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Monday, 2 May 2016

THE ONLY EYE


Someone recently asked me: "What do Cyclops represent, for you?"  They do keep cropping up in my artwork now and again, and lately with some frequency. 

The question motivated me to do a bit of research.

Like most of us, my initial exposure to Cyclops was in childhood.  I owned a book filled with stories about giants.  Although I can't recall any details, there must have been a special tale about Cyclops. 

The cover of the book was plain, medium blue in colour, without a jacket or pictures.  Only words, beautiful words.  Imaginary creatures took on monumental dimensions in my mind.  

One day my book disappeared.  I hunted high and low throughout the mess that was my room but it was nowhere to be found.  I later surmised that my mom probably threw it out when she thought I'd outgrown it. Sad because artists rarely outgrow giants.

As a young teen, I found a book at the city library called The Third Eye by Lobsang Rampa (formerly known as Cyril Henry Hoskin).  According to Wikipedia, it came out in 1956.  The novel (autobiography?) had an impact on my malleable mind by suggesting (promoting?) new ways of looking at life.  Imaginative fiction disguised as reality, it was intriguing for a small town girl.  The author wrote about Tibet and Buddhism. Surprisingly, British-born Rampa ended up living and dying in Canada.

In my 2012 blog post Cyclopean Eyes, I mentioned that my Cyclops rarely have one eye located mid-forehead but recently things have changed.  In the interpretation below, a single eye occupies an entire third of the face. 

Deep thoughts about Cyclops (kinda rhymes):

MONSTERS - Human beings turn into monsters for many reasons: too much plastic surgery, bulimia, booze and drugs, overeating, stress; the list could go on ad infinitum.  Other folks are just really nasty inside.  I for one, become a grumpy and achingly sluggish monster when I have to wake up in the wee hours of the morning.  My feet drag like those of waiters in Montreal's Chinatown restaurants.  My eyes fuse and become a single slit.



GIANTS Traditionally, Cyclops are gargantuan.  Mine are average-sized Joes who possess only one eye. I do play with scale though. Maximizing and minimizing elements or characters increases emotional impact.

FOCUS - Continuous bombardment from the media, advertising, telemarketers along with societal pressure to overachieve makes it difficult to concentrate on what's really important in life.  One eye improves focus and enables filtering.

IDIOMS, EXPRESSIONS, SAYINGS - If I look up the word "eye" in an idiom or expression dictionary, I'll be "up to my eyeball" in possibilities and busy for at least a year.

INCONGRUITY - The Online Cambridge Dictionary defines incongruity as 'unusual or different from what is around or from what is generally happening'.  Let's face it.  One eye stands out from the pack.  

Cyclops are unique.   Mythology is merely a point of departure.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

A SLICE OF TIME




At thirty thousand feet I no longer had ears.
Infected, nothing really mattered,
so I closed my eyes.

They were piled high on my lap.
An accordion of tissues.
A safety net.

Drifting,
almost a doze  
but not quite, I found a 
space, a beautiful nowhere space.

Wrapped.
In what?
A golden womb, a warm yellow veil 
for minutes,
in a beautiful nowhere place.

No longer found, no longer felt.
To think of again but gone.
No longer found, no longer felt.
It's gone, long gone.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

THOSE WHO INHABIT THE PLANT

After months of doing digital work, I'm back to getting my hands dirty.  While technology seduces with its potentiality, it has limitations.  Art software provides unusual solutions to problems quickly but at a cost. What's missing?  Odours, mistakes, unwanted fingerprints.

In a previous blogpost "The Family", I wrote of being inspired by a project that I gave students in my creativity class.  After drawing "The Brussels Sprouts Family" in pen and ink, I was motivated to push the idea a bit further.

The process has been an odd one, an experiment of sorts.  I bought little plastic bottles, a new product that I recently discovered at the local art shop.  The containers function as markers when filled with paint, either acrylics or watercolour.  

For the multimedia drawing below, I mixed fluid acrylics with airbrush medium (half and half); a bit too runny for my taste but I thought why not let the paint flow à la Jackson Pollock?  I made a very wet, uncontrolled outline of a brussels sprouts plant to create a cloisonniste effect (used extensively by Émile Bernard, Gauguin and Rouault).  I let it dry, it took forever.  Then I arbitrarily applied thin coats of watercolour here and there and waited some more.  

I started at the bottom and worked my way up.  The lower sprout shapes were spaced further apart than those higher up the stalk.  Close up shots reveal how the work evolved.  I studied each circle and let the colours and lines trigger ideas.  Each little cabbage head reminded me of individuals.  Using archival markers, watercolour and acrylic paint, I began to forge characters.  


 Expressions took shape.



Surprisingly, I drew far more male faces.  I generally prefer depicting women the likes of Dolly Parton.  

The fellow below on the right, initially reminded me of a samurai warrior.  A metamorphosis happened and before long, he grew into a wonky Major General from the Pirates of Penzance.


I enjoyed coming up with five o'clock shadows and hairy bits.  Males tend to have more of the latter except for young American men who now seem obsessed with the removal of their body hair.  What a shame.  Tom Selleck's chest is way more fun to draw.




















Odd personalities from Dickens, Victor Hugo, Hokusai, Da Vinci and Ralph Steadman simmered in the cauldron of my psyche. The safety pin on the punk on the right appeared after I recalled one of my former students coming to class with blood on his cheeks.  Worried (in mother mode), I asked him what was wrong.  Craving another piercing, he had hastily incised his eyebrow with a safety pin.  

I never forgot him.


Humans often resemble other living creatures.  The individual above seemed frog-like to me.  

The spherical shapes in the upper part of the stalk grew larger.  Each bit player became more complex and modern.


The top of the plant is asphyxiating.  Tangled heads are wedged into a small confined area.  The diameter of the stalk is underdeveloped, not mature enough to provide a comfortable distance for its inhabitants.



Below is the finished work.  
Much is packed into this 8" X 16" sheet of paper.  



Small is sometimes long and thin.

Monday, 7 March 2016

THE BEAUTY OF PARTS

Cardboard right angles always appear on the list of materials I ask my students to bring to art class. These contribute to the creative process by functioning as composition and crop tools.

I like them longer rather than shorter because long ones offer greater flexibility. One of my students found it awkward to schlepp extended versions to and fro.  Her creative solution was to use thinner cardboard and to fold the angles up into a compact format for transit. 














On some days, artists achieve nothing or very little. They feel blocked, in a rut, obvious solutions to visual problems don't seem to work.  

Angles provide hope. 

Rather than immediately chucking efforts into the garbage can or painting over an entire work with gesso, parts can be, and often should be, salvaged, either physically or mentally.  Sometimes little bits are more beautiful than big bits.

I created this particular background with acrylic pastes and stains on a wooden board.  My initial plan was to apply acrylic skins over top but I couldn't immediately resolve the image so I put the work aside for awhile to incubate (I am still at that step in the process).


Eons ago, one of my design professors had us throw coloured paints haphazardly on paper. With a visor, we had to discover wondrous abstract compositions that mysteriously appeared in the opening.

Angles work in much the same way but have the advantage of a variable window.  The format of cropped areas keeps changing to reveal alternative possibilities and colour schemes for future works.

Here are some examples of what I found just playing with angles on my background.  

I'm not an abstract painter but this definitely excites me.

Crop 1








Crop 2

 Crop 3 




These should keep me busy for awhile.

Friday, 19 February 2016

THE FAMILY

One of the benefits of teaching is learning.  I have learned more as an educator than I ever did as a student at art school or university.  The whole exercise brings out the natural researcher in me.

In order to come up with interesting projects for my adult students, I hunt.  Hunting involves lots of things such as 
  • reading about what inspired or preoccupied artists of the past, 
  • discovering, dissecting and understanding provocative activities that other instructors have come up with, 
  • investigating and learning about techniques that I am unfamiliar or not entirely comfortable with, or 
  • fishing for symbolism in various dictionaries and encyclopedias.

Adults keep me on my toes.  Children have a direct line to their psyche.  Until grownups start telling them what an image should look like, they make wonderful art.  

Adults however often have to burrow through layers of life experiences which inhibit quick access to their uniqueness.  Personal histories may initially block creativity, but generally, once the valve has been pried opened, reminiscences, anecdotes, and recollections nourish ideas.  Establishing a positive, encouraging "think tank" atmosphere stimulates everyone involved, including the teacher.

As my students explore possibilities, tons of ideas shoot through my head.  If they are excited, it fuels my own practice.  Fascinating how that happens.

In my "Stretch Your Imagination" class,  I recently had students explore analogical thinking as they examined exotic fruits and vegetables.  They had to ask questions:  What does this particular fruit remind me of in different domains?  What is the perfect veggie like?  What symbols, myths, stories come to mind as I examine it?  What if I were to become the veggie?  How would I feel?  What would I look like?  (This is starting to sound like an acting class.  BECOME THE VEGGIE!)   We examined grid systems, branching systems, radiating systems and many more that occur in nature.

Well, I came home totally preoccupied with broccoli.  All I kept thinking about was broccoli: its colour, structure, odour, cluster system.  The more I examined it, the more I realized that it wasn't the one that I wanted to work with.  Maybe cauliflower?..nope, too much like a washed out broccoli.   Finally, out of nowhere, it hit me.  Brussel sprouts!  

I love it when local produce hits the shelves in Quebec.  The interesting stuff usually comes out in mid-summer.  The brussel sprout plant is particularly fascinating.  Wee cabbages grow on a stalk.  Examine each carefully and they soon look like the heads of little people. 

Right now it's February in Canada.  The sprouts in grocery stores come from a warmer clime.  Somewhere in the world, someone is decapitating little heads, dumping them into black or white styrofoam containers, covering them with suffocating plastic wrap.  How can the little heads breathe?  Families are destroyed. Individuals are separated from one another.  A little one is squeezed in next to a big one.  Oh my, what horror!

This is known as running with an idea.  

Inspired, I created this pen and ink drawing of The Brussel Sprout Family.  I'm not sure if I'm going to continue with this theme in the long term, but right now, I have an acrylic painting on the go.  

Love your brussel sprouts people.  They've been through a lot.






Saturday, 30 January 2016

BLACK WATER




Maybe she was going blind. 

The water was crystalline at the start of her journey.  Vibrant hues flittered around her.  She was tempted to stay but forced to move on.  She was on a mission.  

Consumed with compulsive fire, she torqued and leapt as high as she could.  Hmmm…no problem in air.  From up here she could see just fine.  Darn!  Why wasn’t she favoured with flamboyant wings like those who tried to eat her?

Things worsened as she advanced.  Colours turned gray as black pools claimed the water’s surface.  She ascended once more for reconnaissance purposes.  Yes, the trees were still green at the top and brown at the bottom!  The stones were silvery but darkened near the edge of the stream.  She dove back in but no matter how much she stretched her eyes she still couldn’t see.  

Follow the scent! 

Home had a special smell, but the perfume of her origins evaporated as the water became increasingly opaque.  A revolting, sickening odour lassoed her face, burned her mouth and tasted strange.  

She attempted a “leap and turn” but was quickly carried forward by a multitude pushing furiously behind her.  These followers, unable to think for themselves, were also heading home.

Blinded, smelly and fouled, she surged upwards once more to scan the region.  A pond bordered the looming rapids.  Risky!  Serious flapping across six feet of land would be required to reach it.

Her belly was engorged.  She felt hopelessly clumsy but had to try.  She wriggled as best she could through the salmon congregation and inched towards the embankment.  A final leap should do it.  

She soared avoiding sharp jutting rocks before landing on fallen leaves.  Violent thrashing ensued.  She flipped, flopped, banged, mostly in circles but eventually in the right direction.  Success!  

Her eyes felt it first, “cool, clear water… water…water…” but she had no time to revel in its clarity.  She found a crevice and lay her eggs.  Spent, she slowly drifted to the surface.   

Claws and infinite darkness were waiting.   Pain pierced her neck.  

Saturday, 9 January 2016

ADRIFT


A floating feeling, loss of focus happens every once in a while and I'm not sure what brings it on.  There is extreme societal pressure in the new year to start anew, to come up with fresh ideas, concepts, projects, but I'm pooped, still recuperating from a very busy 2015!

Detail of a work in progress - pen, ink and watercolour

I have a slew of "started" drawings and paintings. My aim for 2016 WAS to get up-to-date on this backlog, but what did I do?  I completed a small painting from scratch and I added to the "started pile" by 
  1. applying a colourful background on a relatively large canvas, 
  2. pursuing a very complex pen and ink drawing, and 
  3. blocking out a couple of digital works.  

While last year I might finish a digital piece within three days, I now sketch initial shapes or characters and wait weeks before I attack them again.  This is most likely happening because I have a theme that I want to work on.  Whenever I do something seemingly unrelated, it feels as though I am procrastinating.

Love in the Grotto
Frustrating, because I know from experience that the important thing is to keep working no matter what.  Every new piece or sketch feeds another. Non-artists think that making art is a purely pleasurable activity but it also involves continuous problem solving.  It's work!  I obviously do what I love but it isn't always easy.

must spawn some "outrageous" drawings or paintings to vacuum out the cobwebs in my psyche...in other words, make work that I'll most likely never show.  (Outrageous tends to offend).

Then again, perhaps more stalling is needed.  I keep having dreams that I am in a huge warehouse studio with way too much room.  Something is simmering.  Once I get going, I'll turn into a freight train. 

In the spirit of incubation, I'm off to make a batch of cookies, then again, I may take a nap. 

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

GET OUT THE X-RAY

Reflective light technology might reveal another painting by Leonardo underneath the Mona Lisa.  Not exactly news.  Many artists make major changes to design elements as they paint.

An artist friend of mine recently began painting over old works.  The reasons were threefold:  
  1. Some paintings which seemed satisfactory at the time were now perceived as unsuccessful;
  2. Recycling old paintings saved money (no financial outlay for new stretchers or canvas);
  3. It helped resolved the never-ending storage problem.
I used to think that it was a good idea to keep all work, even bad work as a testament to personal growth, but now storage is an issue.  I find myself holding back from drawing on a large scale because I have no clue where to file away the work.  I need to undertake a thorough inventory but in the meantime, I will follow in my friend's footsteps.  Destroy in order to create.  


Detail of old painting
I recently pulled out an old painting done in the eighties. I remember building the stretcher myself.  It's a solid sucker.  No way this beauty is ever going to warp.  I took a picture of the work for posterity because for some peculiar reason, I didn't choose my most devastatingly horrible painting. It was initially difficult to start covering the image but there was no going back.  No pain, no gain.

I left some parts visible and rapidly discovered that the old fed the new. Novel colour combinations, differing textures and surfaces led to unexpected results.  

Another artist I know chopped up older drawings and created a most unusual and beautiful series of collages.  Maybe after 35 years of practice it's the way to go.  Artists are notorious hoarders.  We amass an abundance of interesting and beautiful things to use as references for future inspiration.

I doubt anyone will ever bother to discover the hidden layers under my paintings via x-rays or reflective light technology.  That only happens to the Mona Lisa.  

I'm not going to show anyone what was under my latest painting except for this little cropped bit on the left.  The photograph of the destroyed painting is for my journal and perhaps a new digital work.   The old will continue feeding the new.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

'TIS THE SEASON OF CONFUSION

La la la la la la la la la la la la...she thinks she's in control!

Her eyes are dry.
Her brain is mush.
Her lists are long.

Sample:  

  1. Make "sucre à la crème" for everybody and their brother.  (Secondary List 2:  Buy butter, brown sugar, white sugar, vanilla, evaporated milk).  Wreck the first couple of batches.  Have partner lick up pan of hard toffee.  Start again.  Rub stirring arm with anti-pain gel that evening.
  2. Make shortbread cookies (Secondary List 3:  Buy more butter, icing sugar, maraschino cherries, flour (white, unbleached).  Rub kneading arms with anti-pain gel that evening.
  3. Find tree/decorations in crawl space. Put up and decorate tree.  Rub crawling muscles with anti-pain gel the next day.
  4. Find and hang the friggin' wreath.  
  5. Try to decide which works to hang for show in government building next week.
  6. Prepare list of tags and bio for exhibit.  Decide on other works.  Change and retype the tag list. Decide on other works.  Retype the stupid list.  Email to organization.
  7. Hang exhibit.  Rub sore arms and upper back with anti-pain gel that evening.
  8. Finish small painting required for show in February.  Repaint small painting.
  9. Take down show at another space.  Unpack works from hatchback.  Wrap works for storage.  Buy more masking tape.
  10. Make a mix of various varnishes to obtain a perfect result.  Varnish three paintings.  Hate the result.
  11. Dye roots.  Make holiday streaks.  Contemplate having a pink one and forget about it.
  12. Reflect on what to eat at holiday gatherings.  Fall back on Mexican favourite, Mazatlan Madness. Turkey?  What turkey? 
  13. Reflect on wine, beer and other unhealthy beverages.  Buy the usual.
  14. Attend various holiday gatherings and secretly reflect on lists.
  15. Advance large pen and ink drawing which will take weeks to finish.  (What WAS I thinking?)
  16. Create and email e-Holiday card that will end up in everyone's spam folder.
  17. Write blog entry before Christmas.  This is it!
  18. Finish Pig Pub painting. Almost done!  Why is there always a last bit that begs for another solution? (Part of work in progress below).


Accomplished this week:


  • Made my first "sucre à la crème" last night.  It's ready to cut into bite sized pieces.  I didn't wreck the first batch.  YAY!  
  • Wrapped and put away some paintings from a previous show.  Had to take everything out from the heated storage space first.  Kitchen reappeared.
  • My partner painted my office walls but trim still needs doing. Other rooms will reappear after the job is finished.




  • Went to a holiday party and actually managed to forget my list.
  • Prepared video on my creative process for Creative Mondays. This is the result.  Enjoy!  


video

I'm off to retype my list of tags!

Sunday, 29 November 2015

A CITY OF SMALL MEN

It was routine on hot, summer nights. The two and a half block teen parade began at about 7 pm on Fridays at the north end of Main Street until one could see City Hall.  Most stopped about a half a block before reaching the light gray building and performed a quick about face ahead of the others to speed up the return saunter. 

The best part of the walk (other than fulfilling the main objective described below) was passing in front of the Auditorium and Roxy Movie Theatres. The facades were far from fresh.  Depraved yellow or beige, they seemed raunchy, forbidding, yet somehow strangely inviting.  Roxy in particular was foxy for a building.

The ambulatory loop went on for hours until all hungry eyes dematerialized.

It was the only way to evaluate the availability and quality of young males. Our discriminating female minds quickly scanned the face and body of one, then another, until each half-grown hunk had been tallied, meticulously recorded on an imaginary spreadsheet, and put through fanciful data analysis.  Within thirty minutes, the sort was completed and possible prospects were catalogued from hot to cool.  It didn’t take long.  It was a very small town.

The process was reciprocal.  Boys undertook a similar audit although I suspect their criteria were not quite as stringent.  

Regular analysis never amounted to much.  I had to be home by nine, ten at the latest.  We were too young to fully understand why we were participating in the procession.  

After a while, a problem became evident.  The boys were short, in fact I had a foot over most of them.  I lived in a city of small men!  In the name of femininity, I had to leave or else I would forever feel like a football player or worse, a refrigerator, the largest appliance in the kitchen! 

I wasn't that tall, just a tad above average at around 5' 7", but I was predisposed genetically to stand a head above the crowd like my grandfather.  This is part of my mom and dad's wedding picture.  Tall Grandpa Joseph towers above everyone behind my mom.




Imagine my joy when at 17, I moved to Montreal and discovered that some men were actually taller than me. It all sounds terribly superficial but seemed important at the time.  I'm still writing about it for Pete's sake. (Who the heck is Pete?)  The experience obviously scarred me for life.



Years later I returned home for a couple of high school reunions.  I was shocked to find that some small men had grown and conversations could now take place at eye level.

Memories of this perambulatory ritual remain fond ones despite my adolescent frustrations. The sights, sounds, smells, and emotions of youth are astonishingly powerful.  I recall my dad telling me that flashbacks and dreams of his childhood became increasingly frequent and vivid as he aged.  He could barely walk but during his nighttime reveries, his legs sped across honeyed fields to fire up his body.  

The inner child sneaks out at night to make things bearable.  How wonderful is that?