When to Stop

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Every now and again, if you’re lucky, you experience a rare gush of creativity. It erupts out of the blue and when it does, you drop everything and dive for the brush, pen, or whatever so you can seize the magic. When you’re riding this wave, each tone you pick is the right one, and inspiration flows like an open stream. It is lovely, perfect, sexy magic.

Under the influence of this rare tide, with these pieces, I managed to do something that is usually a hard won victory in my creative process. I put down the brush and walked away at precisely the right moments.

Now gouache and watercolour are particularly tricky in this regard. With acrylic or oil, you always have a second chance should you misstep. With gouache or watercolour however, you can over work it in a heartbeat. One false dot of pigment and you have to watch your mistake bleed through the piece – forever muddying what was once crisp. When you overthink forms your brushstrokes go from bold and pure to wobbly and insipid. In each of these pieces, I felt that moment come – where my urge to blather on was held in check by the voice of experience that said – “no – it’s time to walk away” or “yes – put that brush to paper and trust where it goes”.

I’m going to continue working at this size (5″ x 7″) for a while longer. I feel that there’s a series happening here and I like its vibe. Also, now, after working on 300lb watercolour paper – I am forever spoiled. I can’t go back to 140lb. I am hardcore geeking out about it.
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Drako

drako-zoom-out

For most of 2016, I’ve had this canvas on my easel. I worked on it very slowly, adding layers upon layers of colour. For long stretches of time it just sat there in a semi-finished state while I looked and it and thought about it. What was nice in working on this piece was that I didn’t rush myself into shaping it into ‘something’. I let it be what it grew to be and only in the last stages did I really shape it into the beastie it is now. Because I didn’t rush it, I was able to bring to this piece some of the techniques I’ve practiced this year with the gouache.

This piece is called Drako, for obvious reasons (because it looks like a dragon). In terms of the inspiration behind it though, there was a phrase that had come into my mind in the early stages, ‘sometimes you need a map’. That’s because this canvas started out as something very different (tones of pink) and after the canvas sat abandoned for a really long time, at the beginning of this year I took it in a very different direction that eventually led here. Each piece in a sense is a voyage of discovery. More often than not this is an exercise in getting out of my own way to allow the image to form into something cohesive instead of forcing it in one direction or another.

My existential art map is something I’ve developed over the years and actually over the course of writing this blog to date. Writing my reflections on each piece has helped me map out my process. It gives me faith that in those moments when I stare at the canvas and think – my god this is garbage – that if I keep going, it’ll move past garbage and become something I’m happy with.

I feel good about ending 2016 on this note. Thanks for tuning in.

 

drako

Shades of Grey

I’m now four classes in to my oil painting class at OCAD. For starters, my teacher is amazing. I’m more than a little star struck. Not only is his work stellar, but he’s also a really great instructor. His name is Bogdan Luca. His work reminds me of waking from a really intense dream and not being sure of whether I am awake or asleep.

This year, in my own artistic journey, I’ve endeavoured to learn more about color. I feel as if I’ve finally made some real headway in that direction. Learning about colour feels like seeing the world as I’ve never seen it before – in higher resolution. At my painting class we’ve often been challenged to create grey tones that are in a sense colourless. The word grey is really a catch-all for the myriad of tones that cannot be described by any other colour reference. The world of grey can simultaneously be tinted to be brownish or reddish or bluish or yellowish – all depending on how you get to that colour mix. I finally understand why my art teacher forbade the use of black to mix colour all those years ago – because when you learn how to arrive at certain tones without black, there is a depth of colour that becomes discernable. It seems as if your eye can somehow detect the many tones within the single pigment. This world of grey constitutes a great deal of what we actually see.

The mind autofills so much of our interpretation of what we see. A wooden table appears at first to be brown – but when you pay attention to what your eyes actually see, without letting your mind interpret it for you, the truth is that the reflection of light off that table is what describes its form. Therefore what one paints is the reflection of light, married with its shadows. This is the world of grey.

Shades of Grey - no black used

Shades of Grey – no black used

Im not sure as yet how this relates to abstract painting. All of our classes have focused on still life painting.

In terms of oil painting, I’m really enjoying the medium. Unique to oils is a depth of colour rendition that is quite lovely.

I have two more classes in this course. It’s been thoroughly worth the investment of time, money and travel. Working in a studio environment this way is so satisfying. At the end of each class I feel thoroughly spent in an altogether pleasant way.

Oil Painting 101

This weekend was my first oil painting class at OCAD in Toronto. I’ll be attending classes once a week for the next few weeks. The class was extremely satisfying in ways I hadn’t anticipated.

Sometimes, it’s as if my conscious mind is the last to know what my creative mind wants. I can recognize now that I’ve been craving instruction like this for a while. Over the past couple of years, as a means of broadening my artistic palette, I’ve tried focusing on different types of expression. For example, for a while I focused on drawing and painting animals. I tried a range of animals from pictures and then worked on horses from life drawing. For a period after that, I spent time focusing on versatility of colour use.

I’ve found that learning new things, and sometimes re-learning old things, is really intrinsic to creative development. I’m happy for this time, where I can focus on developing my technical painting skills afresh. Sometimes I forget how valuable it is to work on those skills – often times favouring composition or imagination, over technical ability. I suppose that’s the downside of being self taught.

Through looking at students work in the art school and listening to my professor I understood for the first time the real value of technical ability in painting. At any given moment, a person is the sum of their embodied genetics and experiences. For an artist, one’s work is no more or less than a reflection of that moment of self. The work that you make is the manifestation of that momentary distillation of self. The acuity of that expression is only possible through a marriage of perspective and skill.

On the studio side of things, at the moment, I enjoy the process of working with oils. I don’t know what it will be like, working with them on reflective pieces, since I’ve only just begun to experiment. I imagine that the longer drying time would lend itself to a different sort of process than I’m used to with acrylics. With the little I have done so far though, I really enjoy how the colours spread and blend.

More than anything, it feels amazing to be taking a class in a real art school. I know my class is not an undergrad or masters course, but to have instruction in that kind of facility, from a real professor, feels amazing.

Frida & Basquiat

I’ve recently become aware that Jumbie Works has 100 followers! Thank you all for your interest in my work.

As a sort of tribute to this event, I thought I’d write about two artists who have been key influences to the development of my artistic insight.

In this post I’d like to tell you about Frida Kahlo and Jean Michel Basquiat.

Frida Kahlo

Over time, Frida Kahlo’s work has slowly trickled into my awareness, in such a way that I cannot remember a time when I was not aware of her work. In truth her image and perhaps her unibrow have permeated the art world in such a ubiquitous way because she painted herself. I’ve read that Frida was a presence not to be forgotten. She wore elaborate dresses that always stood out, perhaps to hide the mechanics she lived with in the aftermath of the tram accident that all but incapacitated her body.

The Broken Column by Frida Kahlo

The Broken Column by Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo’s paintings are some of the most evocative I’ve ever been blessed to see in person. I saw her work at the AGO in Toronto last year and awaited the show as a teenager awaits the appearance of a pop icon. Upon seeing her work, in person at last, my eyes brimmed with tears. I remember seeing  ‘The Broken Column’ for the first time after only seeing it in books before. It was surreal. I felt like my mind was backtracking and trying to actively record the moment for always, while also trying to absorb the art. When I see that piece, I feel like I can almost experience the pain she lived for short bursts of time. That piece resonates with me, not because of the physical pain I have endured, but the emotional or spiritual pain that has ripped at me. I think that that piece really captures the feeling of being metaphysically torn asunder. In those moments you are amazed that you appear whole. In this piece as well, there is a foreign object within her that simultaneously holds her together and violates her essence. In some strange way I really get that.

Jean-Michel Basquiat

I became aware of Basquiat a few years ago, after watching a documentary called ‘Jean-Michel Basquiat-The Radiant Child’. I was instantly and totally blown away by his work and the man that he was. There was a look in his eyes that suspended me in a silent moment of awe. Basquiat channelled something awesome that was primal, real and purely radiant. Basquiat’s work, defined the ‘Primitives’ in a way that I had never before fully understood. By the end of his career, his work was not simplistic because he was simple – rather the efficacy of his work was so distilled, that he needed very little to express himself.

My favourite Basquiat piece is ‘Riding with Death’. I believe that it was part of his last exhibition of work, before he died. It was far simpler than many of his iconic pieces. This one I think captures both Basquiat’s knowledge that he was killing himself slowly as well as a broader knowledge, that we are all riding with death in our shadow.

Riding with Death, by Jean-Michel Basquiat

Riding with Death, by Jean-Michel Basquiat

I have not yet had the honour of seeing his work in person, however next year, the AGO is hosting a Basquiat exhibition. I can’t even explain how excited I am about this. I’ve told friends that after I’ve seen this show, I can die happy.

Why have these particular artists influenced me?

First and foremost, in both cases, their art spoke to me in a direct and undeniable way. These two artists have time and again made work that resonates inside of me. Also, at a time when I was bored to tears of European Art, these artists visions were accessible to me.  In an often Eurocentric Art world, their visions were closer to my own heart than many other mainstream painters have been. Their work feels real; like genuine, living artifacts of the incredible people they were.

I admire Frida Kahlo uniquely among painters because of her persistency in the face of absolute agony as well as her unearthly ability to create a relentless beauty, in a sometimes sordid world. She is my hero.

I admire Basquiat because he was simply brilliant. Although his work has never found the critical acclaim it deserves, in my eyes and heart and soul; I feel his work.

Both artists have helped me to accept who I am as an artist without judgement or expectation. They have given me permission to be myself – even if I don’t quite fit into any known subsection of the art world.

Conflict

 

Conflict, 24 x 36" acrylic on canvas

Conflict, 24 x 36″ acrylic on canvas

Conflict is a piece about the serenity of the natural world in opposition to war and conflict. In this abstracted landscape I’ve attempted to represent violence intruding into an otherwise peaceful landscape.