November 29, 2016

Miniature in the Mail #40: "Nether"

"Nether," 5x5in., oil and marble dust on masonite

Today, an international landscape: iron fence, concrete wall, nearby road, and arid ground, fouled by acid rain and neglect. I came across the sight in downtown L.A. near Skid Row.

It signals eons of human effort to subdue, parcel off, and control the land. To thoroughly urbanize it. And yet this tree, like a weed, like a muckraker, like a nautilus that knew the dinosaurs, which snuggles up as close to our crude creations as thinkable and refuses to grow anywhere else.

In each of these places, there's poetry. You don't need to go far.

For this mini painting and others like it, visit

November 28, 2016

Miniature in the Mail #39: "Show on the Road"

"Show on the Road," 5x5in., oil on masonite
Sometimes I just love how the light hits the ground, especially during the golden hour when the sun is low in the sky and red and warm. The show in Southern California, with its Mediterranean light, is particularly dramatic.

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And now to restart the regular routine after a week off and too many bombastic shopping sales.

November 23, 2016

Miniature in the Mail #38: "Over the Wall"

"Over the Wall," 5x5in., oil on masonite
I'm fascinated by walls. Walls are hard lines, selectively filtered, that define nations, segregate neighbourhoods, and offset private from public property. They're states of mind that generate in us a sense of security or that we're on the right side of the divide between wilderness and civilization. They're even epistemological, determining our culturally relative "personal space" (interior) from the acceptable space of others (exterior), for example. 

They can be as visible as the ubiquitous cinder-block walls in Southern California which prevent me from gawking into backyards, or as invisible as the manicured edge of grass which runs along the sidewalk, aping the golf course, telling me to stay off and to take the full corner rather than cut it.

They can be real or fictitious as self-imposed barriers.

And they go way back, probably to the invention of language and class, the settlement of humans in non-nomadic communities.

But they're anything but natural. Instead, they challenge, taunt, and provoke. They call out to be conquered, and their scaling is a form of osmosis that restores natural equilibria and re-flattens.

The mini painting here shows one severe wall with a sly bougainvillea creeping over it. I came across it in San Diego, a stone's throw from the Mexican border.

For more on it and paintings like it, see

November 21, 2016

Miniature in the Mail #37: "In the groove"

"In the groove," 5x5in., oil on masonite

Raining cats and dogs here on this eerily quiet Thanksgiving Monday. The kids are off of school, not for a day as they would have been in Canada, but a week, so the postings may be fewer.

We haven't seen rain like this in the entire time we've been in California and in tribute I thought I'd post this image of a runoff drain in San Diego. Would make for an amazing luge track, don't you think?

This feller and others like it are available at

November 18, 2016

Miniature in the Mail #36: "Tunnel Vision"

"Tunnel Vision," 5x5in., oil on masonite

This jumble of pipes and wires in an industrial building in downtown L.A. caught my attention. The fact it was in L.A. reminded me of the film Blade Runner.

(Which I learned was based on Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Dick lived down the road and his manuscripts and papers are held in a special collection at Aitana's university).

I almost cheesed out and called the painting "The Light at the End of the Tunnel," but I checked myself and went with "Tunnel Vision" instead, apter phrasing for the current civic atmosphere.

I know, the commandment is to be positive and bubbly. Someone will show up and make it all better, perhaps Harry Houdini. But here's a chilling bit of buzzkill to chew over along with your turkey this American Thanksgiving. It's from the filmmaker Billy Wilder in 1945: "The optimists died in the gas chambers, the pessimists have pools in Beverly Hills."

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November 16, 2016

Miniature in the Mail #35: "Chop chop"

"Chop chop," 5x5in., oil on masonite
"Come on, let's go."

"Crazy busy."

"Chop chop."

Does anyone know anyone who isn't busy all the time anymore?

I've noticed that with art making, the push of a deadline can spur me on but if it's constant, on top of the rest of family and work obligations, the pressure neither produces good art nor allows me to enjoy the process. My head fills with anxiety and pushes thinking and reflection out. I start to feel demoralized.

In "The 'Busy' Trap," a 2012 article in the New York Times, the author talks about the long unsupervised hours he spent as a latchkey kid and how this experience gave him skills and insights that remain important to him today. "Idleness is not just a vacation," he says, "an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets."

He goes on, philosophizing, "Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day." When his own breezy life as a writer picks up and he's forced to tell people he's, well, busy, he writes, "I could see why people enjoy this complaint; it makes you feel important, sought-after and put-upon."

Art is one way to slow it down. Ads may be designed to glimpse and take in like a flood, working subconsciously—a dangerous thing—but art, real art, not the mechanically reproduced stuff, makes sense only when you clear the head and spend the time with it. It only makes sense when you give it a chance.

Today's mini with its chopped lines and emptiness, done in evident strokes that mark the imperfect working of my hand, has a Zen quality to my mind. I enjoyed making it.

Have a great Wednesday!

For this and more minis like it, visit


November 15, 2016

Miniature in the Mail #34: "Brutalist"

"Brutalist," 5x5in., oil on masonite

Concrete poetry, or just concrete, concrete, and more concrete?

It came out of the social engineering of Le Corbusier, the stylings of Nazi bunkers, and primitivism. It wasn't meant to be pretty, but brutal and bloodyminded. Think the old Soviet Bloc and industrial machinery sculpted in concrete. Think many a modern high-rise tenement, metro station, government ministry, and student residence.

From my hometown, McLaughlin Library, University of Guelph

If you can handle more images, Fuck Yeah Brutalism has 'em. Or head outside and walk around. Better yet, drive around, the way it was meant to be appreciated.

Love it or hate it, brutalism is on the landscape and here to stay, bullying the eye.

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November 14, 2016

Miniature in the Mail #33: "Wind in the Wires"

"Wind in the Wires," 5x5in., oil on masonite

A few weeks ago I toured what's billed as one of the oldest and largest artist colonies in the world, the L.A. Brewery. Their website says they contain 14 buildings spread over 23 acres, with 500-700 artists who live and work in the industrial premises, the way downtown lofts were meant to be.

My socks were knocked off, and god knows we could use a bit of that around here these days.

I've been thinking a lot about what needs to be the response from artists to the resurrection of the authoritarian demagogues in the West. I've always had a soft spot for the individualist antics of Marilyn Manson, and his latest video where he depicts the beheading of Trump (look it up, if you need to) could be a lively opening salvo. But I can't help think there's a more obvious, collectivist solution, and not only for artists: get people together, physically, structurally, in places like the Brewery. It's been my experience that many heads together on an ongoing basis can find solutions, astonishingly so, single heads in a bubble, linked by electromagnetic waves, can't.

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November 10, 2016

Miniature in the Mail #32: "Hollywood"

"Hollywood," 5x5in., oil on masonite

The Hollywood I saw. Cars and more cars. Dive bars and burger stands. The Hollywood sign and walk of fame remote and aloof. The homeless, encamped, and pigeons that imitated them up out of reach.

The ghost of the poet, Bukowski, drunk and wobbling, still wandered. Haunted.

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November 8, 2016

Miniature in the Mail #31: "Methods of Modernization"

"Methods of Modernization," 4x6in., oil on masonite

Today's mini is a depiction from the back of a building's innards somewhere in northeast L.A. Note the covered dumpster to prevent divers. If there's a bathroom nearby, it's most certainly locked, unless you're a customer who's been given the key. If there's a bench, it's painful to sleep on.

L.A. is design city in the most peculiar sense. Architects like Frank Gehry like to take all that is normally concealedthe HVAC, support beams, and security—and barf them out, so that they are foregrounded and made motifs of the design. Rather than file down the rough edges of the urban environment, make it more beautiful or more democratic, Gehry and Co. mimics it. So instead of innovative public squares or bike lanes, we get thoughtfully considered "dumb boxes," homes with gangster facades that belie sumptuous interiors, dropped into neighbourhoods like soldiers in camouflage.

In previous styles, of course, architects took for inspiration not the hard streets but the soft, flowing wilderness of the romantic, or the idealism of the classical world.

The artifice has always struck me as wrong. If you want nature, there's nothing like going out into it, rather than experiencing it vicariously through art. If you want Athens or Greece, more immersive than the exterior of the White House is the era's poetry, or even a museum. And if you want the streets, the most genuine act is to walk in them, receptive and uncomfortable as anyone else.

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November 7, 2016

Miniature in the Mail #30: "Back to Basics"

"Back to Basics," 4x6in., oil on masonite

This bit of graffiti on a tree trunk in a seaside town, in this exact arrangement, took me aback. It was lit as if on a film set and it blocked the main view down the sidewalk, creating tension and calling out to be seen as protagonist. It was so white and smooth it looked as though it had been gessoed.

The desecration of a graceful object like a large tree or work of art, in contrast to a security fence, concrete rampart, or billboard, causes immediate cringing and discomfort. Quick, cheap art on cold, mercenary structures is one thing—it gets what it's asking forbut that same art on objects that have taken decades to mature or embody years of loving dedication is quite another.

At the same time, we've been scrawling our marks on the world for as long as we've been able to stand on two feet with a bit of soot on our fingers, as several prehistoric caves around the world attest. And we haven't always asked for permission.

You could see tagging or initials carved into a tree trunk as blight, in the same way a hamburger ad held up in the sky against a view of a lake or hills is too. It's also a deeper current of art making by the little guy, crude as it may be. A return to basics.

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November 4, 2016

Miniature in the Mail #29: "Out of Stone"

"Out of Stone," 4x6in., oil on masonite

I was climbing a mountain in an area where there were only rocks. The sun was blaring down and I was whiny. Then over a crest I saw this small, gnarly tree growing out of a crevice with nothing it in, not even dust. And I was humbled.

This painting along with others can be inspected in greater detail at

Have an inspired weekend.

November 3, 2016

Miniature in the Mail #28: "Made in the Shade"

"Made in the Shade," 5x5in., oil on masonite

All right, my 28th mini, two people conversing on a bench under a tree.

They're talking about insults to minorities, sexual assault, inciting violence at rallies, refusing to pay taxes, the birther movement...and the first mom becoming president instead. And they're talking about the harsh crackdown on protestors in North Dakota and grossly incongruous leniency awarded to two gun-slinging fake cowboys in Oregon for occupying a wildlife refuge and damaging historical artifacts belonging to the local Paiutes.

Then again, maybe they're not saying anything, and it's just the simple pleasure of recuperating in the shade, like two two hyenas off the open savanna for a bit.

It may not seem it but I worked the colours and flow of paint hard, and had to take more liberties than I normally might.

This painting along with other minis can be purchased on my website,

Have a thumping Thursday, my people!

November 2, 2016

A Silent Reminder

"The Clock Tower that Never Sounded" (Miniature in the Mail #27), 4x6in, oil on masonite

I've been doing a bit of research. Union Station in downtown L.A. was completed in 1939 just before the start of WWII, during the days of the mighty Harry Chandler, president of the L.A. Times, eugenicist, and ringleader of the Anglo power structure.

It was the California oil boom and L.A. was split between the Anglos in the saddle; the Catholics and Jews in Hollywood, then the outskirts; and the Mexicans, Chinese, African Americans, and everyone else in the slums.

In an effort to clear the messy, noisy, chaotic slums from the downtown, Chandler and his accomplices dislodged the original Chinatown and raised in its place an inversion, Union Station.

In the words of Chandler's L.A. Times, today, the station was conceived in a "retrograde but winning blend of Spanish Colonial Revival, Mediterranean, Moorish and Art Deco styles."

The design harked back to "some mythic pre-modern Los Angles," which is extraordinary because from this point forward everything would be future obsessed, concrete and hard edged, "in the modern style...flat roofs stripped of red tile." The architecture of the crowd, in other words, would be wiped clean and instead the private individual we're so familiar with would be celebrated in planning and policy.

Of course art at the scale of architecture, with budgets that can pay for schools or hospitals for generations, is more than for the beauty alone. Unlike every other major train station in the world, the designers of Union Station aspired for quiet. And so streetcars (yes!) unloaded at the distant ends of the terminal, and the clock tower, front and centre, never sounded because it was built without chimes.

Aesthetically, I love the design, but the salient point about it is its negation, both symbolically and in a very real sense, of the human messiness that was there before. Sure, it connected to the past, but it also blew it to smithereens.

November 1, 2016

Miniature in the Mail #26: "When it Rains"

"When it Rains," 5" x 5", oil on masonite

One of these days it will rain more than a light shower and these storm sewers will gorge and wash out months of accumulated dust. We may even find a young Jack Nicholson caught in a surge, his fedora downstream, clinging for life.

Screenshot from Chinatown, 1974.

In the meantime, the open, concrete veins make for good spelunking, with wild overgrowth of plants and things tucked away. And it may be my eyes playing tricks on me again but they remind me of—they seem the closest things tothe laneways I miss so much in Toronto.

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