all part of the job.

On the last class, after demonstrating how to paint a bad cloud, I thought this activity turned out well. I wanted to convey the idea of "riffing," as in rolling with unexpected opportunities. Improvising. Jazz. So I had everyone start a small piece, work it for a few minutes, and then pass it on to someone else. Each painting passed through 3 others, who worked it a bit more, before it was returned for a final touching up.

Here we are working away.
  

And here.


And here are the finished pieces together for comparison. You can't see them well but for 20 min. of work they were juicy and alive. I was amazed. And I've been thinking of ways to collaborate more seriously in this way ever since
 

Another reason for teaching is I get a chance to participate in - sometimes commiserate in - the struggle to improve and grow artistically. Jenny posted a touching entry on her blog I felt windowed right in to the frustrations and doubts involved in creating anything.

She thinks her piece lacks a centre of interest, a story, and even life. I think she's being too hard on herself. The colours are vibrant and for a snowy scene, amazingly warm. The sky, especially to the right where it is loose and flowing, has energy. The trees, not-a-quite-natural trio, pull you right in and down to the horizon between them. As subjects, they easily tell a story. Are they stand-ins for a triangle amoureux? A triangulation problem? Do they frame a view between a wounded tree and saplings? These are just some possibilities for titles that jump to mind.

I've turned down more teaching gigs this summer so I can focus on my art, but I've committed to a 3-day workshop in Orillia in September and I can't wait to throw myself headlong into it.

March 16, 2014

Curtain Wall

This piece started out as a warm-up exercise for the class on landscape painting I just wrapped up at the Elora Centre for the Arts. I printed off 15 copies of the reference photo and handed them out without giving much thought to what the image meant, until I started to paint it myself and thought the trees and wall together formed a kind of frontier zone.

The scene is a carefully selected detail from a ravine. Shaggy trees and shrubbery bump up against an artificial concrete buttress. Grafitti spills out from the walls onto the tree trunks. Branches look like they have been snapped by kids up to no good. It's a mash-up, in other words, of human culture and nature, a breaking down of that very dichotomy.

Meanwhile, the colours - bright, artificial, exaggerated - bring an expressionist, almost punk mood to the setting. They break down its everydayness and provoke, as the expressionists and punks did, a sense of spiritual authenticity, a challenge to be real.

Then again someone did ask me the other day what I was smoking, so maybe all this is just ridiculous.

36" x 36"
Mixed media on panel

February 18, 2014

Sky and Hillock

Here's a spot I often pass while jogging.  On one flank, outside of the frame, is a modest highway.  On another there's a railway track and on another a thinned-out elbow in a river.  Over the hills is a dump and abattoir, filled by a steady stream of passing trucks.  You can see powerlines on the horizon in the painting if you look carefully.  The closest home is a few kilometres away.  So it's a bit of a dead zone.

But here, this spot, with its scraggly trees refusing to go anywhere, the light on the unkempt bushes and grass, the snow which hasn't quite overtaken everything, and the sky with its hues of purple, orange, and turquoise, is homey and heartening and beautiful to me.

From the poem "For my Father" by E.B. Voigt:

Turning from a loss,
as if turning from an open window,
its local composition:
limbs juxtaposed against the sky,
juncture of sky and hillock,
the stark debrided tree.

36" x 48"
Mixed media on panel

February 10, 2014

Brush Offs

This weekend and a few back I had the opportunity to participate in live painting contests, the Brush Off in Kitchener and the Brush Off in Guelph.

Both were structured similarly: 30 min. rounds, some open and some themed, and advancement up the rounds depending on the tally of votes audience members cast in your favour.  Artist were limited to the same five acrylic paints and had to work with equal canvas sizes.  The events were for good causes: fundraising for TheMuseum, a multipurpose, family-friendly museum in downtown Kitchener and for the Arts Therapy Program at Hospice Wellington in Guelph.

After each round, pictures were displayed and put up for silent auction.

In Kitchener I was overjoyed to have made it to the final round and in Guelph, equally thrilled, to have made it to the third round.  Thanks to all my voters!

People ask if I like working with restrictions of time and materials, with a crowd overlooking, suboptimal lighting, and music and noise.  Doesn't it fly in the face of the creative process?  Sure, a Sistine Chapel isn't going to emerge this way.  But the pressures and stresses force you to reach down deep and pull out something that is more instinctual, unpremeditated, and if you get lucky, fresh.  The work wouldn't come out the same with all the time and relaxation in the world.  And it's good training for the job of sticking your neck out there, jumping into the abyss, and breaking down timidity as an artist.

I always hope to surprise myself.  I find the longer I work and the more experience I gain, the harder it is to attain that hit.

A shot of Kitchener, pulled from social media.


Kitchener again, from up above.


One of the themed rounds in Kitchener was "Russia," because of the Olympics and an exhibition on the same topic hosted at the museum.  Before the painting began, we got a chance to see the show and I was inspired by the images of Siberia.  Here was my depiction of an ice fisherman.
 

I can't say I ever find painting relaxing, even under ideal circumstances.  This face of problem solving and frustration, in Guelph, is pretty much how I experience it all the time.
 

I was most happy with this piece from the first round in Guelph.  The more I looked at it afterwards, the more I liked its looseness and colour, but then artists aren't the best judges of their work.