Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wood curls and memories...

It's so funny what can spark a treasured memory.  Today I was playing with my new thumb plane using it on some stretchers, the curls of wood falling on the floor, the cats chasing them, the smell of the worked wood all brought back some exquisite memories of working with my Grandpa Scott in his woodshop.  He had a very crowded, well used woodshop -the workbench and tools worn smooth with use- in the basement of his house.  During the summers he was a lockmaster for Lock #14 on the Trent River in Campbellford ONT.  In the winter he worked in his woodshop where he built everything from cabinets to tables big and small and rowboats...all of his own design.  I still have one of his end tables and I treasure it.  But mostly I hold dear the memory of being his assistant which meant I played in the wood curls and handed him things like a hammer, screw driver etc.  We would chat and it always strikes me how incredible those times were.  I have no idea what we talked about, can't remember back that far but I was very very little and do remember how much I loved his company and how he never treated me like a little kid or that I was in the way which I'm sure I was.  The woodshop memories are all about the senses - the smell of the wood...he only worked with cedar which is the only thing that grew in the area, the smell of his pipe, the feel of his rough, work calloused hands when he would pat my head or take a tool out of my hand.  He also worked on his outboard motors so there was also always a very faint perfume of oil or gas that had been part of the motor.  One of the many remarkable things about my father and grandfather was that they never treated me as a girly girl, they respected me and taught me things like woodworking, fishing, boating and even hunting that I never forgot.  I even got to help him with the locks by helping with turning the giant key that opened and closed them.  When we weren't building something in his shop or working on the locks we sat on the porch (veranda) eating peanuts and feeding all the critters that loved peanuts too.  Grandpa would put peanuts in his shirt pocket and while we chatted chipmunks would climb in and out with the peanuts, or just sit in his pocket with their head poking out while eating.  Grandpa Scott only had one thing he always wore...Sears work, worn but clean and pressed plus an ancient felt fedora that I wish had not gotten lost when he passed away.  It was all sweat stained and during our porch chats he would put peanuts on the rim - if the chipmunks weren't in his shirt pocket they were on the rim of his hat eating the peanuts, all the while we chatted, he would smoke his pipe and I adored him.  Birds would also come in flocks to sit around us as he tossed bread crumbs to them which is how I came to have a pet crow for all the time I was there.  

Then there is Grandma Scott who knew everything else.  She grew all her own food, there were no grocery stores anywhere around...if you didn't grow it, hunt it or fish it out of the river you did not eat.  So Grandpa, my Dad and Uncles (more spectacular men) hunted and fished.  Grandma did all the food growing's the super cool part...knew how to tan the leather from the animals we hunted. 

Here's a great side story that knits the formidable talents of these two people together.  One night we all were awakened by the horrifying sounds of Grandpa's hunting dogs being attacked by a bear.  I will spare you the truly gruesome details.  We all woke up, Grandma took us kids and huddled in her room with us while Grandpa got his shotgun, loaded it, stepped out on the porch we heard two shots, Grandpa cussed, the bear groaned, smoke from the gun cleared and we all peeked out to see the bear face down in the driveway about 5 feet from where Grandpa stood ( the bear charged him with the dog still in it's mouth) and Grandpa landed both shots in the head.  He said "show's over, go back to bed" but in the morning we dashed out to take turns sitting on the sprawled bear.  We deeply mourned the loss of Betty, one of his favorite hunting dogs.  Then he took the bear away, eventually brought the skins to my Grandmother, we had more bear steaks (not my favorite) and we all had new bear fur vests in time. 

Grandma knew how to tan hides to make clothes, purses (with outrageous hand-tooled designs of her own!), and gloves.  She knitted, crocheted, grew food put it by for the winter and raised 5 kids (lost one early in his life) plus was a nurse in the local tiny hospital.  You can do a lot w/o TV and technology!  She taught me how to make the best pie crust ever and I still can!  Sadly I was a dismal failure at knitting and tanning leather but did learn how to crochet.  Given all the hype around Kate and Will's wedding it's appropriate to mention that my Grandmother was the Royal Family's most loyal subject.  No matter what was going on at the house, whether it was baking, making boats, gutting fish...if the Queen was on the radio everything stopped.  Grandma would whip out the fancy tea cups and we would get cleaned up and listen to the Queen.  When they did get a TV and the coronation came on it was a fancy dress day with high tea.  Another great memory!

How does it ever get better than that!  Those really were the good old days...and how very grateful I am to have had people like them in my life and for the wood curls today that brought back such treasured memories.

My Favorite Artists #2 - Kate Mccgwire!

Gag, 2009 Photo byJP Bland
Mixed media with crow feathers, in antique museum cabinet,  77 x 60 x 60 cm 

Retch, 2007.  Installation using Pigeon feathers, sorry did not see who the photographer was.

A couple friends pointed me in the direction of Kate Mccgwire and WOW I love her work! So I emailed her to ask if it would be ok if I used a couple of her images for my "Favorite Artists" blog bits. It was a thrill to hear back from her and she said OK! Thanks Kate.

"My favorite artists" is meant to highlight people whose work I admire so  I won't say a lot as the work speaks for itself, however I can't help but gush a bit and say I find the work to be meticulously crafted, smart, luscious, seductive and it would be painfully difficult not to be able to touch it!  I have a great fondness for sculptures that use natural objects and this work is brilliant.  I've been all over Kate's website and pretty much am an over the top fan.  Fume/Seethe is another spectacular work.  I would love to help with an installation to see and be part of her process.  Please learn about Kate Mccgwire for yourself by visiting her website at

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Still life...

I've been aching to do Still Life work but not the bowl of fruit, vase of flowers kind.  I've been working on a number of ideas and am enormously pleased with the outcome.  Everything I paint comes out of the pursuit of an idea which is what the still life's and wall paintings are about or an experience which is what the land/seascapes & Europe paintings depict.  It feels strange that it takes me much longer to arrive at a still life idea than anything else I do.  I need exactly the "right" thing, combination, simple, maybe a tad funny or ironic and hopefully a little poetic, all that uses very different creative muscles than the other work I do and that kind of "exercise" feels great.  So here are the very newest Still Lifes...enjoy!

Been busy in the studio...

My body may be back from Italy but my heart and mind are still very much there.  My work falls into a few categories and these small paintings are travelogues from my time there.  Oh how I miss Italy and the spectacular American Academy in Rome...can't wait to go back!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

And here are some of the drawings...

That came out of my quality time with pen and paper...

We kissed and made up...

The best part about fighting with ones art is the make-up painting. I love painting in all sorts of mediums but water media and oils are my favorite.   Oils smell so good, are messy, smooshy & gooshy.  Watercolor is a seductive but harsh mistress. Like water itself it is at once soft yet can also be punishing.  I've worked on whole paintings only to blow it at the end with a big splop of color that drops in exactly the wrong place while in transit across the sheet. When I'm having an argument with one medium I move to another for a while and this winter my oils and I fought like crazy. I never made so many bad paintings in a row, panicked I wondered is it over with oils?  Not only did we fight but not being able to do the work I had planned on doing created a serious block...frozen, locked out, unloved. I cleaned up my painting area, put all my tubes away and we did not speak to each other for months.  I pouted for a bit then said, F it, I'm going back to the basics - drawing - and was revived, refreshed.  I draw all the time and think it is the most important aspect of art but admit that it's always been a step on the road to a painting and in doing so I've ended up with some drawings that didn't need to go anywhere else, they said everything already.  So I decided to focus on just drawing.  There's a little bit of shame in admitting that I have no real memory of doing a still life. I enjoy seeing them but have no desire to paint another bowl of fruit or bunch of flowers.  But if I could do flowers, fruits, table views like Christine Lafuente who's still life work knocks me out every time, or Stuart Shils, or Lucy Mac Gillis I'd be crazy happy. Since oils and I weren't speaking there was not going to be any color and I wasn't going to use watercolor either - that snub will surely cost me at some point.  So I turned to pen, pencil but didn't like the lines they seemed weak and I wanted bold, big, one stroke shapes, forms - happy to report it worked.  Buoyed by my success, refreshed from working with another medium, feeling strong again I had ideas for more oils.  I opened the drawer of paint tubes, we stared at each other.  I picked up my old friend yellow ochre, gave it a little squeeze and wondered if we were back on track...I started slow.  Just ground painting at first - let that dry.  Bring out a few more tubes and the next day I was painting, Spring was in the air, birds singing all was good again.  

No matter what kind of relationship one is in, it can't be forced or controlled and it's always a painful, heartbreaking lesson if one tries to do that.  

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sluter's The Mourner

This little statue is one of Sluter's "Pleurant" (Mourner) studies, it's at the MFA in Boston and I just love it. I would love to hold it and take it's pain away, it is so full of emotion.  It isn't grand, maybe only a foot high, but it is powerful.  It appears lots of people are looking at my blog re Sluter's fabulous maquette.  Thank you and wish I'd written more about it.  This little statue touches me deeply.  I understand it is part of a series of maquettes he did for a tomb.  I cannot think of another piece that affects me as much as this one does and I visit it every time I go to the MFA.