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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.






Sunday, 9 March 2014

FROM START TO FINISH


I always find it interesting to document the progression of a painting. At times it's a bit frustrating to find myself preferring something I did at an earlier step, but mostly, it's intriguing just to review the process. I've learned over the years never to rigidly adhere to an initial idea because it tends to interfere with the dialogue I inevitably have with the accident fairy.

The germ of a concept for this painting originated around 2005 after I read (and glued in my battered journal) an Associated Press article by Lisa J. Adams. In it she detailed how Mayan Indians living in small villages of Mexico reverently honour their ancestors once a year. The fascinating rituals Adams wrote about triggered thoughts and writings about my father.  

Years later, someone kindly shared a photograph that she had taken during a San Francisco parade for the Day of the Dead. I blocked out an extremely foreshortened skeletal figure on canvas but wasn't ready to take it further and put it aside for months.  

Le jour des morts exists in Québec, but as a religious mention, it is rather insignificant and tends to mirror the time of year. November 2nd is generally gray and colourless. Leaves have separated from the trees and the snow has not yet fallen to brighten the neutral surroundings with its assorted shades of white. Colour is an important element of my visual repertoire so things had to continue simmering for a while longer on the back burner.

The new studio space that I set up in the new year motivated me to finish the painting, primarily because the window on the right let in extremely bright light reflected from the never ending snow. The view and deathly cold were definitely going to have an impact on this piece.

THE PAINTING ROUGHED OUT

A FRIEND IS ADDED, THE BACKGROUND BECOMES SNOWY

TIME TO ACCESSORIZE

ADJUSTMENTS: ELEMENTS BECOME MORE COLOURFUL, 
BACKGROUND IS FURTHER DEVELOPED

During the process, I momentarily squeezed through a pinhole in the fabric of space and time to become another in a parallel universe. A beautiful, temporary separation from reality ensued as I zestfully navigated the secret recesses of my psyche. 

The painting naturally evolved towards the humorous and became wickedly absurd.  

ANCESTRAL GOSSIPS

A routine usually sets in near the end: after a period of painting comes a period of sitting and staring, then again more painting, sitting and staring. 

Then voilà it's done...sort of. There are always little things to fine tune: edges to paint, dabs of paint to apply here and there, but essentially, it's finished. Time to vacuum the brain and start anew!  

Now where is that dirt devil?

Monday, 24 February 2014

THE POWER OF ANATOMY

Two months after high school graduation, I came to the big city to study art. On the first day of art school, I had a life drawing class. Only 17, I initially felt quite overwhelmed by the whole experience but also knew at once that I loved it.

Quick contour drawing
of curves and folds of skin 
Professors chanted an unrelenting mantra: 
"if you can draw the human body, you can draw anything!" 

That suited me just fine. I liked curved angles and folds of skin. Straight lines were for those enamoured of technical drawing.

In the final year of my BFA, I had a class taught by Philip Surrey, a wonderful man who was extremely astute and knowledgeable. His approach to life drawing was different from all the other profs.

Initially he had us draw various poses on large sheets of newsprint. We then copied the outlines of our most complex drawings on equally large tracing paper. Once 2 tracings per drawing were done, we had to render accurate anatomy within the outlines, one of the skeleton, the other, muscles. I did this for an entire semester swearing quietly under my breath the entire time.

It was arduous, especially when poses were in deep perspective. Surprisingly, after a few weeks of frustration and much repetition, I developed a liking and respect for our insides, particularly bones. Because of Surrey's approach, my understanding of the human body and the quality of my drawings improved exponentially. 

Model study in Conté à Paris
Model study in Conté à Paris: bones are 
lightly suggested on the legs and at the ankle





























Bones and muscles remain part of my visual vocabulary.  We are beautiful complex beings, inside and out. 

Sadly, Philip Surrey committed suicide in 1990. I am grateful that he crossed my path long enough to share his wisdom.  

Saturday, 15 February 2014

MARGUERITE AND JEAN NARRACHE

I've been dragging a book around with me for years. It's old, falling apart; the binding has suffered and unequivocally divorced its dry yellowing pages. The poetry anthology belonged to my Aunt Marguerite, a woman I never knew because she died way too young of tuberculosis at a Sanitorium in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts.

My dad spoke of her with such fondness. They were very close in age and spirit, too close because ultimately, he was also diagnosed with TB. Dad lost two of his sisters to the dreaded scourge. He was the lucky one who survived. 


Dad and Marguerite

Nothing could really be done for Marguerite who had a terminal case of the disease. 

I feel a wistful affinity with my aunt, partly because my dad cared for her so deeply, but for another reason as well: as the pictures below confirm, at approximately the same age we are, without a doubt, genetically linked at the cheekbones.  

Aunt Marguerite Collet
Early 1930's


Me
1971 























Pictures of my aunt and my dad at their respective sanatoriums are heartbreaking. The white plague hit our family hard.

Marguerite 

Dad
Saranac Lake 
Sanitorium,
New York 

I am struck by how basic the surroundings are. Metal beds are plague white. Lights have no shades.

Marguerite's book, "Quand j'parl' tout seul" is by Jean Narrache (pseudonym of Émile Coderre). The alias, a play on words, means "I have a hard time making ends meet".  The book has a cryptic dedication on the first page which roughly translates as 'Souvenir of my trip to the sanitorium from December 27th to the 30th, 1932.'  It is simply signed "Jean". 

Did Émile Coderre visit my aunt at the sanitorium?  The dedication suggests as much.



Coderre's poems are incredibly moving, written in a unique, vernacular style that I heard growing up in Shawinigan. A short, poignant audio tale written by Jean Narrache, presents a slice of what life was like in Québec less than a hundred years ago. 

So many associations surface as I examine the book. My aunt covered it with brown Kraft paper. It was obviously precious, of great importance to her and had to be protected.







Long ago, books were sacred objects. 

An important ritual began at the start of every elementary school year. We were taught how to cut and fold the paper that would keep our textbooks in pristine condition. They were used over and over until pages essential for learning became indecipherable. 

It was always interesting to discover secret missives that had covertly found their way inside the sacrosanct pages. Inescapable punishment ensued if we were caught mutilating the latest math bible.

I remember the thrill of getting the occasional "new" book, one without "snuck-in" scribbles or sketches, notes in the margins, fingerprints, or reckless rips. Perceptions change. Today I would hungrily flip through old books to find cloak-and-dagger doodles or time capsule messages. 

How I wish I could time travel or interact with one of Scrooge's ghosts to observe history in greater detail. It would be fascinating to meet my ancestors, hear their stories. There is much to be said for the Mexican Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) where festivities happen yearly to honour those who came before.  

I am currently working on a painting that, in the spirit of the Day of the Dead, celebrates my ancestry. At present, joyful skeletons monopolize the surface. 

Cellular memories from my bloodline materialize as I contemplate past lives.

Here is a detail of the work in progress:







Saturday, 8 February 2014

VIBRANT DIGITS

Gloves protect, provide warmth, seduce. 

Wear but one, slap on sequins and the world remembers you forever.

Movies set in the late 1800 and early 1900's provide a visual feast of capricious fabrics, colours, finespun lace, pearls, and hats adorned with feathers and flowers that reach for the gods. Fire resides in the layered hills and valleys of contrasting textures.  Gloves feed the flames.

Cover a hand and it becomes a character. Place puppets on each finger to grow a neighbourhood.

A scarlet glove proclaims refinement, diplomacy,  temptation.  












Body language with emphasis!












My cousin Thérèse, an outstanding seamstress, created a rather unusual dress for my first high school prom. Dark blue with long split panels, it revealed a soft pink underskirt as I sashayed about.

I see myself at 15. A pair of elbow-length matching navy gloves lies neatly folded on my bed. I pick one up and "oh so slowly" pull it over my right arm to contrive a portrait of adolescent elegance. 

Ahhhh, to recapture a memory cloaked in the narrow passage of youth to adulthood.  Is it any wonder that a penchant for gloves has crept into my work over the years?

Examples from long ago:


Black Gloves
Self-portrait 
Rainy Night in Georgia
  
White Glove


Bull Mask Dance
(Warped in Gimp)



Saturday, 25 January 2014

FOOD AND THE WEATHER REPORT

Dark chocolate - Coffee - Tea - Yogurt - Cheese - Cold cuts - Barbecue chips - Wine - Low pressure weather systems - Fatigue - Stress

Sounds like a grocery list prepared by a tired meteorologist. T'ain't funny McGee!  This is a row of migraine triggers!  

Many an artist has suffered these headaches. Add one more to the pack.

What I don't understand is why I love what makes me sick. Just thinking of 70% chocolate slowly melting in my mouth makes me salivate. A fleeting moment of ecstasy can lead to three days of throbbing agony. Why is my head suddenly too small for my brain?

Little brown dots with shiny lights float across my eyes while an alien connection grows downwards from my head to my gut. What goes down must come up.

Food is bad enough but then add to the equation a polar vortex from the north pole.  Canada's weather is pretty rock and roll!

Once I thought I was going blind as I peered through fog-filled eyes.
Another time I uttered totally irrelevant words in the middle of an oral presentation.
On another occasion the left side of my face ceased to exist, as if anaesthetised by Novocaine.

WHO TURNED ON THOSE LIGHTS?   
  

I read somewhere that painting helps reduce migraines but without excellent ventilation in the studio, the opposite can happen.  

While extremely painful, there is a good side to this type of headache. Migraines can bring on unusual visual experiences that are invariably stored in the unconscious to surface at the most unexpected of times during the process of art making.  

Nothing is ever all bad. The sense of relief and rejuvenation that happens after a particularly agonizing episode is glorious.  It's all about contrast.

Monday, 6 January 2014

SPACE, A NOVEL FRONTIER


My new home studio wasn't working for me for a couple of reasons: it doubled as a guest bedroom and was in a high traffic area. I couldn't leave things lying around without tripping over them. 

Like Francis Bacon, (although not as chaotic), I am inspired by things that encircle me.  Textures, colours, or shadows rev up the mind furnace. A space that cannot be left in creative turmoil is frustrating.

The state of my studio (messy or clean) reflects the phases of my production cycle. Weeks of furious experimentation will yield a grubby work space where dance moves are necessary to avoid the piles of research that land on the floor.  Incubation is messy business. 

Once I'm done, a rest, battery recharge, or time of contemplation is required before starting again. This is usually the point where I start to clean up my studio because I need an emotionally sterilized environment to stimulate another period of "flow".

Chess anyone?
The experience of transitioning from one room to another is like moving. Boxes upon boxes of books, photographs and other items accumulated over the years tower in the kitchen. Heavy furniture is displaced much to the chagrin of my feeble musculature. The space is transforming, painted a neutral shade to replace the colour that was there when I moved in, summer cottage turquoise. Black and white rubber tiles are being installed to protect the hardwood floor. It will take a while to get it all together. 

Meanwhile the previous studio is becoming an office. My books should end up here. For some peculiar reason, there never seems to be enough room for all my hard and soft cover beauties. Maybe it's time to recycle a few by lending them to others. In my experience, they rarely come back.

During these minor but seemingly major renovations, I have been experimenting with a digital art app on my iPad. I have various painting and drawing apps but I recently downloaded Inspire Pro by Kiwi Pixel, which I find particularly exciting to work with. It's great for blending, and small digital works like this one can become a catalyst for larger interpretations on canvas.


Below, I began with a photo of a quick gesture drawing and proceeded to build on it using the app's oil paint tool. The original drawing was photographed on a slate floor, but rather than crop the picture, I blended the colours of the background with the foreground. The slate hue fused in an interesting way with the off white newsprint.





Half drawn, half painted; it ended up perfectly unfinished.


HAVE A COLOURFUL 2014!

Sunday, 29 December 2013

THE REVOLT

Talk of New Year's resolutions abound in the media. I am obviously overly influenced by the propaganda that comes my way because I always feel compelled to set myself betterment objectives. 

The end of a calendar year often inspires us to contemplate, even dissect the quality of our lives. Internal ramblings might go something like this: I was either too skinny, too wrinkled, too fat, too addicted to technology, too busy. I wasted money on an ugly, useless thing or experience. I didn't exercise enough and will surely die of a stroke or a heart attack.

Blah, blah, blah; 
 negative thinking!

Looking back entails investigating situations, states of being, or actions that made us feel stressed, unhappy, unfulfilled or generally crappy. From this, we attempt, often in vain, to improve our futures through goals that involve incredible self-control, which we may or may not have. 

The activity is not entirely fruitless. Knowing one's weaknesses and foibles allows us to make informed decisions and choices. But in an effort to keep things positive, I suggest looking back at the previous year with a different eye. 

What did you do right?

As 2014 approaches, thoughts of revolution persist.  My slogan?

Survive.



Saturday, 21 December 2013

BRAVE?

As an artist who observes and records humanity from a purely subjective point of view, I never cease to be surprised by the behaviour of my fellow homo sapiens.  

I live on the edge of a river.  

In early December, some of the water in the bay begins to freeze over. In the photograph below, it is obvious to me that the water is far from completely frozen because the current is roaring by a short distance away.

Normally, sub-zero weather happens in January, which is generally a good time to determine whether river waters have turned to ice. If there are no cracking noises under my feet, I can be pretty sure that I won't fall through.  

However, some people are far more intrepid. They plunk themselves in the little bay for an ice fishing experience while the deep waters of the Ottawa River tickle the edges of ice that had, only a few days earlier, been in a liquid state.

The trouble with this scenario is that I can't unwind or relax when I see people or doggies on the ice before the river has completely frozen over. I keep wondering when I will have to dial 911. 

Montreal weather being what it is, (wildly oscillating), I can happily report that my angst has all but disappeared. In the past few days, we have been cursed with below freezing temperatures worthy of mid-February, and I can't see the river at all because low pressure systems have walloped the area with countless centimetres of snow. All is white, messy, and devoid of people who like to eat polluted fish and disturb chilly water nymphs.