Gorilla House LIVE ART: November 27, 2013

I was distracted by all sorts of things after my day of guest teaching.  There were so many things going on that I lost track of time.  An interesting concept…LOSING TRACK OF TIME.

In a couple of the language arts classes yesterday, the students were reading chapters from their novels and this gave me opportunity to read from mine.  I always try to carry a novel with me, but most often don’t have the chance, during the day, to read.  I had finished  A Rhinestone Button by Gail Anderson-Dargatz the night before and so selected one l had picked up at a second hand shop some time ago. Amazing book!  My Mother’s Ghost by Fergus M. Bordewich!  A memoir, this book fell into my hands when I most needed it.  The thing is…the intensity and the authentic voice, somehow impacted the way I saw everything after setting the book down.  Honestly, for me, this is an always-event, when I am reading a well written book.

I realize that I spend an excessive amount of time considering family, family history, family stories, family records and family photographs…and I am always seeking out a resolution to this sense of nostalgia and memory that pervades most things I do.  Fergus M. Brodewich seemed to be on the very same road in his novel…and so, more than once, my eye brows turned up.  His is a memoir that deals almost exclusively with the resolution of reality and memory.  A rich amazing story!

The story stuck…and so, I painted it.

My focus…the John Lennon lyric, In My Life.

There are places I remember all my life
Though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain

All these places have their moments
Of lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I loved them all

And with all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these mem’ries lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new

And I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I loved you more

And I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I loved you more
In my life I loved you more

I pulled out the iconic photograph of Yoko Ono and John Lennon taken by Annie Leibovitz, hoping to capture, in a painted sketch, the contrast of light world resting up against dark and to allow the wood grain to inform that composition.  I didn’t particularly want to go into a busy social environment…I was feeling pretty singular…so, I pulled out pencils and did some sketching at home.

It was quite late when I headed down to ‘the house’…and I only had about an hour to paint ‘this thing’.  I was grateful to find a fairly quiet place next to my friend, Jen, at the table…my back to a wall…a very rare experience when painting in that public space.  I had a couple of  conversations with people.  I treasure those.  (Jen finished early and she headed across the street to her apartment to pick up her four liter of chocolate milk to share with people at the Gorilla House…she just didn’t think that there was any way she could drink it all before the stale date.  I share this wee tale because it gives you the idea of how close knit we’ve become at the Gorilla House.)  Last night, painting was a quiet, introspective act.
Thank you to Teresa, for purchasing my piece at auction.  Thank you, Rich Theroux, for the hug and to Enriquito for being there.  Thank you, to the dear lady who is taking painting lessons at the Kirby Center…”I so appreciated your conversation and your dream to attend Thursday figure drawing.  I chatted with you for a good while.  I took your photograph while you sat in front of the beautiful purple canvas.”

Orest Semchishen

I’d like to meet Orest Semchishen.  When I watched particular scenes from the movie, Finding Forrester, I felt a similar feeling about the character, William Forrester.  Gradually, the greatness of this writer is unveiled through the testaments of others.  It seems that people who accomplish great and important things are not always known, but come to be known for what they have created.  So, this is the way it feels once looking into the intimacies of an Orest Semchishen photograph.

On Friday evening, Terry Fenton spoke to some of the content of the photographs represented in the Splendid Isolation exhibit, so wonderfully displayed at the Esker Foundation.  Through that conversation, I had a chance to also meet Lawrence Chrismas, who has successfully documented, through photography, the culture around Canadian coal miners.  Lawrence shared during question period that he has known Orest as a dear friend and that in sorting through his studio, Orest offered him his darkroom equipment.  Such an inspiring gesture!  In keeping with the humility I try to describe in my opening paragraph, Lawrence includes a quote on his home page, “The intelligent man is one who has successfully fulfilled many accomplishments, and is yet willing to learn more.”

Lawrence Chrismas Elymer Holsteine, Pit Supervisor, Costello Mine, Estevan, Saskatchewan, 1987 Gelatin silver print on paper Collection of the Mendel Art Gallery. Gift of the artist 1996.

Lawrence Chrismas
Elymer Holsteine, Pit Supervisor, Costello Mine, Estevan, Saskatchewan, 1987
Gelatin silver print on paper
Collection of the Mendel Art Gallery. Gift of the artist 1996.

Who is Orest Semchishen?  ArtSask offers this biography.

“Orest Semchishen was born in 1932 in Mundare, Alberta. Like other self-taught photographers represented in the permanent  collection  of the Mendel Art Gallery, notably Les Saunders and Stewart Brown, Semchishen makes his living in the sciences. As a radiologist, he is intimately aware of the properties of light and energy, and this familiarity translates into striking imagery.

Despite his highly technological occupation, the primary  subject  of Semchishen’s significant  body of work  owes more to his rural origins than to engineering. For many years, Semchishen has been documenting his travels through rural Canada. As he encounters towns, neighbourhoods and individual residents on his journeys, he photographs what he finds, freezing the changing, or disappearing, lives and lifestyles with a medium format film camera. He then processes and prints his images himself, by hand, through photographic chemistry.

Semchishen has exhibited widely, including multiple solo exhibitions at the Edmonton Art Gallery (now the Art Gallery of Alberta) in Edmonton, the Southern Alberta Art Gallery in Lethbridge, and the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff, Alberta. Many institutions have collected Semchishen’s work as well, including the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography in Ottawa, Ontario, and the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, Quebec.”

Because I have such a preoccupation with memory and nostalgia, Orest’s works are powerful in their intimacy and in their restfulness.  I feel transported, somehow, as I view each photograph, to a particular time and to a place.  The notion of PLACE is so significant.  Regarding value and contrast, I find most of his works to be dominated by the use of middle greys, contributing, I think, to the overall stability and peacefulness of each setting.  They are very sensory and I respond immediately from my own memory of drives through southern Alberta with my grandfather…or recollections of driving the dirt roads of central Alberta and stopping into coffee shops along the way.

Regarding his portraits, Orest has documented a fantastic collection of northern trappers and their homes, impacted so much through the surging influx and pressure from beyond their reserve boundaries.  The objects of their affection say as much about the personalities as the portraits themselves.

Bill Moyan, trappeur, Kinuso, Alberta Orest Semchishen juillet 1985, tiré en 1990

Bill Moyan, trappeur, Kinuso, Alberta
Orest Semchishen
juillet 1985, tiré en 1990

Thank you, Orest Semchishen, for your greatness and your gift.

Look at What the Light Did Now

Jen Hall came over to archive some work in the studio.  I’ve been really aching to get a couple of pieces out into the world, one inspired by a  poem by George Bowering (thank you, George)…
(a recent letter from George)
Hey, Kathleen,

I like your wolf in the snow
and I am glad that my words could have a part in it.
Hope to see them in the flesh, or charcoal, or whatever.
Well. Hope to say hello in person some time.
I am the way and the heavy.
George’s poetry is so powerful, that to have words of his sent to me via electronic mail also feels like poetry.

Thank you, George Bowering

and another by Paulette Dube (thank you);
Paulette shaped a heart-felt message for me as well, but it stays here, tucked in my heart.

Paulette’s Words Take Flight

…but, I didn’t want to send the paintings out of the studio until I had them photographed.  I’ve converted my old photo slides to digital recently and I realize that I used to tear out the door, often with wet paintings, in order to meet deadlines.  If I photographed my works, they were haphazard trapezoidal shapes of every variety; they were unfocused and they hardly qualified as an archive at all.  Here would be an example.

Poor Quality 🙁

So now, I have no REAL history of what has come before, to even consider how all of that work influenced this.  See.  This is why I am excited that Jen came to the studio this morning.

Jen’s ‘Take’ on an one of my ‘old’ paintings.


Photo of taking Photos by Jen Hall

Little Wings and Feist
Hear it like a pounce upon a peak, oh
Look at what the light did now
Bear it like a bounce upon the beak, oh
Look at what the light did now
Land and water and bird or beast, oh
Look at what the light did now
Shiny little band or golden fleece, oh
Look at what the light did now
In my will I went ’til it’s wasted
Look at what the light did now
Taste the taste I taste ’til it’s tasted
Look at what the light did now
Bought it like a boast that burly beaming
Look at what the light did now
Got it like a ghost that girly gleaming
Look at what the light did now
Like a dead tree that’s dry and leaving
Look at what the light did now
Play it on me with grief and grieving
Look at what the light did now
I would finally fall to pieces
Look at what the light did now
We’ll meet soon as nephews… nieces
Look at what the light did now

Where were you headin’, Gus?

I came upon this small photograph while pitching papers this afternoon.  Gus was our family dog during the late 60s.  The vehicle…our family Rambler Station Wagon.  Dad was heading down a highway (not one of our long distance trips or Mom would have been sitting where Gus is navigating) and one of the kids in the back seat captured the moment on a camera.  There are very few family photographs coming from those years…it is nothing like today’s world of instagrams and i phones…images were surprises, if in fact, the film EVER got developed!  In those days, film needed to be mailed away for processing and so there was a long wait between the snap of the camera and the actual delight of sharing the twenty-four photographs that were returned by mail. 
We’ve always cherished our family pets and Gus was no exception.   Truly entertaining is the way the car upholstery has been taped together… a reflection of our resourcefulness and of the fact that we made do, in the day.  Many memories flood back and fill me up when I come upon such treasures. 

Rambler Station Wagon-Days

Writing Poems With Cup of Coffee to my Left

Our Park


seeming to grow
out of air.

I am 
seeing the park
this morning
through autumn eyes.

A thin coat
of ice over each individual
grass blade.
Many leaves
drop through
white air.

Autumn ears, also. 
Chatter of magpies,
louder than usual.
A dog barks.

Pant legs shuffle.

Then silence.

I snap a photograph
of a
tree in fog.