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.