Well, the title of this post might give away what's on my mind. This is my latest piece, I call it Road to Nowhere. Why, you ask? Well, because that's what I was feeling and no wonder, that's all I see around me lately.
Have you noticed that we, as a society, have become offended by everything. And I mean literally EVERY FREAKIN' THING! Christmas cartoons that have been on for over 50 years, Christmas songs, words, names, titles, opinions, political leanings, you name it, someone's offended. And if someone's offended, you better believe, the world is going to hear about it, loudly and often! It doesn't seem to matter what it is, or what side of whatever you're coming at it from, someone is complaining about something.
Granted, there are things that are worthy of complaint, and calling attention to those things, I get. But it seems nowadays, there are just constant complaints, constant hurt feelings, constant critiques without anything else. What ever happened to, you know, doing something about whatever you think is wrong? It seems to me that we're doing a whole lot of whining and not making any effort at all to correct any of these so called "wrongs". We're finding things to complain about, to be outraged over, where no such affront exists. Are we really that bored, or better yet, boring, that this is what humanity has devolved into - the constant search for and identification of things that offend just so we can have something to talk about? Evidently.
In doing this, we're really just spinning our wheels on a road that leads to absolutely nowhere, hence the name of the piece. How about we stop whining about things that, in the grand scheme of things, don't matter, and we focus all of this passion and energy on the real problems in the world, you know, homelessness, hungry children, those are two that come to mind off the top of my head, and there are plenty more. So why not get off the road to nowhere and start travelling toward somewhere?
One thing I miss about living in a large city, aside from the easy access to world class entertainment and any type of ethnic restaurant I fancy, is the ease with which one can get around without a car. Cars are expensive, maintaining them is expensive, gas is expensive. But in the big city, if you don't feel like fighting the traffic, you can wait for a bus, one goes by every 15 minutes. And, if the bus isn't your thing, because it sure isn't mine, you can avoid the cold, or heat, and head underground to the subway.
This piece, which I called Train Station, reminds me of my time in Montreal. It is, of course, part of my City Life series. It makes me think of my short sprint across the street to the Papineau metro station to hop on the Green Line to go wherever. Some days, the trip had a distinct purpose, shopping, business. Other days, it was just an exercise in exploration. And when I say exercise, I mean exercise, first, all those stairs.... then, of course, as is the rule rather than the exception when riding the underground in any big city, more often than not, the train pulls up just as you're setting your first foot on the stairs. Ever see a big man sprint down 100 steps and leap ballet style into the slowly closing doors of a subway car? It's likely quite a sight and one you'd have seen many times had you been around me in Montreal.
As an artist, and as a student of human nature, one of the most fascinating things about the subway station for me are the people. I enjoy people watching, and the station is a great place to observe. Of course, you observe discreetly, avoid eye contact, you know the drill. You see all these people, they're waiting for the same train you are. Some, you know, sort of, because you see them every day, others you don't, but you know their story by looking at them. There's the young guy with the beat up brown leather satchel bag and man bun wearing skinny red jeans and a suit jacket, he's a student, young, optimistic, eagerly waiting to take his place in this big world. There are the middle aged, balding men in cheap suits, phones at their ear, speaking loudly on the platform, shouting orders, their dreams of corporate mastery having long since been dashed. They're left with mundane middle management call centre jobs and the illusion of importance they try to create. We're onto them, but we just look away, no need to kick a man when he's down. You can always spot these cats, they're the ones who take the time to look all around as tey shout their orders, making sure everyone is witnessing their authority. There are the women, well dressed, waiting silently, eyes straight ahead until they board, then they pull out a book, they're heading to any manner of jobs, and they just want to get there unbothered, they've endured enough foolishness on this train. There's the guy with no legs and a hat and a sign, asking for donations because the pension just doesn't cut it, and the guitar playing bearded guy, smelling vaguely of coffee and maybe alcohol, who does such a mean version of Stairway to Heaven, you can't help but throw a toonie in. Finally, there are the young people, full of lively chatter, roughhousing a bit, they embark and always choose to stand they're a bit loud, the boys' pants seem to be in a perpetual state of falling down and they're very animated as they tell their tales to the girls, who giggle loudly. It's a wonderful study into the human condition and all before you get to your destination.
Have you ever really liked a decade other than the ones you've lived in? You know, as in, really loving the feeling it represented and therefore wished you could have experienced that period of time? I have. In fact, I have two, the 50's and the 20's (that's the 1920's, folks). Today, we'll discuss the 20's a bit for obvious reasons, this painting, which I've called Deco Apartment.
Odd name? Well, not really once you think about it. It's abstract, but it feels like an art deco apartment. You know an old building that was designed back in the 20's in the art deco style. What's art deco you ask? Well, it was an early 20th century style of art, architecture, interior design etc., widely popularized in the 1920's that combined bold curved lines, symmetrical repeating patterns, bold colours, inlaid geometric patterns, etc. to create a look and feel of ultra modernity and luxury. It was a reflection of the post war (post WWI) optimism. People were moving to the cities, the economy was roaring ahead, it was a time when anything and everything felt possible. It didn't last, of course, one short decade, and well....crash (literally), but boy, wouldn't it be nice to have just a little bit of that again now? We sure could use it!
I won't lie, I'm still riding the wave of excitement over my news, and when I'm in my happy place, I paint. This is my most recent piece, I call it Inner City and I'm very pleased with it.
It's part of my City Life series. Funny, isn't it? How a guy who doesn't particularly want to live in a big city loves to paint them. Well, maybe, maybe not. I have lived in a big city, Montreal. There are things I liked about it, the convenience, the hustle and bustle. But there were other things I didn't love so much. That being said, I very much enjoy visiting large cities and I enjoy painting them, each one seems to have a very distinct feel to it, a vibe all it's own.
I call this one Inner City because that's how it feels to me. It feels like that part of town, you know the one, the buildings may be in various states of disrepair, most of the businesses have moved out, except for maybe a couple of corner stores, puddles collect in the holes in the street. It's like everyone left, except for all the people living there. And here's the thing, despite the disrepair and all that, there's always something going on, a community watch meeting, a bake sale for the school choir. It's the kind of place where the kids are okay out playing in front of the house because you know old Mrs. Whoever is watching, where you can knock on any one of the 20 doors around you and know without a doubt that if you're in need, they've got you, and you them. None of you have much, but what you have, you're willing to share. You feel safe because you know everyone and they know you. There's a sense of community and a sense of hope. Like the figure in the painting, you may have to navigate a giant puddle of mud, but you know you'll make it through.
I took a break from blogging because it's just been a busy time of year, lots of painting, getting ready for the holidays (which means lots of cooking, well, not me cooking so much) and lots of eating. And of course, while I've been absent from blogging, lots of stuff has been happening. I've completed several new pieces, which, I'm sure will be featured in upcoming posts, I've got a few other irons in the fire, and then there's my latest big announcement, which I'm very excited about. I'm sure they'll be a press release about it at some point, but I wanted you, my wonderful friends and fans, to hear it from me first.
Remember this piece, Rustic Place? Well, it will soon be leaving my home to hang for a year (January - December, 2019) at none other than the Legislature of my fair province of Ontario (for those "in the know", we call it Queen's Park). Can you believe that? It was selected to take part in the Art a la Carte program and will be displayed in the In Camera Dining Room (get it, "in camera"? For that matter, get it, "a la carte?"). Hey, Doug Ford will get to see my painting! So, if your 2019 travel plans happen to include a trip to good old T - Dot (Toronto, for you non-Canadians), or if you happen to live in the area, hop on by the Provincial Legislature, maybe take a tour, have a nibble in the In Camera dining room (I hear the food is really good) and check out some really great art!
I've been asked many times what I want my art to say. And I've answered this question just as many times, albeit in a roundabout way. Really, what I want my art to say is more than "hey, I'm pretty, I'm a boat, a cat, a farm," whatever. As I've said countless times, I always aim for my art to make the viewer feel something and that something is highly individual. To do that, I paint things with my feelings in mind. My favourite pieces are those that are rough and raw and brutally honest. They make you think. That's how I feel about my latest piece, called Light Finds a Way.
I love it because it's an honest, real-time depiction of how I feel, in this moment and at various times in my life. Those that have been following my journey for the past 5 years know I've had some terrible times, times when things looked really dark, whether it's being broke, living in a shithole town, being in a terrible relationship, being unemployed, being robbed, you name it, I've been through it and it SUCKED! Let's not lie here, all of it sucked and it sucked hard! What I've learned from all those experiences was this, you have to go through it to get to the other side. What I mean is this, it sucks when it starts, it sucks when you're in the middle of it, and you want to just curl up in a ball and die. Well, you never really do that, but it's perfectly fine and I think, healthy to allow yourself to have a cry or scream or throw something (soft and not at anyone). Have your tantrum, let the feeling out, and then, keep on moving. When I say you have to go through it, it's both a metaphor and literal, just like you can't take a shortcut through the woods to your buddy's house without going through the woods, you can't see the end of the horrible situation until you go through it. Eventually, a day comes where you see that glimmer of light, whisperings of a new job, a pretty little thing smiles at you, you find $20 in your couch, and there you go, things start looking up. Life's a cycle and dark can only exist if there's also light somewhere close by.
As I sit here sipping my morning coffee and listening to some rousing tunes, I'm enjoying the view from my living room window. Boy is it snowing! And it's absolutely beautiful, so fresh and white and clean. Of course it helps that I really don't have to go anywhere and that I don't have to shovel it. So far, I'm really loving winter. That being said, my post isn't about my newfound, or perhaps newly discovered, love of winter, it's about my latest piece, pictured here. I completed it last night and it's worthy of note for a couple of reasons, one that actually surprised me, in fact.
I called it Love Endures Any Storm and as you can see, there are two crows, perched soundly on a lonely branch, together, in the moonlight as storm clouds surround them. First, I absolutely love the effect I was able to achieve in this painting, the mix of the chaos of the storm (the white, quick, short strokes) paired with the clam serenity of the darker sky, the fixed moon and the steadfast pair of crows. Secondly, it's noteworthy to me, and to anyone who knows me at all because the piece and the title speak a truth that resonates loudly with me. Love does endure any storm, if you are fortunate to have found that one person in life that you truly love and that love you the same way, you know, what the young people would call your "ride or die". I have mine, and our love has endured more storms than I care to count from meddling parents when we were kids to 20 years apart to weird psycho movie of the week kind of crap that, at the time, I suppose people thought was, I don't know funny, a kick, justified? I don't know, and really I don't care, because we're still here, happy as two pigs in poop.
Finally, the third thing, which I didn't think was big deal, but I guess it is because people keep mentioning it, and it does make sense, the orientation of the piece. It's a 36x12" canvas and I've created the piece in a vertical orientation, creating a longer, narrow painting. I can understand why it's been a topic of discussion, it is somewhat unusual, albeit not unheard of as I have done it before. However, what's cool about it is that given the size and orientation, it's perfect for those living in smaller spaces or just those funny walls we all have, you know, those ones either bordering a closet, or between two large windows or a door, that are too small for a large piece, but they're also too large to just leave empty...voila! I'll show you what I mean. I have one of those walls in my living room. For some reason, unbeknownst to me, whoever crafted this joint thought it was a good idea to have a wall in there that goes, closet, teeny wall, but not teeny enough that it can go naked, door. Add painting and BAM!
Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends! You're a little late to the party, we had our "turkey day" about 6 weeks ago; nevertheless, enjoy. Living in a border town, I feel I'm entitled to partake in the festivities of both our great nations (and yes, this is simply a clever rationalization to allow me to feast without guilt). But I digress.
As November draws to a close, I've noticed, and no doubt you have too, the barrage of advertising coming at us for the upcoming Christmas season (sorry, Holiday season, or whatever they're calling it now. Sorry, I'm not trying to be exclusionary or disrespectful, but to me, it's Christmas, it's been called that my entire life and I attach no spiritual or religious connotation to the word, it's simply a term to describe the holiday, just like "Carl" is a term that has been assigned to describe me). These advertisements annoy me, and I think they annoy me a little more each year. They're really a fine mirror of what's wrong with society, hence my rant and my new painting.
First the rant. I've noticed that in the past few years, say 20, it has become increasingly important to fit in. You have to have the right clothes, the right shoes, the right look. You're not getting the ladies? That's because you're not wearing Body Spray X. You're not watching the latest post-apocalyptic drug dealer futuristic whatever show on t.v.? Well, that's it, that's why you feel left out of the water cooler conversation. People rush out to get surgeries to look like celebrities, to get their butt, their boobs, whatever. Newsflash, even those celebrities don't have those attributes, well, they have them, but they paid for them, just like you want to. Everywhere we turn, someone is telling us what we need, what we need to look like, smell like, what we need to eat, what we need to own, and on and on. Heck, they're even telling us what we need to think. The news, which used to be simply a reporting of the facts surrounding the significant events of the day has become a weird mix of some information with entertainment, all cleverly slanted toward the prevailing popular opinion. We're so far from the ability to think for ourselves that we've been fooled into thinking that we are. We follow the bunny, and why not, the bunny is harmless, it's cute and funny and clever, and it's everywhere, until we're so far down the rabbit hole we think that burrow is actually the world.
Even those that seek not to conform fall into line. They seek out others who also wish to go against the grain. Then, they form a group, and they begin to fall into line, dressing alike, talking alike, etc., conforming to the non-conformity, anyone see the irony?
So why is this? Well, to me, it's obvious. My painting is called Heading Down the Rabbit Hole and it explains just that. Humans, as a species, feel the need to group themselves together. We want to be part of the group, to belong, to be "in"; it's an emotional need that feels almost as real as hunger or thirst. Advertisers, the media, they know that and they play on it. Remember being a teenager and just having to have that brand of sneakers or you'd "just die"? Well there you go. What's more disturbing now is that this has been extended well beyond products into how we think, how we speak and how we vote. Personal opinions and ethics have somehow become a public matter where daring to express the wrong one holds one up to such ridicule and hatred that we've moved from "just dying" without the cool sneakers, to "just dying" if anyone finds out we think or feel "xyz". We've fully followed the rabbit into the hole, people, and if you look closely, he's not cute, he's not clever, and he's not funny. On the contrary, he's sinister, he's sneaky, and he's dangerous to the very thing that makes us great, our differences.
Today I thought I'd answer a question from a fan. Charity asked the following, via my contact form:
"Carl, I like to paint and people say I am very good. I would do it for a living and make money off it. Can you recommend any books that I should read about that? Thanks."
First, thank you for the question, Charity. This is actually one I've been asked a few times and I honestly can't believe I've never written a post about it, so here's my chance. Yes, yes I can recommend a book for you. It's my favourite book about art, or becoming an artist. In fact, it's the only such book that I've read more than once and really, the only one I've come across that I think is worth reading.
Now, if you're looking for an author to hold your hand and tell you how wonderfully special you are, stop right here, this won't be the book for you. However, if you want actual advice and the nitty gritty truth, this book will give it to you.
Innes' approach is direct, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes sardonic, often humourous and just plain old practical. He really has a "shit or get off the pot" attitude which can be seen from the very first sentence of Chapter 1:
"First. Stop fooling yourself. You're either going to make this work of you're going to damn well forget about it."
Granted, having been originally published in 1994, there are some concepts mentioned that are obviously out of date, like taking around slides of your work, but those are easy to spot and anyone with even half a functioning brain cell can easily identify the modern-day equivalent.
You may ask, who is this Innes and what gives him the authority to speak on such a subject. Well, he's Windsor Joe Innes, a famous painter in his own right, Google him if you don't believe me. And I'm not the only one, even the Art Times said the book should be in the studio of every self-respecting artist. Pretty high praise, no?
So there you have it, my must read for aspiring artists. And if you want to try it out, no you can't borrow mine, but you can read a preview on google books here:
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. ;)