YOU WERE HERE
“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.
The Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi and its principles -- asymmetry, asperity (the roughness or irregularity of things,) simplicity, austerity and intimacy nudge toward the striving for balance, rhythm, harmony and defiant softness. It’s an aesthetic that guides all of my work.
"Never let go of the fiery sadness called desire." (Matsuo Basho)
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)
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 we embarked on adventure called 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 and to paint with my father there. He pushed me up the hill, pushed me in the most important ways - to reach for a heightened expression.
"Step by step, a path. Stone by stone, a cathedral."
NINE SKETCHES FROM SYDNEY TO ORANGE
A guru 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 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 1908 Edwardian cottage is the setting for painting, writing and dreaming. These sketches were made 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)
These paintings 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. "The sky is the principal actor," said John Constable. 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'd been studying the principles of wabi-sabi - this "comprehensive Japanese world view, or aesthetic centred on the acceptance of transience." Nothing is permanent, yet I'm making archival objects to capture 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'd 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.
A site-specific exhibition inspired this small series of large oils. The gallery was an odd shape - with wide angles and a narrow door. It was December and an icy wind, through sunlight, blew in through the half-cracked hunded year-old windows. It felt like I'd won the lottery. Wouldn't it be cool to make a series of square paintings that would appear to narrow at the bottom, to make deeply coloured paintings that would appear grey, and flat paintings that would appear bent. An experiment in a trapezoidal room, with a lot of people coming to see in less than a month.
How to employ a powerful graphic and retain a feeling of softness, of ambient vibration and handmade-ness? How to make a painting pop "up" before your eyes and then lay down again, using only tertiary greys and the raking effect that brushwork makes in different light conditions, and depending where the viewer is standing in relation to the painting?
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 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 square linen boards into the panier, 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 to New York in the Fall. For the larger-scale colourfields, the palette was quieted, I switched to oil and amped up the brushwork, letting it take over for light raking, soaking and saturation. The paintings read as almost all 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.
In Japanese, the pile of rocks is called "obos."
"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. It was the fourth consecutive year I took a mountain painting excursion with my father. He would climb out of bed at four and fix a giant pot of 7-grain cereal. By the time the rest of us rose, the clouds were racing across the morning sky. It's not a matter of looking for patterns anymore. The patterns are 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 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 anything 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 linen boards in European sizes. They were square and natural, glowing in their linen-ness - 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 seducing from down the street. I bought every last one, which was fourteen. And so fourteen location sketches came home to New York 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. My twin 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)