Friday, October 28, 2011

One Day at Rest, Painting 1






















One Day at Rest, Untitled 1 (7:51 am), 2011
8 X 5.5" acrylic on illustration board


Now that the first painting for ‘One Day at Rest’ is finished, I’m pondering which images from that day will become drawings or etchings, figuring out a handmade book that I might make. I suddenly feel like an artist again instead of a machine for producing photorealist paintings.

I used all manner of materials when I was younger, the different media transforming the ideas I brought to them. What happened? Perhaps I was too eager to define myself. I’ve been so intently focused on producing a cohesive body of work in the last couple of decades, refining the definition of what I do, that I forgot to take time to experiment. The commercial gallery world, where I felt inclined to belong, likes to define things, needs to define things. The simpler the definition, the easier the sale.

Painting is exhausting. It consumes every ounce of concentration I can generate. For me, the end of the day means the end of thinking about art. I need to get away from my desk, blank out, go for a walk, watch television. Late in the evening I’ll think about the day of work I have ahead. In my mind, I go over the areas I’ll be tackling in the morning like a marathon runner crossing the country. Tomorrow, I’ll try to get to Calgary.

I’m excited enough about my new project that it’s dislodged decades of walls I’ve built around what it means for me to be an artist. During the several months that I work on a painting, I’m not sure I can do other things like drawings or prints, but the time between paintings, when I’m usually feeling unsettled, distracted, or guilty about not painting, suddenly seems like the perfect opportunity to experiment.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Way Forward


Digital photo 'One Day at Rest' (7:08 am) 02/07/2011.

On July second, 2011, I took more than 7,200 photos of a typical summer Saturday in our condo studio in Montreal. Four cameras, covering virtually every square inch of living space, recorded our existence from our waking at 7 am to lights out at 10:30 pm. The digital cameras were mounted surveillance style from the ceiling and at an interval of seven or eight seconds, one of the four cameras would silently record an image. I also carried a voice activated digital sound recorder throughout the day and recorded over eight hours of audio.

I plan to produce ten paintings, some drawings, etchings, an audio/video piece and anything else that strikes me as a necessary part of the project. I hope to present it all in the Jim Kempner Fine Art Underground space in New York while I finish off the last painting at my desk in the gallery, performing my daily painting ritual, for the entire run of the show. Any number of things could go wrong with this plan over the next couple of years but at least I have a way forward.

‘One Day at Rest’ is an attempt to further explore my perception of honesty, its nature and role in my work, and a more direct attempt at portraying my physical and psychological existence without the distorting filter that results from turning the camera outwards.

I’ve spent decades sporadically roaming the streets with my camera, subconsciously searching for subjects that reflected my mental state, my unease with the world. Every subject I painted spoke to me in this way, whether trailers, neon signs or derelict commercial buildings.

It took several years to consciously understand that I was searching for a way to reflect my damaged self, except I’d found a way to expose myself to the world without truly giving anything away. I hadn’t intended to perform this psychological dance of the seven veils, I thought at the time I was being pretty direct. I certainly felt the anxiety of the exposed, but a growing awareness of how people perceived my paintings made me realise I was on the wrong track.

In a gallery setting, my paintings look vaguely like photographs. Admittedly, like ink-jet photographs printed on cheap paper in fast draft mode. I’ve often explained to someone hustling past the images at an opening ‘By the way, these are paintings, not photographs!’ People would often do a double take and look a little closer but I began to feel that most were saying to themselves, ‘That could be a photo or it could possibly be a painting but I’m not interested enough to care.’ The current dogma of contemporary art appreciation doesn’t seem to allow for a small photo based painting. Ironic, given the preponderance and apparent popularity of rather dull photographs of abstract collages, photographs of paintings and photographs of photographs. I’m puzzled that people don’t seem to ‘get’ the work but I think they’ve been taught that there’s nothing to get.

When what I do no longer works for me, it’s time for a change. Art is communication and I feel that my message could do with a little reworking. It’s just an old building, how can I expect anyone to get that it represents my tortured soul, that it speaks of impermanence, mortality, alienation, the nature of and value we place on the production of culture? I’ve been hiding behind a facade, sometimes a literal facade, strangely, and it’s time to change how I show myself to the world.

Seventy two hundred photographs of me doing very personal things somehow didn’t make me feel any more exposed than my paintings of buildings or signs. For me, they are the same thing. I hope for the viewer they are something quite different.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sea Change


ABC United Trading Corp. 2011 5.5 X 8" Acrylic on illustration board.

ABC United Trading Corp. will likely be my last storefront for awhile. The changes I’ve made to get my paintings into a different realm in New York have had unexpected consequences. This ongoing process of recontextualisation has led me to a surprising revelation: It appears I’ve driven a car into the desert and run out of gas.

I’m not sure when, exactly, I ran out of gas. It may well have been long before I made it to New York for my first show at O.K.Harris in 2004. The twenty year drive to show my work at a good gallery in New York City somehow kept me from knowing that I was no longer inspired by what I painted.

The little ringing voices of truth that I imagine occupy a space just above and behind my head are most easily ignored when life is complicated. The more entanglements my life or career has, the more I ignore them. The blessed silence afforded by the odd confluence of a dying American economy, the strange weightlessness of an unsure venture with a new gallery, and my aching disinterest in my own work has finally allowed the voices to be heard above the din of self delusion.

Art is self exploration. This fact doesn’t always mesh well with a world that prefers to see culture entwined with commerce. The artist’s understandable preoccupation with the financial insanity of this kind of pursuit and the accompanying deviation from the purity of one’s truth is no longer an option for me.

The pressure we place on ourselves, or allow others to place on us, to proceed along a predetermined path to ‘success’ has the effect of eliminating from our lives the insignificant seeming non sequitur, the chance encounter which changes one’s entire direction.

I think I know now that there isn’t a goal. Only a direction to take and reevaluate when necessary. This is a journey whose length is indeterminate and unknowable and ends only when we ourselves end.

I can choose to find some gas and continue on or I can leave the car in the desert and find another road out. The immense relief I feel as I walk away in another direction is the answer to the question ‘Have I done the right thing?’

Monday, April 4, 2011

Living in Exile


Petemar Enterprises 2011, 5.5 X 8" acrylic on illustration board.

I’ve made two significant geographical moves in my life. The first, in 1989, from Toronto, Ontario to Victoria, B.C. (3397 kilometres). The second, in 2008, from Victoria back east to Montreal, Quebec (3733 km). Both moves gave me a sense of living in exile in one way or another. Both were largely financially driven but each also had an element of escape. The first, escape from the fold of family, old patterns of expectation, the ‘didn’t I know you in high school?’ encounter. The second, a licking of mid-life wounds, an almost random stab at the map for a new place to start again.

Perhaps the urge to move on is an inherited trait. My parents became postwar, economic exiles of Scotland when they made the difficult decision to move to Canada in 1950. Canada was a place of employment opportunities and where one could buy a dozen eggs if one wanted. The latter was no small consideration for a young family living in postwar food-rationed Glasgow.

My father never fully committed his heart to Canada despite spending a large majority of his life here. ‘Home’ for him was more than 5,000 kilometres from the house he shared with us. In a way, he never fully committed to the idea of a home with a wife and three children either. He once remarked to me as we stood looking at the backyard of the house I grew up in, ‘This would be good place to raise a family.’ I thought, ‘Actually, it was. Where the hell were you?’

Sometimes the moving on comes before one is actually ready to leave. Over the last year or two I’ve struggled to understand my place in the art world and tried to sort out why I don’t feel particularly comfortable with the ‘photorealist’ label, despite the obvious connection my work has to the genre. I know that I’ve moved on but I’ve had trouble falling into step with my new surroundings.

Exile is the removal of oneself from the realm of interest that so possesses the person in exile. The removal, which can heighten one’s desire to engage the mind with what was left behind can also, over time, allow for a dampening of the passions. So it is with my dying interest in photorealism.

Montreal isn’t home yet but it probably will be before long. ‘Moving on’ is more of a psychological transformation than a change in one’s address. It’s easy to pack a truck and move oneself physically but the ties one has to a place aren’t so easy to shake from the mind.