Waiting eight hours in a packed emergency room with one’s swollen arm in a sling makes one reassess how life was before one’s elbow slammed into a sidewalk. I write this as I recuperate from surgery for a broken ulna which has left my arm looking and feeling like it was beaten with a mallet until the person beating it became bored with the project.
Lesson in mortality - January 23, 2015
In my seven years here, I’ve found Montreal’s winters to be a difficult, endless misery and this year’s version has been particularly challenging. As we prepare for a spring move to the slightly less ice-gripped and snow addled city of Toronto, this parting gift from Montreal’s icy sidewalks has given me pause to think over the dispiriting events of the last year and allowed me to place them into a larger life context.
Whenever I’m on the highway, and it cuts through a section of sedimentary rock, I wonder if anyone else imagines how our own bodies will one day be part of that same geological process. We seem to believe that all of the earths ancient systems, like the depositing of mineral or biological matter that comprise these sediments, have somehow paused for our benefit.
I’ve read that if the age of the planet we inhabit was expressed as a twenty four hour clock, human beings come into existence just over one minute to midnight. I remind myself of this every time I’m unnecessarily obsessing over some minute aspect or other of my life. Specifically, the kind of thoughts one has about legacy.
As a kind of balm, I used to think to myself that if no one cared about what I was making as an artist while I was alive, that perhaps when I was dead it would all make sense to someone and my work would achieve some measure of notoriety or at least become a footnote in the discussion of the art of my time.
It’s a pretty harmless way to maintain some momentum. It’s hard to convince yourself to produce work when you feel no one will ever care. Life is about fooling ourselves into believing something matters aside from our inevitable, out of control run down a hill that ends in the ultimate face-plant. Hence our devotion to religion, children, the perfect lawn, a new car, achieving representation at a blue chip gallery or having a painting find its way into a museum collection.
One Day at Rest, Untitled 13 (6:48 pm) 8X5.5" acrylic on board
Which is not to say that I find no meaning in life. Through my paintings, I find it in the expression of the feelings and thoughts that are the accumulation of my life. I find it in my involvement with my partner Hayley and her own creative work in her company, Birds of North America. I find it in the daily struggle to maintain some personal dignity in the face of the void.
The exhibition of my ‘One Day at Rest’ series has been derailed by the combined ambivalence of gallery and artist, and the final two pieces that need to be completed suddenly feel like an exercise in futility. Yet another period of reassessment begins.
Perhaps reassessment is a constant state that comes in and out of my conscious brain because I know that life is fluid and ever changing, but I also know that I sometimes beat this thought down in order to maintain some illusion of order amidst the chaos of the universe.
It’s hard to maintain the screw-you-I’ll-do-what-I-want attitude when you also have to deal with the realities and appetites of commercial gallery spaces, but I feel more strongly than ever that I need to be the one in charge. I don’t want to ‘paint to a deadline’ or waste my time on a commission in order to please someone else’s ego.
The whole point of withstanding the mental anguish of a life in the arts is to have some measure of control over one’s life and art. I refuse to relinquish that control to anyone. If this means that all of my life’s efforts in art amount only to a fraction of a layer of sediment on a planet orbiting a dying star, that’s okay. That’s all it will ever amount to anyway. In the big picture, that much is clear.
One Day at Rest, Untitled 15 (9:09 pm) 8X5.5" acrylic on board