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.