Sunday, July 28, 2013

in limbo

Last week I stated that I preferred the art of Rembrandt to Rauschenberg, and Picasso to Basquiat. Not exactly like that but more or less. I had said, I admire Rauschenberg and Basquiat for their ideas, not necessarily for their skill. I stand before a Rembrandt or a Picasso and become limp.” Well, that is not entirely true since I do not always go limp.

The first time I went to the Vancouver Art Gallery was to see an exhibit brought over from the Rijks museum. I’d been to the Dutch museum as a seven year old girl. I was curious what I would recall, what I would think of these paintings now, and the exhibit would allow me to revisit in a way a part of my childhood. I did recall a number of the paintings which was a pleasant surprise, but as technically skilled as they were they also left me a little deflated. The paintings were dark, sombre and a bit depressing.

Afterwards I traveled up to the second floor which was in complete contrast to the paintings down below. These were works by Jack Shadbolt, a well known BC artist. I had never seen such large scale paintings before pulsating with colours and rhythms and became totally entranced. The giddiness I’d expected to feel downstairs I was now experiencing with this local, less regarded artist. I was moved.

  On another floor the gallery had a large showing of works belonging to Emily Carr. Very different again from Shadbolt and nothing at all like the paintings from the 17th century Dutch. I did not care for it all, nor was I supposed to. Some were just rough charcoal sketches of her journeys among the trees, but full of energy. The trees I knew so well from growing up on the west coast. Carr has always fascinated me, this woman who shaped her own style. She was a loner in more ways than one. She was geographically and culturally isolated from the art world in vogue, but also preferred not to socialize much. She seemed a bit eccentric to the residents of Victoria, and Emily Carr even called herself an “isolated little old woman on the edge of nowhere.”

Yet when I look at her work I wonder is that such a bad thing? Carr did not need to live in Paris to be a great artist.She knew of the artists and also the group of seven in Eastern Canada. However Carr was deeply entrenched and inspired by the art of the Pacific Northwest. Her work is original and moving and I sometimes wonder if that is best achieved by working alone. I don’t really have that answer myself. I suppose it is different for each personality. Even among a crowd shouting one sometimes hears the distinct whisper. Hopefully one day I will hear it too.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

a time out

A couple of weeks ago I visited the Vancouver Art Gallery. I go once a year. It is a long day trip to get there and back, taking the ferry and the bus, but I always look forward to it. A book comes with me, along with my watercolour pencils, just in case, and also my camera. It is my little mini holiday: the gallery, lunch out, ocean ride, ample time to read and most importantly an opportunity to gather impressions.

I enjoyed the VAG but I must say that the shows this year were a bit disappointing. Grand Hotel, the main exhibit, seemed more suited for a modern history museum than an art gallery. The show examines how hotel culture influenced current lifestyles and also how it inspired artists. It was interesting but much of it I’d read or seen in books and it actually felt like walking through a book, the pages open for display.

I go to the VAG to see art; art that doesn’t communicate well through photographs in books or online. To see the real thing is to experience it properly. I peer at paintings to study their brushstrokes, the textures that cannot be seen on the printed page. I see how the artists created what they create, how they changed their mind and how the finished work looks while standing before it.

The exhibit showcasing work from 17th century  Dutch and Flemish artists was more interesting in this regard. They were to be juxtaposed with more modern interpretations of portrait, still life and landscape, but the variety of examples from newer artists were a bit thin and did not really balance the art from the earlier period. The still lifes, portraits and landscapes from the Dutch were meant for a rising class of people desiring to show off their taste and money without being extraordinarily vain about it. The subject matter of these paintings was of commercial consideration. They were for artists to receive a paycheque.

The art from the modern exhibits were by artists who more than likely received grants for their work by foundations and corporations who would look at it once and forget about it. They are not meant for someone’s parlour or sitting room, dining room or bedroom. They are not meant to reside in a grand office to demonstrate the prestige. They reside a good part of the time in the vaults of the VAG. Bought by individuals who love the creativity of ideas. Modern art tends to be about ideas, and there is value in that, but ideas can be turned into something sublime when a skilled artist takes the time to sit before a canvas and allow the artistic process to unfold. I admire Rauschenberg and Basquiat for their ideas, not necessarily for their skill. I stand before a Rembrandt or a Picasso and become limp.

So while the Vag disappointed I did discover some interesting art there and had fun taking photos during the rest of the day. Two photos I will play with further; one because this view of Gastown reminds me of Renoir subject matter

 and the slowly moving cruise ship of Turner's memorable ship paintings.

I’ve done some sketching based on the first photo but I'm not really in the mood to take it further. I find the lumbering ship moving slowly through the haze a more arresting image. Waiting till the ferry was just at this angle I took the shot. It obviously meant something to me, but I did not think of Turner till I got home. After seeing the image at home I cannot get the correlation out of my mind. So now I will play with the image with paint and see what transpires. Maybe something, maybe nothing, only time will tell.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

past shadows

My youngest son recently graduated from high school. It has been an emotion packed time for him, a time of awakening, and marks a transition for both of us. For all intents and purposes his school years are probably over. He may continue with his schooling at some point, or he may not. He needs to explore a little first. Find out more who he is. Some people explore safe within the laboratory of University but that is not for him- at least not yet. He’s to examine the world at large before he chooses a section he feels comfortable in to call his domain. It is an exploration he must choose on his own. His teachers will be the ones he meets by serendipity rather than boards of education.

So in many ways it is a significant moment in time. My interference will be minimal I hope. Yet I cannot sit idly back and do nothing. The mom in me is urged to commemorate this event in some lasting way. The artist in me used paint brushes.

I painted his backpack and binders resting on a chair. His hat is resting on the back. The chair casts a shadow. Yes it is a symbolic painting and of what I am not entirely sure myself. All who we are now, even as we leave it behind, creates a shadow. It creates a blurred reflection. We don’t see it clearly. It alters depending upon the viewpoint. But it is there all the same. That much I can tell you. That much meaning I am able to gleam from a shadow and a chair. 

I look about the room I store my art in and I see our lives painted there. The paintings are my cave art. I am recording the happenings and events of my life much like our early ancestors did with sienna and ochre. Thousands of years may have passed and yet we mark the occasions of our lives upon walls. The chase, the hunt and the kill is what past artists recorded. I recorded a chair, a bag, books and a hat. Where is the evolution?

Saturday, July 6, 2013

second chances

I recently finished writing the first draft of a short story and am currently in the process of editing it. Editing is a slow and laborious process. I can’t say I don’t like it, rather nice to revisit the characters you’ve been introduced to and be able to clarify their personalities, but sometimes I look at what I wrote and cringe. There is bad writing and then there is really bad writing and my writing can be really, really bad.

Yet the beauty of rewriting is that you can make it better. There is no hurry. I have no deadline. I can take my time and sharpen the details and smooth out the wording. I can bury the clichés and hope they do not rise from their graces like zombies (Spell check chose the word graces. I chose graves but I kept it to avoid another cliché.). It is an ongoing process that I’m not sure I’ll ever get right.

Making a drawing is much the same. I’d wanted to do a mandala for a while with a time concept. Didn’t know where to start so I just started drawing. It looked a bit like a watch face so around the perimeter I placed numbers from ancient systems where the 12, 3, 6 and 9 would be. The symbols correspond accordingly. The time hands remind me of maple keys and aircraft wings so I have that theme of time flying but also how patterns in nature and manmade objects correlate. Time is a manmade concept but it exists in nature with the passing of seasons which is a natural phenomenon.

I wasn’t too happy with my first attempt so I tried another. The river current was traded with ocean waves which I like better because of how waves are influenced by the moon. This one looks a little cleaner in execution but I’m still not entirely happy with it.

Creating art is a process which I’m not sure I’ll ever get right. That’s just the way it is and in truth I wouldn’t want it any other way. If I was able to achieve perfection then there would be no motivation to explore, try new things or experiment. Thank goodness for second chances to make something better. I am looking forward to my third, fourth and fifth.