“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.
Usually, my work can seem serious, so with these, I’m offering a little bit of bubbly fizz.
I found these at Everything Old Canada — an amazing antique and vintage shop here on Vancouver Island. The truth is almost anything in the entire shop could be composed and framed just right for one of my paintings. I’ll be opening up the options for my subject matter in the coming year. It’ll be fun to explore.
I have said it before on this blog, but the subjects that I choose are more than just neat objects that happen to be old. I use them as symbols more than anything.
Despite there being such easy ways to stay connected to people now, it’s remarkable that we still let some essential relationships fall to the side. The other day I was driving in my car and noticed someone walking on the street who looked remarkably like someone who I was once very close with and saw regularly. It was an uncanny resemblance, but it was not the person in question when I got a closer look.
For the rest of my drive, I was stuck recalling memories of time spent with this person who has faded from my life. How and why did we drift apart and lose touch? It is almost as though we all chose to leave our phones off the hook.
These paintings are on view at the George Billis Gallery in New York City until October 24.
Influencers — that’s what we refer to people of persuasion now. People with entrepreneurial zest. They’ve existed forever and used whatever medium is current and available to reach the audience. In this case, really amazing books with so much information it would have kept the Victorian influenced busy for months.
132 years ago this book, The Popular Art Instructor, was published. It’s a collection of instructions on how to achieve artistic perfection in various endeavours. It’s all in there; oil painting, watercolour, floral arrangement, embroidery, house plant care, basket weaving, calligraphy, furniture placement, leaf pressing… everything old is new again. And when I write that I mean everything very, very old is very, very new again.
Instagram is full-to-bursting, overflowing really, with people who’ve made livings out of their various interests laid out in this book from 1888. You can now make a middle-class living by sharing your knowledge on watering house plants and arranging books on a shelf effectively.
With this painting, I’m commemorating the spirit of the people who published this book and the people who have strived for perfection and turned a hobby into art they can make a genuine living by.
This painting will be part of my most recent body of work showing at the George Billis Gallery in New York City from September 29 – October 24, 2020.