Monday, June 06, 2022

On the Question of Changing Your Style

 

                        Photo from 'A Life of Picasso The Minotaur Years, 1933-1943' by John Richardson


I was so surprised to see that these portraits of a woman's head (I forget which one it was, maybe Dora Maar) were both painted in 1939.  Look how different they are!  One is a somewhat realistic depiction of a woman with a cute green hat.  We would know who it is if it were a friend.  The other one however is a strange contortion of a head and body, sort of surrealist, and only the people on the inside know who it is intended to be.


Many times I am chastising myself because I keep changing my 'style', if you can call it that.  I go back and forth from a more realistic depiction of a landscape to a minimalist abstraction with only a few clues as to what it is.  For instance, here is a lake that I painted inn 1999:



Chaperon's Lake, 38x54", 1999.

You can see it is sort of an impressionist lake scene with shrubs and bushes in the foreground, then the water of the lake and the view across it.  However, here is another lake that I painted in 1988:




Lake Shapes, 40x50", 1988.

It is so different. There was time to change because they were painted 10 years apart.  But Chaperon's Lake is more similar to the work I did in the 80's when I was first starting out; and Lake Shapes is hinting at what I went on to paint in the early 2000's.  I guess I sometimes I have to remind myself that I can still do something, to reassure myself that I am still me.  And it is actually really boring if you are just repeating yourself.  When you are in your studio regularly you have lots of ideas and you want to try them all.  Many famous artists do it with no qualms at all.  Look at Gerard Richter - his two different styles are extremely apart from each other, all abstract to photographic reality.  




Friday, February 11, 2022

O'Keeffe & Stieglitz An American Romance by Benita Eisler

For the past month or so, I have been quite entertained by this biography. Written in 1992, it is full of endless details and sometimes cutting comments about the subjects' behaviour.


  

Because Steiglitz had his renowned gallery 291 and later The Place, Alfred and Georgia knew and interacted with many artists, collectors, critics and society figures.  The names are so familiar:  Charles Demuth, Ansel Adams, Paul Strand, Florine Stettheimer, Mabel Dodge Luhan, it goes on and on; they seemed to know everybody, wealthy and not.  

One artist that I was inspired by, John Marin, was a good friend of theirs.  I always wanted to see more of the actual paintings and drawings that he created; they were full of energy and life.  But it was curious to hear about him as a human being with the flaws and ups and downs in his relationship with them.




O'Keefe and Stieglitz were brilliant artists, and brilliant marketers, but they were not brilliant in interacting with each other or with their friends.  Living at a time when people wrote letters, there is quite a record of their thoughts and behaviours, not only through their own letters but also through the letters of others.  The author doesn't hesitate to note how nasty and even cruel they could be, the both of them, on occasion when interacting with each other and their friends and acquaintances.

While reading, I dug out an old coffee table book that had reproductions of Georgia's work.  I hadn't really looked at any of her paintings for a long time.  What surprised me was that I liked them more than I remembered; but however I was unsettled that my recent floral inspirations may have been influenced by what I saw so many years ago.  

Georgia O'Keeffe, 'Black Iris', 36x30", 1926





Me, 'Canna Lily', 42x42", 2019




They worked hard, all their life, and saw the rewards for that, Georgia more than Alfred at the end.  When he died, he was quite hard up.  Georgia being younger had more time to produce paintings and lived long enough to become a very rich woman.  


  

Monday, November 09, 2020

Painting in a Pandemic






 Lately people have been asking if I am still painting.  The world has been in turmoil for a while now, however most of us artists just carry on as usual.  We go to our studios and pick up a paintbrush or whatever is our favourite tool. 

After I sent my paintings to Newzones Gallery in Calgary for my landscape show in March (yes, that March and no I wasn’t able to attend the opening), I returned to a series that I had started in 2019.  The subject is something new for me, or new/old.  Years ago I painted flowers, flowers by themselves or flowers in still lifes.  I had some success with those paintings and was very happy with them.  Eventually though I decided that I couldn’t compete with nature, nature had more sophisticated tools than I had, and I turned aside from that challenge.

 

It seems that this past decade of exploring colour – and simplifying detail to do so – has somehow led me full circle, however. Looking for a new starting point I started tentatively thinking of flowers again. In the same way that I had simplified the landscape, I saw how the flowers could be a beginning. This wouldn’t be an attempt at verisimilitude; this series isn’t really ‘of’ flowers.  The flowers with their radiance and intensity initiate the act of putting paint on canvas but they don’t control the result. The result has more to do with the curious act of ‘painting’, playing with hue, surface texture and markmaking.






You can see Neil Wedman's essay in my previous post.  He explains it much better than I can do.


Sunday, November 08, 2020

Neil Wedman Essay

Pat Service's Flowers

The subject of flowers is, in every sense, central to the new series of paintings by Pat Service.  Departing only slightly from her almost constant concern with depicting broader aspects of the landscape, Service has made an abundant sequence of square canvases, in sizes ranging from 20 x 20 inches to 42 x 42 inches, each holding, at its centre, identifiable portrait of a single blossom. Detached from stem, leaves or even a background shade, each unique flower head appears, greatly magnified, like a target, flattened and alone within a square frame, the arrangement reading like a hypnotic spiral analogous to the actual formation of a blossom in nature.

 

These bold flower paintings seize and touch the viewer in an instant, in a way that only a painted picture can do and, of course, further unhurried inspection reveals a richness at the heart of the thing. Each represents a different botanical specimen presumably based on a real life sample but it is clear that realist portrayal is not at issue here. Pat Service is merely an admirer of natural bouquets not an expert horticulturalist. All the same, like all of Service’s work, The Flower Paintings find origin in the surroundings of her life and observations but interpretively expand upon the dull limits of outward appearances. Only the small circles, signifying pistils, anchoring each floral shape at its centre have a peculiar exactness intimating a notion of plant science but ultimately make no concession to accuracy or illusionism. From painting to painting, each monochrome palette varies hues that are only casually attendant to the natural spectrum. Mainly the paint is applied on its own terms abjuring the contours and folds faithful to delicate petals in favour of examining the plain and uncomplicated contour of a flat canvas. Thinly, I think, at first and never awfully thick, a loose but solid wash forms the general silhouette of each bloom over which short, sturdy, brusque strokes of the same colour introduce textures and nuanced, layered tones pushing the colour to the edges of the petals, ragged in places with the unfussy dragging of a dry brush. Around the outside contours of each posy is a thin strip of raw, un-primed canvas like an outline separating the spectacular, large flower from the surrounding negative space remaining in the frame. The negative space is painted white, titanium white, making the lack of spatial definition a deliberate and integral element of the composition, the thin border of ivory white, unpainted canvas left around the flower describes the line of an invisible drawing.

 

The tradition of floral painting and its connotations for the cycles of life, domestic comfort and ephemeral glory reaches back to the ancient world. It also drags disparaging associations of a dainty banality, a cloying impression of amateur crowd pleasing so-called feminine art. At a glance, Pat Service’s flowers can remind a viewer of the particularly delicate, somewhat Victorian custom of pressed flowers but in another glance, this bold art bears a stronger and favourable comparison to Andy Warhol’s 1964 Flower Paintings. To my mind, the similarities are most obvious in the square formats used by the two artists and in the matter-of-fact flat applications of vivid colours often incongruous to the shared floral subject.  Of course, Warhol’s flowers are silkscreened from a found magazine image and Service has painted hers by hand but there is a clearly generic character to either series. Neither Andy Warhol’s or Pat Service’s versions of this subject are really about flowers.  This work concerns the vital act of portrayal, of working paint and colour and form to render a familiar theme in an unfamiliar way and convey the essence and ordinariness of beauty.

 

NW 

October 2020       

 

Neil Wedman






Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Reading About Other Artists

I have read quite a few good books about artists lately.  There are so many biographies around now, fat books that take a long time to read.  I find them fascinating; it is endlessly interesting to read about the struggles and the successes.  'Lee Krasner, a Biography' by Gail Levin; 'Agnes Martin Pioneer, Painter, Icon' by Henry Martin; 'Edward Hopper An Intimate Biography' by Gail Levin; 'Joan Mitchell Lady Painter' by Patricia Albers are examples of the many you can find in your favourite bookstores (mine happens to be Pulpfiction Books on Main Street here in Vancouver - or if you are in the depths of Kerrisdale, Hager Books will find them for you).

'Ninth Street Women' is a heavy tome that was sitting on my friend Bob Christie's desk when I was in Saskatoon a while ago.  Pretty soon it was sitting on my desk also.  The author Mary Gabriel chronicles the lives of female artists who were very involved in the abstract expressionist movement but didn't get the attention the guys got.  Now it seems to be their time - some fabulous paintings are hitting the auctions with great success.

Myself, sometimes I feel like an imposter because I didn't go to art school and didn't start painting until I was over 20.   That was not the problem with these artists.  They were fully engaged in the process of painting and learning to paint and figuring out how to get better from an early age and completely committed to the challenge.  They were driven in a powerful way to make canvases, engaging new and innovative ways to put down the paint.



Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Detail versus Colour

I sometimes think people don't understand when I say that I had to get rid of detail in my paintings so that I could go crazy with colour.  In my early years of getting into painting, I was trying to prove that I had 'skills' in my ability to represent something.  That went on for quite a while and I did some good paintings that way. But then it got boring.  The careful placement of brushstrokes was a very unimaginative exercise; it took a lot of time but it wasn't very difficult.  I started to get jealous of my friends who were abstract painters.  They could place large areas of innovative colour and shape on their canvases in ways that were exciting.  I started to think I would like to do that.  I wouldn't let go completely of my wish to connect to the real world; but I began to think I could do it differently.  I realized that our eyes and brains can easily put together images from very minimal amounts of information; a few flicks of a brushstroke can create quite a good description of a face, and so on with other things.  So I started to get brave.  I created simple shapes to represent basic elements in a landscape, a tree for example, or a road beside a field.  Then I could really play with colour!  I could put a red or a blue or a green anywhere I wanted.

Here are a few paintings to show you what I mean:


Foothills, 36x66", acrylic, 2013






Corner, 42x42", acrylic, 2013


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Arbitration Place on Bay Street in Toronto

Nikola Rukaj Gallery in Toronto has placed some of my paintings at Arbitration Place on Bay Street. They will be up for June and July this summer.  I hope they are aiding the discussions and 'arbitration' taking place!

Here are a couple of them: 



'Layers-I', 36x48"



'Minder', 69x65"