During our recent trip to California my husband spent an afternoon at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) where I spent an enjoyable hour to myself in an intimate room surrounded by work of the German Expressionists (around 1920’s).
There were small drawings and prints by artist such as; Kathe Kollwitz, Max Beckmann and George Grosz. These powerful works draw the viewer in with their strong tonal contrast and often dark or highly political subject matter. The artists behind these pieces intended to relate an idea or experience rather than represent reality.
The German Expressionist movement also encompassed film. I remember years ago seeing an early black and white German expressionist film at UBC in my History of Film class (one of my favourite university classes) called Nosteratu – an early Dracula. It was shot with sharp angles, long shadows and strong light and dark contrast that later influenced directors such as Alfred Hitchcock.
I think this movement has always attracted me because of many of these artists’ belief in the power of art to change people’s view of the world around them – “to reveal the reality hidden below the surface of things”.
Image (above): painting by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (below): still from movie “Nosferatu” 1922
In April my family and I ventured to California where we witnessed a variety of scenes. We travelled from the entirely fabricated landscapes of Disneyland, Legoland and Universal Studios to the vast desert vistas of the Mojave Desert, then west to the jagged coastline of Big Sur and finishing in a San Francisco cityscape – all in the course of a couple weeks.
When we returned home, the inside of our house was another changed scene since we decided that being away was an excellent time to get our much needed home reno done. We went from uninspiring dark wood walls to significantly more light and open space.
During this month, I thought about how these outer experiences have the ability to change your inner landscape. At Universal Studios, or Disney, for example, this is what they perfect. For a few minutes on each ride you are projected into surroundings that will give you a feeling of excitement, fear or wonder. This can happen when you’re immersed in any landscape that is vastly different than you are used to. For instance, in the desert, my husband said he felt claustrophobic, hemmed in by dryness. In the city I always feel inspired and excited, (for a couple days until I feel overstimulated). In our freshly altered house I feel maybe more relaxed.
Painters also are aware that they are creating a simulated experience. Paintings offer a window into another world where the viewer may experience a number of different responses; such as, anger, happiness, disgust or awe. The response may be different for each person, or depend on what is happening in their life at that moment.
Are we aware of how much our surroundings may be affecting us? Have you ever been in a landscape or have viewed a painting that noticeably altered the way you felt inside?
Image: Warren and Arlo walking through the (real) desert landscape of Joshua Tree Park
What you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing; it also depends on what sort of person you are.
C.S. LEWIS, The Magician’s Nephew
The idea for this painting was initially inspired by local environmental hero, Ruth Masters, AKA: “Senior Shit Disturber”. Ruth has spent more than half of her life annoying developers and politicians in efforts to save wild areas and protect animals. She also donated a large parcel of her land to the Comox Valley Land Trust – Ruth Masters Greenway – which is near where I live. Ruth’s house and property even seem to attract animals – it’s like they recognize her place as a refuge.
I also got the image for this painting from a building I saw in Paris as we were walking away from the Eiffel Tower – it had “living green walls”; walls literally made up of living green plants so you could not see the structure underneath. It looked totally bizarre next to a busy street and surrounded by pavement and concrete.
The Green House symbolizes living with green ideals amidst a barren landscape of a society largely indifferent to protecting the wild. Usually I paint on canvas, however, this is painted on board, the unpainted wood sides echoing the green theme.
This is how these paintings develop – drawing from a few different sources and putting them together my own way, until they take on a life and meaning of their own.
Does The Green House (or any other painting) have any particular meaning to you? Or have you had a dream that combined different elements in your life to take on new meaning?
The Green House is now on display as part of the Hearts and Homes show at Art Alchemy Gallery in Courtenay. I’ll be at the gallery on the last day of the show, Saturday, March 23rd from 12 – 4pm.
This is a sneak preview of my new painting, Myth Maker, which will be in my upcoming show: Hearts and Homes. Most likely an image of a late night fire on the beach conjures up memories for us all. I find fire to be a symbol for so much: creativity, spirit or a connection with others across all cultures and ages. I also often dream about fire when I am going through some sort of change or transition in my life.
I called this painting Myth Maker because I thought of all the stories that have been told around fires – and also of how fire adds an element of magic or a sense of the surreal to its surroundings.
Hearts and Homes is at Art Alchemy Gallery (362-C 10th St., Courtenay) March 8 – 22nd. There will be a wine and cheese opening on Saturday, March 9 from 7-9pm. I will be in attendance at the gallery March 9th & 22nd from 12-4
Myth Maker, acrylic on canvas, 30″ x40″
It is now the final countdown to my solo exhibition at Art Alchemy Gallery called “Hearts and Homes”, featuring work I have completed within the past two years. When writing the press release for this show I was reflecting on the fact that much of the inspiration for my work comes from all the time I have spent in the trails near my home, by the Puntledge River. Eventhough it is a natural area (much of it owned by BC Hydro), on one walk you might see an old moss covered car, a discarded couch, the new and old powerhouse and penstock, a gas pipeline not to mention hydro dams and fish hatcheries – it is a wilderness area with an unmistakably large human imprint.
When I am walking or biking in this area it causes me contemplate the relationship (or often non-relationship) humans have with nature – a theme that is consistent in my work.
I hope that you will be able to see the show. It opens Saturday, March 9th at 7pm at Art Alchemy
Image: Canadian Living, acrylic on canvas, 30″ x 40″, 2012
One of the things I’m most grateful for is where I live.
I grew up in Comox and my husband and I have lived near Courtenay (in the regional district) for eighteen years. We have a strong base of family and like-minded friends here. The surrounding area is the physical manifestation of all the things that resonate most strongly with me: mountains, ocean, rivers, large trees, trails, space and quiet. I also find that many people here are open minded, have a strong willingness to support each other and value their community. I think it is the combination of all these special things that give a place “heart”; they need to be protected and valued.
As described by a fellow valleyite, this painting is “a love letter to Courtenay”.
What makes you grateful about where you live?
When you spend half your life painting, eventually you wonder, “why am I doing this?” If you’re a paramedic, for example, that question probably doesn’t pop up. Painting doesn’t save lives, or does it?
Since prehistoric times, humans have exhibited an undeniable impulse to draw or paint. This impulse is also very much alive in my seven year old son who has openly admitted he spends most of his life drawing. It is evident in the kids I teach who easily gravitate to making marks and love painting.
Putting our visions on paper helps us to digest, understand, assimilate our experiences and ultimately it may even help us discover new ways of thinking about something. I think that Tom Hudson, a well-known art instructor, said it well in this quote:
Creative activity is more than a mere cultural frill, it is a crucial factor of human experience, the means of self-revelation, the basis of empathy with others; it inspires both individualism and responsibility, the giving and the sharing of experience. Tom Hudson
Image: Lifted Heart, 6″ x 8″, acrylic on board
I just had a challenging few weeks. I was excited to start painting again after the Christmas break, but then I got sick starting on New Years and did not feel up to much for two weeks. Then just as I started to get better my son got sick for two weeks. And in that time my uncle died in a sudden accident which was really sad. (We are all doing fine now).
The only constant is change. It seems that in order for there to be creation, there always needs to be a time of rest, change or some type of death (even if it’s death to old thoughts or to old furniture). Looking at ancient history you see that even very advanced civilizations did not survive in a static way forever – the only reminder we may have of their existence today is a mound of dirt and a few artifacts.
I think when life is in the creative part of a cycle, it’s good to establish your goals and a routine so that when change occurs, as it inevitably will, you will have something to hold on to. Like a line from one of my favourite poems, Desiderata (author unknown): “Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.”
I’ve always felt a strong affinity for Van Gogh’s work. I had just turned 19 when I saw his original paintings – at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam – during a three month backpacking trip to Europe. I even named my son Arlan (he’s now “Arlo”) because the name reminded me of Arles where Van Gogh painted his sunflower paintings. When my family went to south of France in 2011 we visited many of the places Van Gogh painted including, Arles and St. Remy in Provence.
It was Van Gogh’s depth of feeling for everyday people and things, communicated through his paintings, that inspires me most. For example, his painting of the sower (he did about 30 sower paintings) isn’t simply a depiction of someone casting seed, it is an emotional account of his experiences of life. He wrote: “One does not expect to get from life what one has already learned it cannot give; rather, one begins to see more clearly that life is a kind of sowing time, and the harvest is not yet here.” (That proved to be an eerily prescient statement about his life).
On one especially hot day for April, we visited the asylum at St. Remy where Van Gogh was sent to recover from bouts of mental illness (perhaps a combo of bad food, caffeine, absinthe and a sensitive nature). The garden was still planted with rows of irises which looked like his paintings had come alive.
After viewing the tiny rustic space Van Gogh had roomed and taking in the exhibit of art work by asylum patients, I decided to walk the trail from the sanitarium into the town of Saint Remy, by myself. On the walk I was trying to imagine Van Gogh perhaps walking a similar route and seeing the same trees and hills in the distance. At one point I looked down and found a silver dime-machine ring with a big shiny heart on it. It fit my finger. I put it in my pocket and now keep it on my studio shelf as a reminder of Van Gogh; an artist with an unfailing ability to put his heart into his work.
Image: VanGogh and I in Saint Remy