Tuesday, December 22, 2009

New Painting: 'Pizza'

Pizza 2009, 5.5 X 8" Acrylic on illustration board

The one problem, or should I say, ‘feature’ of my technique is that I can’t make anything lighter once it’s painted. I don’t use any white paint and have no way of correcting an error of that sort.

This means patiently building up layers of thin washes, carefully avoiding putting paint on anything that will appear white in the finished image.

‘Pizza’ clocks in at an absurd 419.5 hours. Lots of darkness in the image, lots of detail. Things that make my paintings take a long time. Makes me want to do a white building in the snow next but I don’t have any winter images from which to work.

With winter finally entrenched in Montreal, I’ll have to head out with the camera and see what happens. In fact, I have a particular white building in mind!

‘Pizza’ is my first Montreal image. I seem to have successfully managed the mental transition to the new place I call home.

I took the photo over a year ago, returning to a place I’d been (without my camera) several months before. I was thankful the sign was still there but then, this is a part of town that isn’t exactly booming.

There too was the same guy (or someone just like him) in front of a tattoo parlour, having a smoke, fixing me with a bemused smirk. I was too annoyed by his ‘I own the sidewalk’ stance to let him put me off.

Admittedly, this is the kind of thing that usually does put me off but I said to myself ‘Artist at work, pal!’ while I took a couple of photos.

As I leave the scene, I usually feign interest in some random object across the street or look at my camera as though checking its settings. Avoiding eye contact at all cost!

I have fantasies of an empty city in which to photograph. No cars parked in front of houses. No guy on a cell phone standing in front of the only store on the block you want to shoot.

On foot, I’ve circled blocks waiting for people to clear out or for cars to leave the twenty minute zone they’ve been in for half an hour.

One would think that after sixteen years of this, I would have sorted out a painless routine for picture taking but it remains something I do out of grudging necessity rather than pleasure.

The world is full of confused, irate store owners and stupefied, slack-jawed onlookers and they are legion when I leave the house with my camera.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

100 Paintings

Occasionally the fog of the daily routine lifts and I take account of what I’ve been doing in the larger context of time.

Going through the lists I keep for completed paintings I noticed recently that I’d completed over a hundred paintings in the photorealist style. It seems almost unbelievable to me, given how slow my process is.

(music: Sitting Still Moving Still Staring Outlooking- His Name is Alive)

I can mark the beginning of my photorealist period accurately as I started doing them over the course of one weekend in 1993 after reaching the end of my patience with my former painting methods. It was a difficult decision making orphans of the paintings I’d spent the previous decade creating.

Projecting a photo, drawing it and painting it was the most fun I’d had in a long while and I loved the results. The process seemed miraculously transformative. I felt an objective detachment from the work for which I’d been unconsciously yearning.

The paintings in the video are presented in chronological order and without edits. Every painting I produced from 1993 to 2007 is represented. I find it interesting, in the video, that whenever I seem to be on an identifiable path I veer off into the woods unexpectedly for a painting or two.

I’d like to some day chronicle, year by year, the trials of my life as they related to the paintings I made, tying the two together in a psychologically informative way.

I still own almost a third of the paintings I produced in that period. Early sign paintings, the odd dud and the anomalies like ‘Manitoba Landscape’ and ‘Bride and Groom’. I jokingly refer to these as my ‘retirement fund’ but I’m not entirely convinced the assets will be worth anything when the day comes.

It’s taken a long time to figure out what and why I’m painting but I think I’m finally on to something.

Given that my paintings take longer to paint now than they did sixteen years ago I figure number two hundred should come around in about twenty years.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

In Progress: 'Pizza'

I don't often take 'in progress' photos because I can't seem to add a regular photo taking session to my routine.

The internet is full of time lapse movies of paintings being painted. I've always thought I'd like to do it but for me the time commitment is daunting. The few times I've tried, I've inevitably forgotten to do it one day and spoiled the project.

This series of photos at least gives an idea of my process.

The section of 'Pizza' being painted is two inches by three inches.

(After 7.5 hours)

(After 21.5 hours)

(After 35 hours)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Studio Visit

I recently had an experience which illustrated for me the phenomenal changes that have taken place in my life over the last six years.

My friend Randall Anderson had arranged for his John Abbot CEGEP art class to visit several studios in Montreal where his friends maintain their diverse artistic practices. It would give the students a tangible feeling for what life looks like for practicing artists.

Hayley and I and our open plan condo would be the second last stop on the tour.

Randall suggested that I join the students as my day would already be interrupted. Sounded like a good idea!

In an exhausting but immensely enjoyable eight hour period, traveling from St. Henri in Montreal’s southwest to Petite Italie in the north, we visited the studios of Doug Scholes, David Spriggs, Etienne Zack and of course, ours and Randall’s.

I’ve only just begun to see that it helps my own practice to discover that people working outside my genre are often, surprisingly, working with similar concerns. Even those that aren’t help to further define my practice to myself.

I’ve spent most of my life as an artist working in complete isolation from other artists. I’ve always been wary of being unduly influenced by the thoughts of others, likely because of an overwhelming insecurity I’ve had in my own ideas.

More recently, I’ve been coming to terms with the fact that I’ve isolated myself for other reasons as well.

I’m a recovering recluse. Like most people recovering from debilitating conditions, I’m on constant alert for signs of slipping back into old habits. My default position has always been to disappear, to observe the world through a window.

I have a notion that my Mother, affected by her experiences in wartime Glasgow, passed on to me a feeling of being under siege. During the war she was a young woman coping with an untenable existence at home while also under the strain of constant air raid sirens and bombings.

When I was a child she and I spent what feels like an inordinate amount of time peeking from windows, hiding behind doors, waiting for the landlord, the Fuller Brush man, the Avon lady, or some other unknown solicitor to get the message and move on down the street.

A knock on the front door was a signal to shut the hell up and sidle slowly to a curtained window to see whether or not the door really needed to be answered. It was occasionally a misguided neighbourhood friend trying to get me to leave the house. I’d answer the door but I didn’t always leave the house to play.

Summertime allergies added to my desire to hole up, peering from the front window like an invalid tracking the movements of the neighbourhood.

I still get a jolt when the phone rings or when there’s a knock on the door. The miracle of call display helps quell some of the panic and there’s always the peep hole in the event someone makes it past the security of our condo’s main door. Old habits die hard.

I know now that I have the ability to be part of things that happen beyond my walls. To rise to the challenge of everyday social situations or, in the case of the class visit, to withstand the intrusion of twenty or so people into my private realm.

I also know (fair warning to my forty or so facebook friends) the old habit will unexpectedly kick in again someday and I’ll inevitably go in to my facebook account, click on ‘settings’ and hit ‘deactivate’.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Annotated Workspace

Who says an artist needs a big studio? When your paintings are no bigger than a trade size paperback, an old desk will do.

Things were getting a little cramped the other day, I recorded the chaos before I cleaned it up.

1- Vintage seventies clock (Westclox Minicube) from a thrift store in Sidney, B.C.. Just started making a bad noise.

2- Bill reminders and a calendar page with notes such as the one for September 13th: ‘4:30 am fight outside!’

3- My palette, watered down in old baby food jars with yogurt container mixing lids. Clockwise from top: Liquitex cadmium yellow deep; Liquitex mars black; Liquitex cobalt blue; Liquitex brilliant blue; Stevenson permanent crimson and Liquitex cadmium red medium.

4- More yogurt containers for colour mixing all of which are in various stages of UV disintegration.

5- Hama daylight slide viewer, dropped innumerable times, fixed with tape and cardboard and made shiny by sixteen years of handling.

6- Piece of recycled Gibson Girl Design order form that I use for guiding my straight edges. Gibson Girl was my girlfriend Hayley’s tailoring business which I encouraged her to give up after I saw how badly her customers treated her! Discourage anyone you love from going into the tailoring business.

7- Mamiya 645e, 6 X 4.5 cm, 120 film camera which I use, with tungsten slide film, to take the record shots of my paintings. Should probably have bought a 4 X 5” view camera.

8- Ikea lamp with replaced socket base and 60 watt ‘daylight’ bulb. Illuminates the painting and the slide viewer. Good hand warmer in winter.

9- The current painting ‘Pizza’ (on Strathmore illustration board) at a very early stage. Covered with tracing paper to protect its surface while I paint.

10- Canon digital camera owned by Hayley’s new company ‘Birds of North America’, a line of women’s clothes for which I shoot the look books. I was using the camera to shoot my daily progress on ‘Pizza’ but missed a day and gave up the project. Argh!! Maybe next time!

11- Plywood box which protected my paintings from the rigours of air and bus travel for many years as I traipsed across the continent in search of a home for my paintings. Now retired.

12- Letter from the National Gallery of Canada responding a year and a half after I sent them notice of my second show in New York. After apologizing for the delay in responding, they tell me they will not be pursuing an acquisition of my work at this time. Thanks!

13- Sheet, furnished by Hayley, with helpful French language grammar tips.

14- Perpetual calendar which is perpetually at least one day off.

15- Prize UPS pen (stylus on one end, pen on the other) found on the street. Assorted seventies pencils (Census of Canada, Wawanesa Insurance) and homemade ‘pick’ (pin stuck in to quarter inch dowel) for poking unruly, elevated bits on the paintings.

16- Old mug with broken handle and yogurt container insert holding my ‘fresh’ water. No wonder my colours are so muddy!

17- Sheet of tracing paper to rest my hand on while painting. A fresh one for each painting!

18- Cheap number 6 Winsor and Newton Brush. Almost a year old, due for changing. The only size brush I use. I Always cut the floppy tip off the new one. Note that I’ve worn the chrome off the ferrule. Probably have microscopic particles of chrome in my bloodstream.

19- Folded piece of paper towel for absorbing water from the brush or dabbing excess paint from the painting.

20- Sixties green metal office desk originally from the University of Victoria in B.C. which has been taken apart and moved too many times to count. Even in pieces, it is astonishingly heavy!

21- Sixties metal office chair ‘40/4’ designed by David Rowland with original under-seat sticker. This chair, combined with the desk, makes for a chilly winter painting experience.

22- Vintage leaf coaster which I never seem to use but always have on my desk.

23- Take-out coffee (not on coaster) from Depanneur Le Pick Up, our awesome local store/ lunch counter.

24- Instructions for new power cord for our internet connection from Bell. ‘Unplug old power cord, plug in new power cord’ and a phone number to call in the event the instructions aren’t clear enough.

25- Remote control for radio, handy for changing the station when Jian Ghomeshi on CBC Radio-One becomes too much to bear.

26- My new-old glasses. According to the vendor in New York, made for 1950’s chemical workers. Got glasses just in time for our cross country drive to Montreal. ‘Wow, the street signs are so clear!’

27- Pin-back buttons bearing the logo I designed for ‘Birds of North America’ sent to us by an enterprising button maker. Too bad he screwed up the logo!

28- Spray bottle for keeping ‘Tony’ our demented cat from destroying our new couches. Good boy.

29- Montreal ‘Metro’ tickets under a copy of Michel Tremblay’s ‘ The Fat Lady Next Door is Pregnant’, in French no less! I’ve struggled through the first page.

30- Entertaining letter from my wildly perceptive, intelligent and equally crazy ex-wife.

31- Beautiful Italian metal box containing odds and ends given to me by a friend in Victoria for helping trim her bush. No, really, a really big hedge. Really big.

Monday, October 12, 2009


City Water Meter Repair Co. Inc. 2008, 5.5 X 8", acrylic on paper.

The bus driver announced, as we were approaching the Albany N.Y. bus terminal on the way home to Montreal, that we’d be refueling the bus in Albany and stopping for food after another half hour on the highway.

He advised against eating at the Albany terminal saying he wouldn’t let his dog eat there. As the next food stop was scheduled to be at a McDonald’s I decided it wouldn’t kill me to go 10 hours without food.

The cajoling and herding of bus travel, the close proximity to people making odd noises and trying all manner of things to thwart the evil of deep vein thrombosis had almost completely overwhelmed the positive buzz of a few days in New York.

I thought when I moved to Montreal that I’d be in New York at least a few days a year but this was my first trip since the move. For me, it’s never hard to think of a reason why I shouldn’t do something. I finally came up with several compelling reasons to go and pulled the trigger on a trip.

My Montreal artist friend Randall Anderson was going down to de-install his latest project, a sculpture in a storage locker in Chelsea. An Internet friend, Adam Normandin, had a show of his realist work at George Billis Gallery and a far-flung group of photorealists who found me on facebook were arranging to meet for a gallery tour.

I had my doubts. I’m at a place where I’m a little confused about what I do. These mostly young photorealists appeared to be a gung-ho bunch and I was afraid of contaminating their enthusiasm with my growing distaste for the genre.

The trip however, became a lesson in refueling. It was interesting and affirming to see artists at all points in their careers becoming recharged from new ideas and the shared struggle of making art.

Recognizing each other from our tiny facebook profile pictures we greeted each other like long lost friends although our only acquaintance was from scant lines of information on the internet.

New York can be overwhelming for an artist. Chelsea is full of spectacle, the new, the novel. The soaring spaces often outshining the art.

But something always manages to touch the heart: Randall cheekily working the perimeter of the mainstream art world with his Manhattan Mini Storage installation ‘Chelsea Prototype’; My friend Jay Kelly’s obsessively created small abstract drawings at Jim Kempner; At Pavel Zoubok, John Evans’ one-a-day collages which for decades chronicled the concerns of his East Village neighbourhood through found bits and pieces.

This latter helped underline for me the importance of one’s work being about what one knows best.

For the first time in eight years of trips to New York, I came home without a single photo that I’d turn into a painting. It suddenly didn’t make any sense for me to even partially focus on the imagery of a city I know only through infrequent visits.

A week later we’re all back home and judging by the facebook postings, most are full of the excitement of new techniques to try, new art world connections, new art discovered and a few more of New York’s mysteries unfurled.

I’ve struggled through a week of post hangover, post nine hour bus trip blahs and look forward to starting a new week with at least enough gas to get me through my next painting.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

New Painting: 'Apartment on Convent Place'

'Apartment on Convent Place' 2009, 5.5 X 8", acrylic on board.

I had originally wanted to shoot this building from the front where the word ‘Maple’ appeared on one of the front doors in plain, vaguely italic, gold leaf letters. The other door must have read ‘Apts’ or ‘Court’ but had been replaced. By the time I got around to shooting it, ‘Maple’ had also disappeared.

I had been intent on calling the piece ‘Maple’ and the missing word killed my interest in the building. Just another worn looking small stucco apartment in Victoria. The narrow street wouldn’t allow me to fit the whole building in my viewfinder so I left without a photo.

Some time later, overlooking a carport, I took a shot of the back of the building not realising it was ‘Maple’.

We’re settling in to Montreal but I’m still dragging out my most recent Victoria slides to browse through. Old slides have a diminishing impact on me over time, reflecting old concerns or conceits. There seems to be a two year window of relevance which I can feel closing on my Victoria shots.

I notice John Salt and John Baeder often use old photos for new paintings and wonder if I’ll ever do the same.

The changing nature of what surrounds us interests me. The changes giving new context to the old. The constantly shifting definition of ‘old’. I guess using old photos is one way of pointing out these changes.

God knows why I picked this image out of the pile. Like most, it sort of demanded that I choose it. I sometimes find myself mid-painting asking ‘Why on earth am I painting this?’ Nondescript is hardly the word but it undoubtedly reflects some subtle perceptual change in me and illuminates some dark corner of my psyche with its weak light.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

What’s the Point?

'Louise Apartments' 2008, 5.5 X 8", acrylic on paper

A question photorealists are often asked and in the silence of approaching darkness on our deserted street, a question I ask myself too frequently about a good many things.

With regards to making a painting from a photograph I can only say that it’s the best way I’ve found to express myself as an artist.

In an age when the definition of art is so broad I’m shocked that knowledgeable people still question the validity of photo-based paintings, giving it only the most superficial analysis.

At my second show of photorealist work in Toronto the first conversation I had on opening night was of the ‘what’s the point’ variety. It still galls me that the man with the question was a successful painter at the gallery who dismissively told me he could produce something similar to my paintings with photoshop and a printer.

By the time I had finished defending myself I was emotionally spent and not much looking forward to the rest of the evening. When I learned he was a ‘stable-mate’ I could have done the little bastard some physical harm!

It’s not always easy being the only photorealist at a gallery.

I don’t often meet the people who buy my paintings but at my last show I spoke with someone who had just purchased ‘Louise Apartments’ and was at a loss to explain why the image affected him to the degree it did.

The loss of words, his stock in trade as an English professor, gave me a feeling of task-completed. I detailed for him, as best I could, the initial encounter I had with the subject: camera in hand, a feeling in the stomach that is akin to dread or despair, to hearing that the news is as bad as you thought it might be.

The point of the whole excruciating exercise being something beyond words or description.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


In my continuing effort to expose the minutiae of my painting practice, here are a few words and a small movie on shipping.

Equal to my hatred for framing is my hatred of crate assembly.

I tell myself that I wouldn’t hate it so much if I had a workshop but I once had a workshop and hated it just as much. Perhaps the shop’s small size was the issue, I couldn’t move an eight foot piece of wood without knocking things off shelves or gouging walls.

(music: I Guess I'm Floating-M83)

For someone as detail oriented as me I have the darnedest time with tape measures. The old adage of ‘measure twice and cut once’ is no guarantee of success. Power tools and an amped-up level of frustration aren’t a good mix.

A huge part of the stress of shipping is the possibility of the complete destruction of one’s paintings. Covering an obsessively created work of art with a thin layer of glass for its ‘protection’ for a cross continental trip is a little counterintuitive but things can be done to lessen the chance of disaster.

Using blue painter’s tape (made by 3M) I cover the glass with a grid which, in the event of breakage, is meant to hold any broken bits of glass in place until they can be dealt with. The glass is supported somewhat by the mat board surrounding the painting so the unsupported area is quite small. Incidentally, the green versions of this tape leave adhesive on the glass after a short period.

I’ve managed not to break any glass in ten years of long distance shipping so the inherent danger might be less than it would appear.

I wrap the framed painting in a plastic bag, making it as water tight as I can.

Bubble wrap is my best friend. I could be accused of overusing it but anything wrapped in a sufficient amount of bubble wrap will survive all but the most catastrophic incidents. I once used 150 feet of bubble wrap to send a crate with fifteen paintings to New York from British Columbia ...and they survived.

It wasn’t the most efficiently assembled package I’ve ever shipped.

I buy one inch bubble wrap in two hundred foot rolls. The last roll I purchased I had to strap to the roof of my miata, dwarfing the car. All that was missing was a ‘follow me to the circus’ sign taped to the bumper. The salesperson at the store said that if it fell off the car at least no one would get hurt!

The crates themselves are made of quarter-inch plywood attached to external frames of one-by-two strapping. I use drywall screws to hold it all together

When I send a single framed painting I make the sides of the crate with one-by-fours topped with quarter-inch sheets of plywood.

I seal all the edges with packing tape, address it and hope for the best.

My friend Steve Donahue shared with me the unique method he once employed as a UPS driver on the graveyard shift in Toledo, Ohio. Being somewhat anti-authority, Steve, annoyed by the supervisors checking out his adherence to the standard ‘how-to-pack-a-truck’ policy preferred to build a well constructed false wall and pitch all the remaining boxes into the darkness beyond! He gave special attention to boxes marked ‘Fragile’.

Unfortunately, he shared this on the eve of the shipment to New York of my first show at O.K. Harris: twenty thousand dollars worth of glass covered paintings, representing half a dozen years of work, awaiting the arrival of the distinctive brown UPS truck!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Maybe today will be perfect.

This means I will begin painting at 9 am, I’ll stop at noon for lunch, I’ll continue painting at 12:30 pm and stop again at 5 pm.

No one will call. No one will need me. I won’t need to make an appointment to get my summer tires installed or notice the tiny burgeoning of a recurrence of skin cancer on my forearm.

I’ll be so seduced by the desire to make something perfect that I won’t notice the inanities of the radio blaring in the background.

One of the reasons I turned to photorealism was the temptation of perfection.

If I make the painting look just like the photograph I used as a source then I have, objectively, achieved one of the things I had set out to do.

You may not like what I painted or why or how I painted it but you sure as hell can’t tell me it doesn’t look like a photograph.

(Camrose Apartments, 2005 5.5 X 8" acrylic on paper)

When you’re insecure or unaware of what you’re saying in your paintings it’s easy to become bogged down by the pursuit of perfection.

Perfection is an illusion. The siren song that lures me from the realities of my existence.

After my second sold out show in New York a noted authority on photorealism called my work that of ‘a fine journeyman realist’.

Ouch! After all, the sold out show wasn’t at his gallery.

I’m beginning to understand that the pursuit of perfection is an unsuccessful effort to eliminate any possibility of rejection and at the same time a denial of the humanity in my paintings.

My eyes, my brain and my hands work together in their own unique way. The imperfections are what make the works unique to me.

I’m human and I cannot be perfect. Repeat as needed.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Subject

What do I paint?

I used to ask myself this before starting a painting. I’d go through slides of my recent work and remind myself what it was that I painted.

I think it’s one of the harder things for a photorealist to consider, we’re defined so much by the things we paint. I’ve ended up being more enamoured of painters who aren’t as easily defined by their subject matter. How do you describe what Robert Bechtle or John Salt paints?

(Martin's Bar, 2006 5.5 X 8" acrylic on paper)

When I dropped old neon signs as a subject I had only vague stirrings of awareness of the direction I was headed. The conscious changes one makes are usually dead ends. There is often an undercurrent of change that’s more elusive but more important to identify.

How do you carve out an identity as an artist without figuring out who you are as a person? I am singularly unmoved by paintings of marbles, random objects in glass jars, the still life of vintage collectibles.

What do these things say about one’s soul? Not much.

When I look at a painting, I want to be let in through a crack to the artist’s psyche, not to simply marvel at their technical bravado.

Far more difficult than the mastery of technique is the seeming endlessness of the artist sorting out why he paints. Why he paints what he paints.

For the photorealist, it’s worth considering why one chooses to be a photorealist at all. Why would a sane person do that to themselves?

I don’t know that it’s ultimately necessary to have this knowledge but I know that it’s important to ask these questions of oneself and to answer them truthfully.

The questions never change but for me, the answers continue to morph and shift in unexpected ways.

What do I paint?

If I’m figuring anything out, I’m painting an honest reflection of myself.

(Running Man, 2006 8 X 5.5" acrylic on paper)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

New Painting: 'M. Griffin Ltd.'

'M. Griffin Ltd.' 2009, 5.5 X 8", acrylic on board.

My first painting on archival illustration board (Strathmore 500 series- Heavyweight Plate, to be exact).

I’ve been encouraged by the gallery for a couple of years to try out illustration board. In the strange world of art dealing, I can get more money for a work on board than I can on paper.

I stubbornly resisted the suggestion for no other reason than stubbornness and wish I had made the switch sooner.

There is little or no change in technique needed and it’s a smoother, brighter surface. It’s also more amenable to being tossed around on the table as it’s considerably thicker than the 300 lb Fabriano Artistico I’ve been using for most of the last decade.

I’m glad it’s worked out. In order to buy it locally I had to buy two packs of board. As I left the store, it dawned on me this was an eight year supply.

Undoubtedly one of my last few Victoria, B.C. subjects, M. Griffin Ltd. is located around the corner from my last address in downtown Victoria.

Aside from being easier and quicker to paint, I love the look of white stucco buildings. I was struck when I arrived in Victoria in 1989 by the lack of brick buildings on the west coast. Stucco rules the day!

The omnipresent grey sky of winter makes these old white buildings stand out with a certain shopworn serenity.

I finally got around to photographing M. Griffin just before we moved. I had been meaning to paint it for years and had originally imagined it with the late evening summer sun on it. I’m glad it ended up with the blah, late winter blues. Very wet-coast.

My friend Wilfred in Vancouver said that he was curious to see how living in Montreal would change my work. At first I thought ‘Not at all!’ but as we complete our first year here I realise there will have to be a bit of a shift.

Montreal presents some interesting challenges for me. The most obvious being French language signage. A painting of a storefront in Victoria could represent anywhere in North America. Do I want to be so specific as to say ‘This is Quebec.’ in all of my paintings?

We had a particularly brutal winter this year and I wasn’t moved to take any photos. Can I possibly ignore the way things are in Montreal for almost five months of the year?

These days the city’s alleys are seeping in to my consciousness. Having moved to my sixth address in five years, this time to a loft in ‘Petite Italie’, we find ourselves surrounded with alleyways, train tracks and any manner of oddball light industrial building. The daily dog walks are serving to indoctrinate my mind to the new vernacular.

Part of what I think is important in my paintings is my connection with the subject matter. It seems inevitable that I will find a way to connect with the city I live in and I don’t want to pretend that I live somewhere else.

I’ll likely continue to mine the old photos for a while. I have one or two more Victoria shots and the inevitable gold mine of New York to tide me over until the indoctrination of the new is complete.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Photograph

(photo by my photorealist painter friend Tad Suzuki)

Despite the clear headed, objective nature of the photorealistic process there is an intuitive side to the work, namely the taking of the photograph.

I can be in an anxious state when I’m out in the world and this seems to heighten the subconscious attraction I have for a subject. Exhaustion will do this as well: many of my photos are taken on very long walks whose sole purpose is to find subjects for paintings.

I’ll find myself raising the camera to my eye without much thought. I don’t ponder or deliberate, don’t analyse the scene in any way. I just shoot and move on.

When the film is developed, I often find some key element in the image of which I had no conscious awareness when I took the photo.

I occasionally pass up a good photo in order not to stop in front of someone or otherwise draw attention to myself. I sometimes counteract this self sabotage by telling myself that taking photos is a necessary part of my job and when I have my camera, I’m working.

It always seems that the only truck on the street is blocking the one building I want to shoot or the guy on the cell phone won’t vacate the doorway in that perfect shot.

The inevitable passerby always seems perplexed that I would take a photo of some decrepit building. Little do they know I might also spend the next several months making a painting of it.

Point and shoot.

Like most of my process I’ve tried to keep this aspect of my practice simple.

I use a fifteen year old Minolta SLR 35 mm camera and shoot with Fujichrome Provia film. I haven’t spent a lot of time experimenting with film. The Fujichrome has a nice, even tone and is readily available to me.

I use the camera in full-auto mode with its standard 28-80 mm zoom lens. Simplicity relieves the awkwardness of busy city streets. I can frame with the zoom, press the shutter and be gone.

I take only two photos of most subjects, trying to ensure that I don’t crop the image too closely. I can alter the framing when I project the slide.

My tendency is to centre the subject in the viewfinder. There is something I find more objective in the symmetry of such an image. I’ve become suspicious of the apparent dynamism of diagonal lines!

It probably just appeals to my desire to seek order in my surroundings.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Curiosity drove me, in 1997, to record the number of hours I spend on each image I paint.

I began to keep the little cards on which I record the numbers thinking they were an interesting artifact of my process.

It helps to know how long it takes to complete the average painting when planning for upcoming shows. It’s also enabled me to passive aggressively imply to galleries that my paintings are being given away, considering how long it takes to paint them.

I can also torture myself with the fact that the paintings are now taking four times longer to complete than they once did.

In a continuing effort to expose my painting methods I began sending copies of the ‘time-sheets’ to O.K. Harris with the paintings in 2005 and now affix them to the back of the framed painting. I’m not sure what anyone makes of them.

For the statistically minded, the longest I've spent on a painting was my most recent: ‘Parkside Bar’, 2009, 8 X 12” at an astonishing 682 hours.

The most time consuming image for its size was ‘Munt’, 2007, 8 X 5.5” at 387 hours or 8.8 hours per square inch!

Not that I’m counting.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009



To a degree I've always recorded or documented my process for some imagined future greatness. Won't they be glad I was so diligent at recording my journey?

At the same time I'm prone to eliminating all traces of my existence: deleting MySpace pages; tearing decades old journals to shreds with a feeling of 'What does it matter?'.

Lately I lean more towards erring on the side of overexposure. My paintings are about laying myself bare so I've begun to be more explicit.


The video.

Two things I hate: framing and projecting.

Without a studio everything is temporary, makeshift.

I felt the need to record our last apartment in Victoria: three hundred and fifty square feet which served as studio and living space for both my clothing designer girlfriend Hayley and me.

To say nothing of the dog or the cat.

It was a long six months.


Music is 'Time to Pretend' by MGMT.

Friday, April 17, 2009

New Painting: 'Parkside Bar'

'Parkside Bar' 2009, 8 X 12", acrylic on paper.

‘Parkside Bar’ is in New York’s suddenly not-very-scary lower east side. I took the photo for the painting while on a mammoth, early morning walk a day or two after my last opening in New York.

I’m always tempted to do a larger painting in the months after a show. In my case, a twice-than-normal-size ‘larger’ painting is a mere 8 X 12”.

‘Parkside Bar’ was begun as our first winter in Montreal descended upon us.

After nearly six months I’ve emerged, blinking at the brightness, to deal with my peculiar post painting anxieties.

Towards the end of a painting I begin to feel a vague unease which inevitably turns to general agitation. I’ve never tried to analyse this process because it goes away once I’ve started another painting.

My girlfriend Hayley implied the other day that I use the paintings as a refuge from the world. In the case of ‘Parkside Bar’, a six month removal from any concern other than painting.

After the brief, sullen silence that followed, I agreed that she was right. I deal with all the unpleasantness of life in the days following the completion of a painting, saving it all up for the week or two until I begin to trace the next image. Documenting, framing, shipping, the doctor, the dentist, the vet, taxes.

The dread becomes understandable in this context. Whether or not I can do anything about it is another matter.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Kill Your Idols!

I’ve always believed that people can be hindered by their idols.

It’s natural to idolize and to aspire to the achievements of another but at some point, in order to have any hope of a similar or greater success, you have to believe you are at least their equal.

I’ve looked up to several artists throughout the various phases of my growth as an artist.

It strikes me that I’ve gone through several stages in my attitude towards them as one does with one’s parents throughout the phases of growth of the individual.

Stage one is undying love and admiration.

Stage two is the opposite of stage one.

Stage three is a more reasoned appraisal based on more or less rational thought.


In my early teens the two things I loved most were hockey and drawing. I was, therefore, an enormous fan of Ken Danby ('Lacing Up'-1973).

Stage one:

I am most enamoured of Danby's hockey images 'At the Crease' and 'Lacing Up'. His scenes of rural Ontario feed my imagination for the countryside, a romanticized notion borne of my lack of experience beyond our North Toronto neighbourhood.

Stage two:

The early evocative images of rural Ontario give way to artistically questionable commissions and furry kitten sentimentality. He seems not to notice the difference between brilliance and schlock.

Stage three:

His early paintings hold up as a sensitive record of nineteen-seventies rural Ontario. ‘At the Crease’ remains an icon and while I wish his later postcard style images of Lake Louise, etc. held even the slightest hint of irony, he had a particular vision for his art that held strong through several decades until his death in 2007.

Phase two of my growth as an artist is marked by my interest in Canadian east coast painters Alex Colville ('June Noon'-1963) and Christopher Pratt ('Institution'-1973).

Stage one:

The realists to whom one graduates after Danby infatuation. Both play on a darker vision of rural life: undertones of violence or other threats concealed in the depiction of the everyday. Colville presents his subjects with a palpable sense of foreboding and angst.

A sense of alienation permeates Pratt’s spare, linear compositions.

Stage two:

Neither artist excels at the human figure. Colville’s subjects are often awkwardly posed and the number of images with obscured or turned heads leads one to think he can’t paint a face.

Pratt’s figures appear as lifelike as a silicone skinned robot.

Stage three:

Both artists have, over several decades, produced an astonishing, complex chronicle of their lives and environment. Pratt’s work has become darker and more psychologically intense and both are deservedly Canada’s best known realists.

Phase three is my introduction to Edward Hopper ('Excursion into Philosophy'-1959) through the book by Lloyd Goodyear. I remember unpacking it at the book shop where I worked and being amazed that a realist had painted urban scenes in the nineteen-thirties and forties.

Stage one:

I had a great interest in depression-era America in the early eighties, the cars, the buildings, the clothing, the literature and here was Hopper providing me with the visuals.

Such was my fear of overt artistic influence that I stopped reading the book ‘Edward Hopper: The Art and the Artist’ by Gail Levin because I identified too much with Hopper’s stubborn personality.

Stage two:

As bored as I am with my own work in the early nineties I am equally bored with the parade of sad-sack characters in Hopper’s gloomy canvases.

Stage three:

I’m still moved by Hopper’s quietly haunting images of post depression-era America and by his steadfast adherence to an out of favour style in a turbulent time for American contemporary art.

The timelessness of his concerns allows the work to be as effective today as ever.


Odd that none of these artists are photorealists.

They held my interest but I had no desire to produce such work nor the confidence that I could.

I was, however, mildly obsessed with John Baeder’s anecdote-filled book ‘Diners’ a couple of decades before I had any inkling that I’d end up showing at his New York gallery. I admired and envied his all-consuming interest in his subject and read through the book several times. (Diner- Camp Hill, Pa.-1973)

I had the good fortune to have my second show at O.K. Harris in 2008 alongside Baeder’s twelfth show.

I brought my old ‘Diners’ book to New York thinking I’d get him to sign it but as I made my way to the gallery for the opening, the book in my shoulder bag, I wondered why I wanted his signature.

When I arrived at the gallery I put my bag, the book inside, in the lunchroom closet where it remained for the duration of the evening.

I realised what I wanted when, later in the evening, he shook my hand and said how much he admired my work.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


My methods are as simple as I can make them. I’d rather paint than research materials or experiment with techniques.

My ‘studio’ is a sixties green metal office desk.

I keep my paint in one drawer and the painting I’m working on in another.

Most recently I’ve painted on Fabriano Artistico 300lb hot press watercolour paper.

I use a number six gold sable brush which I change once a year.

I use six colours: Liquitex cobalt blue; Liquitex brilliant blue; Liquitex cadmium red medium; Stevenson permanent crimson; Liquitex cadmium yellow deep; Liquitex mars black.

Each watered down colour is in a small glass jar whose lid, an inverted yogurt container, also serves as its palette. Colours are occasionally combined in other containers.

I project a 35 mm slide of my chosen image with a thrift store projector and trace it directly to the paper. I refer to the same
slide using a hand-held daylight slide viewer when I paint.

The paint is applied to the paper in thin washes, background to foreground, light to dark. As in traditional watercolour technique I let the white of the paper provide tints and highlights.

I cover all but the area being painted with tracing paper so as not to expose painted areas to accidents and to protect the light pencil markings on unpainted areas.

The average 5.5 X 8” painting can take upwards of 300 hours.

At the end of my nine to five day I put everything back in its drawer.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Timeline: 1983-2004

I sometimes think of a line from a Talking Heads song "...and you may ask yourself, 'How did I get here?'"

A mostly unsuccessful Canadian artist with no art education lands at a prestigious gallery in New York and his first show sells out. Sometimes these things happen.

The first sellout show of my career came in my twentieth year of full-time painting. Points for persistence. The preceding year, a show of the same work in Toronto wasn't sullied by the taint of commerce: there were no sales.

New York was, realistically, my last shot before considering other career options.

This is a timeline of the twenty year road to a show in New York.

1983- I quit my go-nowhere job at a bookstore where I’ve been ‘assistant to the manager’ for six years. My first and only real job. Not having gone to university, I consider this my post-secondary education. Bought and read a lot of books. Unpacked a good number as well. Discovered Edward Hopper, Richard Estes, John Baeder, books on roadside architecture, Russian and Japanese literature and any number of oddities that one finds at a good bookstore, including my first girlfriend and future ex-wife Christina.

1984- I’m twenty-six, living in my parent’s basement and have finally begun to paint. I’ve spent the previous year avoiding painting so as not to face the fear that I will suck at painting.

At first I’m doing small paintings on canvas board. I’m painting slightly altered versions of actual places, using my visual memory to piece things together.

After struggling with what feels like endless mixing of paint to get just the right colour, I yield to a few short lines describing Chuck Close’s technique in the book ‘Hyperrealism’ by Linda Chase. I decide to use only red, yellow, blue and black paints.

I’m still of the mind that using photographs is cheating. My high-school art teacher forbade the use of photographs and derailed what seemed natural to me: the use of my own photographs as a source for my art.

I paint my first ‘serious’ work on gessoed masonite panel which I will continue to use until 1993.

Highly influenced by Hopper’s haunted urban nightscapes, I begin to paint the scenes I see on the regular evening walks I take with Christina. These walks are our meager entertainment for the remainder of our years in Toronto.

1986- I finally feel ready to approach a gallery with my work. I first try Gallery Moos in the Yorkville area of Toronto. A few weeks before, I had gone to a Ken Danby show at the gallery (in my teens I had been a great fan of his work) and felt, in an aura of delusion, that my work didn’t compare unfavourably with his.

I’m still amazed that I managed to walk up the stairs to the gallery, portfolio in hand, without passing out. Such was the strength of my conviction that I managed to overcome my intense social anxieties.

Predictably, when I call a week or so later, they say my portfolio is ready to be picked up. This phrase was used by several galleries, as though I had left my portfolio for some sort of transformative process, and really meant ‘please relieve us of this burden’.

1988- I continue, through 1987 and ‘88 to leave my portfolio with various galleries. Working my way down a by-order-of-preference wish-list I manage to be rejected by fifteen galleries. I have the odd encouraging word but most encounters are deflating. I was once handed, without apology, my slipcased portfolio, flattened and covered with paint spray from a roller.

By the end of 1988 I’ve run out of Yorkville and downtown galleries and have ended up in the ‘Junction’ area of Toronto. I haven’t conceived of going this far down my list. The pleasant people at K. Griffin Gallery agree to give me my first show.

The gallery is run by a very nice family, who, strangely, also run the large funeral parlour next door.

I remember the smell of the nearby stockyards and the odd scrap of cow carcass on the road as I drove to the gallery.

1989- My first show is somewhat of a success although only one painting is bought by someone I don’t know.

This is not the skyrocketing rise to fame I had envisioned.

Two months later, Christina and I, now newly married, pack up a rental truck which leaks when it rains and head for our new home in Victoria, B.C.

1991- Still painting, feeling artistically lost. The new life doesn’t translate to this painting style but I don’t know that yet.

I approach Fran Willis Gallery in Victoria. Fran Willis, who has a signature finger-in-a-socket hairdo, expresses little interest but photocopies a page from my portfolio for her records.

At this point, the only other gallery in Victoria worth engaging is Barton-Leier Gallery and they offer to put a few of my paintings in their Christmas show. Oddly, Nixie Barton also has the signature finger-in-a-socket hairdo.

For two years, nothing sells.

1993- My paintings have become dull, sad and derivative. I’ve grown tired of how I paint and hate that they all look like I’ve done them.

Christina works at a library and occasionally brings home a book she thinks I’ll find interesting. In ‘Ralph Goings’ by Linda Chase I find, within a sentence on his technique, ‘...taking the photograph, projecting it, drawing it and then painting it...’ What? PROJECTING? Why has this never before occurred to me?

After the shock wears off I abandon the largely unsuccessful artistic path I've been on for a decade and over the course of a weekend, I become a photorealist.

Of course, I’m feeling the fear of change. The fear of using photos. I know that the only way I can achieve the results I want is to use photos. I just need to justify it to myself.

I don’t want to see myself when I look at my paintings and photos will make this possible.

First painting, a monochrome acrylic on paper, is done freehand from a photo in a book. I actually have fun doing it. Not what I’m used to.

Second painting, also monochrome, using a grid transferred from a photo I’ve taken. Still looks too much like I’ve had a hand in it. I find the grid is only barely more accurate than a freehand drawing.

Third painting, I finally project a slide onto watercolour paper.

I am astonished with the results. Most remarkably, it doesn’t look to me like I’ve painted it. I can look at it and feel a welcome detachment. I’m amazed at how ‘photographic’ it appears.

What to paint? I’ve decided nighttime paintings push too many emotional buttons in the viewer. I want these images to work more subtly.

From my present day vantage point I realise, at this time, I don’t really have a clear understanding of why I paint. Nor do I understand how it reflects on what I paint or even how I paint.

I start to take photos of camper vans and trailers, of which there are many in Victoria. This isn’t the land of the weekend cottage that I grew up in. People here seem to take their accommodation with them. The resulting works are inspired by Ralph Going’s truck paintings.

By the end of 1993, I have a few paintings I can put into another Barton-Leier Christmas show. At the opening I get the feeling that no one there understands photorealism and all are baffled by the subject matter. I’m simultaneously pissed-off and feeling the fool. Nothing sells.

1994- I’ve been taking pictures of old signs, neon and otherwise, in Victoria and while in Toronto to see family. THIS IS MY NEW SUBJECT! Still not sure why but at least I’ve settled on something.

These won’t be paintings of oozily romantic nighttime neon but the derelict signs in the harsh light of day: broken tubes and rusting metal.

I should mention that such were my anxieties in the eighties that I was unable to go into the street with a camera. I saw signs and buildings in Toronto that I wanted to record, that were obviously about to disappear, but couldn’t face standing in the street to do it. Perhaps feeling like a stranger in Victoria helped me overcome my fears although it’s still something I struggle with today.

1996- I’ve done sixteen neon sign paintings and haven’t yet approached a gallery. I send a sheet of slides in a rudimentary folder to O.K. Harris Works of Art in New York. I’ve made a logo that says ‘Derelict Neon’ for the front of the folder.

The few books on photorealism I've seen are full of credits for the gallery and it is something of a mythical place for me. To my amazement the portfolio arrives back home in Victoria two weeks later with a note from the gallery's director/owner Ivan Karp- 'Greetings N.M. Your work relates to some of what we show here. However, if you have 8-10 works in N.Y.C. I shall be pleased to see them.'

What I’ve expected is for my portfolio to disappear and then I’d begin the more reasonable pursuit of a gallery in Vancouver or Toronto. I’m not quite sure what to do next. Any sane person would have planned a trip to New York but after much panicked deliberation, I decide I’m not ready to go. The fear engendered by the thought of the trip overwhelms any interest I have of success in New York.

My life in Victoria is a hermetic one. Christina and I live in utter simplicity and I have no life beyond the walls of the upper duplex of a house we share with my parents who moved from Toronto on the heels of our departure. The time away from painting I spend creating and maintaining an enormous garden that has transformed the barren lot beside our house.

In this context, sending a sheet of slides to a gallery in another country takes on an air of fantasy and improbability.

The note from Ivan Karp has made me feel, at least, that I may finally be on to something.

1997- I put six packages together: a folder with slides of twenty neon sign paintings, an artist’s statement and postage-paid envelopes to take around to Vancouver galleries. Photorealism isn’t exactly a well represented style of painting at Canadian contemporary art galleries and my idea is to make the concept of ‘Derelict Neon’ perfectly understandable.

Christina and I take the early bus to Vancouver, a scenic but interminable three hour trip which includes a scenic but interminable ferry ride. I plan to visit the galleries in the South Granville area.

At each gallery I ask if I might leave a sheet of slides of my work for consideration and point out the inclusion of the postage-paid envelope.

A pleasant person at Diane Farris Gallery takes the first folder, a good start.

A young woman at Douglas Udell Gallery looks at the slides in the light of a window and suggests that perhaps I should take them to the Vancouver Museum, given the historical nature of the images. She doesn’t think they’re something a commercial gallery would be interested in.

At John Ramsey Gallery a disheveled man, who might be John Ramsey, grimaces as I hand him a portfolio which, I might add, I never see again.

A woman at Equinox Gallery continues to type as I stand before her desk in the empty gallery that I have just noisily traversed. When she deigns to look up I deliver my line and she replies: ‘We don’t accept artist’s portfolios.’ then turns to resume her typing.

I crumple up the introduction letter as I leave but don’t have the nerve to throw it on the floor of the gallery. It does, after all, have my name and address on it.

Feeling a little beaten, I make my last attempt at Bau-Xi Gallery where a somewhat reluctant Tien Huang agrees to take my portfolio.

Christina and I call it a day. I’m sure I’m not the most pleasant of company for the rest of our day in Vancouver.

Three days later I get a call from Xisa Huang at Bau-Xi. While I sense she’s not the least bit persuaded by the subject matter, after some discussion with others at the gallery she has agreed to see if the actual paintings look as accomplished as they appear in the slides.

I make another trip to the gallery and leave them with ten paintings to consider. A few days later Xisa calls and offers me a show.

Later in the week, Diane Farris Gallery calls to request a viewing of the work and I have the pleasure of regretfully declining the opportunity.

1998- My first solo show of photorealist work ‘Derelict Neon’ takes place in June at Bau-Xi. The show is well received but only my in-laws are buying. There is a palpable bit of neon sign mania in the visitors. An interview I have with David Grierson on CBC radio brings in a flood of sign fans.

In the end, Xisa feels the prices were a little high but is glad to have had the work in her gallery. I get the sense there will be no follow-up show.

Ironically, in a few months, the Vancouver Museum has an exhibit dedicated to Vancouver neon.

As the summer goes by, despair forces me into a plan to lower my prices and to plead with Xisa to try the paintings at their gallery in Toronto. She’s happy with the price reduction but will leave it up to the staff in Toronto to make the decision. They like the work and offer me a show. All of this is easy to relate in retrospect but was excruciating to execute.

1999- ‘Derelict Neon’ in Toronto. The show does well. People not related to me have bought paintings. I get a small amount of press. The problem is, I’m tiring of neon signs and the people who love them. The subject has come to dominate the artist.

Perhaps there’s an element of self-sabotage in abandoning the subject matter when it starts to sell but I really don’t want to be known as ‘the neon sign guy’.

I do one or two more but I’m already wondering what’s next.

Neon sign paintings without the sign? I paint ‘ Vacant Building’. A cityscape? I paint ‘Winter Skyline’.

I’m still photographing signs but now it’s any manner of sign: hand painted, backlit plastic and even the odd billboard. The buildings the signs are attached to are also creeping in to the frame. I have faint stirrings of wondering why I choose this imagery to paint.

2001- ‘Relic’ is my transitional second show in Toronto. The neon sign is giving way to its urban context. Graffiti on buildings, signage on buildings, the buildings themselves. I still feel like I’m sorting it out. What do I paint? Why do I paint it? Of the seventeen paintings, only seven sell. Three of those to my supportive in-laws.

More importantly, I’ve decided to go to New York with last season’s de-framed neon sign paintings while I’m in Toronto. I’ve called O.K. Harris to let them know I’m coming. Ivan Karp tells me to call when I’m in the neighbourhood.

It’s March, pre-9/11. My first trip to the U.S. begins with the excitement of Toronto’s bus station in the late evening. I’ll take the overnight bus, clutching a small plywood box with $14,000.00 worth of paintings, go to the gallery, wander around and take the next overnight back to Toronto. Having lived in Victoria, B.C. since 1989, the crowd heading for New York seems a pretty exotic bunch.

I’m prepared to be turned away at the border, given the scare stories I’ve been fed by a few people about trying to get things into the United States. From what I could find on-line it doesn’t seem to be a problem but still, I’m worried.

It doesn’t help my mood any that while waiting in our bus at the Niagara Falls, Ontario bus station around midnight we’re witness to a full blown, guns drawn, police takedown.

Once the cops let us go, we’re on our way to the border.

All goes well. I’m allowed in after random, humourless questions about the contents of my box. Thankfully, no one asks to see the paintings.

The droning journey ends with the sun rising pink over the Manhattan skyline, looming strangely familiar and the sudden shock and scramble of midtown as the bus emerges from the Lincoln Tunnel.

Leaving the Port Authority Terminal Building I immediately begin walking in the wrong direction. I take refuge in a quiet greasy spoon to get my bearings. It doesn’t help that I’ve been awake for more than 24 hours.

I eat my breakfast, drink my coffee and tell myself to get a grip. It helps to look out the window, see people heading to work. Normal folks doing normal things amidst the perceived chaos.

I walk all the way to SoHo enjoying the unfamiliar buzz of New York. I kill time in a cafe around the corner from O.K. Harris. After 10 am I call the gallery and Ivan tells me to come on in.

It’s a remarkably friendly experience. I put my paintings out on a long wooden table. Ivan and longtime employee Rick Witter have a look. Ivan is astonished that I’m not staying in New York longer. After all, who visits New York for an afternoon? Ivan looks at the slides of newer work that I brought. He says the neon sign paintings are ‘charming’ but he thinks the paintings in the slides are far more interesting. He implies: ‘Who comes to New York with old paintings?’

He tells me to keep showing in Canada and come back to see him in a couple of years. ‘Next time, bring me your new work!’

Ivan writes a little note for me to take to Bernarducci-Meisel Gallery: ‘Greetings Frank. Please take a look at these. Good stuff.’ Rick tells me to try Gallery Henoch but no one knows their new address. They give me a New York Gallery Guide and send me on my way.

When I leave the gallery, I call Christina back in Victoria. I tell her what’s happened. I say ‘Fuck Canada!’.

I walk, quickly, to Bernarducci-Meisel on West Fifty-Seventh. Most normal people wouldn’t have walked. When stressed, I find comfort and control on my feet. I blame this on my car-less upbringing.

At Bernarducci-Meisel, Frank Bernarducci doesn’t confess to being Frank Bernarducci until I show him my note from Ivan Karp. He admits to having a lot of respect for Ivan. He proceeds to belittle my work.

I look back on this as a quintessential New York moment. A semiserious back and forth bluster about the work while he stuffs envelopes. Before I leave, I take back Ivan’s note. Frank writes one of his own for me on an announcement card: ‘Nice work if you can get it. Frank.’

I walk over to Chelsea in search of Gallery Henoch but no one seems to know where it is. I don’t think to look at the gallery guide and have just enough energy to make it back to the Port Authority Terminal Building.

Back on the west coast, I’m a little confused about how to perceive the success of my trip to New York.

2002- I talk to Phen Huang at Bau-Xi Vancouver to see if they’d consider showing me there again. She thinks I should be in a gallery that can sell my paintings with ease, implying this would not be the case in Vancouver. I know she’s right.

I consider approaching galleries in Seattle and Portland but never make the effort.

2003- ‘Vestiges’, my third show at Bau-Xi Toronto opens in March. More transition. I’m beginning to turn away from graffiti, billboard signs (although these are represented in the show) and beginning to find an affinity for storefronts and odd commercial buildings.

After the opening, I plan to take another side-trip to New York with an armful of paintings from the last show. These, although not recent, are representative of the new direction I’m taking. I expect this to be a glorified sightseeing trip with a brief stop at O.K. Harris Works of Art.

Instead of the overnight bus, I board a cheap flight to Newark, N.J. and take a shuttle to Manhattan. I make my way down to SoHo, a veteran of the streets of New York.

I’ve called ahead, same routine. Ivan recognizes me from the previous trip. I arrange my paintings on the wooden table.

Ivan calls to his son in the office: ‘Ethan, come see these!’. The first flutter of things not going as expected.

They both look through the paintings, Ethan says: ‘We can give him a hallway show’. First, says Ivan, they’ll need to see more paintings.

I tell them I can return with more after the end of my show in Toronto.

In a daze, I spend some time with Rick Witter looking at photorealist paintings in the stacks, Goings, Baeder, Penner, McLean.

Nothing sells at my show in Toronto.

At home in Victoria I plan to head back to New York as soon as possible, in case they forget about me, in case someone else acts more quickly.

I’ll head to Toronto to de-frame the paintings Bau-Xi has on hand and take yet another armload across the border.

After attending a neighbour’s party, several days before my trip back east, an agitated looking Christina confesses to me that she thinks she’s gay.

After twenty years together, our symbiotic lives change in an instant. I become painfully aware of how isolated our life has been, that I’ve made no effort to make friends in Victoria.

Under this shroud of confusion, I go to meet my fate in New York.

I fly to Toronto. SARS fear permeates the city. A friend who was to drive me to New York on his way to a meeting at IBM headquarters in Westchester County, N.Y., has had his appointment canceled due to the organisation’s fear of the disease.

Plan ‘B’ is the bus.

A familiar scenario: unpacking my paintings on the big wooden table at O.K. Harris.

Everyone gathers around. Ivan says: ‘These certainly qualify’.

He then asks Rick and Ethan , as my heart sinks: ‘Do we have too many people doing this?’

Rick says no, one of their photorealists is doing abstracts now. This seems to end the discussion. When I pack up my paintings, I ask Ethan: ‘What’s next?’ He says: ‘Nothing.’

They have my name, address and phone number on a small scrap of paper. Eventually, when the time comes, I’ll get a call.

I head back to Toronto. The folks at Bau-Xi, ever supportive, wish me luck. I attend the 50th birthday party of new friend and fellow Bau-Xi artist Brian Kipping. I’m in a fog, not knowing what’s ahead in Victoria or New York.

2004- Christina and I are separated. I’m still in the big duplex with my parents, Christina in an apartment. Our dog is the only reason I have for waking up in the morning.

We still talk every day, trying to come to terms with the new realities of our existence. I feel as though her life has begun anew and mine has ended.

Some time in the late spring, Ethan Karp calls from New York and gives me the dates for my show. When I hang up, I pump my fist in the air then collapse into twenty minutes of uncontrolled sobbing.

My painting production slows to a crawl.

In September, I return to New York with my paintings so they can choose the images for the show. They also choose the painting ‘Silhouette’ for the announcement card. It feels fitting to be represented by the shadow of a person.

I frame the paintings in Victoria, build a large crate and ship them off in late November.

In December, four days before I leave for the opening in New York, my eighty-five year old Father is diagnosed with esophageal cancer. When I leave, he’s already had exploratory surgery and has a long hospital stay ahead of him.

I arrive in New York the day before the opening. At O.K. Harris I remove the tape residue on the glass of my paintings and generally hang out at the gallery. Rick prepares an astonishing nineteen-seventies John De Andrea work for shipping. Someone comes in with a sheet of Andy Warhol’s cow wallpaper that he wants to sell. I feel what a remarkable privilege it is to be there.

The next day, Saturday, I leave my tiny room in the Chelsea Lodge and head to SoHo for the opening with the late afternoon sun in my eyes. The streets are jammed with pre-Christmas shoppers and sidewalk vendors.

I open the big black door of the gallery and enter. Five solo shows opening at once means a healthy crowd. I make my way to my space, a thirty foot long hallway connecting galleries. I feel like I’m in an airport at Christmas with a steady flood of people going by.

I find myself telling people the framed images aren’t photographs and get a lot of double takes.

Friends and family from Toronto arrive. Christina arrives with her family from Toronto.

Three hours disappear. At six o’clock, Ivan starts to flicker the lights to shoo people out.

The artists, their guests and some of the staff follow Ivan and his wife Marilynn Gelfman to dinner across the street. Christina’s my guest. I wouldn’t be in New York without her years of support and encouragement.

It’s a memorable evening. After dinner, Christina and I head back to Chelsea, where she too is staying at the Chelsea Lodge with her sister. We stop for coffee and mull the day over. I don’t think we acknowledge the insanity of our situation.

I spend the next day on my own, wandering the streets, taking photos.

When I leave New York, only three paintings have sold, two through friends.

Do you get a second show in New York when you’ve only sold three paintings at your first? I somehow doubt it. I wonder how long I can milk having had a show at a famous American gallery.

The fog settles over me again in Victoria. I visit my Father in hospital every night. He’s recovering from his surgery but has contracted C. Difficile. It isn’t diagnosed right away and he loses a lot of weight and strength despite being fed through a gastric tube.

Ten days after the opening I’m roused from my funk by a morning call from Ivan: ‘Do you have any more paintings you can send? We’ve sold them all but one.’

I have a closet full of unsold paintings to send, which I do. As well, I get Bau-Xi to send their remaining works to New York. Virtually all of these paintings sell in short order.


O.K. Harris Works of Art has sold every painting I’ve made since.

I’ll save the ensuing drama of my life for my autobiography or another blog posting. It gets a lot worse before it gets better. I’m thankful and lucky O.K. Harris has been patient with me.

I’m still sorting out why I paint, what I paint and how I paint. It’s all related to the question of how one ends up married to a gay woman.

The answers lie in the murky inaccessibilty of childhood detritus. Traumas endured or witnessed.

The paintings are the questions unconsciously being worked out through art.