cigar-tin stories number eighty six / / after the whale

I make a painting called after the whale. It is very blue. Blue is a difficult colour to work with; like the sea or the sky, it tends to crowd out everything else. It is both overarching and subsuming at the same time. As for man-made things, blue contains a certain industriousness: things big or naval. But it also has a dreamscape quality, as in things imagined, out of reach, or middle-distance, there but not there. And obviously: rain, melancholy, absence. There is certainly no whale there, anymore.


What is there are the remains of two other paintings: one that serves as background, the other one torn into thin strips and then crowded and rearranged and worked through with blue.


Art is often expressed within the categories of argument or something decorative. Yet for me, an artwork is a memory, and either that memory has power or it doesn’t. These two paintings did what they could, for awhile, but ultimately failed to insinuate themselves, failed to convince. And here they get a new life. Becoming secret ingredients, for what that’s worth.


My favourite quotation about blue is about the ocean, and it comes from Werner Herzog: “What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark? It would be like sleep without dreams.” This quote speaks to the fact that Werner is (a) obviously German and (b) obviously a maniac.


I make an ornamental art box, decorated with collage from vintage advertisements for toy soldiers. Appropriately, the box is metal––like a mini foot locker, in burnished steel. The collaged sides have a gloss varnish, smooth to the touch. You can see a little video about it here.


I love those vintage comic-book ads. The illustrations are absolutely over the top––always the battlefield is a crammed pandemic of frantic violence, its soldiers with the animating mindset of enraged professional wrestlers, all bulging eyes and vein-popping war cries.


Of course there are no bodies, no wreckage. Everybody still has their head,** and everybody gets a medal.


From my office window I can see my coworkers come and go. People make up their hours, carry in their excuses. The trick, I think, is never saying anything, and always acting normal.


We have a meeting about our office space. Everyone crowds around a floor plan, pointing at things. We are getting many more managers, and they all want the offices with windows (they also want to be all in a row, so they can “talk to each other”), which means the rest of us will be moving into the basement.


I already have a basement office at home. C started it for me. It has a folding table and an exposed ceiling. Think: wires. One of my nieces wanders into it looking for the Wi-fi password. “Whoa, this office is sketchy,” she says. I try to clean it up, put up a string of fairy lights over the cork board.


I read a book about Internet shaming. I read an article about a con man (which reminds me of a podcast about a con man). I read an essay about low-wage work. All of these things are about disposable people.


What does it mean to be a citizen? What is the animating idea for a social democracy? Who called this meeting anyway, and what’s all this about the common good and a just society? Do you have any meaningful say in the forces that govern your life?


Mostly I just try to move forward, which is not the same as progress. Some days are not for seeing. Some days are like a scar across the back of your hand, and everything is about not thinking, not remembering, not providing context. The news is exhausting. This is what what it must be like to live in Russia, I guess. The light at the end of the hall is neon in dark pink and it reads, LEAVE THIS ALONE. People fantasize about time travel or invisibility but selective forgetting is really much the same thing.


Please have a good week. Every day there’s more light in the morning.

djb

Draw things, paint things, write things, make things.

** Back in 2007 I wrote a little essay about headless soldiers. It ended up in a magazine called Filling Station. I’m pasting it below. Some of the tech references already seem dated!

Roman Soldiers

These days, when a graphic designer is desperate or uninterested or simply has no budget, this is what ‘research’ comes down to: typing words into Google’s image-search engine. On this occasion––for a poster announcing some stupefying guest lecture on the fall of the Roman Republic––I tried the words “Roman Soldiers” (please Google, do not filter my results). The Google entity responded with its usual brutal dragnet (the information highwayman, hijacking whatever, whoever, making one for something shiny), and many Roman soliders duly appeared, but the only thumbnail which immediately jumped out as a prize came by way of Wikipedia (another mechanized golem, throwing around handfuls of received information like so much sand) and an ad for toy soldiers that I recognized immediately because it seemed to run on the back cover of every comic book I ever touched as a kid.

132 PC. ROMAN SOLDIERS SET
ONLY $2.25
2 COMPLETE ROMAN ARMIES:
Fight again the battles of the old Roman Civil War — Roman against Roman! Or mount your own attack against a town or city. Every piece of molded plastic — each on its own base. Two complete armies, one in blue, one in yellow! Your satisfaction guaranteed or full refund.
Here is what you get:
4 Generals — Mounted
24 Cavalrymen — with Spears & Armour
4 Cavalrymen with banners
16 Spearmen with Shields
16 Archers with bows
16 Slingers
4 Chariots with drivers
4 Working Catapults
16 pieces of ammuntion (harmless) for catapult
24 Foot soldiers with broadswords and shields
4 Buglers
RUSH COUPON TODAY

The full-page ad was done in primaries plus black, with an electric emphasis on red type over blocks of yellow. Dominating everything is the illustration, showing the moment of impact between two Roman armies as they smash into each other.

For my little-kid brain, that ad was like crack. The illustration is frenetically alive with energy, the entire scene seething with brutality and viciousness: soldiers storm ladders with shields held high against the murderous rocks hurled down at them, siege towers strain forward, charioteers careen madly right into the thick of battle, archers strain at their bows even as arrows poison the sky, foot soldiers slash and stab away. The soldier closest to the foreground, in particular, sets the tone for the promised experience––his sword raised in defiance, his howling face nearly insane with rage. This was something more than two war machines merely wound up and pointed at each other; this was some demented, free-for-all bloodlust of the highest order.

But I never did send away for those soldiers. And I can’t tell you why. Then, as now, I really had no budget for that kind of extravagance (also, I probably understood that my mom, the person who’d have to do all the heavy lifting in any mail-order scheme, would have advised me, in her disappointed way, that the product was most likely ‘crap’). Back then, my thoughts and ambitions often got lost between the spaces of my own imagination. Besides, how realistic was this illustration anyway? My dad had a whole bookcase full of war books (he’d sign up for some historical series and then never pay the bill; as a result, all of our wars ended abruptly in mid-conflict). The pictures found in those volumes were real enough. The Roman soldiers from my ad were too perfect––the lines of their hard anatomy too implacably clean, the hues of their armour too fiercely burned in. Where were the dead? Where were the wounded? Even better, where were the hacked-off arms, or the headless torso’s stumbling around the battlefield, spouting fountains of blood?

I soon got my answer. It was Christmas. I was maybe six or seven years old. My older brother was two grades ahead. Improbably, we got each other’s names in the Sunday School draw. And what did he buy me? A bag of 100 toy soldiers, plastic Americans from World War Two. I was surprised. Part of that surprise was down to the fact that I didn’t have anything to give him. Again, I have no idea why. But I did feel bad about it.

I felt worse when my brother stole back my bag of soldiers and bit all their heads off. Every rifleman, grenade thrower, bazooka team… headless. He also removed a few arms and legs, just for good measure. Also, after being so abused in the process, most of my soldiers no longer stood up very well. You kind of had to lean them against things. And while my twisted, prostrate, headless soldiers were not so much fun to play with, they did look very real.

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You cannot make a revolution in white gloves.

catalyst_9ax

a catalyst for a revolution; an original mixed media painting and collage on cradled wood panel, 6 x 6 x 1.5 inches

The quotation in the title is from Lenin –– who is in no danger of having clean hands.


March is here. I always say February is the calendar’s tribute to waking up in a drainage ditch, but March is not far behind… more like wandering through a forest at dusk, and somewhere is the sound of bells.


I’ve decided to lean into the pain (that’s a good name for a professional wrestler: Thomas Paine) and go on a diet; we’re travelling to Cuba in the spring and we’ve decided not to go in fat. Or at least less fat.


Giving up the beer has been the hardest because: beer. And I’m probably consuming too much honey. But other than that I’ve been well below the recommended calorie intake every day, now for ten days going. We’ll see what happens.


Try to be productive this March. Because summer will come, all stupid with sun and bad swimwear, and then nothing gets done.

downtown fire escape

downtownfireescape8xdowntownfireescape2xdowntownfireescape3xdowntownfireescape7xdowntownfireescape1xdowntownfireescape6x

downtown fire escape

an original mixed media collage on cradled wood panel

9 x 12 x 1 1/2 inches

drawing, found paper, typographic elements, acrylic paint, colour-infused gel, pencil and marker

a very red painting that tells a frantic little story

packaged for gift giving

a perfect accent for a cubicle or desk, adding vibrancy and detail

sealed and protected with gloss varnish

three quotes for this one …

She’s mad, but she’s magic. There’s no lie in her fire.
~ Charles Bukowski

Music should strike fire from the heart of man, and bring tears from the eyes of woman.
~ Ludwig van Beethoven

Catch on fire and people will come for miles to see you burn.
~ John Wesley

shipped with care

everything from my store comes with an extra art surprise

OH MY GOD, IT’S A COLLAGE

original painting, home decor, decorating, fine art, wall art, collage, wax, monoprint, heat, flame, fire, downtown, escape, wood panel, gesso, acrylic, ink, pencil, wax paper, varnish, the moment of forever burning

important things i’ve learned too late

importantthings8x

important things i’ve learned too late; an original mixed media collage on cradled wood panel; 5 x 7 x 1 3/4 inches; canvas stretched over a wood frame

The focus of this collage is a wax monoprint. I like using these quite a bit because of their semi-transparency –– how they let colour and marks from beneath show through.

This is a thoughtful little painting that makes a perfect gift for someone –– I package it and label it nicely, and even mail it directly to the recipient for you. And there’s nothing like getting original art.

I always pick a few quotes for my listings, and for this one I have three:

It is never too late to be what you might have been.
~ George Eliot

Three o’clock is always too late or too early for anything you want to do.
~ Jean-Paul Sartre

Everything has been said, and we are more than seven thousand years of human thought too late.
~ Jean de la Bruyere

Winter is here, but there’s still plenty we can do.

importantthings1x.jpg

an alphabet for inner panic

an_alphabet_for_inner_panic3x

an alphabet for inner panic; mixed media on cradled wood panel, 5 x 7 x 1.75 inches.

A painting like a small brick, in shades of white and cream and off-white and strips torn from some crumbling church, or from the skins of ghosts.

You can see more of my work on my Pattern site.

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noise, with numbers / / cigar-tin stories seventy-four

YOUR HEALTHIEST YEAR EVER. 7 GREAT NEW YEARS RESOLUTIONS. 10 WAYS TO BE AS WEALTHY AS YOU WANT. 7 WAYS TO MAKE THIS YEAR MORE MINDFUL. HOW TO CHOOSE A SINGLE WORD TO DEFINE AND GUIDE THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. HOW TO PLAN THE PERFECT DAY. NOW YOU CAN PLAN THE PERFECT WEEK. 2018 WILL BE YOUR PERFECT YEAR. THIS IS HOW THE WORLD’S MOST SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE GET IT ALL DONE WITHOUT EVEN TRYING. 8 FITNESS RESOLUTIONS THAT ARE MORE IMPACTFUL THAN LOSING WEIGHT. DO THIS FOR 9 MINUTES A DAY FOR BETTER SEX, SAYS A SEX DOCTOR. A SLEEP SPECIALIST’S SECRET TRICK FOR SLEEPING YOUR WAY TO HIGHER CONSCIOUSNESS. NEW YEAR, NEW YOU: YOUR ULTIMATE PLAN FOR FINALLY GETTING IT TOGETHER. MEDITATE YOUR WAY TO HEALTH IN 3 EASY MINUTES. WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ANXIETY RIGHT NOW. 3 BOOKS THAT WILL UPGRADE YOUR LIFE. FIND YOUR SOULMATE IN JUST 8 MINUTES. HOW TO FINALLY LAND THE JOB YOU DESERVE. HOW TO FINALLY GET THE LOVE YOU DESERVE. 6 WAYS TO ENERGIZE WITHOUT CAFFEINE. START DOING EFFORTLESS YOGA TODAY. HOW TO BE ORGANIZED AND PRODUCTIVE AND HAVE FABULOUS SKIN. HOW TO DECLUTTER YOUR MIND. HOW TO DECLUTTER YOUR WORKSPACE. HOW TO CREATE A POSITIVE WORKSPACE. 12 WAYS TO SPREAD OPTIMISM NOW. 3 SUPER HEALTHY DESSERT RECIPES. WINTER SUPERFOODS FOR THE NEW YOU. 5 WAY TO VISUALIZE YOUR DREAMS. CHARTING THE SOUL MAP TO YOUR ULTIMATE DREAMS. 4 COLOURS THAT DEFINE YOU. WIN A DREAM CARIBBEAN CRUISE OF A LIFETIME TODAY. WIN A DREAM ADVENTURE WITHOUT BUYING ANYTHING. PRINCE HARRY BLACKMAILED BY SLENDER MAN TEEN CULTISTS. NANCY REAGAN’S PLAYS LADY MACBETH FROM THE GRAVE. TORI SPELLING IN BLOOD FEUD WITH TONYA HARDING. KIM KARDASHIAN IS A RUSSIAN SPY. MILEY CYRUS TO PLAY KATE MIDDLETON IN UNAUTHORIZED BIOPIC. ASTRONOMERS NAME DISTANT STAR MEGHAN MARKLE. MUELLER SUBPOENAS NEW AGE PORN STAR. BANKS POST RECORD PROFITS. OLYMPIC WINTER GAMES NOT ABOUT WINTER OR GAMES. TRUMP CALLS ‘STEM-CELL THING’ SHITHOLE THERAPY. NEW STUDY SUGGESTS THAT GOVERNMENT SHOULD REPRESENT THE PEOPLE. NEW STUDY SHOWS THAT LIES ARE NOT A VIABLE SUBSTITUTE FOR REALITY. OLD STUDY SHOWS THAT PEOPLE ARE MADE ANXIOUS BY NOISE. EVERYTHING IS A FORTRESS.


A bit of a hard winter so far. Deep cracks in my feet, sudden dots of blood on my hands appear with determined frequency. Still struggling with posture. One night at the studio all the lights go out, as if I need instruction on how tenuous everything is. Need to drink more water. Drivers around Kingston are making up lanes. An app on my phone reminds me that someday I will die. In the meantime, I’m still making work.

For now, I guess,
djb

Draw things, paint things, write things, make things.

things, things made, things consumed // cigar-tin stories number seventy three

things
• Two librarians are arguing in French. Otherwise the place is deserted. There is new furniture the colour of old mustard; the couches curve in graceful, modern crescents while the chairs scoop you in, their sliding black writing trays a strange extra arm. I’m reading about Albert Schultz in The Globe and Mail, then about psychopaths in Harper’s. There is also some mention of gloomy octopuses and how the summer populations of flying insects have fallen by eighty percent in the past twenty-five years. The light outside reminds me of hospitals and unused bedrooms, that piling kind of slush grey, in successive washes.
• At the bank to put $100 on a separate credit card that I keep for my art business and to buy my wife presents (buying her things from our joint account feels a bit too much like Homer giving Marge a bowling ball, I’m afraid). I’m third in line when I arrive, but the person currently at the counter is doing multiple things with stacks of papers and scribbled-on envelopes and her mobile phone, which she has to hold at arms length to use, and the clerk looks to be about fourteen years old, and I know things will go badly when he starts taking crumply papers and going off to offices in the back to ask questions. Soon there are at least a dozen people in line, twitching like robots when their power goes out. Of course I could make my own transaction through the bank machine but: not today, Satan. Apparently the person at the counter has cheques that cannot be cashed, and the app on her phone won’t tell her the things she needs to do with her life. Really, she is doing everything, all at once, like a trip to the doctor which starts with dermatitis and ends with full-blown Ausems Wittebol-Post Hennekam Syndrome. Sorry! But now I am next in line and only God with a handful of locusts and lightning can move me from this spot.
• In the studio on a Thursday night and there is no water –– the second time in the last week or so. Things get tricky without water, especially painting with acrylics and gels, and now I’m thinking of having an emergency supply on hand. They must be doing some kind of work in the building or area but this is downtown so who knows, things just stop or break occasionally, from age or cold or ghosts.
• Strangely warm in the morning but of course this is a joke; by evening there’s a severe cold warning. The 501 Express is emptier than usual. As the bus drivers change shift, the new driver ribs his colleague about the chill on the bus, how he has “poor temperature etiquette”. The floor is thick with water and melt and mud, and for the first time I notice that it has drains. It reminds me of a house our realtor once showed us; somewhere behind a hidden door in the basement was a circular room in smooth cement whose only features were rubber hoses and a large floor drain. They must have removed the chains and hooks for viewing, our realtor said.
• Walking home in my neighbourhood at night, in this severe cold, I might as well be on Mars, nothing but me and the sound of my boots, squelching in that echoing too-loud way, as if I was a little machine. All of this is infinitely preferable to my old neighbourhood, downtown, where there was always some badly bundled troll emerging from the darkness, dragging something half broken or trying to ride three bikes.
• About six times a day a fire truck roars into the parking lot at work. Are we having fires? God has never answered my prayers before. But no, they only hang around for a few minutes and then tear away again.
• Oona and I finish the illustrated children’s Old Testament. It gets pretty crazy towards the end –– careening from good king to bad king, bad faith to salvation, with plenty of murders along the way. On to the New Testament!


things made
• A triptych, in miniature: three thickened blocks of paintings on cradled wood panel called all of this I did alone, without even your melancholy fire in my mind​.
• Five TOTAL MANIACS –– five ink-brush drawings on vintage library cards of history’s bloodiest two-legged disasters –– Alexander the Great, Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, Hitler, and Napoleon. Not all totalitarians, not all dictators, but all drenched in whole buckets of depravity and terror and madness.


things consumed
• The fourth season of Black Mirror. The shiny, superlative strangeness of this series continues. Utterly clever, completely compelling … and yet. And yet many of these episodes I would not want to watch again, either because I’ve already seen the rabbit pulled from the holographic hat or because they are so relentlessly bleak that I’m already wincing at the idea.
Molly’s Game. I see this with C one night when Oona has a sleepover with Brownies (thank you, Brownies). C calls it a poker movie but it’s really a bad men and a woman with a chip on her shoulder. We enjoyed it quite a lot, although Kevin Costner might be miscast.
Best Day Ever. Or rather: a very bad day with a psychopath who is unintentionally hilarious (this is the kind of character who would call himself “a very stable genius”). By Kaira Rouda. A quick read, nicely done, with a few problems of being too neat at the end. But most people seem to want everything tied up the end, whereas I’m happy just to see it all it flames, so what do I know.


It’s already January 9th! Only three more months of winter to go. Stay off the highway, if you can.

djb

Draw things, paint things, write things, make things.