Wednesday, March 31, 2010

'Ghost'


Girl and Fish, 2001 5.5 X 8" acrylic on paper

I stopped painting neon signs in or around 2001. My interest in the subject was killed by the ‘Hooray for neon!’ feelings engendered in viewers. In its place, I was tempted for a time by the graffiti I was encountering in Victoria and Vancouver. I took a lot of pictures and made a few paintings.

For years I had been aware of a graffiti artist in Victoria who tagged his work ‘Ghost’ or less frequently ‘Pawz’. His odd elf-like portraits appeared everywhere. Over the course of a year I painted three paintings in which his work featured prominently.

In the comment book for my show ‘Relic’ at Bau-Xi gallery in Toronto in early 2001, someone wrote in a strange script taking up an entire page: “Victoria... a sleepy little town to perfect a skill. And spooky stories of Beacon Hill Park. Nice Ghost shots, Hans would appreciate it.”

I assumed Hans was ‘Ghost’. I did one more painting of Victoria graffiti before I moved on to other subjects and thought nothing more of ‘Ghost’. I’d stopped taking photos of graffiti altogether.

(Bomb, 2002 18 X 12" acrylic on paper)

In 2002 a small article in a local Victoria paper caught my attention. It described a fundraiser being held in memoriam for Hans Fear. A year earlier, not long after my Bau-Xi show, ‘Ghost’ had hanged himself.

The article explained that Hans had been schizophrenic and had made a conscious decision to stay off his medication because it affected his art.

The story marked a bit of a change in how I saw the graffiti paintings I’d been doing. I was unintentionally celebrating the work of another artist in these paintings. Not that he didn’t deserve the recognition but I began to get a similar feeling of the artist hiding behind a subject as I’d had with the neon signs.

I was haunted by the belated news of Ghost’s death for months and found myself compelled to write a poem:

Ghost

You signed
spray-can portraits
on plywood windows –
an impish girl turned
upside-down
by workmen.

Holding the serrated blade of art
over medication’s flaccid flesh –
a black and hollow face
on a hoarding.

You hanged yourself
on a hilltop
in view of
floating mountains
the canvas of the city
receding below -
your spray lines
fading slowly
or abruptly covered.

Graffiti Creatures, 2000 12 X 18" acrylic on paper

Saturday, March 20, 2010

New Painting: 'House on De Brebeuf'


House on De Brebeuf, 2010 5.5 X 8" acrylic on illustration board

‘House on De Bebeuf’ took me through the bulk of our second Montreal winter. Three hundred and three hours spread over nine or ten weeks. The little house is the only one I photographed in our old unlamented neighbourhood. An anomalous one story building amongst the rickety exterior staircases of the taller duplexes and triplexes that typify the ‘Plateau’.

Winter was easier this year. Our first one in ‘Petite Italie’. The neighbourhood is less frantic than our last which was an uneasy mixture of older, low income renters and flat-screen-hdtv, stainless-steel-appliance-loving, nouveaux bourgeois. This is a strangely calm part of the city with a remarkable array of people from all social strata quietly going about their business. On the weekend when the car shops and meat packers are closed it’s positively sublime.

For the first time I managed to complete a time-lapse video project of the painting process. I knew I’d have to mount the tripod on my desk in order not to forget to take the photos. I averaged three shots a day. It’s easier to understand why the paintings take so long when the video appears to bog down as the brick areas are painted or when the intricate background railings are being sharpened.

I felt a great sense of relief when this painting was done. The video was an added burden that I tired of quickly but was determined to see through.

Something that would complete my bare-it-all painting process, aside from a 24/7 live video feed, would be little notations on my time sheets to explain why I missed several hours of one day or another day altogether. This would complete the picture of process-as-art. The days that I wanted to crawl into a cave and die are surely not irrelevant to the understanding of the work but this facet only exists if I share it.

I have a fundamental desire to leave a mark of my existence that will extend beyond whatever years I have left. Classic mortality complex. I grew up with a profound feeling of powerlessness and invisibility and have a need to leave some trace or proof of my having existed.

The paintings are seed being sown. The gallery, the blog, the videos, the web-site are the cultivation. The crop being harvested is me.

video