Sunday, February 15, 2009
Trembling in the light
One of my earliest "artist" memories is at my Nanna Bernice's place up on Manitoulin Island, when I was around 6 or 7 (or possibly younger..who knows..) I had drawn a cow, and I wanted to colour it. I remember that I specifically wanted to paint it and my grandmother gave me a tube of bright yellow cadmium oil paint with which to do the job. I remember painting the cow bright yellow and being thoroughly delighted.
I've messed around with painting my whole life, absorbing knowledge from books of all kinds, and wishing I could absorb skill via osmosis, simply by leafing through art books and wandering galleries. I remember standing in the Tate Gallery in London with my pals Vicki and Anders. There was a Kandinsky exhibit, and I wandered into another room. It looked like the whole place had been bathed in blood: it was an artist whose work I'd seen in the same room as the Voice of Fire ...Mark Rothko. The canvasses were enormous: massive things that dwarfed the walls and made one feel as if there had been an inadvertent return to the womb. For those who sniff contemptuously about modern art, and that "their kid could paint THAT", I would ask you to step into a room full of canvasses that loom over you and thrust their impact at you, as these did. It was remarkable. A 2" x 2" picture in a survey Art History text book doesn't come near to providing the awe one feels standing before vibrant, engorged, artwork; pulsing from the walls and gibbering at the mind.
I learned colour theory in High School at the Earl of March in the Special Arts Certificate program. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Mrs. Bongo, Bowstead, Dewar-Monk and Mr. Clarke, Fletcher, and Harris; somehow it got pounded into my adolescent brain (that was far more interested in mooning over various cuties [of both genders] and doodling cartoons and comics). I never really "learned" how to paint. I experimented, tried stuff, produced work (usually at the last minute) and was never quite satisfied. It never looked like how it had looked in my head. It was ok, but it was never "right". My favourite artists at the time were a bizarre mixture of the Impressionists Claude Monet, Post-Impressionists Van Gogh and Fantasy Illustrators (check out the links at the end of the post. Most of these artists I still love and revere to this day.
I began studying at Ottawa U. in fine arts, hoping that someone would teach me how to paint. I had an amazing time in sculpture class with Russell Yuristy (friend of Joe Fafard). There is nothing more freeing than slipping goopy plaster over an armature and watching a form develop from meagre beginnings to breathtaking completion. I really loved sculpting! My other classes were a bit more disappointing (granted at 19 I was far more interested in being heart-broken and writing torrid poetry than learning anything new, or regularly attending classes).
By the time I cracked my head against the walls of academe and took a painting class, it was only to discover that the university "way" is not to teach painting. You approach the canvas with your paint, and just do it. You do it, and you really don't learn much about the technical side of painting. You learn how to defend your work in critiques, but the finer side of mixing colour, transfering image to something that remotely resembles said image on canvas was left pretty much to the wind.
When I ended up in animation at Algonquin in my late twenties, I was actually looking forward to learning. I wasn't learning painting, but in the intensive courses that followed (life drawing, design), I learned how to really see. My learning curve was steep, and my art improved by about 75%. I was shocked. I'd been cruising along, really taking my talent for granted...and people were actually standing there who were interested in teaching me how to become a better artist.
So, as for painting, I have only really done it on my own. I've messed around with watercolours, but have always felt intimidated by my lack of "official" knowledge. So, it was with surprise and a bit of tripidation that I found my paints, brushes and canvas this week and realized that painting was exactly what I wanted to do. It was something I needed to do.
My first efforts were pretty crude; I'm an impatient artist. I want the work done, and I want it done now.. I want some kind've reaction from it, then I want to move on and make something else. Paint doesn't work that way. Paint (especially the cheapola craft acrylics I was using) was not patient, and wasn't drying the way I expected it to, and simply was not opaque over the areas I wished that it would've been opaque for! I had to learn to slow down, to sometimes draw before coming to the canvas. To be patient and work on other things while recalcitrant canvases were drying (before returning to them again.) It's been a learning experience.
My first solo show is this year and I'm terrified. I realized I had exactly ONE painting when I booked the show. I just assumed I'd make some more (har har). But, it's actually happening. I'm painting. I'm trusting myself and my talent, my colour theory knowledge, and my drawing skills. Painting has helped me begin to move through my grief. Another early memory I have is of my Dad helping me paint. I remember he did a background wash in tempera or watercolour (can't remember), then he blocked in a tree trunk and branches radiating from it. He did it so naturally, calmly, as if he knew exactly which branch should go where. Once that was done, in went the leaves. I can see it in my mind, clear as if it had been just the other day.
I'll upload some of my work this week, and you can see how things are going. My show is at Venus Envy this year, November 2nd - December 31st (I think). I'll get more info later on. It's far enough away that my fear isn't a hammering chorus of terror, but close enough that I know I have to keep producing, and learning.
Painting with Fire
The Bros. Hildebrandt