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.