My New Paintings: A Covenant Series

I am celebrating the actual incubation and now “JAG” as I enjoy the motivation and the ‘song’ of a new series in the studio.  It is impossible to even contain the freedom and excitement I feel about it.

The techniques stem from early drawing classes with Pauline McGeorge at the University of Lethbridge back in 1975.  She was a phenomenal figure drawing instructor and it was there that I began the process of layering and transparency to build forms from the back-forward.  I incorporated mixed media at that time in terms of drawing media and paint.  It was then that I fell deeply in love with making art and could be found at an easel at odd times of the night…using buckets of paint, charcoal and matte medium to create figure after figure.

Since then, I have really focused on my oil painting…given my love for linseed oil and also my original artistic statement about the landscape.

Through University I became a hiker and wilderness- backpacker and this love continued on after…beginning with a very special Outward Bound experience.  About the time I left the University I became aware of issues around the possible and eventual building of the Oldman River Dam.  In fact, my Grandfather whom I write about often here, was on the Oldman River Planning Commission (just recently I viewed a plaque and photograph hanging in my auntie’s living room…something presented to him for his dedication and work on this project).  In the meantime, his wee grand daughter had developed quite a sense of protection for that river, given her hours and hours of hiking south in the coulees through her University years.

I had also taken on the book, The Diviners by Margaret Laurence…and adopted it as my metaphor for writing, painting and for identity.  I wished to paint the Canadian landscape, given Morag’s relationship with her daughter Piquette.  I wanted to leave an inheritance for my children….other people’s children….because I had a sense, even in the 70s, that we were consuming too much and that the shape of the landscape was bound to change, regardless of my idealism and dream for the planet (afterall, I was harvesting rosehips for tea at the time)….regardless of the initiatives of organizations like Friends of the Oldman.

I knew then that humankind was sitting on a train…much like the grown-ups on the train in St.Exupery’s book, The Little Prince.  We do not have our noses pressed up against the windows of the train like the children.  We are staring straight ahead.  We do not even notice on busy days, what we are doing to the planet.

To return to my point, I began painting the landscape in earnest, influenced by Laurel Cormack and looking back on the northern mystic….and the Group of Seven…their initial intent in capturing what was special about the Canadian Landscape.  If Piquette, growing up in Manitoba, could ask her writer-mother Morag, “What is a buffalo?”  Then…I could imagine a time when my grandchild would ask, “What is a river?”

From there, I have had the desire to move back to the media that I enjoyed in my drawing classes at University.  Those of you who know me understand that I have painted extensively in this approach for my parish church and a little over a year ago, painted an entire wall mural in the Chapel there. (I will photograph a single archive of this project and post it with my Covenant Series album.) This project has informed my recent shift to the Covenant series, although it’s been almost a five year transition and a very difficult one, given that I have failed to produce the number of paintings required to be successful in my commercial markets.

But….this new work is absolutely pouring out of me and I’m feeling compelled to continue this body until I am exhausted.  What was the moment of recognition?  What was the concluding moment of incubation that jettisoned me forward to the work??

I went to the Master’s Art Gallery downtown for a Joane Cardinal Shubert exhibition.  She has an entire history as a First Nations person in Canada to lean upon as she explores material artistically and at the gut level.  Three of her pieces that night created for me the permission to do this new work.  I stood in front of a relief piece…a parfleche…a beautiful piece with elements of collage and drawing.  A container…a carrying satchel that held mysterious ‘something’.  I loved the piece because I knew that historically this would contain pemmican…life-giving food for the people who carried it through the winter.  However, for me…the viewer….it contained spiritual food…it offered up ‘possibility’.

The second piece was called “My Grandmother’s Dress”.  This was a huge painting.  I stood in front of it and was in awe of what it told me about a culture…a people…a relationship…an identity.  It was there that I asked?  What is it that I have in my culture? my way of being? that I can paint? draw? explore?  It was in front of this dress that I wept.

At some point during the exhibit, I walked over to the reception table and filled my napkin with wee snacks, olives and a few little Greek wraps.  While sipping my wine, I connected briefly with another artist who I have enjoyed over the years, Bev Tosh.  She has taught me figurative work and inspired me as a middle-aged woman in the world of visual art, to be brave, have courage and to make a place for myself in the artistic experience.  Bev is busy painting her War Brides series and sometime this month will be attending an opening and receiving recognition for her series in the National War Museum.  As I stepped away, I had the same experience of her vision as I had had in front of “My Grandmother’s Dress”.

Finally, I was compelled to stand before the third painting.  It was up a few steps…not in the gallery space and completed by Joane none-the-less.  It was a red sweat lodge.  The colour red is so significant to me as an artist and I felt as though I was drawn to it.  The painting was a place of peace…it felt like home…if I had had the money, I would have bought it on the spot.  It represented the same sense of ‘possibility’ that the parfleche had held.  It was as though, I was meant to fill the space up…with my own exploration of memory, identity and what is urgent for me to share.

When I went back to my studio, it was clear that I was meant to paint from my own memory.  The Covenant Series will lead directly to the bride and grooms that have been incubating for about ten years.  I’m beginning with an experience of the archetype…the hero.  I viewed my father as such when I was a little girl and he, along with a friend, saved an injured pelican from the Missouri River.  My father contributed to the well-being of a species.  This act of saving a bird demonstrated for me that one person’s decision and small act ultimately led to good.

Given the state of species right now, it was evident to me that I could make commentary about that through my drawings/paintings…using as my starting block, the action of my father.  I will explore the capture of the single pelican for some time….then move on to the salmon and salmon farming….then onto the status of the polar bear on the melting ice sheets….and then the covenant we hold with one another….this will be an evolving series with a strong biblical foundation….relying on Psalms and Genesis.

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  1. Pingback: 1973 « The Chapel

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