Tuesday, April 7, 2009

My Artistic Evolution - Looking Back

The Dry Hills, 1981, oil/ply, 48" x 51" is part of the Brandes Collection.  I've uploaded this image along with some other older works to help readers see that my interest and approach to landscape painting goes back more than 30 years.  My current stylistic treatment is the result of an ongoing examination of landforms and a long track through various methods of presenting my ideas in paint.
After graduating from Concordia University in 1978 with a BFA.  I moved to Toronto to begin my career as a painter.  At the time I was impressed with the work of Paterson Ewen and other Canadian painters who used a vigorous approach to their canvases.  The idea of "alluding" to something ("allusionism" was a term used then) appealed to me.  It permitted a good deal of playfulness with the paint and textures while always referring in some way to the things depicted.  Colors could be exaggerated along with marks and movement.

Hazy Morning in Haliburton, 1980, watercolor, Brandes Collection.  This is another allusionary painting based on my early visits to the regions north of Toronto.  At the time, I was unfamiliar with the area and was excited to discover it's many visual pleasures.  These were turned into art works later on in my studio after long drives and hikes.  The process of working from memory began very early in my career.

Working from memory was something that emerged as a result of a commission from Via Rail Canada in 1980.  I was provided with a bedroom on a sleeping car and traveled from coast to coast.  The commission required 5 paintings representing the five regions served by the railway.  I quickly adapted a fast sketching technique looking out the window of a moving rail car.  My notations were minimal and I found that I needed to almost use my eyes like a snapshot - this is because the scenery changed every second.  I learned during that exciting summer how to summarize the key elements in front of me.  I figured out how to quickly understand what made something "interesting" from a visual point of view.

Western Hills, 1980, 22" x 32", oil, Brandes Collection.  This example shows the point at which my work was most abstract.  I reached a state where I was working totally from an emotional/visual perspective.  The application of paint and the marks/texture were based on the energy of a place remembered.  Color was critical.  

I found, however, that there was something about the forms in nature that I was missing.  I mean, the three dimensional forms and volumes of things like trees, rocks, hills and so on.  I had received a fairly classical training as a student and had drawn extensively from the human model.  I had great appreciation for the solidity of things. And while these early allusionary paintings really got into the energy of things seen, the mass was not addressed on the flattish picture plane.

Missing too was the sense of air and space that provides a counter-point to the landscape.  I was missing the "emptiness and form" thing.  This realization set me on a path of discovery.  I spent years working out a way to present these things on a surface.  There were plenty of bad paintings along the way and my galleries were pretty supportive even though these paintings eventually were returned unsold to my studio (often to be sent to the dumpster).

Kosh Kah Nu, 1989, oil/panel, 16" x 20" is part of my own collection and represents the beginning of a mature style.  The painting was executed rapidly with brushy strokes.  It did start to get the relationships between land and sky, as well as the tonal aspects that are so important to my work now.

The sense of air and atmosphere carries this little composition to a reasonable finished state.  The restrained palette was a change from the earlier pieces.

Umberlands, 1993, oil/panel with collaged canvas, 13" x 23", Brandes Collection. My evolution was not a straight line.  In this work, I take some of what I was figuring out regarding space and tried to play with it against a Sean Scully style barred abstraction.  This painting represents many many attempts to synthesize the influences on my own emerging vision.  Does it work?  Actually, I think so.