Here’s another new painting. This one is a round painting, a tondo if we want to get all Renaissance today. Here is The Source.
This painting is oil on panel and it is 2 feet in diameter. This is by no means the first time I’ve made a painting called the Source. The first one was in 1998. I exhibited it in an exhibition I co-organized called Canadian Shield. This painting is a large diptych which I still have. It still holds up as far as I’m concerned, although I should say this painting was not well received when I made it.
I revisited the theme in 2005 with 3 round paintings. Here are two of them…
The Source, 2005, acrylic on panel
The 2005 paintings were made with acrlyic paint, also on panel. I had 4 panels made at the time and did 3 in the series in 2005. The painting I just completed is on the 4th panel. I exhibited the earlier round ones at NSCAD in Halifax a few years ago. I don’t have any plans to exhibit any of the new paintings.
Over the years I’ve made paintings with all kinds of different titles, but there are a small number of titles that I’ve used a number of times, The Source being one of them. The others that come to mind are Underground, Lost Forest and The Forest of No Return, and Sky Dragons.
This is a small oil painting – I think it is 12″X9″. This one was kicking around my studio unfinished for a really long time. I left it up on my painting wall but I had stopped working on it ages ago. I thought I had reached some kind of painterly cul de sac on this one but I left it up anyway. This morning I was working on some other things when I started seeing this one a little differently and went to work on it. This sparse little painting is called The Sky is Falling.
The Sky is Falling
I was very conscious of not over-working this one. My thought was that a painting that sat unfinished for so long should retain some of that quality, so I worked up the image keeping it as gestural as I could live with. This one is oil on canvas by the way.
I was living in a storefront studio on Ossington Ave back in the mid-eighties, half a block up from Queen. It was set up with a painting studio at the front and a couple built-in bookshelf dividers behind which was my little living area.Then back through the door there was a modest kitchen, stairs to the basement and in behind, another studio. We shared the kitchen and the basement and the bathroom, which was also downstairs. It was a bit rough and ready but in many ways I loved that place.
I was in my twenties and at that time I was a painting fiend. I got a job working part time every evening to support my art habit. I’d start work at 7 and finish at 11:30 or midnight, then I’d come home and paint late into the night. I was making paintings that were kind apocalyptic post-industrial ruins. I don’t think I have any from that series anymore, but I do know where one of them is, safe and hanging.
In those days I couldn’t just walk in and start painting. It took me a while to settle down to the right state of mind before I could do any worthwhile work. Each session, I would start with a little studio clean-up. I’d sweep, put away a few things, organize a little, then sit down and look at the paintings, really look at them for a long while without picking up a brush. Then at a certain point I’d be on my feet, brush in hand and I’d be into it for hours before stepping back and taking a break. Later I learned to dispense with the ritual clean-up. With experience it became easier to jump right in and get to work.
Those days I slept late because I stayed up late. I’d get up and take a shower at 11 or later, put coffee on, maybe walk down the street for a little something from the Portuguese bakery on the corner and start in painting as I finished up my coffee. On the particular day I’m thinking about I was really deep into the work. I had made a breakthrough with this painting the night before that changed the direction of the work. I was working at a feverish pace. I remember the painting, although I no longer have it and I don’t even have any photo documentation of it. It was called The New Murphy Power Plant. I believe I gave that painting to a friend, someone I have been out of touch with for many years, and so I have no idea where it might be today.
This painting had some kind of ruined landscape in it but as desolate as it was, the smokestack continued to spew out chemical greens and purples. It was the green and purple spew I was working on when I smelled it, faintly at first then stronger. And the stronger the smell became, the more intense my painting experience became, and with that the more expressive each brushstroke became. I recall thinking how strange that I can smell the smoke from this smokestack. What a painting breakthrough. The room fills with odours appropriate to the content of the painting I’m working on. Fantastic!
Then I snapped out of it, dropped my brush and ran to the kitchen. My studio-mate at the time had put some bread in the beat up old toaster we had and then returned to the rear studio to talk on the phone. By the time I got to the kitchen it was filled with smoke and small flames were shooting out of the toaster. Fortunately we didn’t burn down the place.
Today, I can visualize parts of the New Murphy Power Plant but I can’t see it all in my mind’s eye. I haven’t seen this painting in over a quarter of a century, and for all I know I may never see it again. I’ll never forget the experience I had painting though, the day I was so on, I could smell the content of my painting.
Here is another recent painting. Like the last one I posted, Lost Forest is smallish (a couple feet wide) and again painted with oils. There is a lot of detail, particularly textural, that is lost in the photograph, but then it’s a painting and not a digital image, and it’s built up and scraped and over-painted and scraped again. There has been stuff stuck to it and then ripped off, leaving glue residue. There has even been some stenciling done at one stage. I think looking at the actual painting, you can pick up on some of that history, but in the photo is seems more unified as an image. I think we live in a culture where many people have become used to looking at pictures of any sort on a computer or on a phone and sometimes I think that’s a shame. Making a painting makes me feel I’m in touch with early image-makers, drawing on a rock wall or scratching an image in the sand. I like that these paintings are slow. They take a long time. Sometimes they’re fugitive. I get close to an image and I back away or paint over or change it into something else. How many sessions does it take? This one was started years ago and abandoned. I keep a bunch of old abandoned paintings around, paintings that have lost their way, paintings that won’t settle. After all that time, are they starting points for new paintings, or did I just need to take a little rest for a few years before giving it another go?
This is a smallish (a couple feet wide) recent diptych called Broadcast. It’s an oil painting, created over quite a number of sessions. Although it is difficult to photograph well (for a bad photographer with a point and shoot camera), I think you can get an idea of the textures coming up from earlier iterations as the image developed over time. Some readers may recall seeing an earlier version of this painting in which the left panel was much different but the right panel largely mostly similar.
This post about Ferropolis comes to you courtesy of The Presurfer. The Presurfer is a blog run by Gerard Vlemmings. I’ve been checking in there fairly regularly for several years. I enjoy it because you never know what you’re going to see over there. Ferropolis is an open-air museum near Dessau Germany containing huge machinery, giant monuments to twentieth century industry.
Many years ago, back in the 80s, I made quite a few paintings that featured ruins of industry in the landscape. The first of them is called The Architect. That painting was made with oil paint on canvas back in the first studio I had after university, on Clendenan Ave. in the area of Toronto we call the Junction. It must have 1984 or 1985. This painting is not too big – maybe 3 feet wide. Although this painting hung in a friend’s house for a number of years, that turned out to be a temporary home for it and I’ve had it since. I don’t believe I’ve ever exhibited this one. It still resonates for me in all kinds of ways and as well it reminds me of where I was and what I was doing at the time. I’d like to one day find a permanent home for this painting and see it hanging again. If you see the picture and fall in love with the painting, I’m open to serious offers.
Another painting from that group of industrial painting is this one, a painting that does have a good home. By the time I made this painting, I had changed studios and was living and working in an old storefront on Ossington Ave between Queen and Dundas. Some of you may know that area because it is now the home of a bunch of swanky restaurants, but back in the mid-80s it was a quiet street with a few kitchen reno shops, a sign-writer, a Portugese bakery and so on. Later, much of that section of the street turned into Vietnamese coffee joints – the ones with the blackened windows and the pink and black signs. At any rate, I still like the painting a lot. I don’t recall if I titled it at the time. I might have titled it later on. I really don’t remember and I don’t associate this one with a title. This is an oil painting too, bigger, close to six feet wide. It has an unusual worked matte quality to the paint which is hard to explain and hard to photograph. I can only say that it gives the feeling that the orb in the painting is sitting on the edge of an endless abyss.
I think those are the only two of that group of paintings that I can place. There is one called The New Murphy Power Plant that I gave to a friend at the time, someone I knew from University. I have no idea if she still has it or even where she is for that matter. I never photographed that painting (yeah I know, how dumb was that?) but one day it would be really interesting to see it again.
There was one called The Bad Inventor and a couple others that I destroyed along the way. There was also my favourite of the bunch, a large painting called The Listening Machine, a painting that was unfortunately irreparably damaged in storage. This was another oil painting, with a highly textured surface. I exhibited the Listening Machine in a studio show I had at my Ossington studio back in the 80s.
We ventured out to Bloor St W this afternoon for the opening of an exhibition of paintings by Claude Breeze. Of course we brought Memphis and Ellie Mae along. The show is at Robert Kananaj Gallery on Bloor near Landsdowne.
I’ve known Claude and his partner Ardis since about 1981 or maybe even 1980, when Claude was my painting professor at York University. For this exhibition Claude is exhibiting work from a few different streams in his current painting. The show even has some objects, wall-pieces made from broken dolls. There’s plenty to look at and plenty to think about too, as well as a wide range of emotional content. I enjoy the playfulness in Claude’s paintings but at the same time, some of them have a very dark edge about them.
Several days ago, I posted some pictures of a small group of constructions I’ve been working on. These things have been gnawing at my ever so tiny brain and I can’t keep my hands off them.
Finally, I tore one of them apart and added on another. That’s better. That process of tearing down and rebuilding has haunted my work as long as I can remember. Making a piece sometimes seems like a long series of false starts, that is, until it isn’t a false start anymore.
8 / 73 is the last of this group of small constructions, at least for now, as I turn my attention back to painting. It’s the only one in the group that features instructions: READ THE MANUAL BEFORE INSTALLING. Who does that?
It turns out that you can glue a chunk of metal to a piece of foam with a glue gun, as long as you wait just a little bit so the melted glue isn’t hot enough to melt the foam. Hmmm…Maybe I should have just used gorilla glue or epoxy instead.
I’m reminded of something once said by Italian painter Enrico Baj. He had discovered epoxy, which I suppose was new to the world at that time. Baj was making paintings of generals and gluing actual WWII medals to their chests, decorating them with all the honours he could conceive. Baj called epoxy (I paraphrase) that portencious paste that allows me to glue anything to anything, even dreams, even memories.