An Hour With Anna Gustafson

Sometimes it feels like I’m flying in to the evening programs at Esker Foundation.  The trek north on Deerfoot Trail is never optimal around the dinner hour.  It seems that the folk who have struggled their way south through rush hour traffic have made their way home for their wardrobe changes and are then all headed back to the core for their evening events.  Calgary is such a sprawl!  All that aside, when the program lists are published for the Esker Foundation, I always try to log on and register and fill in my calendar for the coming months.

Today, Anna Gustafson delivered a ‘making’ workshop at the Esker.  These programs are especially inspiring.  Because I wasn’t able to fit this one in, I was really motivated to listen to her talk last night and to see her work in Esker’s Project Space.  This exhibit, titled Object Lessons is accessible from the huge picture windows on street level 9th Ave SE.

Anna spoke about her transition from a piece titled Ghost Salmon (very serendipitous) into her shrouded works.  Initially, the image that she projected on to the screen of her Ghost Salmon work brought me back to some ideas I had once explored in my own studio.  My brother, Cliff, who runs a salmon charter in Comox named Cliff’s Chinook Charters, now has this piece at home with him.

Anna described her connection with other species and her sense of urgency around having a deep regard for sustainability.  I felt as though we were connected in our thoughts through some sort of umbilical…I was captivated.

Enjoy Anna’s beautiful website and click on this link in order to read through her process.

As she spoke about shrouding objects that represent our full-on consumption, I thought very much about the bags of litter I picked for such a long period of time at a single pond here in south Calgary.  Nothing ever seemed to change about the landscape that I picked….after months and years of clearing the flats, new litter would just move on in.  It came in waves.  It was no wonder that Anna’s fish nets filled to the brim with shrouded single use plastics hit me in the gut.

The exhibit is happening, in partnership with the New Gallery and Anna Gustafson is extending an invitation to the public to help her with the harvesting of particular household objects including remote controls, film and slide projectors, film cans, slide carousels, flashlights along with white cotton and linen fabric for shrouding. Donations can be brought to The New Gallery from 3 February to 19 April.

Anna has a very detailed record of where she is gathering these objects, as seen below.

I find it interesting that as I attended a second event last evening, I should still be thinking about Anna’s work as I encountered this display.  Well done, Anna, and thank you.  Thank you, Esker Foundation.

DIY Home Made Chalk-like Paint

I started, a year ago, sanding a head and base for an antique bed, and a matching dresser.  These pieces have sort of taken over my studio and this has created a big problem for my artistic output.

Heading out to the studio to grab a photograph, I enjoy my garden in the rain.

Heading out to the studio to grab a photograph, I enjoy my garden in the rain.

P1170277 P1170278 P1170279Do you see what I mean?

Since then, I also picked up a couple of antique dressers at the Women In Need shop to accommodate the rest of my clothing.  I announced months ago that the pieces in the studio were ready to be primed.  I lied.  I ended up getting very picky about the paint removal and have only recently come to the point where, in fact, I am ready to prime.  I will be painting a Chagall image on those afterwards and will treat the primary colour as I would any other latex painting project.  Once the paint is applied and dry, I will use a varnish to seal the work.

My friend, Carol, asked at the beginning of this project, “Why don’t you use chalk paint?”  So, my curiosity got the best of me and I looked this process up on the internet and decided that this would be perfect for the two dressers that were already sitting in my bedroom, as well as an old hand made side table that I had also picked up for $2.00.

I thought I’d share the process with you, a process that is less than half the cost of the completely prepared system marketed by Annie Sloan, a specialty supplier of Chalk Paint.  There are several DIY videos on this subject, but I find the presenters a little verbose in their delivery and at times, downright irritating.  I also think that they are unrealistic in terms of how ‘simple’ and ‘fast’ they articulate the process.  For example, I began working on the painting of the primed pieces at 8:00 this morning.  It is 12:20 at the time of this writing and the first coat is drying.  I will apply a second coat before I head out the door at 4.  So, allow a bit of time.

These two dressers were varnished with a high sheen, so I decided to prime.  With chalk paints, it is possible to paint over any surface, however, I didn’t wish to encounter any problems with coverage.  I went into Ben Moore’s paint shop to chat with a very helpful gent yesterday who recommended this product.  In fact, this would be helpful if painting over any smooth surface.  Using this product, with overnight drying would prevent the possibility of scratching off the surface of a polymer based paint.  It’s called STIX.

P1170275I primed right over the hardware on the drawers.  If you have some interesting pulls, then I would take them off first, but given that these are fairly simple, I decided to create the distressed look on them as well.  Because I’ve been involved with paint removal, I decided to be very clean in terms of the areas that I painted and to leave the dove tail joints as is, as well as any screws or fittings used to construct the furniture.

P1170262 Today, I mixed up my home made chalk-like paints.  I used three table spoons of Plaster of Paris, mixed with a half cup warm water, with every cup of latex paint I used.  I mixed it up in an old peanut butter jar, so that I could continue to use it after taking breaks.  I mixed up two and half cups of latex and after painting two dressers and all of the drawers, I still have a half of the mixture left.  I’m letting this dry, as mentioned and will put the second coat on shortly.

P1170273P1170253P1170267To follow that, instead of using the Annie Sloan clear wax and dark wax, I’ve chosen two products as replacements.  In her method, you would wax clear, then dark, then clear again.  I’ve decided on a warm stain gel that I will apply after the second coat of paint is dry and then I will end with a clear wax finish.  These are the products I am using.  I might add embellishments of copper acrylic as a rub before the clear wax because I’ve used copper on my walls.

P1170272 P1170270 By the way, I’ve chosen a blue-green colour to complement the warm red-orange that I applied to my wall.  Contrary to the folk who like a serene environment for sleep, I focus more on warmth…I like to be surrounded by ‘happiness’.  While all chaos has recently broken out in my bedroom, stay tuned for the eventual resolution to all of this DIY!

I’ll keep you posted about progress…going down to see if my first coat is dry!

P1080135 P1080136

Gorilla House LIVE ART: March 6, 2013

Ryan 33 House 17 Ryan 8 House 25 Ryan 14 House 22b Ryan 18 House 20I had no choice but to paint Ryan last night.  Losing Ryan has left an open wound for the community that paints every Wednesday down at the Gorilla House.  Aptly, one of the themes was LIFE.  I painted LIFE.

Photo Credit: Wendy Lees

Photo Credit: Wendy Lees

P1090757 P1090758 P1090759

From Le Petit Prince par Antoine de Ste.-Exupery, these words…

But he did not answer my plea. He said to me, instead: “The thing that is important is the thing that is not seen…”

“Yes, I know…”

“It is just as it is with the flower. If you love a flower that lives on a star, it is sweet to look at the sky at night. All the stars are a-bloom with flowers…”

“Yes, I know…”

“It is just as it is with the water. Because of the pulley, and the rope, what you gave me to drink was like music. You remember– how good it was.”

“Yes, I know…”

“And at night you will look up at the stars. Where I live everything is so small that I cannot show you where my star is to be found. It is better, like that. My star will just be one of the stars, for you. And so you will love to watch all the stars in the heavens… they will all be your friends. And, besides, I am going to make you a present…”

He laughed again.

“Ah, little prince, dear little prince! I love to hear that laughter!”

“That is my present. Just that. It will be as it was when we drank the water…”

“What are you trying to say?”

“All men have the stars,” he answered, “but they are not the same things for different people. For some, who are travelers, the stars are guides. For others they are no more than little lights in the sky. For others, who are scholars, they are problems. For my businessman they were wealth. But all these stars are silent. You– you alone– will have the stars as no one else has them–”

“What are you trying to say?”

“In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night… you– only you– will have stars that can laugh!”

And he laughed again.

“And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, so, for that pleasure… and your friends will be properly astonished to see you laughing as you look up at the sky! Then you will say to them, ‘Yes, the stars always make me laugh!’ And they will think you are crazy. It will be a very shabby trick that I shall have played on you…”

And he laughed again.

“It will be as if, in place of the stars, I had given you a great number of little bells that knew how to laugh…”

Gorilla House LIVE ART: January 23, 2013

When I went out to the studio to pick out a board and some paint to get a ground slathered on before the art battle, I noticed that my sister-cousin-friend had a book set out next to her studio space.  It is titled, Creative Paint Workshop for Mixed-Media Artists: Experimental Techniques for Composition, Layering, Texture, Imagery, and Encaustic by Ann Baldwin.  I looked at the opened pages and thought about the fact that the book made a terrific effort to explain a process that, for me, feels always so spontaneous.  I wondered what it would be like for me to slow down my process and analyze the goings-on as I painted for the evening.


Wasn’t to be.  (insert laugh here) Had I not left my camera at home for the evening, this might have been a ‘go’ and I DID capture some of the decisions while applying my ground.  Then, I had to abandon my archive until next time.

Given that the LIVE ART battles are an intense two hours in length, I have discovered that it’s important to sort something…anything…out, in my head, prior to arriving at the Gorilla House.  The concepts are often so bizarre, that one really never knows what subject matter might be relevant, but I make certain that I have a few things in my toolbox before I go…things other than the regular art supplies.  I carry along a whole collection of references that are of interest to me or images/magazines/photographs that have recently sat with me, occupying a space in my head, agitating and delighting me, both.   I’ve noticed that several artists who are more objective with their work, pull out their phones and use references from the internet.  I don’t have that sort of phone.  So, I tend to drag junk down to the house with me.

Next, I carry along sources of text…quotes, biblical passages, books of interest to me.  I have no idea what I might access until I hear the results of the spin.

Before attending, I commit to a colour scheme.  I have found that if I don’t have a palette in mind before heading down, I have become very wound up once I begin to paint.  Under such a time restraint, there is little opportunity to mull over ideas.  So…then, the application of a ground.

I think I’ve written before about the fact that it’s easier for me to work on a surface that has been activated.  I apply a ground of gesso initially and this leaves the surface white, and seals the piece for a healthy tooth (this provides a surface that the paint can literally grab on to).  When I make reference to ACTIVATION, I simply mean that the white surface is a blank page…intimidating to some degree because there is no interaction between the surface and my mind…it is saying nothing back to me.  I activate the surface, knowing full well, that the statement there, through the course of my painting, will disappear/evolve and become an underpinning for something else.

It used to be that for every painting, I would apply five coats of gesso, alternating the direction of each coat and usually sanding and perfecting as I went.  Now, I apply my gesso in a very free form manner, in the hopes that some of the valleys and mountains remain to inform other layers.  This has been a huge progression in my work and makes, for me, a very entertaining process.

A ground, then, is simply that colour or texture that is added to the surface and provides a place for a painting/collage to happen.  For this week’s LIVE ART, I chose to use ultramarine blue, mars black, gloss medium and because we’ve enjoyed two days of remarkable hoarfrost in the river bottom, I decided to attach a layer of printed tree images…cheap paper…cheap ink…Here are some images and my very brief remarks.

P1090350In this case, I used an old paint brush, an inch and a half wide.  I dipped randomly into the blue and black squeezed out onto my palette, not concerning myself with mixing on the palette or where I would apply it to my panel.  I do notice that my marks went in a horizontal journey, arching slightly.  Notice that bits of the panel are still evident, uncovered by the dry coat of gesso.  Choosing ultramarine blue, instead of pthalo, I had pretty much determined that I would not be including in my painting, very much in the way of yellow…yellow and ultramarine blue don’t make an exquisite green like pthalo and cad yellow medium do. P1090351The drips tell you that I was, indeed, being generous with water.   Water added to acrylic paint, creates both transparency and fast coverage.  Again, I don’t add a set amount and mix…rather, I dip here and there…and back and forth I go.  My blue is purchased by the jar, but is also available in tubes.  Notice that I use a number of cottage cheese lids for palettes.  I like that this way I can keep my colour families clean and separate of one another.  Imagine what would happen if I had a blop of red on this particular palette.  Would I be able to find a dollop of pure red to apply to my painting?  Nopers!  It would be a puddle of brown before I knew it.  I use a cadmium red medium/bright red…and because it is WARM on the spectrum of reds and because blue is the complement of orange/orange-red, the two colours, together, create a warm brown….not so good if you are looking for a nice red and a nice blue. P1090354I use a student grade rather than professional artist grade paint…some artists really disagree with this and that’s ok. Some artists love a particular type of brush.  This is very personal and you learn this by using lots of paint and lots of different brushes. I have a favourite sort of brush…never use fan or round…always flat.  I can get a consistently thin mark with my brush…and a wide mark as well.  Most of the time, I use a rag to apply paint in huge and random marks.  This is great for variety.  Unfortunately, I won’t be able to capture one of those marks as a photo archive until the next piece. P1090356

This is gloss medium…it also comes in matte.  I use this for application of collage elements and I’m very generous with its use for a variety of things.  I only like this sort…it’s viscosity is perfect.P1090357It is easy to tell that these marks have been made with a brush…how?  It is a good practice to make a collection of marks in your sketchbook.  While some folk become compulsive about making a single type of mark, the more marks you have in your toolbox, the more dynamic will be your art! P1090358 This is a close-up of my palette.  The yellow and other colours are dried pigments from other painting experiences.  They won’t be a bother at all.P1090359I begin to apply the collage bits…random…undecided…intuitive.  I don’t worry about what may appear to be a mess…drips…changing values.  I do, however, pick out dog hairs.  It’s just a thing I do.  If your work is very fine and smooth surfaced, you may wish to always keep your surface clear of little flies and dog hair and such.  Given my experiences en pleine-air painting, I gave that up some years ago. P1090360Gloss medium appears to be white when you apply it, but dries as a clear coat.  I don’t smooth it to a consistent surface…but leave it in interesting medallions here and there. P1090361 You should be able to see the bubbles here…these are not good.  I use the edge of my hand to push these outward, until the air/extra medium squishes out from under the collage.  I use my brush, with paint in it, to tint and move pigment through the collage bits as I apply them.  Up to this point, I had worked on the panel for about fifteen minutes.P1090362 P1090363 If a big bubble persists, I literally, rip it open…apply some medium…and seal it up again.  I like the cracks and lines created in this process.P1090364Bits of collage will tear away and land somewhere else.  Good!  leave these bits!  They will eventually contribute to the overall interest of the piece at some point. P1090366 P1090368Then, I fixed some dumplings and let this dry…knowing I had to head to the core from the burbs in no more than 30 minutes.

P1090374 P1090375Once I arrived, I was so grateful to reconnect with the folk who have come to mean so much to me.   I got my easel set up, did a bit of dancing, a bit of visiting and then it was time for the spin.  The three concepts for the evening were…First, from Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman, “time to clean up the mess before my parents come upstairs.”  Second, from The Lazy Intellectual: Maximum Knowledge, Minimal Effort by Richard J. Wallace, James V. Wallace, “His plays were representative of Greek Old Comedy, in which cutting invective, personal attack, absurd situations, and extravagant burlesque were important.”  And finally, from a book, The Circus, Venuses of the Age.

I had been thinking about my daughter…her recent move to Vancouver, a dance production titled Bloom and her classes in burlesque.  I thought about her exploration of the ocean views and her discovering of nature.  I found this quote, in Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass…To Old Age and included it in my painting.

“I see in you the estuary that enlarges and spreads itself grandly as it pours in the great sea.”

I am grateful to Belinda Fireman, my painting buddy, who generously purchased this at auction.  It was good to meet you, Rose.  Congratulations to Karen on a beautiful exhibit and gratitude to Elijah who has done such a professional job with the exhibit space.  Thanks to the public…when we come out of our painting frenzy, it is such a warm and wonderful thing to see all of your faces!

Pour Into the Great Sea 4 Aaron

Pour Into the Great Sea Photo Credit: Aaron McCullough

Pour Into the Great Sea3Aaron

Pour Into the Great Sea Photo Credit: Aaron McCullough

Pour Into the Great Sea 2

Photo Credit: Belinda Fireman

Pour Into the Great Sea

Photo Credit: Belinda Fireman

Gorilla House LIVE ART: September 5, 2012

Oh my gosh…this painting was a struggle! This is one where I would like to see time lapsed photography of the process because it evolved so much over a two hour period.  The concepts were flunkies (or some such thing) from night school, bikes and seven hearts.  I decided to focus on a single theme, the seven hearts.  The midnight riders of last week had frustrated me a tad, so I knew that I really didn’t want to tackle that one.  Night was also a concept that I didn’t want to take on.

So…first of all I related with the number concept of ‘seven’.  I think that I’ve always seen that as my ‘lucky number’.  Hmmm…what is that?  I’ve never won anything because of the number seven.  It has not played any pertinent role in my life!  Why would I even perceive it as ‘lucky’.  Ooogie boogie…really!

Anyway, embedded in the piece is a portion of chapter seven from each book in the Old Testament…they read from Genesis, right to left…and then on into the Gospels…ending though, in Luke.  This was a bit of a time USER, so, do I regret it?  No.

Next, I applied a prism of tissue as my ground, from top of composition to bottom, beginning with violet.  This was a decision that, in the end, haunted me because I struggled with colour scheme throughout the exercise.  I had seven roses in my mind as an actual depiction, but when I used my red…it was just too warm when placed on top of its violet and cool blue surroundings.  In retrospect, I would have sketched in my space for the roses and built the texture up to and around the foreground, developing the roses from the very beginnings.

This is where the push and pull began to occur.  I placed the primary rose too low in the composition and too central.  After applying generous paint, I then had to remove it and altar the placement.  Colours began to muddy and I thought that I was in trouble.

I ended up pulling a wash of gold over most of the piece to create unity and then worked pthalo blue into the bottom third to push back the remaining tissue story (yellow,orange and red), leaving just enough of an underpinning to resonate with the red in the roses.  I changed the placement of the primary rose left of center and built gestures of six others to pull the eye through the composition.  Sigh…

It was during the final five minutes that I resolved the composition and that in itself, was a relief.  I find it very interesting that a single decision in colour or the placement of an element may steer your piece into a direction that doesn’t work and then you have to pull the entire composition BACK or remove the element.  It’s a push and pull thing throughout the experience.  The entire process left me wasted.  I’m smiling as I type this because the truth is, nothing can be more wonderful than being given a challenge and then seeing it right through to the end.

Thanks to Paul and Emma for purchasing the piece at auction.  As the result of the challenges I faced, the piece ended up with a sense of multiple layers and a rich textured surface.  Let us not even speak of the colour!

Thanks for the photo, Belinda!!

I can only hope that someone at the event caught some images of the process.  I would really enjoy seeing how I progressed through the piece.  It’s one thing to tell the story, but it would be quite another to see it.  This is the benefit for the people who attend the Gorilla House!  They are able to observe the process as nearly 30 people create amazing work.


Talking about life…art…wood…dreams.

My ideas usually come not at my desk writing but in the midst of living. Anais Nin

Gorilla House LIVE ART: August 8, 2012

I will post the video at a later date, but on this post.  For now, I’m including a few archives of last evening’s art battles.  The inspired concepts drawn for last evening’s piece were fairly abstract, I thought….and so, that’s where I went with my painting.  The concepts were 1. Lies 2. Two points and 3. Vanilla.

I went immediately to a 1970s National Geographic archive titled Where Oil and Wildlife Meet.  I thought that no matter what side you take with the issues of oil, sustainability, climate and wildlife, you might perceive the ‘other’ side to be telling lies.  I then focused on the concept of two points…linking it with the first issue I mentioned here.  From there, I thought of balance…and developed the three spheres, beginning with the white one (vanilla) linking the previous TWO POINTS.  The vanilla sphere is the quintessential 3D form; gradations of value, grounded, evidence of a light source, shadow…it is very physical, very tangible.  The red sphere represents passion, ideas, issues, anger, fear and it degrades and feels somehow less resolved than the white sphere.  The gold medallion…one dimensional, flat, about currency, cost, boundaries, revenue.

I like this piece and could have worked on it beyond the two hours allotted, but the Gorilla House contributes to an artist’s madness during the creative process/impulse and then , at auction, instantaneously, finds the work dashed into someone’s hands and home.  An interesting process!  Sarah, acquired the piece.


My Friend: W.H.Webb

That’s Bill on the Left.

To most, he is an artist, but to me, he is a friend.  Bill Webb and I were connected by painting during the Alberta Centennial Exhibit hosted by the West End Gallery in Edmonton.  We shared the exhibit with Walter Drohan, Glen Semple and Don Toney.  I wrote in October of 2005, the following…

“Bill Webb.  Well…what can I say about him?  He is an absolutely marvellous person!  He is so interested in hearing from others and he REALLY listens.  He included everyone in conversation and listened with intention.  I knew that Bill was listening to me by the next question he would ask.  Only certain people can do that; keep their focus on others, rather than themselves.  Bill has that gift.  We had great discussion about his grand-daughter Emily-Ann who walked up to one of my paintings and asked, “Why are the leaves turning?”  We spoke of gator board and shipping art and framing art and stretching canvas.  We spoke about transparency and gesso and all things artistic and otherwise.  It was completely remarkable!  It was so very special.  He turned off the road toward Camrose…but had led us to the edge of the city after the event.  It was a warm gesture to share a hug through the open van window and to wish us safe travel.  W.H.Webb to Canada and the world……Bill to me.”

Celebration Dinner

Since 2005, we have shared many wonderful conversations about art (good and bad), books (good and bad) and life (good and bad).  We’ve also climbed Chapel Rock, a beautiful hike that opens up to the Livingston Range, a place close to W.H. for the people who live nearby and the sprawling landscape.

View From Chapel Rock Lunch Stop

Oh!  And we’ve shared lots of GOOD food; let us not forget that!  This weekend Bill is enjoying another exhibit after a couple of months of very concentrated work in the studio.  This is why I’m taking the time to recognize his efforts.  I am very proud of him and want to share some of Bill’s process, archived on a trip up to Forestburg to the W.H. Webb Studio, a place we informally refer to as the northern studio.

W.H. Webb Studio

The thing about going north, was that I learned about the wide open spaces that surround the northern studio.

Red Tractor...where else?  Suspended before a blue screen of Alberta sky.

Red Tractor…where else? Suspended before a blue screen of Alberta sky.

A view, yummy enough to want to paint.

The neighbour’s work place.

I also learned that Bill enjoys ballroom dancing and that he has adopted several cats and a beautiful dog over time.  His cats have a good home with him.

Now an angel…sleeping on the property.

Bill uses the written word to be creative, both in journalling and in writing letters.  He creates photo albums with a twist and belongs to a special Film Society that meets regularly with friends near and on :0) Lumbreck Falls. As well, Bill enjoys many ‘magical’ friendships to the north of Alberta and always has time for an intelligent conversation on history, religion, teaching and all else.

It’s hard to tell, I know, but these two listen to Opera in the evenings, while sharing a sip or two.

It takes some sort of artist to share in these sorts of experiences…calving time, harvest, keeping the driveway clear of snow and keeping the lawns mowed!

Springtime…and new life!

So, it is plain to see that this is a multi-faceted artist, Mr. W.H. Webb.  Sometimes he just amazes, particularly when he took on the challenge to read Moby Dick, cover-to-cover!  Now, on to his process!

Air-brushed sky for that pristine Alberta-sensibility.

The reader will notice right away that this studio is pristine, also…very light on decoration OR clutter, quite a contrast to the southern studio.

Southern Studio

Underpainting vegetation…the small strokes of paint begin with almost an umber underpainting…some cool tones, some warm.  The darkest values first and a very gradual build up to the lightest tints.

Close-up underpainting.

The colour is applied…rich variety of greens…acrylic paint.

Home base.

There are many trips back and forth from this palette to the wall-mounted easel.  There is an exact science to this!

The image is projected…not so easy as you might think.

I know…this might come as a shock to some of you, but honestly, this technique and incorporation of technology has been used for a zillion years (not quite) to master proportions and such…more recently, an approach used by Ted Godwin and others.

The apparent building up of layers.

Max is sleeping, at this very moment on the red chair, just under a W.H.Webb piece.

My boy, Max, 1:00 a.m.

Thursday night the West End will be hosting a lovely wine and cheese event to celebrate Bill’s new work and then an opening on Saturday.  I am sending Bill much success for the weekend.  He is a true friend and I am grateful to know him.  Best wishes, Bill.

Sometimes Paint is Ugly Stuff

Good-bye Green: Hello White

As I use stripper to remove the suffocating coats of paint off of this vanity, I can’t help but think that paint is ugly stuff.  I remember back in the late 50s-early 60s, it seemed that it was vogue for my parents and our military neighbours to paint absolutely everything, especially the kitchen table.  I remember at one time, the kitchen table took on a splattered paint effect, something that would never be considered in today’s world.  I can google images and still not come up with an example of this particular popular treatment.  If you know what paint treatment I’m referring to, please send me a link.

Seeing the damaged veneer of this particular vanity, I am left with thoughts of wood and its beauty.  Sometimes paint is just ugly.  This piece is so badly damaged that I will create a piece of art out of its bones; better that I collect it from freecycle and give it a new life than to have it discarded.  Ironically, I will achieve this using more paint! I hope my readers enjoy watching it transform.

Drawers Prepared for Sanding

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.