Five Miles From Town

IMG_2593I’d like to give you a sneak peak tonight into the goings on in my little basement studio. I’ve got a number of smallish canvases on the go and some of them are beginning to assert themselves as paintings. This one is called Five Miles from Town.

The title of this painting comes from the title of an old time fiddle tune. Readers not familiar with old time music might not know the tune, so here it is beautifully performed by Pete Sutherland & Brad Kolodner (from the YouTube).

A Lost Forest painting not in my spring exhibition

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy Paintings from the Lost Forest exhibition this spring at Yumart featured oil paintings with a high level of impasto.  I tried to make full use of a variety of surface qualities and textures as I built up the images over time.

However, there is a painting called Lost Forest from 2011 that has a much different feel, a different language, that used different materials and techniques. Like some of the later paintings, this one is a small diptych, but in character it is much different than the others. I make no apologies for making some paintings that may seem like anomalies within the larger body of my work.

This painting was built in layers over a series of sessions just like the others, and while there are some textural elements betraying some of the history of the image, it was mostly built with layers of acrylic paint thinned with water. In fact I recall painting it with a brush in one hand and a spray bottle in the other. There is no medium or varnish applied on top of the finished painting and it has a surface that is matte but still has some depth about it.

I was reminded of this painting last weekend, foraging for mushrooms in the drizzling rain in a drenched forest at Go Home Lake. Perhaps it was a case of life imitating art. The forms are obscured, dripping. They seem to me to be on the cusp of becoming something else, but what exactly I can’t say.

This painting is an orphan. It’s one of the Lost Forest pieces, but anybody playing “which of these  pictures doesn’t belong” would pick this one from among the others in a flash. I like it because it’s an orphan and because I used different tools and techniques within the same kind of thematic backdrop. I have this one here at 27th Street. I don’t know if it will ever be exhibited – although perhaps one day I’ll do an exhibition of paintings that don’t quite fit in.

 

Summer Salon at Yumart

I’m participating in an upcoming Summer Salon exhibition at Yumart.

Opening Reception: Saturday July 26th, 2014 2:00 – 5:00 p.m. Exhibition continues to Saturday August 16th.

This is a show that will be packed full of work by the following participating artists:  Isaac Applebaum, Christopher Arnoldin, Karen Miranda Augustine, Carlos Bique, Richard Bonderenko, Robert Chandler, Gary Michael Dault, Tim Deverell, Larry Dickison, Stephen Forsyth, Ashley Johnson, Stuart Kinmond, Eugene Knapik, Lee Lamothe, Sandra Lewis, Erin MacKeen, Mahmoud Meraji, Wayne Moore, Dawn Mourning, Tim Noonan, Francisco A.G. Rocha, Brent Roe, Joe Rosenblatt, Robert Schwager, Peter Templeman, Deirdre Tara Whelan, Y.M. Whelan and a.k.a. yum. Also included in the salon will be works from the yumart permanent collection including Ronald Bloore, David Bolduc and Richard Gorman.

I will be exhibiting a couple blasts from the past – 2 woodcut prints from the series I did way back in 1987. Perhaps there is a reader or two who remembers these from my exhibition of these woodcuts at a little storefront gallery on Harbord St, back in the day. Since then, the remaining prints have mostly been hidden away in the vaults. Those of you who enjoyed my recent Paintings from the Lost Forest exhibition might find it interesting to see what I was up to in the studio back in the 80s. I like to think that these woodcuts still hold up today. At least, I still enjoy looking at them.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it to the opening reception for this show, as I’ll be up in Uxbridge for a family wedding. However, I will be dropping by the gallery from time to time during the exhibition and if anyone wants to meet me there, email me.

A few thoughts on Paintings from the Lost Forest

Regular readers know that I have a painting show happening now at Yumart, here in Toronto. I don’t usually write much about my paintings. I like to let them speak for themselves. However, I was asked quite a few questions about the works at the opening last Saturday, and subsequently, I made a few notes about the paintings I’d like to share.

My paintings often take a very long time to stew, and I’ve been working on some of the paintings in this exhibition on and off for years. I work on several paintings at once, invent them and reinvent them as I go, without any pre-planning or preliminary drawings. Sometimes I’ll hit a dead end with a painting and I’ll put it aside. Days or weeks or months later, I’ll see it differently and add it back into the mix. I paint on the floor or on the wall or leaning on a paint can. I turn them upside down and I turn them sideways. At times I can work for a very long time and never seem to get anywhere, and yet at other times, several paintings come together at once.

The whole business remains a mystery to me. When I’m starting new works and I look at my last set of paintings, my usual reaction is, how did I make these things? I think that is one of the things that draws me back to painting again and again and again.

Some people have commented that these are landscape paintings. I don’t think of them quite in those terms, but no doubt there are elements of the land in my paintings. For starters they’re built up over time like the duff on a forest floor. In the forest, of course, the layers rot away and tell the story of the seasons. In my paintings, it is ideas that are built up, and in some cases scraped away. In the tondo, The Source, I had to use a Dremel tool to remove some previous bad ideas, that’s how pervasive they were. Bad ideas can be stubborn.

The paintings also reflect my interest in mycology (I wander the forests with my Newfoundland dogs, looking for tasty edible mushrooms), entomology (I learned about mayflies, caddisflies, stoneflies and a variety of terrestrial insects while chasing trout with a fly rod in many different streams in Canada and the USA), and the interaction of all kinds of cyclical things in nature and how they relate to one another – the life cycle of mayflies and the feeding habits of trout and swallows, for instance – or the fascinating inter-relationships between fungi and other fungi, and fungi and trees and other plants.

This phenology isn’t something that translates to painting in any kind of literal way. In fact, someone asked me the other day what inspired a certain painting and I found it difficult to answer. I know that my habit of looking at nature close-up has inspired some new painterly language for me, but when I’m painting I’m dealing with forms and colours and textures and surface qualities and at the same time ideas that often conflict and are often coloured by doubt. I’m changing one idea into another, or I’m scraping off an idea that has no legs. Sometimes the paint is wet and changes muddy up the space. At other times the paint is building up so thick that the texture begins to dictate form. I’m working on several paintings at more or less at the same time, and a move I make on one of them can in an instant change the direction of a number of paintings.

The title, Paintings from the Lost Forest, obviously refers to the physical forest, but titles like Lost Forest, or Forest of No Return or The Source or as I have titled some older paintings, Underground, also refers, at least in my mind, to what I’ll call the “well-spring”, that place in my imagination where I’m able to make that magical leap from paint to painting.

I title just about all of my paintings. In Paintings from the Lost Forest there are some repeated titles – Lost Forest for instance, and also Forest of No Return. It wasn’t that I was trying to make a series of paintings with those titles. It was more that I found myself grouping some of the paintings in my mind while I was making them. I borrowed the title for The Source from Courbet. Forest of No Return also has a reference. It comes from a song by that title in the Disney film, Babes in Toyland. One more note on titles – I’ve been asked about Afternoon Tea with AJ – who is AJ? AJ refers to the painter Asger Jorn, co-founder of CoBrA. A form that emerged when I was working on that painting reminded me of something I remembered from one of Jorn’s paintings, and so I gave a nod to him in the title.

Most of my recent paintings (with a few exceptions), have been smallish, falling squarely into a tradition of “easel painting”, although I don’t own an easel. I suppose small paintings have been very much out of fashion for a long time now, perhaps going back to the breakthroughs made by the American AbEx painters. Fortunately, I’ve never been too hung up on fashion. I like that these paintings can hang on a wall in somebody’s living room or rec room or wherever. They don’t need to have a museum environment. Paintings don’t have to have a large physical size to have a large presence, and I like that too.

 

Wet Paint

Less than two weeks before my exhibition at Yumart (which opens the afternoon of the 26th)…..and two of my paintings still have wet paint happening. Yikes! I’m expecting they’ll both have enough skin for safety, but there’s impasto aplenty going on in both of them and it’s going to take a while before they are dry through and through.

There have been times when I’ve worked in acrylics. Curiously, I tend to work thin when I use acrylics. I know of a number of painters who are much more successful than I am at handling the somewhat unforgiving texture of acrylic paint when applied thickly. With acrylics I’ll often have a brush in one hand and a spray bottle in the other and let water become a painting tool. This causes drips and it makes the paint matte, both qualities I like to work with.

72153539_a5481d7b00You can see that with this painting, The Source, which I did a number of years ago. I think I did three tondos in the same vein, featuring foggy, obscured images. Those paintings still resonate with me, although I may be alone in that assessment.

Although acrylic paint has its charms for me, oil paint offers up more range. It dries slowly (unless you add stuff to it to accelerate that action) and various stages of drying each offer their own painterly possibilities. It seems that the smaller the painting, the more impasto I pile on. They may be small objects but I try to make the most of the scale. Some of my larger oil paintings are not so thick.

39339164_30e178adf7Here is one from the mid-90s called Shack Nasty. This one hangs in the home of my friends Jill and Scott. I painted it with oil paint with some spray enamel on canvas. This painting is maybe 6′ X 4′, something like that. It was exhibited in the c.1996 exhibition, one of a number of large-scale group exhibitions we cooked up over the years.

Back WoodsThe paint treatment in Back Woods, one of the new paintings, is more typical of the images you’ll see in the upcoming Paintings from the Lost Forest exhibition at Yumart. This one is just 12″X9″, a small but intense painting. It was built up over a period of years. At times it was abandoned in the studio, trapped in some dead end or another and later righted, re-imagined, pushed back on track. I’ve learned to be patient with my paintings.

Tasty paintings at Yumart

I dropped by the opening reception for Peter Templeman’s exhibition at Yumart this afternoon. I enjoyed the exhibition very much and had an opportunity to chat with Peter about his work. It’s a funny thing – I’ve been aware of Peter’s work for years and he knows my paintings as well – but somehow or another our paths haven’t really crossed before.

IMG_0363

Peter has made a set of tasty, painterly works for this exhibition, rich in texture with images and colours that seem to emerge from the act of painting.

When is a painting finished? When do you stop to breathe? When do you walk away? As a painter, one of the things I experience in the studio is how quickly a painting can resolve itself after days and weeks and months of work. There it is. No fussing about – and yet the story of the painting emerges through its layers as the paint has been built up and scraped off and built up again. I felt a lot of empathy for Peter’s process with these new paintings because they brought to mind my own experience navigating through a painting. I suppose in that way you might say Peter Templeman is a painter’s painter.

Peter’s colours are deceptive. There is a predominate earthiness throughout the exhibition, and yet within each individual painting, there are areas of rich colour that became more obvious to me the more I looked at these paintings. I spent quite a while looking at the show this afternoon, and a number of the paintings – in particular the smaller ones in the group – kept drawing me back in.

IMG_0360

Peter Templeman’s exhibition at Yumart continues until Saturday March 22. Check it out if you can. Yumart is at 101 Spadina Ave here in Toronto, just south of Adelaide on the east side – walk up to the second floor.

A Sneak Peak (or, what does he do down there?)

IMG_0283I’ve been working on several smallish paintings in my little basement studio. Some of these are paintings that have been in play down there for some time (in a couple cases, for years). I even took one painting I thought I had finished some time ago, and re-imagined it.

Here is a painting I finished up today. It’s called Back Woods. I painted it with oil paint on canvas, built up over many sessions. I think it’s something like 9X12″.

The way it goes in the studio…

Some days I envy painters who have the ability to preconceive their paintings. I knew a painter who would make a planning drawing for each painting and even label areas with descriptions of texture and colour. These were like road-maps to his paintings. Then he would attempt to translate the drawing into a painting, coping with all the problems that entailed along the way. I can’t do that.

Part of what keeps me painting is the adventure of it all. I go in without any road-map and without an exit strategy. I don’t make preliminary drawings. There are no dress rehearsals. Believe me when I say there are all kinds of problems with this approach. Sometimes paintings bog down for months or years. I build these things up in layers, creating a new layer with each painting session. They feel very earthy and organic to me. Some paintings need many sessions and many layers before a final image emerges.

This may sound strange but I liken these built-up, layered paintings to compost heaps.

The Source, 2013
The Source, 2013

In a recent tondo called The Source I had reached a point where the layers had become unmanageable. I had worked on this painting off and on for years and it wasn’t going anywhere. I felt the need to pull back some of the layers to create a refreshed painting surface. I went at it with a dremmel tool, using various cutting bits and sanding wheels to strip back layers of paint, exposing hints of ideas from an earlier stage of the painting. I didn’t know if this stripping back business was going to accomplish anything or not. I guess I had reached a cul de sac and needed to open things up again.

Once I opened up the surface, it seemed like the picture was painting itself. I completed the painting in a matter of hours. That’s the way it goes sometimes.

 

Goat’s Song at Yumart

We spent the afternoon at the opening reception of Goat’s Song, a group exhibition at Yumart. A number of old friends came out and it was really great chat with them at the gallery.

Here’s Behzad with one of my paintings in the show, called The Source.

IMG_0020

And here’s a better look at tha painting…it’s a new one, just completed in December.

The Source 2013

I’ll be exhibiting again with a solo show at Yumart in late April.

Two very interesting exhibitions at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection

For those not from around these parts, the McMichael Canadian Collection is an art gallery in Kleinburg, north of Toronto. It started in the 50s as a private collection, focusing on the works of the Group of Seven painters, and later was donated to the province.

As a side note, whenever I hear or see the name “Group of Seven”, (again for those not from around here, this was a group of painters who made their fame making expressive and colourful landscape paintings back in the 1920s and early 30s), I think of my friend and teacher, the late Ron Bloore, who used to declare, “Canadians paint by numbers.” He was referring to the fact that in our twentieth century cultural history, we had the Group of Seven, as well as a group of early Canadian abstractionists, the Painters Eleven and also a group that wasn’t a group at all, the so-called Regina Five – so-called after Bloore titled a show of their work (which included his paintings), Five from Regina. When the exhibition was picked up by the National Gallery, they became known as the Regina Five.  Bloore used to also refer to some of the post-Group of Seven painters as “half-past seven”.

We had not been to McMichael years. Tuffy P heard about the exhibition You Are Here: Kim Dorland and the Return to Painting, and suggested we go check it out. We didn’t want to leave our puppy alone for too long, but we figured there would be little traffic today (there wasn’t) and we could drive up, see the work, and get back in a reasonable time.

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 2.24.18 PM

This is the final week for the Kim Dorland show, so I’m glad we made the effort. From the McMichael website:

With the growth of modern urban life and the rise of abstract art, the practice of painting en plein air—hugely popular at the turn of the twentieth century—fell out of fashion. Over the past few years, however, we have witnessed a slow yet steady resurgence of the painting medium in Canada—both in terms of its presence in the public eye and its appeal to young artists. Toronto-based painter, Kim Dorland, is among those whose work has contributed to the renewed power of the medium.

You Are Here: Kim Dorland and the Return to Painting, reflects this shift and pays homage to a century-old tradition as seen through the eyes of a young Canadian artist whose interest in art is similarly rooted in a strong connection to the land. It is structured around two main objectives: to celebrate the tradition of Canadian landscape painting and; to document a process that results in certain familiar outcomes while remaining highly individual to each artist.

Kim Dorland created an ambitious body of work for the exhibition, work of all sizes, and there’s even a “studio wall” crammed with images. It seemed to me that Dorland was struggling to find a way to respond to the hallowed History of the “Group” and Tom  Thomson, to find a way in that allowed for a fresh look – without becoming mired in cliche.

Some of these paintings feature the thickest impasto I’ve ever seen on paintings, in some cases a few inches thick, so thick that combating gravity must have been a challenge. I thought some of the paintings really hit the mark, and I found myself responding to them viscerally and also as a painter. Others were less successful in my mind, but I appreciated the painter’s honest explorations.
One room featured a wall full of small paintings by The Group and Mr. Thomson and similarly hung Dorland works on the opposite wall. I thought this was overkill. It wasn’t necessary to hit us over the head with the relationship between Dorland’s work and the historical works.
You are Here may be an uneven exhibition, but still overall I found it rich and expressive and honest and ambitious – and quite fun too. If you get a chance to visit McMichael prior to January 5, this show is well worth going out of your way to see.
Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 2.24.33 PM
How do I begin writing about Karine Giboulo’s work? The show’s title is apt – she creates small strange worlds in various formats, these days mostly sculptural. Her works remind me of railroad modeling, except her work is infused with social commentary and a whimsical imagination. There is a tremendous amount of detail going on and I felt I would have to visit the exhibition several times to really get my brain around everything going on, especially in the more involved pieces. Unfortunately the photos on the McMichael website don’t really show the scope of her strange dioramas, some of which are huge and extensive.
Giboulo doesn’t shy away from difficult themes. Included in the exhibition, for instance, is a piece about residential schools and another about an Asian factory experience. Her worlds also include stark juxtapostions between rich and poor.
I didn’t expect the tough content coming from work that has a certain “doll-house” feel about it, but once I caught a hint of what she was doing, Giboulo’s work pulled me right in, and kept me there as I realized how extensive her little worlds really were.
This is an unusual exhibition, highly imaginative and socially charged, and exceptionally well modeled. There’s still plenty of time to see the show – it’s on at McMichael until January 26.
I highly recommend both exhibitions.