For the first time at the Culture Crawl I’m offering a limited edition print of one of my paintings, Rush Hour. There will be only 10 in the edition, 10 x 10 inches on archival paper with archival inks. A framed sample beautifully put together by Fine Art Framing will be on display in my studio. I will be taking orders for this and a few other limited editions also available at a price point that allows for affordable gift-giving, for a loved one, or for yourself!
Also available: A 50-page book of select paintings from twelve years of my Tourist series.
As well you will find six new paintings, and a drypoint print, Syon House Interior that I recently re-discovered in my print portfolio, along with some framed 7 x 7 inch 3-colour pencil crayon drawings.
For the past 15 years, I’ve painted opulent European 18th and 19th century interiors. Designed as theatrical displays of status and power by wealthy aristocrats and bourgeoisie, these formerly private sites are now museums, providing entertainment and pleasure for touristic consumption, while also opening up a space for philosophical contemplation.
Although I use photography as a structural device through which I enter the painting process, with each piece I always seem to arrive at a point of crisis where I need to break free from the tyranny of the image. Through partly destroying the image I discover fresh solutions to painterly problems I set for myself.
Throughout my childhood and into my mid-twenties, I was a ballet dancer. That intense training of spatial awareness and interpretive questioning is still deeply stamped in my DNA. A painting to me is a kind of choreography; there’s a haptic dance that takes place from my optical experience of an image, through to the way my nervous system signals to my body how to translate and record it. As painter/dancer I tease out meaning through working and reworking, coming up to speed as I gain understanding, and making the last strikes with absolute commitment.
I’m pretty excited to be skipping town for a week to take in some amazing art and have a little rest. One of my first stops in the museum district will be the Rijksmuseum, where I’m interested to see wonderful portraiture and still life paintings of the old Masters. I’ll also want to check out how they facilitate the #startdrawing program. On Saturday mornings, museum staff-members encourage visitors to make drawings in order to experience the work differently from the (sadly common) quick photo document snapped with a smartphone.
Also I’ll take in Rembrandt House, the Stedilijk, Van Gogh Museum, and hopefully the Mauritshuis in the Hague, where I can see Vermeer’s The Pearl Earring and Fabritius’ delightful The Goldfinch firsthand. I heard also that I must visit the Jordaan district where I can find many contemporary art galleries. Hoping I can find some inspiring contemporary painting.
Naturally I’ll do some goofing off as well, wander along the canals and generally drift. I brought my trusty Moleskine sketchbook in case I’m feeling ambitious. 🙂
Please join me for the Eastside Culture Crawl, Vancouver’s annual visual arts festival! I will have some new work and works in progress––drop by my studio at #322b-1000 Parker Street and say hello.
There will be so much art and craft to see, by talented local artists and artisans, opening their studios all over the Eastside neighbourhood. Please visit the Crawl website for maps, previews of artist work, and special events. See you there!
Since returning home to Vancouver from Spain (which I’ll cover in another blogpost), I got back to my exploration of painting and drawing from direct observation, this time at i.e. creative, the workshop/studio on Granville Island of an art school alumni friend, Cheryl Hamilton. She and her business partner, Michael Vandermeer, make public art, and I’ve always enjoyed their witty kinetic sculptures they made for the entrances to Science World and Ocean Concrete, which to me are like large-scale drawings in space.
When I asked Cheryl if I could hang out in their studio to make a painting of their activities, she and Mike were completely trusting and supportive of the idea, and welcomed me to stay for as long as I needed to make my work.
My first visit was for scouting and planning where to put myself and my easel. After making a quick sketch I could see that the best painting place was at the back of the shop. It was a good vantage point from which I could take in activity around a large steel pole that thrust back toward the front windows, and I could paint there while not interfering much with the studio’s operations.
I really love this angle, but I couldn’t physically fit in the easel, painting gear, and my body at this exact spot. So I opted for a shift three feet to the right, where I could show more of the space, and include the bright light from the windows.
i.e. creative always has several projects on the go. During my painting sessions, Cheryl and Mike were in and out of the workspace, sometimes meeting at the big table in the shop, sometimes upstairs in the office; they planned project logistics, met with clients, wielded power tools and prepped materials for casting, mentored Emily Carr University students, and fielded questions from visiting tourists. Somehow throughout their busy days they also managed to fit in polishing and welding jobs for a metal parts foundry, and grab some friendly conversation with their Granville Island artisan neighbours who occasionally dropped by.
Meanwhile, the polishing of four long steel poles for a large-scale artwork in Steveston was among the works in progress. Jeff, the studio assistant, walked slowly forward and back along the first pole which was resting horizontally on supports. All day long, there was pressure on his right arm as he worked the handheld electric Makita polishing tool. Beneath his construction earmuffs he wore earbuds so he could listen to his Ipod, and over his face, a respirator and goggles (it’s not a good idea to breathe in steel particles). In my conversation with Jeff about the intense physicality of the task, he likened his body to a lobster, with one outsized claw.
My painting came together quickly, as I wanted to treat it much like a drawing with lots of white space.
One morning I arrived to find the artists out in the alley with a finished pole, treating its surface and washing it down. Its surface shone like a mirror. “How long will you be working on this?” I asked them. “About an hour,” Cheryl said. I quickly grabbed a large sheet of paper from my portfolio and some pencil crayons to draw gestures of the activity as they finished the cleaning process and wrapped the gleaming pole with layers of plastic sheeting for storage.
During one of their breaks Jeff and Cheryl were having a friendly chat about cooking, which seemed to be a regular topic of conversation in the studio. Jeff quoted a famous television chef who said “You don’t really know how to make something until you’ve done it one hundred times.”
On my sixth day, the painting felt near completion, so it was nice to have a little quiet time for contemplation to understand the last moves to make. The transitory feel of a sketch that I was aiming for called for a light touch. I brought in the ghost of a doorway and subtle outline of Cheryl seated at the table on the left-hand side. Full rendering of everything would have felt like overcooking this piece.
Cheryl said I was welcome to come back anytime if I need to do more work there. What I find myself reflecting on is how art and life at ie creative could flow so seamlessly in such a graceful way.
I’ve been thinking about when and how the artist emerges in a person. I think it’s probably always there right from the beginning. At least for me that was the case, though I didn’t really know what that was, or what that meant for a long time.
I grew up in the forestry town of Port Alberni, in the middle of rural Vancouver Island on the western edge of Canada. Our town was booming in the early 60’s with an impressive population of around 50,000. Port’s iconic pulp and paper mill smoke stacks anchored the landscape, and spewed steam, smoke, and a sour sulfurous aroma into the air twenty-four hours a day. The mill employed many of our town’s young men fresh out of high school.
You could say my first art studio was the kitchen wall of the tiny bungalow we lived in until I was five years old. At some point I started scribbling on the wall beside the refrigerator pretty much every day; luckily for me, my Mom could see this activity was unstoppable, so she hung big sheets of paper there so I could go at it. There were no art galleries or art museums that I was aware of, and I had next to no art classes in elementary school, unless you call gluing cotton balls onto a pre-drawn image of a flower art.
Maybe once or twice a year we had Mrs. Mottel as a substitute teacher. Even though she was pretty strict and we were all kind of scared of her, I loved it when Mrs. Mottel showed up, because in the afternoon she would turn our classroom into an art room and we would make a copy of an image she showed us how to paint, like a sailboat on a lake, or a cluster of totem poles, and she introduced us to rudimentary composition and really basic colour theory. She also taught us proper penmanship, had a Scottish accent, and insisted we roll our R’s when pronouncing the word “squirrel” which, when we tried it, sounded more like “squiddle”.
The closest thing to fine art I remember being exposed to were reproductions of Picasso drawings and paintings you could order from an ad in Life magazine. I sensed that Modern Art had something to do with Spain–everyone at that time was decorating their homes in Spanish iron grillwork, hot orange upholstery, and oil paintings of bullfighters on black velvet, which I thought were really classy.
I was diagnosed with myopia in grade four. Arriving home wearing the exciting new technology (for me) of eyeglasses, I opened the car door and was entranced by the clarity of the gravel rocks in the driveway. For a while I didn’t move from the front seat of the car, I just kept staring at the ground, its appearance was so electrifying. I also recall a summer afternoon spent hanging out on the gravel pathway of my Grandma Connie’s garden, determined to colour every individual rock with wax crayon. Needless to say it was a failed project.
My Mom’s mother was known as “Big Connie” because one of her nieces, my cousin, had the same first name and was of course dubbed “Little Connie”. Big Connie was not actually very big, she was small in stature but had a large personality––opinionated, feisty, but with a good sense of humour if you got on her good side.
My sister and I spent Saturday afternoons and sometimes overnight with her, to give our parents a break. I loved being there because we got to drink tea like grownups (we called ourselves “tea-grannies”), and Big Connie was an artist. She introduced me to oil painting when I was eleven; with her help I painted an image of mushrooms grouped under the shadow of a tree, copied from a “How to Paint” book. A self-taught painter of floral still-lifes and seascapes, when Big Connie had an exhibition of her work at the local community centre in town, she included my clumsy little painting along with hers. It wasn’t until many years later as an adult that I touched oil paint again; I wish she was still here now so we could talk about it.
Victoria painter Todd Lambeth was seriously injured in a cycling accident recently, and found himself housebound with limited movement as he convalesced. Cats at rest are the subject matter of the paintings that came out of that period. The artists says, “These are not paintings of urban hustle; rather they are oases of meditative calm and reflection. The banal subject of the ubiquitous family cat is transformed into images that celebrate the humility and comfort of our private lives.”
In my September 2012 post on my “In the Studio” page, I bemoaned my boredom with photography as a source for my paintings. Well since then things have changed quite a bit. While photography has limitations, I am once again finding it very freeing, in different ways from working from life. The paintings that “just happen” very quickly are ones that I sometimes prize; but there are also the larger works that emerge slowly, and are an accumulation of “hits” and “misses” that are moves toward the final goal of an image that registers for me something that I hope to call Painting.
The layering of glazes can subtly alter the surface and create nuances of painterly depth that a “premier coup” painting might not. Each approach is just different, neither better nor worse than the other.
There’s also what technology can bring to the process–I’m fairly sure if Velaszquez or Vermeer were here today they would most likely be taking advantage of today’s photography post-production software in conjunction with their painting.
Along with working from reproductions of reality printed on paper or found on my computer screen, I also have been really benefiting from some life drawing and painting in the past while. It’s feeling good to do it all–– it just makes the work richer and I think more informed.
Today we needn’t be And/Or but can easily say yes to Both.
Born in 1952 in Arvida, Quebec, Chris Charlebois has spent most of his life in British Columbia. He attended the Vancouver School of Art and his painting instructors were Don Jarvis and Bruce Boyd. Since then his work has been collected by numerous private and corporate collectors.
Charlebois is very active in the local art community, and has successfully participated in many live art auctions. Chris also teaches art at the Steveston Village Phoenix Art Workshops.
Inspired by the west coast environment his work is evolving into a kind of nature- based abstraction. Charlebois believes that his work must be an honest investigation and at times uses a sketch or photo only as a brief reference. But the original impression in the mind’s eye is always more truthful.
He seeks the beauty in nature that is constant and found everywhere, even in a clump of grass by the roadside or a nondescript bush near a ditch. Charlebois says there seems to be a point of departure where the painting ceases to be simply a copy of the subject but takes on a meaning and importance as itself. ” I cannot compete with nature, but I can attempt to add to it.”
” My goal as a painter has always been to simply express. Nature is the source of that expression. I look for the gesture in nature. It is this dominant line of movement and structure that all the elements in a painting will be built upon. By taking apart (abstracting) the components of the subject, then rebuilding making systematic logical choices a result of clear expression can be attained.”
“From nature I find direction. Colours and lines seen or felt, are expressed as infinite notes, harmonies, patterns and rhythms. From these references my paintings are formed.”
Chris Charlebois: New Works
SEPTEMBER 16 – 30, 2009, Kurbatoff Art Gallery, 2427 Granville Street,
Vancouver B. C