I have written in a journal for 29 years. Let me tell you if you dig up and read the first entry written by your adolescent self, it’s remarkably revealing. Over the years, the purpose of the writing has changed. It can sometimes be like a daily log, but the business of life means that it is hard to keep up and often pointless. So I have kept it up to write about and document significant events.
There are podcasts and radio programs where people are invited to read their journal entries from their adolescence — in front of audiences, no less. It seems like a mortifying experience, and after recently reading through the earliest entries, I am pondering ripping out a few of the pages.
I am most keenly aware of is how the early teen me conceived the passage of time. At 15-years-old, six months is like a lifetime. And now, in middle age, six months seems just around the corner.
This painting is recently finished. It took me over a month to complete, but I felt no sense of urgency. An urgency that in my 20s was always prevalent.
I listen to radio, podcasts and audiobooks while I work. I have done so for over a decade. I have noticed that when I look back at past paintings, I can instantly recall what I was listening to. This is not true for all paintings because not everything I hear makes an indelible mark. But some things have significance, and they signal a turning point or an idea that has substance and holds.
Fact: if you pose your hand holding a brush up to your painting, more people will stop and look at the image when they’re scrolling through on their phones. My hand in the photo does a few things; it offers a sense of scale and offers the sense of a human being behind the work you are looking at.
Continuing with the 10 x 10 clock paintings that I shared at the beginning of 2021, this time with a teal variation. These clocks were among the first that I started to collect about 15 years ago and remain my favourite.
“No age has a monopoly on misery,” and with that quote, the book featured in this painting starts the guidance on how to live an abundant life.
Published in 1950, The Art of Real Happiness is a reconciliation of old-age religious beliefs and modern psychology. I always try to have a book on the go, and I have been reading history books lately, and if there is one theme that is consistent through millennia, it is the collision of “old” and “new” ways of thinking.
It seems as though we are entering a new era where our conflicting ways of thinking, our myriad of philosophies and beliefs are colliding. And as a quiet observer of the world around me, I find myself straddling feelings of excitement and worry.
What Must I Do To Get Well? And How Can I Keep So? is the title of the book featured in this new painting. A question that continues to plague us, and in the 1890s, Elma Stuart published this book in the hopes to help some find the answers.
A little rant: everything happens in cycles, nothing is new, we are having the same experiences our ancestors did, the only thing different is the phone in your hand (and some other nifty tools like indoor plumbing and refrigeration).
As I flip through the book, I’m amused at how the ideas and philosophies in it can be found in advertisements and influencers that now dominate social media. We have added some more wisdom and inventions along the way, but the gist of it all remains the same as it was 130 years ago.
I was pleased to see my paintings featured on the covers of some literary publications in the United Kindom recently.
My painting Nine Clocks was one of three paintings I had in the Aesthetica Art Prize 2020 last year. You can read about that exhibition here. Aesthetica also has a writing award and their tradition is to use one of the visual images from the art prize to feature on the cover of the anthology for the writing award.
The Poetry Business from the United Kingdom publishes The North Magazine twice a year, so it was nice to have them reach out to me to ask if they could feature one of my paintings on the cover. It’s validating when poets and writers are able to connect my work with their craft. They chose The Relationship Between Blue & Green from 2015.
I never thought I’d be so anxious to see a new year arrive. I personally know people who suffered enough in 2020 to make wishing a Happy New Year sincere and genuine. I hope 2021 is a turning point toward better days.
This suite of four colourful little paintings was just completed — a project to help me countdown to the end of 2020.
Published by Itoya and sold exclusively in Itoya’s stores in Japan, the 2021 calendar may be my favourite so far. The designers and printers in Japan do a fantastic job making this large, sturdy calendar. It is an honour to work with them.
In October 2020 I was invited to write a guest post on Realism Today’s website. I thought I’d share the article here.
Contemporary Realism Still Life: More Than Just Collector’s Items
Throughout the course of my painting career, I have consciously drawn influence from a broad range of arts and culture and from various disciplines beyond traditional representational painting, and it was an honour to have the editors of Aesthetica Magazine pick up on my paintings and see how they would converge with the other work in the exhibition that included large scale photography, contemporary sculpture, mechanical installations and sound and video projections.
All of my subjects are chosen with an intention to draw connections from the earliest still life paintings in the Western tradition to the current way objects are presented in various mediums. Beginning in the Middle Ages, through the Early Renaissance and on through the Dutch Golden Age of painting the painters were all influenced by the physical world around them. The aesthetic they created was directly a result of the space they were in. Their world was illuminated by small windows and candlelight. And thus, it was low key, the chiaroscuro that we have come to know and love and shaped the world of realist painting.
However, in my studio, I am surrounded by five very large windows and high ceilings and I only work by natural light — my world is high key, bright and well lit. My paintings are a response to the physical world I am in, giving them an aesthetic that is the result of my space.
Presented like artifacts, I compose my subjects with strict symmetry and balance. Multiple clocks and cameras drive the repetition of shapes and graphic design, but also the theme that underlies my intentions behind my paintings. Middle Ages and Early Renaissance still life were full of religious symbolism, each subject carrying meaning, and were easily interpreted and understood by scholars of the time.
The clocks I paint are more than just collector’s items; they are akin to the symbols of ephemera in Dutch vanitas paintings — which were presented with several dark and foreboding warnings to viewers. Rather than rotting fruit, wilting flowers and human skulls, and the overabundance of jumbled objects on a table I display the clocks on a clean white shelf, hoping the simplified presentation of recurring forms locks the viewer in for a time of observation.
Likewise, the cluster of cameras has a multitude of tiny details and numerous lenses focused on the viewer. The cameras are all collected from vintage and antique shops. I always find myself feeling melancholic when I find a camera to use as a subject and think of the fifty years that have passed since the camera was bought new and taken on vacations, brought out during holidays or family gatherings. And I am left wondering about the cameras we keep in our pockets. Four people together can now have a dozen camera lenses with them, many of them pointed at themselves recording staged and filtered lives. Will the phones and cameras in our pockets come across as charming and enduring fifty years from now? Will scrolling through fifty years of someone’s Instagram feed be a modern-day lesson on the transience of youth, beauty, and life in general?
My three paintings were shown alongside several video and sound installations by artists from around the world. One of the artists even uses vintage 16mm film cameras to capture her images. After being processed the images are projected digitally. And so my painting of an eighty-five-year-old 16mm film projector as an artifact fit right in with the other work.
I was left to wonder about all the technical aspects of the various works in the exhibition. How would they fare over time when the equipment used to show them becomes obsolete? What is the legacy of art that cannot be seen or experienced? It was not lost on me that around the corner from our work, in another gallery space, there were four-hundred-year-old paintings heeding warnings and telling stories.
With these three paintings, I reach into the past to look into the future. Simple, straightforward compositions showcasing familiar yet useless objects bring the themes of the fleeting nature of life, the warnings of our vanity and the inevitably of obsolescence.
I was asked at the reception for the exhibition why I wouldn’t just take photos of the objects instead of painting them. The answer is simple. The process of painting connects me to the artists of the past and makes me understand their objectives. The long, slow, arduous process of painting is a meditative practice and allows me to travel on the bridge from that past to think about what the future may bring.
Twenty years ago I decided I wanted to be “an artist”. It was good to have plans, but exactly what was I going to paint and why was I going to paint it? I was in art school and incubating many ideas when a trip to a vintage and antique emporium lead me to this old telephone. It snowballed from there.
I painted this telephone twenty years ago and can remember showing it in class during a critique and managed to prattle on and on about why I painted it the way I did.
I have painted every day since then and decided a few weeks ago to bring out the old phone and paint it again here as a way to reaffirm the decision I made a few decades ago.