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!