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Friday, 1 August 2014

OTHERWORLDLY

Ultrasounds of unborn babies are intriguing, a peek into what was previously unseen and only imagined. Technology allows us to view amazingly accurate images of tiny individuals who are soon to be among us, entities that exist in another world.

Emotions of peace and security overwhelm, but then again, am I merely projecting? Could it be that I, at a cellular level, evoke a time when I was floating in an egg shaped bag? Did I feel more protected then? Warmer? Snug?  Were sounds muffled and soft?  

I must have had some trouble moving around in there because I came out folded up like an accordion. Mom said it took months for my head to stop flopping backwards. It had settled early into an awkward position. You'd think that a head stretched back for so long might yield an Audrey Hepburn neck, but nope!  The prolonged extension of a body part does not automatically trigger its growth or contribute to elegance.  

I recently had access to ultrasound images of a growing baby that were taken at different times during the pregnancy. The most recent one, at barely 8 months, was incredibly well-defined.


Fetus, I feel like a spy 
 as watching waves probe.
Enjoy your moment of quietude  
for blazing lights await, 
and soon you will hear yourself cry.


I reproduced the image on a laser printer to use as a starting point for these paintings. One can't work with ultrasounds without having a deluge of emotions cascading through the psyche. The world is a scary place with no sacred womb to shield humanity from nasties who want power over others or everyone to think like them. Life isn't gentle. 

The low relief piece above was created by applying modelling paste, thick gel and paint to a wooden board. After the surface was dry, I glued an acrylic skin of the image over the prepared surface and applied more colour.

In the one below, I spread glass bead gel all over the board to create an interesting ground and transferred the image directly over the medium once it had dried. As I was using a cheap "dollar store" brush to apply colour, some hairs dislodged and became stuck in the paint. I liked the effect, so rather than remove the hairs, I left them where they were to complement the vein-like lines I had planned to include anyway. 

Art like life, tends to weave in the unexpected.




Thursday, 10 July 2014

ART-OOLOGY


ART:  Everyone knows what that is.
OOLOGY: According to Wikipedia, the study of bird's eggs, nests, and breeding behaviour.

Lying On Fried Eggs

I love eggs...primarily chicken ones, free range is good. I eat 'em, draw 'em, and paint 'em. 

After completing the funky digital sketch above, I was inspired to paint a fried one and in so doing, discovered a few things.

A sunny side up egg yolk is not entirely yellow. It's a bit rusty brown in places and has whitish light reflections that make it look shiny. The colour of the feed has a bearing on the colour of the yolk. The hen that laid this one ate heaps of corn.

Neither is the white of a fried egg white. I mixed Titanium White (a.k.a. "tit white") with Paynes Gray and Indian Yellow Hue in varying proportions to achieve assorted shades of white. Some areas are gray, others green but when the eye scans the egg as a whole, the shape appears white.  

Van Dyke Brown and Raw Umber helped  create those little air holes that appear on the edges of an egg when it has been cooked a tad too long. The perimeter can become a crispy bronze with over cooking, but I painted a Goldilocks version, fried just right!

After the egg was done (figuratively speaking), I planned on reinterpreting the character in the digital sketch using the egg as a blanket or bedspread. I deferred this idea because the canvas was small and I felt the concept would be more successful painted on a much larger scale. 

In progress, almost done!

The more I looked at the egg, which by now was resting on toast surrounded by lettuce, the more thoughts of "breakfast" swirled around in my head. I stopped working on the piece for a few days to reflect on the very nature of eggs. 

Researching a subject invariably leads to more art making ideas. For instance: unfertilized eggs are also known as wind-eggs. Imagine a painting of wind-eggs! Now why does a whiff of sulphur come to mind? Eggs we fry up are generally unfertilized, but every once in a while, a fertilized one ends up on our plate.  What if a being of sorts actually popped out to say "hi"?

These musings lead to a moment, not quite AHA!, more like "mmmmm". 

In my final image, the bald eagle is a hungry and very intense-looking bird of prey who happens upon a classic morning meal. He stares at it with some apprehension: not a fish, yet it gives off a seductive aroma. Now why is there something disturbingly familiar here?

Contemplating Breakfast

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

STOMACH FOOT

I thought it was dead.

The First Time: (20 or so years ago)

I was about to clean the deck around the above-ground pool when I discovered a tiny bat lying under a toy. Even under close scrutiny, it didn't budge. I headed towards the patio door and called to my kids, "Come and see this!"

I imagined myself giving an impromptu mini science lesson about bats but alas!  T'was not to be. When I turned to admire its exquisite folds it was nowhere to be found. The smart little thing had faked being dead until it could get away. Never underestimate an animal's survival instinct.

The Second Time: (This week)

I came out the front door and on the stoop was a snail, the first "complete" one I have ever seen. Normally I find them curled up within the recessed ovals of a metal plate under garlic butter and melted gruyère cheese.  

The earthy colours of its shell echoed those of the surrounding stones. I watched for a few seconds, waiting for some action, but it wasn't moving. I turned towards the door and called my companion to "Come and see this!"

I was lucky.  Snails don't fly.  




Interestingly, this tiny creature was quite unlike the drawn cartoon versions one usually sees where the shell appears to be attached in an upright fashion onto the body. After a bit of research, I discovered that that there are many varieties of molluscs. Some are more turtle-like than this one who carries its shell on a slant.

We were perplexed. How had it managed to make its way onto the stoop? There was a rather high stair to climb. 

A tentacle suddenly twitched and it began to move, sort of..."at a snail's pace", a term which I now truly understand.

It probably took hours for it to get anywhere (assuming it had any kind of plan).

I didn't have the patience to watch.

According to the Government of Canada, snails are hermaphrodites that have a foot under their stomachs (gastropods). This one may be the first of many that are about to invade my garden. My mind is now in science fiction mode. I have visions of hearing crunch, crunch, crunch as I walk over thousands to get to my car. 

Oh well, not all is lost. "Stomach Foot" did provide creative fodder.  


Beautiful in any colour!

Friday, 27 June 2014

THE DOODLE DYNASTY

Portraits of "Royals" and "Politicians" never cease to fascinate me because they present a distinctive challenge.  Rendered subjects must:

1) be recognizable, 
 2) appear powerful, 
AND 
3) look attractive.

Historically, many paintings have met the first two criteria but failed miserably with the third. I can't help but wonder whether some unfortunate artists ended up in the darkest of damp, rat infested dungeons after presenting their "chef d'oeuvre" to the sitter.

Trouble is, artists are frequently mesmerized by a mountain of wrinkles, a prominent nose, bushy eyebrows or Einstein-like hair. Texture, colour or the inherent design of an element can become all consuming, an area of delightful focus. The sitter may hope for a little "arts plastiques" surgery to enhance their greatness and beauty for generations to come, but the artist may have another repressed agenda.

Some individuals are blessed with near perfection when it comes to their looks (and are often boring to paint). Ideals vary though, and what is considered beautiful to some can be perceived as particularly unattractive to others. An irregular or unusual feature ripens into something charming and bewitching the more you know a person. Quirkiness and personality often give rise to pulchritude.

Years ago, I saw a series of intriguing portraits of the Habsburg family. In an effort to consolidate power, the Habsburgs got a little carried away with inbreeding, The chins and jaws of each generation became more and more prominent. The lower lip of some descendants grew increasingly pouty and droopy. The Habsburgs paid the price for their pursuit of blue blood with mental, emotional and physical problems. Poor Carlos II of Spain suffered the most.

Paintings by Juan Carreño de Miranda of Carlos II manage to glamorize a pathetic figure whose lot was heartbreaking. I recently bought a secondhand book about the Habsburgs and found myself deeply affected by disturbing descriptions of some family members. I'm sure this information will simmer on the back burner of my brain and eventually boil over as "une piéce de résistance".

For the time being, all these generational portraits of important people cursed with wonky features remind me of my doodles. I tend to naturally exaggerate features when drawing on automatic.

This doodle was done on a yellow post-it note and evolved from a phone conversation. The little red character looks somewhat noble.  

I scanned it into my Gimp program and manipulated the image using various filters. 

In the examples below, I placed two manipulated images on one background. Since both originated from the same doodle,  it was interesting to compare the different interpretations. 



I added a simulated canvas surface texture and made more connections. The hair (as usual) was a joy to draw and I further exaggerated some of the features. The nose of the  fictitious important person on the right grew as his chin receded. I widened the head of the more imposing character on the left to achieve a dignified bust.




I eventually separated them again in order to create two cameos.  

Presenting! 

King Doodle I and his son Prince Doodle II.



Ersatz inbreeding,  Perhaps I have too much time on my hands.


Sunday, 8 June 2014

TWO IN THE MORNING

...sitting at the computer. 

Darkness cradles my back and the sides of my body. 
An eerie glow etches deep, contrasting shadows on my face. 
I look like the mirror in Disney's Snow While.  



I SHOULD be sleeping but have an uncontrollable urge to create something.  

That would generally be a good thing IF I didn't also have a day job. Alas, I have to sit on my idea until I have the time or energy to explore it further.  Six in the morning is is only four hours away. I have to shelf it for now.

There is a good side to having a "day job". 
  1. It subsidizes the high costs of art materials, and
  2. Nourishes artistic ideas with unrelated experiences to unwittingly spawn unusual associations. Forcing together unrelated or seemingly incompatible perceptions can lead to original concepts by offering new pathways to research. 
To compensate for lack of time, I write things down or doodle. Later, I reevaluate and decide whether an idea is worth pursuing or not. I may choose to postpone resolving an artistic problem, sometimes for years. Special concepts have to simmer for a long, long time. It's all about patience.

Parallel jobs. Ideas at 2 a.m.

Maybe, after I eventually leave my day job, I will weave another thread into 
Rive's 4 a.m. mystery.


Thursday, 29 May 2014

THE UMBRELLA

There are fundraisers and then, there are fundraisers. I just participated in a unique one.  

Our local Musée Régional de Vaudreuil-Soulanges is in dire need of roof repairs. Madeleine Turgeon, president of a local art group "Autour de Nous", came up with an interesting concept. Why not have artists paint umbrellas and subsequently sell these "one-of-a-kind" creations to help pay for a new museum roof? 

Participating artists were required to purchase a blank, white umbrella for $20.00 and we had about a month to paint our idea with acrylics on an alien nylon surface. The final chef-d'oeuvres would be sold for $75.00 a piece at an upcoming event.

Symbolically, our brollies would protect the roof until its eventual replacement.

Painting the umbrella was a bit of a challenge. We were told to leave some white areas unpainted to create a luminous product. The surface tended to bounce as I applied the paint. I wanted accurate lines so the application had to be sure and smooth.  

We presented our finished pieces Tuesday night. A facsimile of a "red carpet" was set up and each artist had to slowly reveal their umbrella on the proverbial catwalk. MEOW!!! We were not forewarned of this in advanced and I, "Queen of Klutz", managed to trip and ruffle up the red footway. A little comic relief never hurts I guess.

The event was a success and all present seemed to appreciate the arty umbrellas. Christian Gonzalez posted a video of our red carpet stroll on his blog "Je suis ma ville".

Here's mine.  Enjoy the rain!




Update June 3rd, 2014:


Sunday, 11 May 2014

MORTALITY AND SEARS

Preoccupations change over time.  

I tend to think that the thoughts I had as a child were always lighthearted. They weren't of course, but my mind has a way of glossing over the bad bits.  

Most are solitary memories, a state of mind. 
  • Skipping rope; leaping so high I could almost fly!  
  • Zooming on roller skates (4 wheelers); avoiding humongous cracks on the sidewalk.  
  • Concentrating and frantically swinging my hips to keep the hoola hoop spinning.  
  • Picking and eating wild bitter cherries off the trees on a nearby wooded path.
  • Smelling ponds, admiring lily pads, and thinking that frogs swam like my dad.
  • Slicing up old Sears catalogues, spreading cutouts across my bed, sitting yoga-style near the pillows, creating pretend homes inhabited by perfect pretend people.
  • Staring at ugly motifs on the living room curtains and discovering monster faces.
  • Roaring down nearby hills on my wooden toboggan, scratching my face in powder snow clouds.
  • Charging anywhere on my bike, no hands on bars.



Kids live a lot in their heads. 


My parents bought me a cheap string instrument from...wait for it...the good old Sears catalogue. I managed to make it through to young adulthood by plucking on my guitar and singing the blues on our front porch. I didn't know how to play so I instinctively tuned it to a chord and slid up and down the frets to create a relatively decent accompaniment to my voice. I remember reading somewhere that Richie Havens did the same thing but he managed to earn a living doing it, I didn't.  


I was motivated to learn real chords following my move to a women's residence in Montreal. Sister Patenaude, one of the nuns who ran the place, played guitar "correctly" and was totally perplexed at my unusual approach. I quickly realised that if I aimed to entertain the masses with a singing nun at the Sisters of Service Residential Club, it would be a plus to learn to play properly. I picked up the basics. 


Singing the blues

We put on a play at the residence, The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams.  I was  fragile Laura and my performance surprised the audience because they had no idea I was capable of introversion. After years of relative invisibility in my home town, I ripped through my chrysalis with flair and bravado.  

Preoccupations of young adulthood? Getting an education and hunting for a mate. 

Criteria? Smart and tall, or tall and smart. The people in the small town I came from tended to be short. I towered over most as I paced the main drag with my friends on Friday nights. To my delight, Montreal had bigger people. It felt nice to feel delicate for a change. I had overheard surreptitious comments made to my parents over the years...was she an Olympic swimmer? Did she ever play football? Wide square shoulders were not the epitome of femininity but I looked great in a jacket. Never needed shoulder pads. I learnt that by shopping at Sears.

The rest is a blur really. Raised kids, make sure they were safe, healthy, and through it all, produced as much art as I possibly could. Each decade brought new preoccupations. A graph of highs and lows plotted many more realignments including periods of singular living, new jobs, another degree, and always more art making. Through it all I ordered stuff in my Sears catalogue.

A few weeks ago, I told my sister of a new preoccupation that I have. There is nary a day that goes by without my reflecting on mortality and my eventual demise. She promptly responding with the word "depressing", but it's not really. My brief musings invariably lead to a couple of positive affirmations: 


"FLY NOW!"

...and since it seems to be permanently woven into the tapestry of my life... 

"May Sears stay in business for a very long time!!!"


NEWS UPDATE!

This appeared in the Financial Post on May 14th, a few days after I published this post....Twilight Zone!!!  

Saturday, 26 April 2014

THAT OLD GRADE SCHOOL ENGLISH COMPOSITION TOPIC

MY FAVOURITE ARTIST


I love artists that paint from the gut. What grabs my attention?

Inspired lines or shapes
Value contrasts
Unusual, or almost "not-quite-right" compositions
Strong brush strokes
Electrifying use of colour
Irony or satire
Humour, sometimes black

Illustrators and political cartoonists are regularly shoved aside when conversations about "great art" arise but many are extremely technically proficient and highly imaginative.

As mentioned in a previous blog post, I have been a fan of Ralph Steadman for many years. I am seduced by his every line, shape, and splotch of colour. Steadman is a master at engaging the unconscious to finish what is purposefully left incomplete.  

In general, It's not so much the all-inclusive production of artists that inspires me but rather singular works, which suddenly and often unexpectedly spark a reaction.

The only exposure I had to to art as a child was via art books hidden on the lower shelves of the school library or my dad's LIFE magazines. I was initially surprised to discover that nudity was pervasive in art and admired throughout history. There were even paintings and sculptures of nudes in the city where the pope lived!  


Phone doodle
Fun with the phone doodle














Another revelation? Art could be ugly and in fact, had to be if its primary purpose was to shoo away evil spirits. 

And still another revelation? 

Art could be wild, figures disproportionate, brushstrokes fat! 

More fun with the phone doodle

Artists that loved and mastered "drawing" always held a particular fascination: Käthe Kollwitz, Egon Schiele, Rembrandt. I marvelled at the sensitivity they expressed. 

Leonardo da Vinci revealed his talents in many sketches.  Beautiful examples?  Head of a Roaring Lion  and  Heads of Two Soldiers.

I fell in love with Picasso's painting of Two Women Running on a Beach. The lumbering twosome embodied the epitome of freedom. 

SUCH LIBERATING INFORMATION!  Scientia potentia est.  My inner censor went "poof" as I learned about those that came before. 

I began enlarging hands and feet. Large feet in particular, tend to ground a figure.  Extremities kept growing, yielding a foot harvest and one gloriously dangerous masseuse.


Seven Big Foot Sisters


La Masseuse



Sunday, 6 April 2014

AS HELL MELTS

What a long frigid winter! Everyone in my entourage is fed up with below zero temperatures and white landscaping. 

Nature has teased us the last few days. Red is doing the "one step forward, one step backward" thing on the climate thermometer, while yellow tries to pierce through endless gray skies. 

Winter's almost over though. A darkish shape is beginning to form in the middle of the bay, which means that water and ice will soon be roaring towards the ocean via the St. Lawrence River.   

I will be happy to see winter evaporate but cannot escape the beauty that is created by Spring storms. Ice adhered to my windows last week and I couldn't help but be impressed at how quickly nature created works of art.  





I decided to play with this one in Corel Painter Essentials and in Gimp. 
Fantastical landscapes evolved.  From winter to summer in one fell swoop.  

Wishful thinking.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

MEETING THE RIGHT PEOPLE IN THE WRONG PLACE

My mother wasn't feeling well a week and a half ago and ended up in the emergency ward at one of our local hospitals. The experience is still ongoing and emotionally draining, but provides a never-ending source of sensory information.

An unusual flower vase
What follows is an abridged version of our interaction with the health system thus far:

Firstly we met the ambulance technicians who arrived very soon after we called. A reassuring pair of strong, strapping young men whisked mom off to the nearest university teaching hospital equipped to treat her condition. 

Our first responders wore army pants. Curious about their unusual uniforms, I asked "why the camouflage gear"? 

Answer: A pressure tactic to get more ambulances and first responders on the road.

Initially mom was placed in a little alcove all by herself in the emergency ward. Quickly, hers was one of 3 stretchers crammed into a space approximately 9 by 15 feet. A maintenance person soon arrived to install curtains around each bed.  

Emergency was VERY busy that day. 


The medical profession gets a lot of flack but overall, I was impressed with the staff I came in contact with. One or two individuals were just there to get a paycheque. Robotic, taciturn, without much heart or soul, they performed their tasks efficiently but mechanically. The majority however displayed a great deal of compassion.  

Mom lay there stoically as strangers probed her body and asked an unending stream of personal questions. There is NO privacy in an emergency ward. Patients and visitors soon find out what everyone else is in there for. On the positive side, cramped quarters inevitably lead to mutual support. A patient or family member can provide valuable information such as where the button is situated to call for a nurse, how to lower the bed, or the location of the cafeteria.

Expecting quick answers and solutions when someone is ill is an exercise in frustration and futility. Diagnoses takes time, tests, and expert sleuthing.

Mom's neighbours included a slim, blond woman who was writhing in pain. A shot of something eventually muffled her moans. The woman's loyal friend and regular visitor arrived one day sporting a temporary arm sling. She also required emergency services after falling on the ice near the hospital building and smashing her elbow. Ahhh...winter in Québec.

The gentleman in the stretcher adjacent to mom's was a veteran who had repaired tanks in France during World War II. A charming person, he quietly waved whenever I re-entered the room after chasing down personnel. 

I spent hours sitting at one end of my mother's stretcher. In an attempt to discourage visitors, no chairs were to be found in the emergency ward. The lady with the smashed elbow and myself got into the habit of sneaking in folding camping chairs.

Orderlies and nursing staff who worked 12 and 16 hour shifts were not uncommon. I asked one particularly dedicated woman what the heck she was doing back at the hospital the morning after her night shift. She had been called in once again because the hospital was unexpectedly short staffed. Her smile and comforting words lit up the room and my mother couldn't help but hug her.

From my "unbiased" observations, I was able to confirm that surgeons have no obvious social skills. 

We were lucky, Mom's condition was not life threatening and quickly improved. She now shares a much larger room on another floor with 3 other patients. The hospital is 100 years old with interior surroundings that complement my mother's age (99 and 8 months). Solid construction tells of a time when workers were proud of their workmanship. Colours are peeling a bit in some areas and wooden windows are thick with paint. Vases for flowers are rare. The bouquet I brought my mother rests in a container that is generally used to collect urine. Whatever works I say!  

I took a picture of mom's flannelette sheets and came up with some rather interesting "bedscapes" after some digital manipulation. 


Even worrisome experiences can lead to beauty.