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Painting Notes
Two Kinds of Light

Light is generally thought of in terms of gradients - a linear dimension that moves between less or more in hue, tone, or position on a chromatic scale. It has rules and is understood with experience. This painting presents two kinds of light. The background is illuminated with a directional, consistent bluish moonlight. This could be said to be rooted in reality. The light emanating from the stump is unexplained. It comes from everywhere and it may not be normally visible. It is rooted in imagination.


The splayed open stump is intended to recall the sides of beef painted by Rembrandt and Chiam Soutine. I was attracted to the idea of portraying a 'dead' subject somehow alive. Instead of contrasting glowing 'alive' colours of the subject with a darkened 'dead' interior, I tried something different. In it's death, the stump has dissipated into and has become part of the surrounding living forest. It is an interaction between the object and the field where neither dominates and where there is little distinction between the two.

3 Carcass.JPG

I have always anthropomorphized things I see in the woods. When alone in nature, imagination takes over from education and provides the information we need to make sense of things. To me this was not a fallen tree, but a great rib cage and spinal column of an immense beast picked clean by the forest.

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Tsilos II

Mt. Tatlow, has been renamed back to it's original name Ts'yl?os. In the past, when I painted and named this picture, it was known as Tsilos, which was an earlier attempt to phonetically spell it. Mt. Ts'yl?os is culturaly and spiritually significant to the Xeni Gwet'lin who believe the mountain watches over them. This view of the mountain is from the bluffs overlooking Chilco Lake. Glacier fed, the lake has a turquoise blue colour that contrasts magnificently with the mountain, bathed in the setting sun.

7. Tsilos II.jpeg

Ghost is an angry painting. It is about the land remembering and not being too pleased. The painting began as an uncritical look at a landslide and a clearcut. As I painted from the sketch, the clearcut morphed into a dead dinosaur and the idea of memory emerged. The prickly totemic image in the foreground was added to represent the dissidence felt remembering the past and thinking about the future. Nothing in this picture is safe from the phallic cloud high up in the blue sky. Far from fluffy, it is a spiked fist ready to strike.

1. Ghost.jpeg
Squamish Valley

Probably misnamed. It began as an image focusing on the valley but moved towards the mountain. In the end it came to be about phase changes. Water was shown as clouds, snow, ice, streams and a river. As I subtracted information that was not about water, I was left with a mass that appears to be subliming into the dark sky or melting into the bright river below.

30. Squamish Valley.jpg
Last Light on Remembrance Day

On Remembrance Day I added an ultramarine blue glaze to the tree in the foreground. The change darkened the tree and gave it a more of a transparent, ghost like quality. All the chromatic highlights are still there but the contrast between the middle ground and the tree has been toned down. Now the the focus shifts to the distant mountains and suggests sacrifice as well as survival, appropriate for the day.

22. Last Light on Rememberance Day.jpeg
Chilco Lake Moon

This is based on a sketch done while on a long, solo camping trip in the Chilcotins. All the warmth in the painting comes from the sun setting on a distant mountain, across Chilco Lake. It is an expression of separation and growing loneliness. My only connection to others is a pale moon in a shared sky.

18. Chilco Lake Moon.jpeg
Sunny Reach

The term "reach" refers to the upper extent of Princess Louisa Inlet which is branch of Jervis inlet. Basically it is as far as you can go up the inlet at Chatterbox Falls which is the subject of my waterfall series of paintings. "Sunny Reach" was developed from sketches done from my boat anchored there on a cold spring morning. There was still snow on the mountains represented by the white patch in the upper right corner of the painting. It had poured rain the night before so it was a welcome surprise when the sun rose and the trees in the foreground exploded into a warm cheerful light.

9. Sunny Reach.jpeg
Rain Squall

Two states, sea and sky, are connected with a veil like rain squall. The sky is all fuzziness with unclear elements obscuring each other. The sea is full of squirming symbols, a flashing language. In the middle of the painting, the farthest mountain de-materializes as it is passed over by the squall. The squall represents the tension between different mind states. In the analytical state everything depends on, and becomes, symbols. Things are seen as language. Where as in 'the here and now' the world is seen but more importantly felt.

57. Rain Squall.jpeg
Octopus Island

This painting tries to use gold paint in an atmospheric way. It has been mixed and thinned to give it varying degrees of transparency. Also the lenticular quality of gold paint, where it looks dark from one angle and glowing from another is used to animate the image.

40. Octopus Island.jpg

We have all been underwater. This stump serves as a metaphor for this feeling. The hand loggers'  springboard hole becomes a mouth in a time worn face, smothered by a rush of second growth. It reminds me of being overwhelmed with technology, information and change.

Snorkelling though a kelp forrest comes to mind.

17. Underwater.jpeg
Broken Reflection

I think of 'Broken Reflection' as a self-portrait viewed through a shattered mirror. Over time, my expectations, plans and self-image have all been challenged. In spite of all my efforts and my ego, I have been forced to evolve and above all accept change. Even though the road is sometimes harsh, there is always an element of beauty. The big trick in life is to enjoy the view.

24. Broken Reflection.jpeg
Wallace Island

Happy memories of floating in a dingy on a summer afternoon are the subject of this painting. Wallace Island is a Marine Park between North Galiano and Saltspring Islands. It has a wonderful anchorage where I have spent many weekends. I was drawn to the strange eroded sandstone rocks as well as the image of North Galiano peeking up behind the narrow island.

38. Wallace Island.jpeg
Swartz Lake II

Swartz Lake is one of the camp sites on our extended camping trips to the Chilcotins. It is in a deep narrow valley with grassy fields separated by a series of small lakes created by beaver dams. It has the essential feature of all my campsites in that it is remote and we rarely see anybody else there. This is one of a series of moonlit landscapes of the lake. At night, even without the moon, it is not as dark as you would expect. Your eyes adjust, different parts of the spectrum seem to be visible, and what you can't see, your imagination fills in.

54. Swartz Lake II.jpeg

The background grass has been painted to represent hammered gold. In line with my thinking on icons it forces the field to appear solid and sit on the surface while allowing the objects, in contrast, to have pictorial depth. Branches sitting on the surface are painted either white or in light to dark blue graduations, typical ways to represent 'sky'. Trunks are painted in black void-like patches suggesting holes with stray pieces of bark floating above them.

21. Grasslands.jpeg
Redwood V

The saturated colours and gold leaf, used in medieval religious art, is the starting point for this forest scene. Gold paint flattens pictorial space by reading as a material. Like a religious icon, the flat gold paint limits depth to the figurative elements which is a reversal of how most objects are portrayed. Instead of an an object being surrounded by space, the figurative elements provide the only depth.

Frozen Beaver Pond

A bitterly cold walk, just before sunset, on a winter camping trip, in the mountains above the Squamish River is the setting for this painting. I saw this shimmering light in the forest which eventually resolved into a frozen pond. The pond ice glowed in the fading sun and had blue clumps of snow on top. I was initially drawn to the abstract quality of the Miro-like blobs and line-like branches floating above this shining plane. Contrasts of colour temperature and texture as well as the relationship between the ice and the intertwined blobs and lines became the focus. I wanted to flatten everything to make the objects to read as a disturbance of a glowing field. I didn’t realize it was a beaver pond until working on the sketches back in my studio. It is the pile of branches covered in snow, on the left side, upper middle of the painting.

23. Redwoods V.jpeg
31. Frozen Beaver Pond II.jpeg
Winter Morning Davis Lake

I have learned a couple of tricks while winter camping. The first is to use coolers, close enough to the fire, to keep beverages from freezing. The second is to pour water into coffee pots the night before. At minus 15 degrees, once the fire goes out, water storage containers become blocks of ice. Melting possibly contaminated snow is a pain. These inconveniences are out-weighed by what you get to experience. This image is from the lake as the lazy morning sun rewards you with a sliver of warmth.

46. Winter Morning Davis Lake.jpeg
Joshua Trees

Painted from sketches and photos taken in Joshua Tree National Park, near Palm Springs, California. The park takes it's name from the 'joshua' trees native that small part of the Mojave Desert. The trees where said to have reminded early settlers of Joshua standing with upraised arms praying to God. I have a fascination in general with the desert having been born and raised here in 'Raincouver'. The desert offers a completely different eco system with sparse, tough vegetation, scratching out a living in an inhospitable lunar like landscape. The spot this painting was based on had the alien-like joshua trees in the foreground with a glaringly bright band of mountains in the background. These mountains reinforced the strangeness of the place by reminding me of pictures I have seen of sun catching the rim of a crater on the moon.

Salton Sea Shore

The Salton Sea is one of my favourite places in the Colorado Desert. It has an ugly post apocalyptic beauty. The lake is shrinking through evaporation and lack of fresh water. It is in the process of being sterilized with the increasing concentration of salts and chemicals. Dead tilapia and colourful algae add a rotting smell to the razor sharp barnacle shell beach. This painting is of a putrefying puddle that reflects the washed out sky and the acid yellow of new life, an algae bloom. It represents to me, a start over, perhaps better luck next time.

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58. Salton Sea Shore.jpeg
Somewhere Else

A friend suggested we take my jeep to Alaska near the Bering Straight. We could wait for the straight to freeze and then drive across it. He was studying Russian and felt that by the time we got to the other side he would know enough to be able to explain things. Like art, it would be a mythical journey that combined the desire to be somewhere else and the need to learn a language to "explain things".

Nana (drawing done in my teens)

My grandmother was my first exposure to someone painting a picture. A widow, she lived by herself in Oyama. As a child I was sent there to live with her for months at a time. She would set up her easel in the living room and travel back to Russia where she was born. In her paintings she acknowledged little difference between the real and imagined. She painted what she felt was appropriate, for instance, adding miniature naked men dancing around a vase of flowers, “because it needed something”. She still inspires me and the smell of oil paint still reminds me of her.

In the Studio

Mid career Phillip Guston abruptly abandoned his lyrically abstract paintings in favour of rough cartoon like images. He was scathingly chastised by the influential critic Hilton Kramer as "a Mandarin pretending to be a stumblebum". No doubt stung and insulted, he continued making images that suited his own sensibility. Referring to critics and the influence of other painters, he once said that when an artist begins being an artist it's as if their studios are crowded with others. As you paint, one by one they begin to leave. If you are lucky and paint long enough even you will leave.

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