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.