Tag Archives: Canadian art

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.


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.


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.


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.

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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.
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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.

New Painting – The Source

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.

The Source
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.

the-sourceI revisited the theme in 2005 with 3 round paintings. Here are two of them…

The Source, 2005, acrylic on panel
The Source, 2005, acrylic on panel

The Source, 2005, acrylic on boardThe 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.

New Painting – The Sky is Falling

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
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.

Now that’s painting

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.

Lost Forest

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?