Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Triangle Workshop 30 Year Anniversary

This year is the 30th anniversary of the Triangle workshop, which first took place in Mashomack in upstate New York.  I attended in 1983 and again in 1993. My studio space was on the cavernous top floor of the big old dairy barn and I have vivid sensual memories of the hot dry space.  Other artists were strewn throughout the barns and outbuildings, while the sculptors worked outside.  For lunch, we sat on the grass under the trees and feasted on the tasty food they trucked over from the club house.  (It was an old dairy farm, but converted to a fishing club.)

As a painter of landscape, I revelled in the surrounding scenery with its gently rolling hills and expansive cornfields.  One of the visiting artists, Graham Nickson,  suggested that I set up outside and go crazy with big cans of oil paint :

It was a challenge, but fun.  However the hardest part was getting the cans of oil paint back to Canada. I couldn't pack them with me because they are considered flammable; and none of the courier companies would accept them for shipment to Canada.  Finally, another artist came to my rescue.  Ron Shuebrook very kindly put the box into his vehicle which he was driving back to Ontario, and then put the paints on a bus to Vancouver.  He was a true friend.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Trees as Paintings

When I was at the Emma Lake workshop this summer in Northern Saskatchewan, I used tree imagery as starting point for my paintings.  You can see from this photo that I am continuing with this in my studio in Vancouver:

The tree imagery is what gets me going; it is colour, drawing and surface that carry me forward.

Friday, October 12, 2012


Here is an example of how I work in my sketch books, recording things around me and taking them back to the studio:

This was part of an installation called The Primary Mark at Diane Farris Gallery as part of the Vancouver Drawing Festival in 2010.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Workshop Progression

When we were setting up in the studio at Emma Lake this summer, my friend Becky (Rebecca Perehudoff) offered to take a photo of me in my space.  Everything looked pretty clean and tidy at this point:

By the end of the week, things had changed slightly:

Here are some of my paintings:  (You can see that trees are still my inspiration.)

We had a pretty good time; weather wise, there were some big storms alternating with sunny days.  The professional artists' workshop being only one week this year, it felt as though we were just getting started when we had to pack up.  As always, it was interesting to meet some new people, while re-connecting with old friends.  The guest artist, Elizabeth Macintosh, who teaches at Emily Carr University in Vancouver, shared some provocative professional experiences with us through her stories; and she also introduced us to new faces through her slide shows.  Eating our meals on the closed-in porch over the lake was more congenial after she pushed all the tables together.

Exhausted after my long drive back, which thankfully was very uneventful, I am left with  good memories of the scenery and the people.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Packing for a Painting Trip

For the past week I have been making preparations to go to Emma Lake, for the professional artists' workshop.  It is a lot of work getting ready.  I have to make sure I have warm clothes to paint in, as well as cool things if it is hot.  Whatever I wear will end up covered in paint, so I don't take anything nice, just something comfortable, with long sleeves and pant legs;  I don't want any mosquito bites.  Then there are decisions about paint, brushes, tools, canvas, paper, equipment, what route to take, who to visit along the way and so on.  I am finally ready I think, exhausted before I leave.  Two days and a half of driving ahead of me.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Van Gogh: Up Close

I am looking forward to seeing this exhibition in Ottawa later this summer.  Organized by both The National Gallery and the Philadelphia Museum, it opened in Philadelphia in the spring and Karen Wilkin writes in The New Criterion that, despite all we have already seen and heard,  there is indeed still something to learn about van Gogh.  She writes:  "...a visually arresting van Gogh exhibition that makes us consider his work in new ways, introduces unfamiliar works and even helps us to see familiar ones with unjaded eyes."  I enjoy Karen's many ways of describing the works, such as 'a dense silt of dabs and dots", " a near monochrome of bleached green", or "insistent gatherings of slender touches'.
Karen Wilkin's Review    Van Gogh: Up Close, National Gallery of Canada   Since I have not yet seen the show, I don't know what is in it, but here is one of van Gogh's commanding works:

Thursday, May 31, 2012

National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh

When I was in Edinburgh this month, I went to the National Portrait Gallery, which has just re-opened after a major renovation.  There are some very modern exhibition spaces now, as well as some of the more traditional galleries that have been retained.  It is quite stunning.

Amongst the many old-fashioned (boring?) portraits there are some recent ones that are very refreshing.  Ken Currie painted "The Oncologists" in a serious way.  And there is a lively painting of Peter Higgs by Lady Lucinda Mackay that  I liked very much.  When I told an old friend about it at dinner that night, she said, 'Oh, we have two sketches by her."  I see that the writer Alexander McCall Smith dedicated his novel "44 Scotland Street" to her.

There is much to explore in the old/new museum and I hope to have more time on my next visit to Scotland.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Do You Throw Out Old Paintings?

Last summer I went through some paintings from the 90's and with the help of my granddaughter, I made decisions about which to keep and which to destroy.  That went along very well, until one morning I woke up and realized with a sinking feeling that I had thrown out a painting that I really liked.  "Throwing out" means cutting it up into small pieces and putting it out into the garbage.

My friend Bob has told me not to do this.  Although I thought enough time had gone by for me to be able to clearly sort the wheat from the chaff, it is obvious that I couldn't.  Lately I have been looking through some even earlier records from the 80's, and I can see that I often threw out paintings that I wish I hadn't.

Reading in The Art Newspaper about the famous artist Gerhard Richter, I see that he has thrown out numerous paintings during his career - but only after they have been photographed.  "Sometimes, when I see one of the photos, I think to myself: 'That's too bad; you could have let this one or that one survive'," Richter is quoted as saying, but added: "Cutting up the paintings was always an act of liberation."

I don't even have good photos of the ones I destroyed.  But some of them did need to go.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Early Collage Canvases

Recently I received an email from someone who found me on the internet, wondering if I was the one who painted a painting she proudly owns.  After she told me some of the details, I realized it was from a series I painted in 1977!  In the struggle to represent landscape, I collaged fabric on to the canvas and then painted on top of it.  The resulting texture gave a nice surface for the paint.

She was so pleased to find me, relating how much the painting meant to her.  When she first saw it years ago it 'spoke to her' and she made the sacrifice of paying for it with post-dated cheques, scrimping on her monthly budget, even cutting back on food, to make the regular payments.

The painting above, Kemp II, acrylic, 30x38", is not the one she has but is from the same series.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Card Photo File for Paintings

The other day I was talking to an artist in Edmonton.  He is the one who in 1980 taught me to keep track of my paintings with card files.  Here is a photo of one:

Using 5x8 inch cards, I take a photo of every painting and staple it to a card.  I number my paintings by year, month, and then 1,2,3 and so on, and I put that number in the upper right corner.
The name of the painting goes on next.  Sometimes it is a temporary working title, which can be changed later.  I put the size of the canvas, and the dimensions, and the medium used (i.e. acrylic, or oil, or whatever it is).

If I have varnished the painting, I jot that down. When I sign the painting, I note on the card where the painting is signed and whether I have used initials or my whole name.  On the back of the card, I record when I send it out on consignment, what gallery it went to and when.  If it is sold and I know who bought it, I note their name.

It sounds complicated, but it has worked well for me.  I have sent off many paintings over the years; the galleries aren't always good at documenting the ins and outs of inventory, so I make sure that I know.

Here is a link to the website of Douglas Haynes, who shared this piece of helpful advice with me:

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Gauguin and Polynesia

Last Thursday I went with a friend to Seattle to see the  Gauguin & Polynesia exhibition.  We went on the train, and had a long pleasant afternoon there.

The Seattle Art Museum has done a beautiful job of hanging the show - the paintings are well spaced and lit, so that the colours shine brightly.  Gauguin said that he wanted the colour to vibrate like music and I felt that it does. It glows, with nothing strident or harsh or clashing.  The paintings aren't large, most 30 x 36 inches maximum.  As much as I don't think I would have liked the man, I do like the way he put down the paint.

If you look through images of his work, you see many self-portraits.  They are all done from the same angle, with his head facing to the right and his eyes looking sideways.  This is the way it has to be when you are doing self-portraits; it is awkward because you have to look in the mirror and at the same time  face your canvas.  This one that is in the show has a nice bit of yellow-orange on his shirt front, and a good dash of black below to heighten the other colours.  

Monday, March 05, 2012

Karen Wilkin Writes About Rembrandt and Degas

In the February issue of The New Criterion, Karen Wilkin writes about Degas' response to Rembrandt's prints.  When Degas was a young artist studying in Italy, the prints inspired him to do numerous self-portraits, in a manner that was a rejection of the strictures of the Academy that he was fleeing in Paris.
Karen Wilkin on Two Young Artists

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Helen Frankenthaler Passes Away

I was just reading about Helen Frankenthaler, who sadly passed away in December: http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2011/dec/28/helen-frankenthaler   Of course, I have always admired her work;  she was a great painter and a role model.  To my surprise, they write that she was often compared with John Marin, an earlier painter of atmospheric colour and sensitive line.  I never made that connection.  His work I passionately loved, and when I was getting started I poured over reproductions of his landscapes and cityscapes.  This is one of his watercolours:

Thursday, February 09, 2012

About Looking at Paintings

I find it hard to say what I like or dislike about paintings.  One thing I have noticed, though, is that I find sentimentality embarrassing.  Sentimentality I would describe as the too-obvious pulling at the viewer's heartstrings. I want a deeper emotion than that.
A treatment of a subject that is different from what I have seen before always gets my admiration and interest.  I don't mean something ugly but more a unique way of seeing.  Also I look for the honest commitment of the artist - energy put in, coming from the urgent need or drive to create.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Next Step

Here is what I did next on that canvas:

It is a little more green than that.  Would anyone know that it is representing trees?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

On Uncertainty

In a memoir of Susan Sontag ("Sempre Susan"), the author Sigrid Nunez quotes Susan as saying:  "...there was nothing wrong with never being satisfied with what you did.  (Indeed, if you weren't regularly tormented by self-doubt, your work probably was sh--.)

Creative people can feel insecure, especially when trying something new, but there is a great adrenalin payoff that goes with the risk.

Here is a new canvas ready for the next step:

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Scottish Artist

I started painting when I lived in Scotland after university.  Recently a friend told me about a Scottish artist named Wilhelmina Barnes-Graham, who had a strong landscape source for her abstract paintings.  Above is one of her paintings.  Below is one of my recent canvases:

When I notice similarities like that, I think that what I learned in Scotland strongly impacted my work.