Last year (2011) a patron commissioned me to do a book of drawings. He gave me a free hand
to do as I wished. The result was about 55 mixed media works -- coloured pencils, india ink,
acrylic ink, acrylic paint. gold leaf on archival paper. You can find a few details about this commission on my
blog, Nutzenbolts. Earlier posts show details about the DYI
book binding process I went through, including the building of a book press, as I bond the drawings into a book.
Since then I have been inspired to continue with this type of drawing, adn will make more books of this type.
The series on this website, PHI, is based on the ancient concept of the Golden Mean, with one side of the rectangle
equaling one unit long and the other side approximately 1.6180 3398 87... units long. My driving
idea remains the same: finding the joy inherent in life by arranging line and colour.
The nice thing about working small on paper is that the pieces can be kept affordable for collectors
who might not be able to afford my larger work.
All drawings in the PHI series cost $50 + $5 mailing = $55, all taxwes included. If you would like
one of these works please contact me. Credit cards accepted. I will be checking the site every day or so and will
immediately send out your purchase. It will arrive at your mailing address in a few days dependent on the
speed of the mails.
See page 23.
Check out an article about me in Aqua magazine
To write effectively about my work, I must first mention Rothko as he has inspired much of my present
thinking about art, albeit in a rather contrary manner. It can be argued that Rothko often painted away from the
center towards Thanatos, the
universal, regenerative principle of destruction that hovers over our shoulders, reminding us of the fleeting nature
of our lives.
But the principle of Thanatos comprises only one half of all things. My purpose in painting is to explore the
other side of that coin, to attempt a balancing view to that of Rothko. This brings me to Eros, the universal
principle of generation, that which throws us, kicking and screaming, into a reality both incredibly sad and
poignantly worrying, but which is also mysterious, thrilling and radiant.
I know of more than one person, who on first seeing the Rothkos at the Tate, burst into tears. I hope that in
looking at my non-representational surfaces, one might be stabbed with pleasure on seeing mere paint
express the exuberant promise of existence.
I paint primarily in transparent glazes, using far more medium than colour, layer after layer, in some areas
as much as 100 thin coats of paint, building up an illusion of depth that easily confuses my digital camera,
making it difficult to get the painting to come into focus. The camera attempts to read deeper into the picture plane
than is possible. And as I paint large, often over four or five feet square, sometimes six feet wide, the impact
of my paintings are hard to capture in small photographs or on the web. I hope that my collage of
twelve details will give you some idea of my technique.
Shorelines. The margin between the pasture and the forest. Cold fronts and warm fronts. The horizon, a line demarcating the change from the earth to the sky. Territorial boundaries acting as frontiers, drawing lines between supposedly different kinds of people. My space, your space. Inside, outside. Perception and reality. All these interfaces are thin, permeable, fractal, conditional, smuggled over.
Our belief that borders are hard and immutable is merely an illusory product of our need to make sense out of and to manipulate reality but in order to fulfil this need we only have the use of the brain, a tool with a limited ability to perceive things as they are. Yet it is with this faulty tool that we try to understand reality. More startling, it is this same faulty brain that fabricates the significant stories we believe in. Reality is, however, far too complex for any of us to have a true sense of it.
In my paintings, I am interested in exploring the limits of our brains' capacity to convince ourselves that we are seeing hard, concrete, separate realities in spite of the fact that at a fundamental level, everything bleeds into everything else, that edges are not solidly demarcated, that nothing is the same from one second to the next, that everything mutates. The brain takes the limited amount that it can see and tries to force these error prone perceptions into fixed ideas concerning reality. Is there a point at which the intellectual brain gives up and learns to love the reality of overwhelming, incomprehensible complexity?
In my abstract paintings I am trying to show how things transform, but more importantly, I am trying to explore how our brains function. I try to do this by 1) reducing the symbolic content available to the eye and by 2) reducing, to a bare minimum, the standard indicators of 'object' from the picture plane. In effect I am trying to elicit from the viewer an emotional reaction to raw stuff without allowing the viewer to engage the fallible crutch of personally significant narration.
To anyone who hates abstract art:
Every representational painting, whether it be of a simple apple, a complex battle scene, or a portrait, is fundamentally an abstraction. The painter abstracts out a small selection of reference points from the reality and re-interprets them on a surface. At no point can it be said that the painted object is the complete and real object. A painting is always a pretence, yet when judging representational paintings many people talk about how real the represented object seems.
In response to the ever present threat of mortality, our brains have developed the ability to recognize real things when given only a limited number of visual clues, to recognize the overall pattern when presented with only a few parts of a real object. We see the leopard even though the spotted beast is hidden in the dappled forest. The visual artist takes advantage of our brain's predilection for pattern recognition and uses it to trick us into seeing a real object where in reality all there is on the surface of a painting is a relatively small number of chaotic marks dabbed on with paint. When we see something in the paint that convinces us of the painting's identity with a real object, we give value to the artist for his/her ability to trick us into seeing a concrete thing. This praised trickery is the least valuable part of an artist's business.
When presented with a painting wherein the artist foils the brain's trick of turning abstract marks into a pretence of a real object, when all that is left to us is the artist's exploration of pure abstraction (non-objectivity), many people balk at accepting the value of the work. The cliche is, My kid could paint that. Or, Who would pay that kind of money for a few splashes of paint? The truth is both that the kid could not have painted 'that', and that many intelligent people with a good grounding in business and art do pay big bucks for some very non-representational art.
The Mona Lisa is a canvas covered with abstracted smears of paint. Yes, it represents a supposedly real situation and person. But the Mona Lisa is something more than a picture of a person. It has gained fame because it has about it some indefinable sense of life, or movement, or vibrancy, or spirit. We can't really say what that 'Something More' is, we can only look and be amazed. In fact, any good representational painting is not really about the object depicted but about that undefinable Something More. With respect to the Mona Lisa, people have explained away that Something More by reiterating the cliche, It's the smile. But it is not the smile -- although the representation of the smile may be the vehicle for it.
It is safe to say that all the great artists of the past (and all those among us today who will prove to be great) did not care primarily about the ostensible subject matter, the object. The superficial subject matter was and is only a medium to carry that which was (and is) really important to the artist: the Something More. In non-objective, abstract painting there is no subject other than that Something More.
The danger constantly exists of a disconnect, a misunderstanding between the artist and the consumer. The consumer may want a picture of himself doing some significant deed or standing in a proud pose. But the artist, hopefully, in doing the portrait (or what ever) is trying to show the amazing mystery of being, the Something More, as it is made manifest through the subject/object. This is what art is. Any painting/drawing/sculpture done from a spirit other than this is likely to be illustration -- which is a perfectly valid thing in itself but which is different altogether from art and should rightly be judged on its verisimilitude to the object it is supposed to portray (although there is nothing to stop illustration from also having a little, or a lot, of the Something More -- and the best illustrations always do).
A non-objective painting, does not present an identifiable object, but it must have that Something More or it will not work. Why then do so many people reject the possibility that abstract paintings could have anything to say to them when they readily accept the interaction they have with representational paintings, given that representations themselves are really only abstractions?
One is tempted to speculate that the large amount of time the artist has invested in his/her craft allows them to become fluent in a language that is foreign to the casual viewer of art. It is as if artists have spent all their lives learning to speak a language that the viewer is sometimes only casually familiar with. Painting a picture of an apple (a recognizable 'word'/object) allows the viewer an easy, and simplistic, route into the purpose/meaning of the painting. The hope is that after a while the deeper intent that the artist had in painting the apple (or what ever) will become more evident to the persistent viewer who becomes more and more familiar with the overall language. With abstractions that completely remove the contrivance of a recognizable object, it will be more difficult to understand the artistic language sufficiently enough to apprehend the Something More if we are in the habit of giving a painting only a casual glance. This is because the language spoken in abstractions contains harder, less familiar 'words'. If abstract paintings are an incomprehensible foreign language to you, maybe the following will help:
The skills required to do abstract paintings are exactly the same as those required to do representational pieces: line, form, shade, colour, composition, balance, perspective, etc., and etc. If ever you stand before an abstract piece and fail to understand it, it may well be that the artist actually did not know what they were doing. But representational artists can also fail to paint well because they do not know what they are doing, having failed to gain the above mentioned skills. But maybe if you 1) look at the abstract painting in terms of the application of the above skills, 2) give up the need for a recognizable object, and 3) let the painting speak to your emotional being rather than to your intellectual brain's need to fashion stories, something of the artist's intent might speak to you. In a country that uses a language unfamiliar to you, you can go a long way by using a smile, a few gestures and a lot of good will.
Painting is, for me, as good as meditation. The mind falls away. Calmness reigns. Hours pass while travelling in this other country,
and there are surprises around every corner. My blood pressure goes way down, which is to the good. I'm a studio painter.
Finishing a painting takes too long to allow me to paint in plain air. If I were to sit out under the sun working, I soon would be
sitting out under the moon (and then the sun, and then the moon, again and again) before I reached any ending to a painting.
The problem is that I paint predominantly with glazes, thinned down colours, transparent or translucent, layer after layer,
up to a hundred layers thick in some places on the board, building up colour like thin sheets of overlapping glass. Even my darkest colours
are transparent. I'm looking for clear depth, reletively thick but transparent enough that light can pass between the particles
of pigment, bounce around inside the layers, reflect off both the white ground and the various colours then back out at the
viewer. From any point in the painting, light of every colour should be making it to the eye. Only at the end do I start using
opaques as a contrast to the transparent. This process is time consuming, and therefore, rather than painting in the open,
I have to use sketches, small paintings from the real, and yes, even the dreaded photograph as resource material. Thankfully,
through years of just plain looking, I have developed a relatively good memory for colour and composition, and I have become
blessed with an active, visual imagination.
The works in the 'Ice on the Rocks' series are primarily representational. I find that it is necessary to do representational
works so that I become familiar enough with particular parts of real places before I can move on to the more difficult task of
interpreting reality through abstraction. I like to work both ends and the middle of the reality/abstraction dichotomy because
abstraction allows a different type of emotional interaction with a painting than does representation. First I do some sketches.
Then I do a few small paintings before working my way up in board size. (I work on wood not canvas. Canvas is too soft and the
surface retreats too much from the brush stroke for my liking). Only then, in a step wise fashion, board after board, do I start on
the difficult process of exploding the subject in both figurative time (keep looking and it becomes serial time) and in 2-D (or is that
actually a thin 3-D) space. I hope that by this process I can catalogue a diverse but expressive interpretation of the emotional
power of reality.
My central concern is the question, why does anything exist? The fact of existance is fascinating
and astonishing. The universe is inexplicable, improbable, and totally incomprehensible, yet it teems
and riots around us. Compared to the massive size of the universe, we are small, and it can terrify us if we look closely
at creation's incredible vibrancy. But it is important for us to attend to everything around us. If we don't,
we might never know who we are nor how we fit into reality. By looking and then painting, I try to contemplate the
utter mystery of existence. What I see underpinning reality is that, even on the stillest day,
everything is in movement and everything changes. Identity is mutable, nothing is permanent. Things go in and out
of each other through the most amazing transformations. The wind scims water off the surface of the sea and sends
it into the air to condence into clouds only in turn to fall as rain. Rushing streams grind down rocks and deposit
the grit into the sea where over eons it becomes rock anew. And from sandy soil, trees grow tall enough to be blown
down by the wind to enrich the soil. Lining the streets of a west coast city, a forest of holly trees grows out of the
high crotches of ancient oaks and maples. Everything is energetically chaotic,changing places; and on our good days,
we allow ourselves to see its beauty. I use my paintings to abstract out what I perceive
to be the most intriguing, energetic and beautiful bits of the world. I try to explore the fine line between
chaos and order, the knife edge of existence.
Shamans, from every time and place,
would often find their heirs
in those children who took delight
in seeing unworldly beings,
creatures and faces take shape
in random rocks, sticks and clouds.
I believe that a visual artist, although generations
removed from the ancestor shaman, is someone who,
by interpreting the ineffable mystery of being,
makes a suggestive representation
of the exuberant spirit inherent in all things,
and who does so by using the simplest of materials.
In my paintings (using wood boards, ground pigments, plastic medium)I try to show
what I see of the Earth's life force as it is revealed
in the chaos of its diverse geology and life forms. I try to abstract out the teeming
beauty of raw existence and distil it into an artefact, a visual
mnemonic, a contemplative device to help strengthen an
awareness of the necessary connection that exists between the viewer and the
mystery inherent in the world we live in.
In my sculptural work, using simple stuff a lump of firewood
or a rotting stump I try to show how all things strive to rise up
and join the complex symphony of active life. My intent is to
document the Universal--urge--to--become.
I was taking a number of third and fourth year studio courses in York University's Fine Arts department when one of my
professors told me he thought it would be better for me if I simply went out and became a practicing artist
(I was doing a lot of conceptual stuff at the time). I ignored his friendly advice for the next 28 years.
Instead, I worked as a boat builder, furniture builder, cabinet maker and house carpenter. I only painted and
sculpted when I could squeeze in the time. I moved to Galiano in 1989 and in 1990 started working at the
Sturdies Bay ferry terminal, building my own home in my spare time. It wasn't until 2005 that I made
visual arts my full time occupation/obsession. Since then I have curated a number of shows with Kenna Fair
and in 2008 I was one of a group of artists who founded Island's Edge Gallery of Fine Art.