… but the sky is empty.

large paintings in my studio

A short video of large paintings in my studio (and online store) as of August 1st, 2017. I want to make more of these kinds of things, as much for my own memory (it doesn’t take long to forget what I’ve done, what I’ve sold where) as anything else.


The title of this post comes from a Sylvia Plath quotation: “I talk to God but the sky is empty.” It fits well with the first painting I’ve done since getting back from holidays ––and back into the studio this past Sunday, called The Doubter.

The Doubter; mixed media, 24 x 30 x 1.75 inches, cradled wood panel.

In Dracula, Bram Stoker writes: “I am all in a sea of wonders. I doubt; I fear; I think strange things, which I dare not confess to my own soul.”

I doubt almost everything these days. I turn on the radio and hear impossible things – Los Angeles actually wanting the 2028 Summer Olympics (please see the smoking economic ruins of Athens, Rio, et al) or the son of an American president taking hotel-room meetings with Russians. What to eat, what not to eat (right now fasting seems to be a thing), how to exercise, what to read, what to wear, how to get rich. As I get older I seem to have embraced a kind of blankness, as if the noise of the world was smoke, and the only real thing behind it is the idea that I should stick to my own plans.


But I did have a good holiday, in that crooked little cottage overlooking the Northumberland Strait. Two weeks was enough: I read four books, took innumerable naps, walked in the ocean, hit golf balls with a wedge from sandbar to sandbar, up and down the shore. But I always fill up with schemes and intention while on holiday, so it’s good to be back, and we’ll see how we do.

The heart of a maiden is a dark forest.

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The Maiden; mixed media on cradled wood panel, 18 x 24 x 1.75 inches.


Second blonde in a row for me, while still on this kick of icons (martyrs, idols, demigods, characters more poster than real) in a larger format. But the ideas for working small are creeping in, too.


Strange times. I look at the news and see spidery arrangements in lies and advertising. Of course the broken centre of this is the president of the United States, a character so blurry and appalling as to not seem real. Which, in a way, he is not. It seems even within the confines of his own skull he is not. The cultural historian Patrick Wright once described him as

A smudged deadbeat left over from the Reagan era … and propped up in a temporary kind of way by ailing US and Japanese banks that couldn’t afford to let him expire completely … If Trump was in the White House which, as he was rash enough to hint in those undiminished days, he might well be before too long, then he could follow the examples of Presidents Reagan and Harding, and look for astrological anchorage in the stars.

Or Twitter. That was in 1991. I guess this is the logical wreckage of neoliberalism, of the the triumph of markets and money and branded individualism above all. Trump speaks the language of reality television, which is really very simple: promise anything to anyone, and otherwise say whatever you need to say to confuse the issue, while advancing spaces in your mind. Even on TV this is sometimes dubious.


My attention to this is sporadic, at best. All I can do is work. There are really very few things I am any good at. I hope painting is one of them.

The Reverie

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The Reverie; mixed media, cradled wood panel, 18 x 24 x 1.75 inches. More pictures here.

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A Sunday trip to the library morphs into a broken conversation with a shrugging security guard about a locked door –– “It’s summer hours,” she explains. “But you can still use the book return!” Hooray. So Oona and I wander the mall for awhile, waiting on mom to do some shopping. Almost instantly I find myself in Claire’s, where I get conned into buying a two-piece charm bracelet that reads BEST FRIENDS. “I’ll make my bed, daddy,” Oona lies, because that’s her currency instead of money. I shrug. I give in. BEST FRIENDS. Then we wander some more. Everyone looks like extras from a pirate movie; there are limps, eye patches, tattoos, blindness, crutches, more blindness, hips where hips don’t belong, brown and blue teeth, horizontal facial scars, missing fingers, invented hairstyles, ballooning outfits with stars on them. The psychic weight is crushing.

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Halfway through my morning shower, the water pressure falls by half and my entire world view reasserts itself, comes into focus: people are going to do what they are going to do. Certainly I can storm upstairs, half-soaped and fully crazed, and ask, Are we all done running water yet? Certainly right is right. But where does that kind of thinking get me? Right is never right. These days, ‘right’ is more of a shrug. The whole reason I get up first in the morning, long before anyone else, is to go around problems like this. And going around these things, I think, is the key. A guy comes into my office with some marked-up photocopy of a job that I’ve never seen and says, I don’t have any of the text or pictures for this, how long will it take to do? Certainly, How about never? feels about right. But then he’s going lose his nut, and sooner than later I’ll have my manager in my office, bursting at the hairline trying to manage something. So I say, Leave it with me, let me take a better look at it, I’m just having some computer issues right now, and I just have this other job to finish first, there’s this thing with this other person tomorrow, but I’ll get to it as soon as I can. And then I take a long lunch, and leave early, and the day after that I’m on holiday for a week.

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Listening to Naomi Klein on Democracy Now!, and the interlude music is some Ani DiFranco song, I might as well be in a dream where it’s 1999 and I’m sitting in front of a red velour curtain in some musty theatre in Winnipeg, and some girl with ripped jeans and dirty hair is explaining to me how wrong I am about everything, and how I really need to read the I Ching and get my teeth fixed.

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I need to start running again. For months this winter I trained for the Limestone 5K, all the way from only being able to run 90 seconds at a time to going the entire distance without pause. I ran every second day, without fail. I ran when there was no one else out there, often late at night, in the cold and the dark. And on the morning of April 30th, in freezing rain, I ran the race. Ta-dah. And then we went to Cuba for a week. And then: June. Goals have a way of deflating themselves.

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It’s the staff barbecue so I take the day off. I believe that work is meant to be work –– not a place to fulfill your dreams, not a place to make best friends, not a place where people know anything about you, not even a place to score free hotdogs. The ideal situation is to be the polite person at the end of the hall with a job description that coworkers don’t understand or care about. Also, if management wants to show me how much they care, then please spend that hotdog money on institutional improvements. How about clean bathrooms? How about coffee in the kitchen? How about air-conditioning? How many mission statements read like conspiracy theory. Anyway, excellence now!

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No real plan in the studio lately. I’d been set to move out –– briefly, there had been a person known to police in the studio next door –– and then the situation resolved itself, and it was if some kind of reset button had been pushed. So I’ve been painting large paintings, with a mind for icons and characters. All painting is therapy, and the works themselves just relics for the cult of beautiful but pointless posterity.

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People walking around downtown in two of three dimensions on a Friday night and I think, Is it Mental Health Week again? Forever? In Kingston, at least. A woman tells me that Jesus loves me. Another is swearing at her two chihuahuas. At least they’re on a leash. The people in front of the McDonalds look like the Apple Dumpling Gang on opioids. Purple gums, yellow fingers.

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It’s summer, I guess. Men walking around in shorts, white chicken leg embarrassment. The women on the cover of the magazines by the checkout have lustrous dark hair parted straight down the middle, their hairlines an inch above the eyebrow. People squinting at things. More humidity than heat. Oona has a final ‘play’ for her acting class; the teachers say the lines for the kids, then the kids repeat them. I guess that’s how we do things now.

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The Poet

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The Poet, IV; mixed media on cradled wood panel, 24 x 24 x 1.75. You can see a fuller description here.

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I took the day off yesterday, and spent it in my studio painting this. I’ve found it difficult to think lately –– specifically in terms of what happens next, creatively, or what I should do next. The things I have the capacity to imagine. How much effort and discipline I will bring to bear. If I am being honest.

There is always the matter of what I want to do versus what I want to do.

And while this is going on I still need to work. So I simplify things, meaning I just make paintings. Not art objects or fussy smaller pieces. I mean big works, on wood: the kind I bind to the easel, and do some violence to with corrupted brushes. The iconic nature of the imagery seems to come easily from that.

It’s summer. We’ll see how this goes, and where I end up.

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large paintings, lately

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how distressing it was … how glorious and radiant and mine forever; mixed media on cradled wood panel, 24 x 30 x 1.75 inches. *sold*

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So I’m back to big paintings again. This seems to happen from time to time, in the same way that sometimes I only want to work with small things, to create art objects. Still, paintings are different. They are not art objects. Their size, their presence in a room, is a thing unto itself. A painting never needs to be explained.

 

thelittlequeenx

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The Little Queen, VII; mixed media on cradled wood panel, 24 x 30 x 1.75 inches. *sold*

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I think you can grow tired of the fussiness of little work, of art objects. Things needing tags. Whereas with a painting, you walk into a room and go to work and don’t come out until you have something. You treat it roughly. Something is made from nothing, and there’s an interrogation along the way.

 

thesummer1x

thesummer3x

The Summer, XIX; an original mixed media painting on cradled wood panel, 24 x 30 x 1 3/4 inches, here.

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By its very nature, a painting reaches for the iconic. So I’ve been thinking in those terms –– about symbolic things, as if a painting could be a missing card from the Major Arcana.

 

theworld1x

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theworld3x

The World, XXI; an original mixed media painting on cradled wood panel, 24 x 30 x 1 3/4 inches, here.

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Anyway, it’s all that I want to do right now, so it better work. And isn’t that the last words of any artist?

come by my table on saturday afternoon

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These are some of the fifty-five library card art pieces I’ll have for sale at my table this Saturday afternoon at the Made in Canada Etsy + Fat Goose Craft Fair (Grant Hall, Queen’s, 10-4). Original artworks on vintage library cards, $10 each or 3 for $20, packaged for gift giving (they’re great to tuck into birthday cards), these work both as bookmarks or miniature paintings to frame in their own right.

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I’ll also have cigar-tin stories, copies of my books, and a great selection of various mixed-media artworks, all of it priced at $20 and $30. Get out of the house, go for a walk, enjoy the day and come home with an original work of art –– all for the price of a (cheap) pair of pants. My table is cash-only but at least the bills are small.

library card art pack number 14

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three original drawings in pencil, ink and wash on vintage library cards (the kind that used to sit in a pocket attached to the back inside cover, and would be stamped by the librarian at sign-out) ; marks from the card’s use (signatures, stamps, etc) appear in the background ; the cards with the most age (sun yellowing, stains, etc) and marks are the ones I like best; usually 3 x 5 inches; titles are: Monopoly, Victoria & Albert, and unknown (too obscured)


working in a trailer these days, and blasted by air-conditioning, to the point where I go outside to warm up, and feel strange all the way through