It seems that if you can lump a group of people together for some reason, race, colour, gender, profession, whatever, there will, over time, develop a set of assumptions related to that group. Artists are no exception. Stereotypes abound about us creative types, notions that have been repeatedly reinforced over centuries. There are so many that I could probably spend a week writing this post, but then no one would read it. So, I've picked 5 of the ones that are, at least to me, the most outrageous.
1. Artists ALWAYS Carry a Sketchbook EVERYWHERE: You've seen this in movies, the skinny artist guy, proudly carrying his sketchbook everywhere he goes, out for coffee, to pick up his dry cleaning, wherever he is, he's got it, just in case inspiration strikes him while he's getting his flu shot or some other mundane crap. Ummmmm, no. Well, generally no, but in the interest of full disclosure, I did once meet a guy at an artist seminar in Fredericton a few years ago that was not only carrying a sketchbook, but also sported a pageboy type satchel over his shoulder, had a Salvador Dali moustache and wore a beret (in July, no less, July in Atlantic Canada). Him aside, no, this one's false, at least for me. Heck, I don't want to carry anything it if doesn't fit neatly in my pocket. If I could get away without the social stigma attached to such an unchivalrous act, I'd make my wife carry the groceries just to have my arms happily free.
2. Artists All Live in a Dream World: Apparently we creative types wander the planet with our heads in the clouds. We think not of practical matters such as bills, politics, or business. No, we float around with constant thoughts of colours, fluffy clouds and rainbows. Yeah, that's crap. Like anyone else, I'm sure we have our day dreamy moments, but fear not, we're down here, living in the real world with the rest of you.
3. Creative Types Tend to be Tortured/Mentally Unbalanced/Addicted: Okay, so Vincent cut off his ear and Hemmingway reportedly drank like a fish, but come on! We're not all nuts. Hell, I don't even drink. I used to have a beer or two every now and then, but the old tummy doesn't like it now. And I hate drugs! Nope, you'll always find me stone cold sober. And I'm neither tortured nor suffering from any mental problem which would require professional intervention. I'm surprisingly, and perhaps, disappointingly, normal.
4. Artists Are Always Broke and Those That Aren't Totally Sold Out: Anyone who has followed me for more than half a second knows my distaste for the starving artist myth. I don't know how that became such a romantic notion, but there is nothing romantic about poverty or starving. Don't believe me? Do your own research, go on out tonight in the cold and interview a few people on the street who are both poor and hungry. Ask them how "romantic" it feels to them. Artists are no more broke than any other group. Some may not be able to live solely off their work and may have to have another job, but they're getting by. No one does their best work when all they can think about is hopefully getting something to put in their stomach. And as for the selling out, what is that? The implication of the term is that somehow any artist who isn't starving must have compromised their integrity, artistic or otherwise, for the almighty dollar and therefore, their work is no longer true art. Jealous much? Professional artists create art as a profession, meaning that's what they do to make money. Selling out is just one of those empty phrases that means absolutely nothing.
5. Artists Are Irresistibly Sexy: You see this one in movies and romance novels time and time again, the woman seeks out a an artist to create a portrait she wants done. Or she happens to notice a man in the coffee shop, he's not classically handsome, but he's got his sketchbook and there's just something about him, she's drawn to him. In either scenario, this male artist type lives in a drafty, messy loft, supplies strewn all over and the female character finds herself compelled to follow him there. She can't help herself, there's just something so sensual, so sexy about him... Okay, yeah, that one's true. ;)
This is my latest piece and if you're sensitive, you may want to just stop right here. You may think it's ugly or disturbing; it might piss you off. Well, good. Because what I see all around me is ugly and disturbing and it pisses me off and it's about time someone just had the "testicular fortitude" to say it. Enter me.
I call the piece Ready For BBQ. The meaning will become clear as you read on. I don't know if it's always been this way and I just haven't noticed or if we as a species are just getting worse, but have you noticed that we've divided ourselves into neat little enclaves? We surround ourselves with those that are exactly like us, same political ideology, same spiritual leanings, same socio-economic status, and we look at anyone outside that clique with disdain, disgust and sometimes violent hatred. I'm sure not everybody is like that, it's a general statement based on the rhetoric I see and hear every day. Christians don't like Muslims, Muslims don't like Jews, Conservatives don't like Liberals, Liberals don't like Conservatives. And the "don't like" part has turned nasty, downright mean and nasty. We've basically become a society of middle school bullies complete with name calling and violence aimed at anything that we see as "not us" or as challenging our view of how things should be. I mean you can't even disagree with someone on a small point now without the conversation devolving into a bloodbath.
Have you ever wondered why this is? I have, and here's what I think. It's all about the money and the vested interests. The leaders of these various spiritual movements (I'm purposely not using the word religious, but I think you can all see where I'm going), political leaders, basically anyone that stands to profit from having people buy into whatever their view is. And what's the best way to rally the troops behind your so-called cause, ideology, etc.? Fear and hatred, of course. Convince the sheep that they are constantly under threat by a sinister enemy that seeks to destroy all that you hold dear and those leaders can continue to feast on the "meat" of that fear at the head table (BBQ reference 1).
But what if we, the "sheeple" did something completely unprecedented? What if we dared to begin to use our own minds, to think for ourselves, to investigate, to question, to form our own educated opinions? What if we cut out the middlemen, those leaders and threw the shackles of rigid ideology off ourselves? What if those of differing opinions, beliefs, etc. just sat down and had a giant bbq, like a big old block party and talked? You know, talked? And listened, with respect, openly discussing their various points of agreement and disagreement, showed pictures of their kids to each other, and their cats and dogs, and traded recipes? (Note: bbq reference 2). I'm ready for that bbq, and for those "leaders", no your invitation wasn't lost in the mail, you just aren't invited.
The question of copyright comes up a lot for artists, and as it turns out, its often grossly misunderstood. So, I figured I'd do a quick post about it.
First, let's discuss what copyright is. Basically, it's just a bundle of rights that the creator of an original artwork has in relation to his or her work. Those rights include the right to be paid for the exhibition and reproduction of their work. It also includes something called moral rights which protects the artist from having their work mutilated or destroyed or altered in a way damaging to their reputation or from having their work associated with a cause or organization they're personally opposed to. Copyright isn't something that has to be registered, it arises as a result of the work having been created and it lasts a long time. In Canada, it lasts for the life of the artist plus 50 years. Other countries have slightly different durations.
So what does all that mean? I won't get too legalistic here, but I will address the most common question I get from collectors, whether they can make a print of a painting they've collected from me to give to their grandmother, their boss, whomever. They assume that because they own the painting they can do as they wish. WRONG! When you collect a work of art from an artist, you've purchased the physical object, that's all. You do not acquire copyright, that remains with the artist. So, you cannot in any way reproduce the work without the artist's permission and without compensating him or her for the privilege (called a licence). The long and short is, yes, you own the painting, but the expression of the ideas contained on it, the stuff the copyright protects, is still mine.
Not every day at work is the same. It really doesn't matter what you do or who you are, it just isn't. Even if you absolutely love what you do, and even if you give it 110% every single day, there are just days, well moments when you're more "in the zone" than others. Those are the days that if you're a runner, you just somehow can run that tiny bit faster and it wins you the race, or if you're an office worker, that pile of work you could never finish becomes something you easily tackle. You know what I mean, those times when you just melt into your work and there's nothing else. Distractions that are always there just magically fade so far into the background, they just aren't there anymore. It's awesome, but it's fairly rare.
I had one of those moments yesterday. As the bright sun came streaming into my window, warming me despite the fact that it was cold outside, it was just me and the paint. The result? The piece you see here, part of my East Coast Serenade series. It depicts a lone sailor coasting along the unusually calm water, his only light the glow of the full moon. It's peaceful, it's calming and there's a hint of mystery. I call it Guided by Ghosts. The reason for the title is two-fold, first, it speaks to the mystery of the piece and secondly, it describes the feeing I referenced above, the zone, because in a very real way it felt like the paint was guiding me and not the other way around.
As I sit here with my early morning coffee, I'm feeling nostalgic, so I figured I'd do a "Greatest Hits" post. I've done a couple in past years, but it' time for a new one. It's fun to look back from time to time, over my body of work and pick out which ones are my favourites. Mind you, all my pieces have a special place in my heart, but some stand out to me, personally. But before we get to it, I must, on this Remembrance Day (Veterans' Day if you're in the US), take a moment to express my heartfelt gratitude to those men and women in uniform whose service has allowed me the freedom to not only do what I do, but the ability to choose it. Take a moment today to remember, because if we don't remember the horrors of the past, we're doomed to repeat them.
And now, on with the show, so to speak:
1. City Life: This piece, the one pictured above, was one I did back in 2016. I really love the bight colours in it, it feels lively. The background reminds me of an old European city, perhaps Lisbon. And then there's the character in the foreground with the umbrella, faceless, well almost. Who is he? What's he doing? What's with the umbrella on an obviously clear day? He gives the piece an irresistible air of intrigue that I still can't resist even now, 2 years later. I just want to keep looking at it, to unravel the mystery.
2. Sensational Sleep: This is a commission I completed last year. I just love how it turned out. People are naturally a bit nervous about having a nude portrait done, I mean there is a certain vulnerability in exposing your naked body for all to see, perceived flaws and all (and by perceived, I mean we always see them in ourselves, even if no one else does). That being said, the collector was delighted with the piece, it's elegant, tasteful and beautiful.
3. Old City: I can't believe this one is almost 5 years old! I know I've raved about it before, and it even made the list of paintings that have defined my career. Well, I can't help it, I love it. It's really the first piece where I was able to just let loose and let my abstract freak fly! I was in a place in my life where I finally felt comfortable, with myself and my work and in that comfort, I found the safety to experiment.
4. Existence in an Unfathomable Universe: Speaking of the freedom and safety to experiment, I created this piece around the same time as Old City. It was a wonderful time in my life. I finally got my true love back after 20 years and I was just feeling free and happy. In this piece, I played with the surreal and I love how it turned out. I still remember standing there, at the canvas, in the wee hours of the morning while the rest of the world was asleep. It's another one of those pieces that compels the viewer to think, to wonder. What's going on here? Who, or what is that blob person? What about the other person? What's behind that little door? All that and it's visually pleasing too.
5. Parting the Fog: I completed this piece about 3 years ago. As you know, I'm no stranger to painting people in boats or seascapes. What can I say? I love the ocean. To be honest, I just really love how this one turned out.
So, there you have it, my five faves right now. Enjoy!
The other night, we had the most beautiful sunset, you know the kind, as the sky begins to move from lighter to darker blue, it becomes streaked with shades of pink and purple, turning some of the clouds the same colour as the sun descends. It's beautiful. Of course from where I was sitting, I could only see a little slice of it. I began thinking, wouldn't it have been nice to have been out in the country to enjoy such a majestic sight! The sky seems so much bigger out there, probably because there aren't buildings everywhere.
Those thoughts and that warm feeling the sunset brings me must have stayed with me, because I found myself painting it. I suppose if I don't yet have my country estate, I can always paint it. ;)
I'm feeling quite philosophical today, maybe it's the grey weather, maybe it's just me, who knows, but what's on my mind today is the fact that we're a society of whiners. Everywhere I turn, someone has a boo-hoo freakin; sob story. Life's done us all wrong, it seems. But has it? Has it really? Granted, there are things that happen, horrible, crappy things that we didn't ask for, didn't deserve and that come right out of the blue like a sucker punch. That's not the stuff I'm talking about.
What I'm talking about is the individual hell we seem to create for ourselves, that self-made misery. We cry poor, yet we have more than over 90 percent of the world and we've spent more on pizza, beer and coffee this month than some people in our own communities have spent on groceries to feed their children. We complain about our weight, as we sit in state of the art, massaging, self reclining easy chairs, eating Doritos. We complain about the nice things others have, judging them as greedy or somehow morally inferior because they can somehow acquire these coveted objects, yet we're doing nothing to improve our lot to give us even a shot at getting anything like it. We hate our neighbours and childhood friends for daring to be "on the wrong side" of the political divide, apparently forgetting that the cornerstone of a democratic society, something we pride ourselves on, is the fact that we all have a say and a vote and are free to express it. We comfort ourselves in the complete assurance that the beautiful thin woman, the handsome man, well, they can't be very bright and they must be horribly unfriendly, selfish and self-absorbed. We run around searching for quick fixes to all these maladies, the magic pill, the sweet elixir, the book with the answers.
The catch is, we're the ones who created it, and believe me, I too, am guilty of slipping into this. We've done a lot of this to ourselves, and to comfort ourselves into thinking otherwise, we've taken to self righteousness, envy, judgment and a sense of not getting a fair deal. That's what this painting, which I call Self-Made, is about. The figure is sitting in her own hell, she created it herself. But you'll notice the light around her. You know what that is? I'll tell you. It's when we finally shut up for a second, sit down, take a look inside, deep inside and begin to take responsibility for the things we can change in our lives. It's at that point we can begin to change things for the better and turn that hell into something better. I'm not saying it's easy, and I've had to do it many times in my life (maybe I'm a slow learner), but it is worth it. A lot of what we do, we do to ourselves and once we realize it, we can begin to live in the bright light rather than the pit of hell.
I have to admit, I never realized that the idea of commissioning an artist and how one would go about that would be a topic of discussion. Apparently I was wrong because I happened to stumble upon exactly that question and figured, if one person had the guts to ask about it, there are likely many more in the shadows afraid to do so.
First, what does it mean to "commission an artist"? Simply put, it's just paying an artist to do a painting of something, someone, that they want you to do. It could be anything, a pet, a person, a place, something that means something to them. That's all it is. And how do you do this? Well, these are the steps, and they're super easy and ensure a wonderful, enriching experience for both artist and collector:
1. Find An Artist: Check out several artists. Look at their work. See what they do. Determine whether their style is something that resonates with you. The style is critically important. Think about it, if you love realism and you commission Picasso to do a portrait of your dog, you, and the artist are going to end up frustrated and confused. An artist is not going to change his or her style of work to suit, it just doesn't work like that, nor should they. Just like you can't adjust your taste. Find a good fit.
2. Approach the Artist: Most, if not all, professional working artists I know have websites and contact details. Believe me, none of them are hurt by the possibility of paying work. Send an email, ask questions, we're happy to hear from you, this is kinda what we do.
3. Lay Out Details Up Front: Things like size, price, deposit, subject matter, must be determined up front. You're entering into a contract here. You're about to pay good money and the artist is about to put hours and hours of work, not to mention materials, into this endeavour. Certainty and communication is key.
4. Speaking of Deposits: Be prepared to pay a deposit up front. Sadly, the world isn't what is used to be and those in business, any business, can't afford to take your word for it. You may be the most honest, most wonderful person on the planet, but supplies and time cost money.
I've done several commissions in my career and I enjoy doing them. They give me a unique glimpse into my collectors, what they value, what makes them tick. The one above is Rihanna, a piece I did for a collector that was a big fan of hers. I'm going to add a page to this website just for commissions, but for now, here are a few others I've done over the years:
So, feel free, if there's something you've always wanted to see on canvas, immortalized by an artist, whether it's you, your kids, dog, best pal, a favourite city, treasured memory, whatever it is, don't be shy, ask your favourite artist about the possibilities, you may be pleasantly surprised. And as my mother in law always said, "you don't ask, you don't get."
I found myself in another hotly contest debate yesterday. I really need to stay home, I think. That being said, these lively discussions are great for providing me with blog ideas. I was speaking to a friend who makes soap and she kept referring to her "art"; I corrected her, letting her know her work was a craft, not art. I didn't mean it as an insult, not at all, but I think, well I know, at least initially, she took it as such. And the debate took off!.
Before I get into the basis for my stance, let me explain that I'm examining this on a pure academic and objective level. I'm not making a subjective assessment on either. I'm not saying that one is any better than the other. They're both forms of creative expression and both have their place in the world. It has nothing to do with one being better or a higher form than the other. It's like comparing apples and carrots, you can't, they're different, both great for what they are, but different. That being said, I think a great deal of the confusion between what is art and what is craft stems from a recent trend I've noticed among some shops that have decided to call themselves galleries. They attempt to sell both fine art (painting, sculpture and the like) and craft, such as knitted wear, candles, soap, etc. I suppose they do that in order to maximize the profitability of their retail space and to attract the widest possible consumer base.
The main difference between art and craft is in the purpose for which it is created. Art is created for purely aesthetic purposes, it generally serves no practical human objective other than the pure beauty of it and the emotional and/or cognitive reaction it elicits. Craft, on the other hand, serves human objectives that are more tangibly useful, you wear knitted wear, you wash with soap, you burn candles for light, you put stuff in baskets.
Further, the process of creating between the two is different. Art is more unstructured, it expresses emotion, thoughts, visions. The focus is on the ideas, the feeling and the visual quality of the work. Craft is more about the proper use of tools, materials and technique. Art is more about that innate ability whereas craft is more about learned skill and experience. That's why a skilled craftsperson can duplicate their work, they can make 30 virtually identical baskets, soaps, sweaters, etc. Art doesn't work that way. Sure, I can paint 20 landscapes over my lifetime, but none of them will be the same. Because they rely more on emotion, my mood at the time, what I'm thinking, where my head is at, so to speak, than on the simply my ability to put a brush in my hand and paint a tree, they will all be different.
I love a lively debate (maybe not as much as my wife does) and this weekend, while enjoying after dinner drinks with a group of friends, I found myself in quite an interesting one. While speaking about art, the topic of posthumously completing the artwork of another came up. I can't tell you how the conversation turned to that, but it did and boy, did it liven the night up! Basically the question was is it a good or desirable thing for an artist's unfinished work to be completed by an equally skilled artist, say, when that first artist dies? I quickly found myself very passionately involved in the discussion and given that, I figured I'd share my thoughts with you.
Let me start the discussion with a warning, if I leave unfinished work behind when I pass along to the great buffet in the sky, DO NOT try to complete it, or I will haunt you eternally! And I don't mean a cute friendly Casper haunting.... I mean Stephen King book/movie creepy, scare the pants off you haunting. That may give you some sense as to where I come down on this surprisingly controversial issue.
Why do I feel this way? Well, it's like this, art is about so much more than skill, in fact, skill is only one small element, of many, that come together to create a work of art. It's necessary, no doubt, I mean of course, one much possess a certain level of skill, that's a no brainer. But a work of art is more than that, it encompasses the artist's vision, their emotions, their interpretation, in a sense, it's a slice of time glimpse into the artist at a given time. These are things that you simply can't swap out, they aren't interchangeable. No two people, no matter how close, no matter how much you've studied each other, have the same experiences, feelings or vision, therefore, the unfinished work, in this case, can never be what it was originally intended to be. Best to leave it alone, I say. And if you're so hell bent on "bringing an unfinished work to life", keep you damn mitts off of it, and maybe do your own work, based on what you see in the incomplete piece and clearly labeling it as such.