The Bugaboos are a grandly inaccessible mountain range tucked within the Purcells, near the Canadian Rockies. You can get to them in a helicopter, and so Dad and I and some other adventures went heli-painting. The helicopter scooped us up at the Bugaboo Lodge and dropped us on plateaus, in meadows and at the feet of glaciers, where we painted in the sun and sleet. That's the thing about the mountains; if you don't like the weather, wait a minute.
In two summers I completed a dozen or so location paintings in acrylic. It's been a formidable privilege to be in that place, painting with my Dad, soaking up the master class. He continues to lovingly push me up the hill, to push me in all the important ways - so that I may share in the experience of reaching a highest expression.
"Step by step, a path. Stone by stone, a cathedral."
NINE SKETCHES FROM SYDNEY TO ORANGE
A guru recently told me that the conscious mind is the dream setter, the unconscious mind, the dream getter. I interpret this as the suggestion that it is important to move between the realms of awareness and unawareness, of control and surrender, and to trust that when we shift our focus to productive dreams, our spirit gets on board and gently nudges us along in the right direction. I impulsively booked a ticket to Australia and before I knew it, was looking newly at patterns familiar and unfamiliar, at colours with baby eyes, and checking to see if my bathtub was draining in reverse. These sketches arose from a train trip from Sydney into the Blue Mountains and beyond to the Central Tablelands. A dear friend houses her spirit in a 1908 Edwardian cottage, and within this setting is a room made, it seems just for painting, writing, and dreaming. I did these sketches on linen boards, with the intention of letting the bare boards inform the drawings, and the Australian-made acrylics, in their subtle Australian hues, gift me a record of a dream-like winter.
"The shadow is roughly equivalent to the whole of the unconscious... In spite of its function as a reservoir for human darkness - or perhaps because of this - the shadow is the seat of creativity." (Carl Jung)
Still toying with the idea of a "bent" image, these forms stay true to a devotion to tonal vibrations and walking the line between objectivity and a pure graphic. What associations can be made with a simple palette? The absence of busy colour allows the eye to flip back and forth between positives and negatives. Canadian Group of Seven painter Lawren Harris turned his canvas upside-down to "cut in" a sky, as if it were the principle actor. I want to create a visual massage, to relax the eye while exciting it, to speed up and slow down, to soothe and nurture. Reducing themes to their essential mystery is a way of refocussing on that which may have initially been buried.
"The thought of today cannot be expressed in the language of yesterday." (Lawren Harris)
WHAT HAPPENED TO ME
This is part of a series of small watercolours, mostly in monochrome. I had been studying the principles of wabi-sabi - this "comprehensive Japanese world view, or aesthetic centred on the acceptance of transience." Nothing is permanent, and yet I'm making archival objects to capture, for myself, this feeling of impermanence. Authentic beauty is imperfect, and incomplete. A flower decaying is in its deepest moment of beauty. Asymmetry, asperity, simplicity, austerity, intimacy, and the appreciation of the ingenious integrity of natural objects and processes are aesthetics many artists are drawn to intuitively, especially those who lean upon nature for inspiration. A fellow artist once wrote to say that he feared my work would become hard once I had spent some years in New York, and that he was delighted to see that the opposite had occurred. These days I realize that intuitively creating work for calm has brought some wonderful side-effects to daily living.
I had the challenge of painting an exhibition in the exhibition space. The room was an odd shape, with wide angles and a narrow door. It was December - breezy and sunshiny. It felt like I'd just won the lottery. I thought it would be cool to make a series of square paintings that could appear to narrow at the bottom, of deeply coloured paintings that could appear grey, and of flat paintings that could appear bent. I could even get this 3D effect in a gradation from top to bottom if I played my cards right. It was an experiment in a trapezoidal room, with a whole bunch of people coming to look at it in less than a month.
How to borrow a ubiquitous and powerful graphic like a chevron and retain a feeling of softness, of ambient vibration and handmade-ness, while exploiting the delicious properties of a stripe? How to literally make a painting pop "up" before your eyes and then lay down again, using only a two-toned graphic and the raking effect that brushwork makes in different light conditions, and depending where the viewer is standing in relation to the painting?
COLOUR, MOVING AND STILL
A painting is a monument. It serves for engagement, consideration, and contemplation. It celebrates as an object of desire, a provocateur, and a companion. My paintings exist to honour the act of painting by focusing on formal elements, working to achieve perfect tonal balance, harmony and rhythm. The placement of equally intense colours within color families is an effort to achieve a lyrical pleasure, vibration, tension or halation. By reducing subject matter and external references, warm and cool associations can be explored along with motif, patterning, compositional movement and saturation.
The paintings clearly present themselves as paintings, but toy with idea of bed covering, a suedey textile, a worn and stretched work of craft. In this reference I'm blurring the distinction between high art and craft, between the realms of domesticity and precious objects. I strive to create a place to "go" in my paintings, to be calm while experiencing pleasure in their rhythm, disappearances and their allusions to nature.
"Wabi-sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect." (Richard R. Powell)
SIXTY DAYS OF LIGHT
In the summer of 2008 I swapped my studio in New York with an American writer who has been living in Italy for nine years. Lucca is a jewel, surrounded by the most preserved Renaissance walls in Europe. The walls are crowned with Plane trees, and because they make an ellipse around the little former Roman colony, they see every shadow, and each moment of light and darkness under Tuscany's big dome. Included in my swap was a bicycle, (named Rilke)...Rilke made a perfect thinking, idea gathering, getaway accomplice and painting partner. I stacked those square linen boards onto the back, along with the Italian acrylics, and set out in the evening for the delicious hours of dappling and blinding light and cloud and sky pockets.
The paintings served as studies when I returned in the Fall to New York and then Vancouver to develop them into large scale colourfields. The palette was reduced and quieted, I switched to oil and amped up the brushwork, letting it take over for light raking, soaking and saturation. I had a dream to do them all in white, because riding a bicycle into sunlight blasting from low in the sky blows out the iris and flips all those contrasts.
PERFECT PLACES TO HANG OUT IN THE WOODS
An Inukshuk is a stone landmark used as a milestone by the Inuit of the Canadian Arctic. Though varying in shape and size, most are comprised of rocks placed and balanced on top of one another, and symbolize safety, hope and friendship on the barren tundra of the Canadian North.
"Obos" is a Japanese term for a pile of rocks on top of one another. The obos merely says, "I was here." A balanced, obvious rock pile, the obos is the creation of human hands. Also, if it is knocked down or desecrated, it is easily rebuilt. It serves as a symbolic sanctuary, a place of refuge and contemplation, a hideout, a shrine, a place of new direction.
"If an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing, then that object could be said to be wabi-sabi." (Andrew Juniper, from his book "Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence")
SKETCHING EDITH LAKE
In June 2010, a painting party mustered in a 1923 cabin on Edith Lake, in Jasper National Park. With Mt. Edith Cavell casting mosaics on the rippling jade and turquoise waters, we settled in for a week of brushwork and elk watching. This is the fourth consecutive year I've taken a mountain painting excursion with my Dad. These days he climbs out of bed at four, and fixes a giant, steaming pot of 7-grain cereal. By the time the rest of us emerge, the clouds are racing across the morning sky. It's not a matter of looking for patterns anymore. The patterns are the principle actor in the drama of the mountain spirit. The trembling aspens are an ear-massage. There's always something to be learned in plein-air work. I notice my paintings take shape and then show the fumbles of a life-long student. I'm kicked, and then the little triumph of my voice emerges. There's enough satisfaction in the lessons to return again.
A LAKE O'HARA MASTER CLASS
I took myself down a notch by climbing to a mountain top. How does one get her brush around a subject so big (literally), with so much legacy (Canada), with a my Dad, a mountain-master for a companion? Check known skills at the trail head. Carry paintboxes, water and sandwiches. Close mouth at mountain awesomeness, put head down and wobble through inclement weather sketches, sundrying gradations and tender tips from a master Dad. We hiked and painted for a week, stalking the locations of J.E.H Macdonald, who painted there for seven autumns between 1924 and 1930.
Yoho National Park sits nestled on the western slope of the continental divide, in southeastern British Columbia. The name Yoho comes from the Cree word expressing amazement. Yoho and all of the Canadian Rockies Parks are a world heritage site. "I had a little cabin, with cedar walls and floors, with mountains in the window, and spruces at the door." (J.E.H. Macdonald, journal entry, 1927)
LOCATION SKETCHES, LUCCA
It was hotter than anyone could ever imagine, and I planned my days around the shady lanes of the late afternoon. "Rilke" provided the breezes, when I rode around Lucca's walls until the sun was gone. A few steps from my ancient house, I found an art supply shop with some curious linen boards. They were square and natural, and glowing in their linen-ness, like the french-grey neutrals one fantasizes about for optimal glowing mid-chroma colour-work. It was as if the sketches that were to emerge there were half-done in the shop - the warm grey of that linen was seducing me from down the street. I bought every last one, which was only fourteen. And so fourteen location sketches came home to New York with me in my tiny suitcase.
"Oh mysterious world of all light, thou hast made a light shine within me, and I have grown in admiration of thy antique beauty, which is the immemorial youth of nature." (Paul Gauguin)
BIG ISLAND PASTELS
It wasn't the first time I visited the Big Island, and I went out in search of good fields and steep, wooded, secretive spots. Moody sky, liquid rainbow. All the turbines at the southern tip were stopped. James suggested they had been damaged by exuberant winds, but turbines need wind. There were kids jumping from cliffs, screaming and giving themselves wedgies. There were fishers throwing fish back, the fishes clicking their gills in protest - they're not natural cliff jumpers. I remembered years before when, out of necessity, I was making pastels on the lid of a Coleman cooler in a campground in rural France. There was no place to dry oils, there was no room in the car for a stack of canvases. It was the greatest gift to be forced to try something new.
"The creative mind plays with objects it loves." (Carl Jung)