Monday, September 27, 2010

New Painting: 'Oriental(e)'

Oriental(e) 2010, 5.5 X 8" acrylic on illustration board.

Oriental(e) is a tofu manufacturer located a short block from our condo/studio. It has that beyond-its-best-before-date look. In our neighbourhood, that means a new condo will rise in place of a freshly razed building and the empty lot next door. The building is, in fact, for sale for less money than we paid for our condo. If not for the intimidating and expensive prospect of converting it to a studio, we’d be buying. Who doesn’t want a garage door entry to their studio? I’m assuming the mice would leave with the dearth of tofu manufacturing but maybe that’s a mistaken assumption on my part. The lot next door might be unavailable to developers as it’s ‘occupied’ by a mysterious person or persons in a tent. In over a year we have yet to figure out what goes on beyond the hoarding that hems in the property. We do indeed live in a curious neighbourhood.

The slide from which I painted ‘Oriental(e)’ was taken after the building’s ‘For Sale’ sign fortuitously blew off in a storm. I hadn’t managed a good photo of the building before the sign went up and I didn’t want a shot of the building with the sign. One of my rules is to use only one slide per painting. The only manipulation I allow to the photo is a subtle cropping to centre the image. I use a slide viewer through which I peer at the small section of the image on which I’m working. The completed image often comes as something of a surprise. Having concentrated for several months on such small parts of it, the whole of the image seems quite fresh to my eyes. I often have to rack my brain to remember which painting I’ve just completed.

‘Oriental(e)’ is a perfect illustration of the transitional building I find so appealing. A nondescript structure just at the edge of its usefulness in a changing neighbourhood. One day no one will remember it was there.

I’ve come to accept that transition is a good thing in ones life. I’m entering year eight in a period of transitions both major and minor in what, I’ve convinced myself, has otherwise been a relatively stable existence. As difficult as it can sometimes be, I think I’ve come to prefer transition’s anxiety, uncertainty and inherent feeling of ‘reality’ to the numbing illusions borne of a desire for stability.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Recontextualisation: Part 2

House on De Brebeuf 2010

As someone who has always lived and worked in a vacuum it’s been an interesting experience letting friends into my life. The fact that most are artists makes it even more interesting. Strange as it sounds, I’ve always avoided artists and have made it a point not to obsess over other people’s opinions on art. I’d rather have my own thoughts and the accompanying illusion of their originality.

I’m glad I developed in this vacuum but I’m also beginning to see the benefits of allowing a discourse.

The second part of my attempt at recontextualising my work is thanks, in a large part, to Montreal artist Randall Anderson. Randall and I met just over a year ago in my old neighbourhood, days before he left for a cross-Canada bike trip and a scant couple of weeks before I left the area for good. At our first meeting we found a lot of common ground despite the apparent dissimilarity of our work.

I now meet Randall every week to talk about art and I think we’ve had a broadening effect on each other’s perceptions of our own work. At one meeting Randall, who at the time was doing a series of hard edge paintings, talked about the sheer joy of peeling off the final piece of tape to reveal the completed painting and asked if I ever have that moment with my work. I said ‘No!’ but then I thought of that moment when I take off the protective paper that surrounds the painting and see the image floating in the white of the board. I get a kind of rush, a feeling of ‘I did that?’ The painting appears to have emerged from the board through some divine process.

Randall suggested that if I painted the images in the middle of a larger sheet, I could frame them without a mat. Float a sheet of glass above the image. Add a white frame.

Cue the angels singing. Instant contemporary context.

The idea of the bare image excited me. I’ve been framing these things like an ancestor’s needlepoint or an old etching torn from a book. The sickly antique white of the always poorly cut mat, the blah black frame. Enough!

I’ve always hated frames and the experience of going to the framer. It can’t be a fun job. Nothing less than perfection is expected but so rarely is it delivered. My first framer in Montreal actually touched the painting with a finger as I tried to convince her that the image was a painting and not a print. This encounter was all the more curious as it was entirely in French. I researched all the words I would need in a dictionary before heading out that day!

The last painting I gave to a framer for the full process was ‘Parkside Bar’, a painting which had consumed just under 700 hours of my life. As I left the framer which, in all honesty, was a perfectly sterile and safe looking environment, I had a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. I thought to myself, ‘What kind of an idiot would leave that with a stranger?’

I assemble the pieces at home now. I order the frame, the glass, the spacers, the backing and put it all together in the safety of my studio. Even so, the spacers are always a little off, there is occasionally a shoe print on the acid free backing board and the odd mark on the white frame. No system is perfect!

I’ve illustrated two recent examples of the new framing method. It seems like a small thing to change but it feels like an important shift in how I present the work. Context is everything.

A.B. Demolition 2010