The Painted Hall Revisited

Below is one of the newest works completed in my studio. I am currently painting a handful of pieces for the Galerie de Bellefeuille, so my body of work for the Bau-Xi (forthcoming, November in Toronto) is on hold temporarily to fulfill that obligation.

The Painted Hall Revisited, oil and acrylic on wood, 36 x 48 ins
The Painted Hall Revisited, oil and acrylic on wood, 36 x 48 ins

I have previously made I think two other works of the Painted Hall in Chatsworth. Something about the geometry and light of this room keeps me coming back. No two works are ever alike–I am a slightly different person today than I was yesterday, and quite changed from the person who painted a similar piece two years ago; my way of laying down marks has been shifting.

It’s also admittedly an excuse to spend time in this room again. I don’t think I have delusions of grandeur, but the hall, which was expertly decorated for an overall stunning effect, is great fodder for a painter. This piece, which is 36 x 48 inches, took around five days to complete. I would love to do one more, much larger, so you can physically feel the space.

photo credit: Derek von Essen

Music to paint by #2: Shaking and Trembling by John Adams

“The basic way I compose is to take a cluster of sound, like a handful of paint. First of all I give it some kind of rhythmic impetus, and then I let it go forward. There’s a sense of a vehicle travelling forward across terrain.” John Adams, composer, in an interview with Robert Davison


This fabulous piece is by the American composer, John Adams, who in his earlier work used to make sparer, less melodic music, until he discovered how rewarding it was to create sounds that made people feel something. The rest is history, including great pieces such as Short Ride in a Fast Machine, Violin Concerto, and Shaker Loops, of which this rather raw video is an excerpt. His early influence was John Cage, but as his work matured it became more rhythmic and emotional (one could say Romantic) with close links to the work of Terry Riley and Steve Reich.

This video recording, by the way, is of young musicians, none of whom are over 18 years of age.

You can listen to John Adams talk about his work and his influences here.

Trusting your instincts

Jonathan Adler interior
Jonathan Adler interior

If Jonathan Adler had listened to his pottery professor at art school, he would have quit being an artist and got a job as a lawyer. Luckily for us, he didn’t take her advice. Instead, he parlayed his wacky and shameless ideas into a hugely successful design career.

Everyone else may have already seen this, but since I don’t have cable, I just discovered Adler and his book My Prescription for Anti-Depressive Living in the library on the weekend. Along with images of his delicious and uplifting designs, he peppers humorous anecdotes and strong opinions throughout the book. Below is an excerpt with Adler’s take on the contemporary artworld today, and his philosophy on design.

“When I look at the artworld today, I get pretty depressed. I think that somewhere along the way, people were tricked into believing that art has to be incomprehensible and skill-free and ugly. I totally reject that idea. I want my work to be communicative and beautiful and, I hope, impactful on an emotional level before an intellectual level.”

Jonathan and his talented window-dresser husband live happily together with their dog, Liberace.

Beauty and the sublime-the monstrous talent of Kristine Moran

Kristine Moran, Flow Separation, oil on canvas 2008, 60 x 90 inches
Kristine Moran, Flow Separation, oil on canvas 2008, 60 x 90 inches

Talented Canadian painter Kristine Moran has made a huge leap forward with her recent work. Fluid, fearless, and gorgeous, her canvases flow in a seemingly effortless stream of painterly virtuosity and keen observance of contemporary life.

Her paintings represent “the grit and rawness that bubbles just below the surface of society, that which exists among all of us but is seldom acknowledged.”

A recipient of numerous awards, Kristine is a recent MFA graduate of Hunter College, and is currently enjoying the benefits of the Mary Walsh Sharp Foundation studio space prize in New York City.

She is represented by Nichelle Beauchene Gallery.

The new romanticism?

Tim Gardner, Nick and Holly, 2008,watercolor, 10 x 14 inches
Tim Gardner, Nick and Holly, 2008, watercolor, 10 x 14 ins

Tim Gardner’s painting exhibition on now at Vancouver’s Contemporary Art Gallery affirms for me something I have been feeling for some time now. Could it be that  a new sincerity, indeed a new romantic movement is afoot?

Gardner’s small watercolor mountain vistas and light-drenched children’s playground reveal a sensitivity that seems to have been undervalued in recent trends. True, his more typical painting of a pal giving the finger to the photographer’s camera while resting at the summit of a hike, and a homeless man picking up trash, adds edge to the exhibition, but then the glow from birthday candles on his mother’s face bring one back to a warmth and empathy for his subjects.

With the new pragmatic “get things done” spirit in Washington, and the economic downturn forcing us all to look at what is truly important to us, I am wondering if this will encourage an opening up in the artworld to more heartfelt subjects. Perhaps Gardner is onto something.

Tim Gardner is represented by 303 Gallery in New York.

Tate jumps into the digital age

Malcolm Morley, Tackle, 2004
Malcolm Morley, Tackle, 2004

London’s Tate galleries have now hooked up with Itunes, where you can download podcasts of artist talks by august living painters such as Malcolm Morley, the first winner of the Turner prize in 1984, who injects traditional painting systems into his contemporary practise through his use of the grid.

Thank you Tate, for opening things up to artlovers and artists everywhere.

For the Tate’s website, click here.

Play as a creative strategy in the work of Sara Ogilvie

The following article, about play and the creative process, was written by Catherine M. Stewart, who graciously allowed me to include it in this blog. It originally appeared in Malaspina Printmakers‘ Chop Magazine in 2004.

Sara Ogilvie, Little Runaway, lithograph, 61 x 44 cm
Sara Ogilvie, Little Runaway, lithograph, 61 x 44 cm

Play is the exaltation of the possible. – Martin Buber, 20th century philosopher and theologian.

The word ‘play’ is often used in a pejorative way as being a frivolous activity that has little value or purpose. However, it is precisely the freedom from practical purpose associated with playful activity that allows creative people to open up their minds to new possibilities and relationships, to break the bonds of ‘the expected’, and to arrive at fresh ways of interpreting reality. Eighteenth century philosopher, Immanuel Kant, used the phrase “free play of the imagination” to describe this unfettered mindset that he considered to be an essential part of the creative process.

“Free play of the imagination” is very evident in the work of Scottish artist, Sara Ogilvie, who recently exhibited a series of original prints at the Malaspina Printmakers Gallery in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The artist, who presently resides in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, also spent a month at the Malaspina Print Studio as artist-in-residence. In a slide presentation on the work she had done since graduating from the Edinburgh College of Art in 1993, Sara explained her modus operandi. In the initial phase of her creative process, she collects fragments from her surroundings – images that she has either sketched or photographed, textures, signage, and peculiar or absurd things of interest that she has come across in thrift shops, city streets or the library. Nothing is too mundane or insignificant for her consideration. Her visual appetite is voracious and she perceives her surroundings in the greatest detail. From carpets to insects to superheroes, it is all ‘grist for the mill’. As her storehouse fills, Sara begins “playing” with seemingly random elements, exploring the potential meaning that comes from serendipitous combinations and then applying them to particular themes or projects.

Her exhibition at Malaspina, entitled Hither and Thither, focused on considerations about “getting from A to B and the pitfalls, non-starters and spaces we move through to get there”. The prints that Sara selected for this exhibition speak about entering spaces that are known and unknown, imaginary and real, personal and social. With the exception of one, these experiences are examined through the eyes of a variety of animals and toy figures. Besides being very playful in character, the images are thought provoking as well. They pose more questions than answers and are wide open to individual interpretation.

For example, in Husky’s Private Pattern, a dog sits in the driver’s seat (UK) of a parked truck. What is it thinking? If it could go anywhere, where would it go? Does the circular stream of sled dogs around the periphery of the image make reference to its genetic history and, in this sense, reflect this husky’s yearning? Or is the print a more general statement about the frustration of this breed’s present day role in society vis à vis its traditional one– the transportation of goods and people – a function that has been usurped by mechanical invention (i.e. the truck in which it is entrapped)?

Several other prints in the exhibition echo this sense of thwarted purpose. In Little Runaway, a caged hamster is pictured running on a circular wheel. In Midnight Mule, a toy mule with moveable joints is ‘clip-clopping’ in space and getting nowhere. Chuf Chuf Ch shows a humanoid toy figure, eyes wide with anticipation, approaching a break in a circular track. While these prints deal with interrupted or obstructed movement, others relate to unanticipated changes that come about when one enters unknown spaces. In her exhibition statement, Sara cited her time as visiting artist/lecturer at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 2002 as being the initial impetus for this body of work. The piece Yonder, which she links directly to this experience, is a metaphor for “venturing into unfamiliar territory and returning, initially seeming the same, but undoubtedly changed”.

To heighten the theme of coming and going, or being caught in between, the walls of the gallery were punctuated with black neoprene cutouts of people and animals attempting to move through portals in space and time. These added to the humorous and quirky character of the artist’s approach to the topic of personal transition and are further evidence of the artist’s willingness to try the unexpected.

The sense of enjoyment in the creative process conveyed through the work, as well as Sara Ogilvie’s mastery of silk screening and lithography, made Hither and Thither a pleasure to experience. Furthermore, the “free play of the imagination” that is so evident in the creation of the prints acts as an inducement for viewers to open their own minds to imaginative readings as they contemplate the images. One can’t help but wonder what new space Sara Ogilvie will occupy next and what intriguing things she will have to say about it.

Painting: Work or play?

Chris Charlebois, Along the tracks II, 2008, oil on canvas
Chris Charlebois, Along the tracks II, 2008, oil on canvas

Vancouver painter Chris Charlebois wrote in with a response to Optimistic Pursuits’ recently posted  The Pleasures of Art by David Hockney. Below is his thoughtful reply:

Right now I have on order Search for the Real by Hans Hofmann. Don Jarvis studied under him and I had Don as an instructor at the old VSA (Vancouver School of Art, now Emily Carr University of Art and Design). In my own painting experience half the time it is a real battle and a fight, quite the opposite of play. But in all that I do it seems that there are these constant opposites that are present. Up-down, in-out, light-dark, straight-curved, push-pull, you get the idea. Push-pull was Hofmann’s famous quote. It is a real ying-yang kind of thing. And now there is another; work-play.

This little bit of teaching I do is rewarding as it causes me to think about what I am actually telling these people. On one occasion I suggested to someone to use a certain colour and ‘dance’ all over the canvas with it. I guess that playing is also what I meant by that. Another thought on the suggestion of ‘serious’ play is the comparison to sports where a person can get in the zone, you probably have been in that place in the middle of a painting session. So to me it is very interesting and a bit confusing to watch how these opposites can change, become heightened, then obscured and sometimes kind of meld into each other.

But thanks for prompting me to think a little.

happy painting,


The poetics of a city

A Verse Map of Vancouver

For the past year Vancouver artist Derek von Essen has been photographing local streets and neighbourhoods for A Verse Map of Vancouver, a beautiful new coffee-table/anthology edited by the city’s first Poet Laureate, George McWhirter. Also designed by von Essen, the book, which features the words of ninety-two BC poets, will be launched April 21 at 7pm in the Alice MacKay Room of the downtown Vancouver Public Library (seating limited, admission free).

A Verse Map of Vancouver can be purchased from local booksellers or online at

A sneak preview of some of Derek’s images can be viewed at