Art Happens

"Still Life with Apples and Cello" 24 X 24" Oil on Canvas.

Derek Houston's cello again--which he needs to come and get! With the lack of room around here... . But in the meantime, I am getting some more material out of it. A wobbly, not-too-realistic still life, with a nod to Matisse. Maybe even a little Fauve. A good platform for all kinds of colour improvisation and some of my signature dry-brush overpainting. I incorporated such mundane objects as a waterbottle and several plastic bags. Those of you from work looking at this, you will see that the cardboard boxes are Tena boxes. I left just enough logo showing for that. They are great for storage!

High Noon

Yup, you know where this is. It's not that I have a one-track mind so much as I really love the place, and find the landscape there exactly the vehicle for the emotions I want to project.

"High Noon, Douglas Lake" 18 X 24" Oil on Canvas

Pretty easy to pick out the repeated rhythms and diagonals, so I'll leave you to it. I took the photo the same day I took the photo of the first Big Pine. The composition for this one was already all there, so it was fun piece to do since I didn't have to burn too many braincells getting it together. Sometimes I need to do a simpler piece to unwind. But this one is still pretty dramatic in its own quiet way. It's full of fresh, clean air--unlike my life right now. Wish fulfillment, I guess. I paint what I need.

After Ten Years, a Self Portrait

"Self Portrait 2009" 18 X 20" Oil on canvas.

Well, I took the photo for this back in 2007, but all that has changed since then is a few more wrinkles and gray hairs, I guess. I'm as happy with the likeness as I am with the picture itself. Lots of subtle poetry, and even the shadows are packed with colour.


From the Show

Video of the show and interview with me
by Efren Quiroz
on youTube

Life is a blank wall sometimes.

The show, hung.
Miriam has an infallible sense of what goes where, for which I am thankful.

It was a whole day's work, getting it up.

My big piece with the paint still wet.

It wasn't just good art you missed... .

Me and the wifey.

VICTORIA REVISITED [the other side] runs until October 22.
See you down there!

All photos (c) the artist's wife and Miriam Mulhall.


A Bigger Big Pine

"Big Pine, Early Spring"
22 X 28" Oil on Canvas

I think the Williams family needs to adopt this tree as our clan crest.

Here it is again, with many of the same compositional devices, but with more road, more sky, and a lot more blue. I wanted, above all, to get the effect of the intense blue of the sky and how it bleeds into and dissolves the outlines of the tree. I'm not an Impressionist. I'm not interested in flux, in impermanent lighting conditions. However, actual optical effects do interest me--but more in the tradition of Vermeer (Using the digital camera, rather than the camera obscura. Hey, I'm a man of my times, as he was.)

I also expanded on the device of the lines of the foreground running through into the sky, tree and background. I copy the tones found in nature, my draftsmanship is accurate, and I use both aerial and linear perspective, but, under no circumstances will I sacrifice the integrity of the picture-plane. It's a two-dimensional surface, period. I don't put holes in people's walls.

Interestingly, the tree itself is not that much bigger than the last attempt, even though the canvas is four inches larger in both dimensions. I may have to go radically big to get the full monumentallity of this tree. It's not over yet!


Springtime in the South

"Apricot Orchard, Osoyoos"
24 X 30" Oil on Canvas.

My good wife found this one, from the balcony of the care home my grandfather lives in. She has a pretty good eye for what I need, and relates emotionally to art, even though she is not artistically inclined (she claims). Well emotional reaction is what art is all about, and she has that part dialed.

I've been wanting to paint this subject matter for ages, and hear it is. Van Gogh famously tackled this subject, but my treatment here is more Cezanne. Well, I was born in the Okanagan, so I don't have much excuse not to tackle the subject.

Unusually for me, no sky is showing, only the rising sagebrush hills. The slightly askew horizontal and vertical axis, the unified tonalities, and the treatment of both the tree-trunks and branches, as well as the white house, all give a stiff nod to Uncle Paul. This is because my aim is the same as his--to unify the picture-plane and compress the internal pictorial space. It's a 2-D surface, and I want to keep it as such. Buit if the volume of the house and the planes of the background, orchard and foreground where all parallel to the picture-plane, it would loose its internal dynamism and become a bit boring. So it is in the space between static and dynamic that the picture makes its home in the eye.

You'll notice one obvious device in the vertical of the telephone pole which is continued into the foreground tree-brace. This exists in the photo, and is simply emphasized there.

I gave the canvas a light reddish-brow wash after the drawing was done to keep the canvas from glaring through. You can see how I use it in this detail shot. The field behind the house is the ground itself. This also helps create the feeling of overcast light.

The far background/ top looks contrived, but that also was in the photo, just harnessed by me to allow a circular motion against the top and keep the horizontals from running out so badly.

All pink and green. it was fun to paint a lot of some colours I don't use a lot of otherwise.

Christ Church Cathedral

"Christ Church Cathedral" 18 x 24" Oil on Canvas.

In the spirit of innovation, and to continue with the promise I made myself a few posts ago, here is Christ Church Cathedral under a sultry summer sky, painted fast and loose. The painting underneath (turned on its side) provides a textural and tonal base. I'm all about having fun and not copying to strictly with this one. Yet the tones and details I include are just enough to firmly place it, looking south down Quadra St. The cars, cube-van, streetlight, and London Drugs sign--it's all there, but I make you work for it.

I'm becoming fixated with this old building.

Scintillating like a fire opal, I once again make the sky the focal point with successive overpaintings, deliberately building up the impasto. Well, the focal point is really the tower, and its contrast with the burning summer sky.

Mmmmm. Ice cream for the eye.


Douglas Lake Revisited--In Person

Open Range, Douglas Lake. Oil on Canvas. 22 X 28"

Going back to the Okanagan with my Dad and my new bride for a honeymoon, we took the obvious "shortcut" of the Douglas Lake Road, just down the #5 from Merritt.

Well, well. The Big Tree is still there! As it has been for about 200 years. And as we hope it will be for another 200. Such a relief to come around the corner and find it here. We were all a bit apprehensive, what with all the beetle-kill on that mountain... .

I took a print of my painting of it to my 95-year-old grandfather in Osoyoos. We told him that we had gone up through Douglas Lake, and he immediately said, "Yeah there's a really big pine tree near the summit on that road... ." And I said "Boy, have I got a surprise for you!" Some things just work out.

While we were up there I got a couple of really good shots from different angles of the Tree, and I hope to be working them up over the winter, if not sooner.

But for now, here is a seemingly plain piece of just rangeland and sky. I tried to copy the shapes of the clouds fairly exactly (although I may have overworked them a bit) and increased the amount opf colour in the photo. It was shot through the dusty window of a Honda minivan. I picked out a few subtly repeating curves, too. It was hard to paint that much drab tone; the dead grass and leafless trees of early spring.


Mt. Doug Remix

"Mt. Douglas, Late Evening" 18 X 24" Oil on Canvas.

As per my post of 12/03/09, here is an attempt to push things sideways a little it a more painterly way. I wanted to use all the elements of "pure painting" while still holding firmly onto the motif. I was much more concerned with the overall effect and the surface quality of the paint than with anything else. Things seem to harmonize pretty well, although I may take another poke at it sometime, to bring some of the compositional elements into a tighter alignment. Or not. The trick is knowing when to stop.

There's a pound of paint on this one--probably 5 coats on the sky. There's an almost-finished painting underneath, and, instead of throwing it out, I used all that frustration and thick texture underneath to contribute to the new image. I also wanted to leave lots of evidence of the struggle to create a tense and edgy painting of a serene subject.

Beauty is born from the inner struggle.

Open form and open colour both interest me. If I can only let my guard down long enough to allow it to happen.


Living Between Earth and Sky

"Houses, Harling Point" 14 X 18" Oil on canvas.

Since I moved to Victoria in 2004, I have been wanting to have a crack at painting Harling Point. Perhaps not the most dramatic place in Victoria, it is, nonetheless, one of the most interesting. The Chinese Cemetery is located there as well as two different geological massive of rock (which can be seen in here).

It's an open and elemental kind of place. I don't show the ocean in this image, but it is off to the left. On a sunny day, the four Platonic elements (air, fire, water and earth) are there in abundance.

These older cottage-like houses on Penzance Rd seem compressed between the rocks and the sky.

Not the easy painting I thought it would be. I cut it down from a larger original, being dissatisfied with the mass of irrelevant detail in the rocks, and the too-obvious composition. The result of the trimming is an image that is a little more precarious and tense.

I overpainted the sky several times, finally settling for more tonal and chromatic drama with the dry-brushed pale lemony green near the horizon. All the impasto of the previous workings add to the effect, the contrasts creating a better balance with the masses of windblown pines on the right.

I think I successfully introduced an airy feel here with my loose brushwork and treatment (or neglect of) the edges of things.

Just in Time for Spring

"Spring, Camosun College" 18 X 24" Oil on Canvas.

Phew! What a job this one was. I shot the photo at exactly this time last year on a beautiful golden evening. I had been hiking around Mt. Tolmie, and brought some good field sketches back with me. The light of early evening can be truly incredible, and I will probably spend the rest of my painting life diligently chasing it with a brush. Coming home through the backstreets, I took about a dozen photos of this, standing in the middle of the road to frame it properly.

Besides the light on the interesting architecture and the great diversity and richness of colour, it was the leaning pole at left that intrigued me, which creates a tension with the verticals of the building.

I have been accused at various times of being a Realist, or an Impressionist, but those are both superficial assessments. (I'm too loose and happy for a Realist, and too structured and methodical for an Impressionist.)

Compositionally, this one is a study in opposing diagonals--which are essential in establishing pictorial depth. So that this depth does not get out of control, I employ several devices to preserve the integrity of the 2-D picture plane (as in Cezanne). The Impressionists taught me that to create light, one needs to use colour ,and to create internal unity, break up colour--but that's about it. I really don't care about atmosphere and the effects of weather, other than how they contribute to the composition. Low light or falling rain are useful only for the diagonals they create, and how they contribute to the picture. I'm not interested in "capturing" anything, really, but finding devices in the image to project emotion for me.

There were passages that really frustrated me, but plenty here simply fell off the brush. I am learning to anticipate the overpainting I will do in the latter stages and this is allowing me to proceed more intelligently in the early stages. The underdrawing is done in blue and violet and then I did a light wash of red-brown over everything before starting with the body colour. The blue creates some fascinating edge effects.

It's funny how a painting gets smaller the more detail I try to pack into it. And, since the devil was very much in the details, here are a few close-ups for you of some of the finer bits.

A shout out to Nona, the scheduler at work, for all her encouragement, and for spreading the word.


Rothko Remixed

"No.2 (After Rothko)" Oil on Canvas, 36 X 48".

It pulses with a strange power, like a good Rothko should. But, of course, it is only a Williams, so the emotion is mine. I've been more than a little frustrated this last week over the progress of my (usual) literal oils, and so, for a needed change, I decided to scratch a log-standing itch by duplicating Mark Rothko's style in a proper big abstract canvas.

Spotlighting brings out a bit of the meditative power... . Lighting was super-critical to Uncle Mark, and you can see why by comparing the above two photos.

A bit small by normal Rothko standards, but big enough to overwhelm my meager studio infrastructure.

And yet, strangely enough, it does not overwhelm my meager apartment walls. But it does create a palpable "presence" in the room. I can feel it even when my back is turned. It is as Rothko would have wished. I distinctly remember my first, and only, experience with an original Rothko at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, which was also my first real experience with abstract art. I came away that day with a book on Renoir, stoked to have seen several Impressionist paintings. But I've long since forgotten Renoir and the Impressionists. Yet Rothko has always been THERE in my subconscious, smoldering away like a burning root, waiting to set a whole forest on fire.

I have duplicated his actual working methods fairly closely, using multiple overlapping layers of radically thinned-out paint and attempted to keep my brushwork and gestures Rothko-esque. My only departure, in fact, is that I have used my 3 Colour System, but with Manganese Blue, rather than the usual Winsor Blue which I use most frequently now.

Not sure where my art is heading after this, but it looks set to be an interesting ride. I feel at a cross-roads. I have created something today that radiates emotion, and that is what I've been after all along.

As an important, closely related footnote, yesterday I discovered the website of Edward Epp, and been kinda blown away with it. He reminds me of Deibenkorn and deStael combined, both of whom I love. His output is within the European and Abstract Expressionist vein, but he paints my Province and my country.

Maybe that is the kind of direction I need to go in; the direction I started on with "Freighter" back in '07. Epp has been tackling that subject, too, I see... .

So for lunch: bagel and cream cheese with lox. Part of the traditional Jewish diet. Thinking of you, Uncle Mark.

Essential Beverages

"Teacup and Beerbottle" 10 X 14" Watercolour on Paper.

Representing both of my favourite diuretics :) this images is essentially a compositional investigation. The curves in my new teacup (thanks Angela!) got the thing started, and from there it was a combination of planning and improvisation. Making art should be fun.





TIME: 7;30 P.M TO 9;30 PM

COST: Members Fee. $10.00 PER SESSION DROP IN

Books of Tickets: 6 FOR 50.00 (expire date June 30th,2009)

The Collective Works Gallery will be holding life drawing sessions twice a month on the first and last Sunday of the month. The two hour model sessions will be with both male and female figures. The majority of the sessions will be the undraped model, with periodically a draped model. 1 & 3 minute poses, and long poses. The human figure comes in many shapes, ages, and sizes; we will strive to represent this variety in the human form. Bring your own easel and drawing materials,chairs are provided. Come and let your muse play with us.

Facilitators: Marnie Miiller and PJ Kelly


Vital Signs

At press time, this is the first crocus of spring. That I know of. Summit Park always seems to have the first. I shared a meadow with some chickadees there yesterday, and had a quiet pipe with some tea.

Dark Industrial Underbelly

"Rock Bay", 16 X 20", Oil on Canvas.
Here is a subject I have been wanting to tackle for some time. Not to make a social or environmental statement (I'm an artist, not a journalist), but for the sheer visual interest of it. Can something so ugly be made into something beautiful? Such built landscapes do have a certain structure and blunt purpose.

So I painted it as a tonal study. This is part of the Victoria that the tourists aren't shown. I'm glad, too, that Victoria has a real and edgy side.

Loving the new camera. I didn't have to colour-correct this photo at all. Another helpful factor is that I have now got two 50 watt halogens shining on my easel, so I am painting under gallery lighting, and so my photos turn out better too.


Cello Study

"Cello Study" Watercolour and white gouache on paper. 10 X 14.

It's strange how such a small work can take so long, but still be so satisfying. If this would have been an oil, I would have lost interest in it 3/4 of the way through. The cool thing with this medium is that I can pick it up and put it down at a moment's notice. It is not the production that painting in oils can be.

I'm pretty happy with this one, as it is a little more structured than the last cubist cello watercolour. My intention was to get a diagonal music-like rhythm going, and preserve some of the more literal aspects of the motif.

I'm also happy with how the planes meld and separate alternately. It was a fun painting to do.