Art As Therapy

This post marks the first in a series of interviews that I will be doing about artists who came to art later in life. I was inspired to do this by my own life as well as many questions I've been asked in my studio and after artist talks. I believe that many people are looking for encouragement in pursuing an encore career in art. Hopefully these stories will encourage people to explore their own creativity.


Sande Waters

Choosing a career in art was simple for Sande Waters. Art is something that she must have in her daily life. In her lovely water-view home in North Vancouver, she has not one but two studios. The upstairs studio is a wide desk crammed with art supplies located beside her kitchen in the place where most would install a breakfast nook. Sande has trouble passing this spot without adding something to the many paper works she has on the go. On the day that I visited, she had two ink abstractions drying there.

Her other studio is in a converted garage (shown above). She  shares this workspace with two of her sons; her three sons are artistic as well. Sande confesses that this studio can get cold in the winter, but it gives her a place to work on larger art. She has a big canvas laid out with a beautiful splotch of ink absorbed into the surface in a way that reminds me of colour field artist Helen Frankenthaler. This studio is also full of: artwork, art books, art supplies, and canvases. If the studio illustrates the brain, Sande is an artist overflowing with ideas.

Sande’s current work is abstract and energetic. Ink is her current obsession, and she uses it on Yupo paper, canvas, and even on the small paper boxes she constructs. Her favourite subject is overviews, the kind of images that you get from airplanes. The loose flow of the spread of acrylic ink can be converted into imaginary topographic maps.

And Sande’s artwork isn’t confined to the studio. She serves on the board of directors of the Contemporary Art Society of Vancouver, and is in charge of awarding prizes to cutting edge artists. Sande and I meet most often at Seymour Art Gallery openings where she serves on the board there as well.

The Turning Point

Despite all this creative activity, Sande wasn’t always an artist. Her life followed a more traditional path: office work, marriage, and bookkeeping for the family business. Then at 42 years of age, there was a turning point in her life: her marriage ended.

At that point, with three young children, she had decisions to make. On one hand, she could take courses in accounting and continue her career in bookkeeping. But the other path—her love of art—was the one that appealed to her. She took a job with the school board as a special needs aide that would allow her summers with her kids. And she began part-time art studies at Emily Carr.

Although Sande has no complaints about the turn her life took, she fully realizes that art became therapy for her. She loved all her classes at Emily Carr. For Sande, art was an escape: a place where she could be creative and maintain a sense of self. Every mother knows how draining children can be, regardless of how much we love our kids, we become so-and-so’s mother instead of ourselves. Art is a way of declaring our creative identity. 

Sande’s determination shows in her art education. She graduated with her BFA from Emily Carr, a feat that took fourteen years! And then she went on to get her MFA at a low residency art program at the San Francisco Art Institute. The low residency component meant she could remain in Vancouver with her family and attend only summer classes in San Francisco.

What artists can learn from Sande

I was impressed by Sande’s inner calm and confidence. Perhaps because of her art degrees, she has never had any trouble identifying as an artist and continuing her art practice throughout her work, parenting, and studies. She would like to make more money in art sales, but draws a distinction between “décor art” and “core art” that may be less commercial.

Regarding art as personal therapy, Sande said she can both “lose herself in art, and find herself in art.” Art cannot be understated as a way of expressing ourselves and working out our emotions. I have written before about the times when I’ve used art to escape my personal problems, and Sande’s experience underlines this idea for me. She sees art as a form of self-expression and has identified therapy as a consistent theme in her work.

Finally, I asked Sande if she has any advice for aspiring artists. In particular, what should mature artists do to make current, cutting edge works? Her suggestions:

  •  Be true to yourself. Don’t worry about what people buy or like.
  •  Use play and experimentation to extend your art practice. Sometimes finding your expertise is a process of elimination.
  •  Educate yourself about art. Take an art degree or quality art courses.

To learn more about Sande Waters’s art, please check out her website.

Life Long Artistry

I just watched a short documentary film entitled The 100 Years Show, which is about the artist Carmen Herrera. The hook is that although she painted every day for her whole adult life, she wasn’t “discovered” until she was in her nineties. She was invited into a New York show when another artist dropped out. Since then her fame has grown exponentially, both in the art world and through this touching film. I have to admit I teared up as she expressed regret that her husband never got to see her become popular. He had always supported her art.

Although this film touches on injustices of the art world like ageism and sexism, it’s very inspiring as well. Is there an artist who hasn’t wondered why he or she hasn’t achieved more? I’ll to admit to a lot of artist envy. And in turn, fledgling artists ask me for advice and say they’d love to be in my shoes. It’s like an endless cycle of striving.

Herrera made hard-edged abstractions early and never veered from that artistic path. She stayed true to her vision of geometric abstractions and continues to make art even past the century mark. She stayed true to her vision despite being ignored by the gallery system. Was she driven by an innate confidence? The need to create? The emotional support of her husband. Whatever the cause, her life is very inspiring. As I mentioned in my previous review of the Cy Twombly exhibition, finding your own style and sticking with it becomes more epic the longer you are able to stay with it.

Alternatively, you can also experiment stylistically, as long as you keep making art. Neil Young is a good example. He has run through various genres of music: folk, rock, rockabilly, operatic, blues, country, and even grunge. And he goes in and out of style, but keeps making music. In the art world, Gerhardt Richter makes paintings that are highly realistic and completely abstract. When I was at the Tate Modern, I saw one of his digital strip paintings for the first time, so he is continuing to experiment in his eighties.

A portion of the Gerhardt Richter digitalized painting at the Tate Modern

A portion of the Gerhardt Richter digitalized painting at the Tate Modern

After returning from a three-month studio break, I’ve found myself floundering a little. At first, I had a ton of energy and got a few new projects going immediately. Then I had a setback: rejection from the Vancouver Art Rental and Sales program—in the first round! I don’t deal well with rejection, a subject I should probably write about in greater depth since all artists experience it. But whenever my confidence is down, I’m more indecisive in the studio. That’s definitely a problem.

What this documentary illustrated was the idea that an art career can be viewed in perspective of a whole lifetime. While it’s beautiful that Carmen Herrera finally had her work recognized by the art community, what’s really inspiring is the fact that she made her art each day for so many years: after rejections, without financial rewards, and even after the death of her biggest supporter. Her real strength is her belief in herself.

Whether you create the same thing each day or something brand new, the real key is persistence. You have to believe in yourself and be above trends or popularity.

twombly: the beauty of consistency

Did you know Twombly made such colourful work? It came as a lovely surprise to me.

Did you know Twombly made such colourful work? It came as a lovely surprise to me.

The beauty of travel is the random discoveries you make. If I’m only in Paris for a week in April, I’m going to see whatever big show is at the Pompidou, regardless of the artist. But I certainly lucked out when the artist of the moment turned out to be Cy Twombly.

While this may be sacrilegious to my many artist friends who adore Twombly, I had no strong feelings about him going in. I had seen an exhibit of his drawings in Tokyo and enjoyed it. But a retrospective really allows you to understand the whole of an artist’s work and that whole is very impressive. This show had his drawings, paintings, sculpture, and photography. In addition, I got to go twice, which gave me even more opportunity to explore the details of the work. And I emerged a big Twombly fan!

The Work

First off, what is impressive about Twombly’s work is how early he came to making the loose marks that exemplify all his work. That consistency is impressive. There was one small room with oil pastel scribbles on graph paper. Honestly, these drawings are exactly what people would describe as being “something my kid could do.” And seen in isolation, they are unimpressive. But seen in the context of a decades-long career of making similar scribbles, the drawings become impressive. The restraint, the colour choices, the directional lines—every decision is the seed for the magnificent paintings that follow.

Another highlight was the Roman paintings made after his marriage to Luisa Tatiana Franchetti. They were huge complex canvases and one had the sexiest description I’ve ever seen in a museum: “Between 1960 and 1962 he produced some of his most sexual paintings, Empire of Flora being an evocative example. Partial glimpses of body parts, male and female, are scattered over canvases that seem to preserve the sensual memory of hot Roman nights.” Hot Roman nights! I’d like to meet the art historian who wrote that. Maybe it was only the translated French version of the show. Or maybe it’s the beginning of game show: Gallery notes or porn film title?

My favourite paintings in the show were Nine Discourses on Commodus. These nine beautiful paintings seemed to evolve between panels and showed many of Twombly’s regular marks: grids, words, loose paint strokes, mixed media. I spent a long time appreciating all the little details of the work. Shockingly, these paintings were not well received when he first exhibited them in 1964, but they still look gloriously contemporary.

There too many highlights in the show to list them all. But it was the first time I had seen his sculpture: found object assemblages coated in white paint and the occasional drip of beautiful colour. And his delicate photographs which focus on blurred objects and decay. Or the bright canvasses shown at the top of this post. And I’m grateful for the serendipity of travel which allowed me to really discover Twombly.

The Portable Studio

Not my studio, it's not messy enough

Not my studio, it's not messy enough

We all know the fantasy. When an artist travels, she makes delicate watercolour and ink sketches of the charming garden of her B & B. Or sketches her croissant and jam breakfast complete with hovering hummingbird. Or line drawings of adorable scamps kicking a ball around an ancient piazza. All neatly bound up in a black Moleskine. 

The reality for me, having returned from a three-month trip to Europe, is quite different.  I am strictly a studio artist. When I paint, I need the ALL the art supplies around me, and I make a big mess. So if I make art on the road, my Airbnb reviews will be in the toilet once I redecorate my host's apartment with random blotches of paint. But I have found other ways to stay create while I travel, and I'd like to share them with you.

Studio Visits

Obviously, if you can't be in your own studio, be in someone else's. I visited Cezanne's dusty and well-preserved hilltop studio in Aix. My best studio experience was when I visited Cheryl Fortier at the artist residency compound she runs in Auvillar, France. Cheryl's recent work was an intriguing departure for her, a huge, elaborate drawing in marker and pencil. And while we stayed there, I got my own studio too! I drew and coloured in a room filled with sunlight and good art vibes. Since Cheryl and I shared a studio in Vancouver, it felt very natural to be working next-door to each other.

Record your inspiration

Ahh Europe. So many amazing art shows! So many free museums. I’ll blog about the best art later, but as a Canadian living in a city with one tiny public art museum with sky high prices, I’m jealous. Seeing an amazing art show is always energizing, so I cram all that inspiration into my photos and travel journals. The most inspiring show for me was Cy Twombly at the Pompidou in Paris. His loose, languid use of line and paint was gorgeous and sensuous. So, I took photos, bought a catalogue, and made notes of techniques to try once I got back to my studio. As a visually-inspired painter, photos are the best way to for me to remember all that great creative energy.

Collage

Collage is one art practice that lends itself well to travel. You’re already picking up foreign ephemera like tickets, brochures, and postcards. Half-torn posters already look like my art anyway, so I rip those off the wall and stuff them in my purse. And if you happen to be in Bologna during April, they salute the new graduates with singing and glitter confetti! Yes, glitter confetti in the shape of flowers! I gathered it up from the gutter as my husband pretended not to know me. When I write travel journals, I add illustrations in the form of admission tickets or brochures anyway, so collage only takes this one step further. All you need are scissors and a glue stick or washi tape. A mailing tube is good for storing art purchases and your own creations.

Art Supply Stores

When I was in my twenties, I haunted clothing stores looking for the best deals on the cutest outfits. But now, art supplies stores turn my crank. There’s nothing I like better then finding unusual and new-to-me materials. This trip I hit up the Sennelier Art Store in Paris. I’ve used Sennelier chalk pastels for years, but this place is more than just pastels. In fact, the location I went to is the oldest art store in Paris. Ghosts of Cezanne and Picasso swirled around me as I poked through the worn wooden display cases. I went upstairs where I found a weird paintbrush with four separate ferrules and a box of neon watercolour paints from Japan. Despite—or possibly because of—the dismissive explanations of the snotty saleswoman, I handed over many euros and took home these items that I have yet to use. But they’re inspiring anyway, because they remind me of my time in Paris.

When I travel, I love to buy art supplies. They create packing problems, but in my studio right now, I have neon pink paint from Arhus, Denmark; drawing pens from Tokyo, and pink gouache from Venice. Pink is my weakness.

Brushes Redux

One of the many retrospectives I saw was David Hockney at the Tate in London. And he was clearly addicted to art, painting everywhere he went—even hotel rooms! While the large scale paintings were impressive, one interesting room was filled with iPads. Each iPad showed a painting that he had done with the app Brushes. The paintings were live videos of his process as he added strokes, changed colours, and erased sections. It was fascinating to watch.

Then it occurred to me that I could do the same thing: download the Brushes app on my phone and have an ever-present sketchbook. Brushes Redux is the app available now and it’s free. I used the very next day to sketch a statue in the British Museum, and there’s a bit of a learning curve to create really good work (I’m not there yet) but it’s lots of fun.

There you go, lots of ways to stay creative on the road—without making a mess! If you want to see some of my visual inspirations from Europe, do check out my Instagram feed .


This marks the return of my blog after a two year hiatus. And I will be writing more about my adventures in Europe, including shows by Cy Twombly and Damien Hirst. I have incorporated this blog into my website, but unfortunately the name changed from Ten Feet of Crazy Energy to the more prosaic Blog. I would like to thank the many (well, three anyway) people who have been asking me to blog again. I'm back! 

Unique Creative Process


On May 31st, I gave an artist talk at the Seymour Art Gallery on finding your unique creative process. Everyone there was extremely supportive and interested, and nobody fell asleep as my cats did when I was practising. I promised to post an outline of the talk and more importantly,links to the fantastic artists I mentioned. Anyone who attended the talk may notice a few differences, as I have added information I had written down but didn’t get a chance to mention.

When I was offered the chance to do this talk, I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to explore the topic of unique processes and how artists come upon them. I am very much a process-based artist and my theory was that your medium and your practice can stem naturally from your personality, background, and work habits.

For this talk, I interviewed four artists who are doing interesting and unique work. I had a theory that there would be a strong link between an artist’s personality or background and the art. And I hunched that each artist would have had an "aha moment "or there was a common element to them finding themselves in their work.

But I was completely wrong.

Every artist turned out to be as individual as their work.

So, what I’ve done is split up the artists into different sections and created a nifty acronym: C.R.A.F.T.
I will talk about my art and inspiration as an introduction to each letter and each artist.

C is for Continuous

Okay, I lied. There was one thing that every artist I spoke to had in common: they all work extremely hard. They manage multiple art practices, other jobs, travel, and long hours to create their art. They have been working for years on their art.

When I was at art school, I was intrigued by the different work habits of students. Some had great ideas, but no follow through. Some worked very hard, but lacked talent. But in the many years I went to Emily Carr (part-time studies towards my BFA) I only met a couple of people who were very talented and worked really hard.

You have to set up a routine of hard work. For advice on this I would recommend the book, The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp. Early in my art career, I was lucky enough to share a studio with painter, Cheryl Fortier. By her example, I got to see how an artist has to treat painting as a real business. She came to the studio from 9-5 each weekday. She maintained career goals, a teaching practice, good colleague & client relationships, and she prioritized her art. Art was not based on flaky genius but on hard work. And she helped me to establish good studio habits, which I have maintained ever since.

So achieving good art takes continuous hard work. Not always producing good work, but producing something and trying new things. In addition, continuing education is important: visiting galleries and museums, artist studio visits, attending art talks, and even taking courses. I had a recent studio visit with Jill Pilon. Not only did I get inspired by her work, but she explained how she uses screen-printing in her work—something I’ve been wanting to try and will now incorporate.

Your practice needs to be continually evolving and refining, and the only way that can happen is from hard work.

R is for research

For my Secret series paintings at the gallery, I did a lot of research into the idea of keeping secrets, codes, spies. I used motifs like the enigma machine, lemon juice writing, codes, as well as layering in some of my own personal secrets and fears. My process of layering and revealing is perfect for the idea of secrets kept and revealed.

The idea of research was inspired by the interview I did with Katherine Soucie. She is an artist who is creative, dynamic, and socially-conscious. You can see her art practice here and her fashion line here. The founding principle of Katherine’s practice is Zero Waste. When she was attending the textile program at Cap College, she was wandering the dollar store looking for materials to work with for her grad project. Nylons caught her eye: they were cheap and could be dyed. Taking the idea one step further, she contacted nylon manufacturers in Montreal and arranged to purchase the rejected nylons that they would normally throw out. They all begin white and she dyes and screen-prints them. They become the raw materials for her art and her clothing. One new offshoot is that textile artist Michelle Sirois Silver is now buying the colourful scraps too small for Katherine to use, and creating new art with them. So the cycle of recycling continues.

When I spoke to Katherine in the fall, she told me she was spending a lot of time in the Vancouver public library. Her inspiration was gypsies and she developed this year’s Gypsy Aristocrat line. Research is a necessity for fashion designers who must produce several new collections each year. And doing research can benefit any artist who is looking for inspiration for their work.

A is for Authentic

If you are a person like me, who has a tendency towards perfectionism and self-criticism, you may worry about whether you personally can succeed as an artist. I began painting when I was 40, so I wonder if my art would be more successful if I had started earlier. The art world is relentless in its focus on aesthetics and youth, and the hype of finding the next big thing. Or maybe it’s a personality issue, people capable of spending many hours alone in the studio may find it hard to be gregarious enough to promote their work. Any artist believes they have some flaw which prevents them from

But we can only be what we are. I am Japanese, middle-aged, and shy in groups of strangers. I am the opposite of a cool emerging artist. But being who I am got me the opportunity to do an amazing show at the
Japanese Canadian National Museum. And being my age means that I had friends who could afford to buy my art when I first started out. I am trying hard to be authentic to who I am, and let my art reflect that without apology.

One artist I found to be completely authentic to who he is and what he thinks is Brendan Tang. He is an artist who is intellectual and political, but with a sense of humour and great self-awareness.

Brendan’s own background is a cultural mix like many Canadians. He was born in Ireland, but has Trinidadian, Chinese, and Canadian cultural influences. Despite a non-artistic background, he excelled at art when he was young, and you can see his drawing skills in his work. In his Manga Ormulu series, we see a complete cultural mix: Chinese pottery, European pottery, Japanese manga, speculative fiction, geek worlds. To me, the work is very accessible, but talking to Brendan he emphasized the deeper meaning behind the work. It is a re-appropriation of Chinese pottery stolen by European craftsmen. But to me, the accessibility is key, you have work that people can appreciate at many levels of meaning from basic enjoyment to political consciousness.

F is for Forté

If authenticity is about knowing yourself, forté is knowing what you can do—your strengths and weaknesses. My strength is colour. I love using bright colour and pure tints, and I think I’m good at balancing them.

The artist who represents forté for me is Reece Terris. As an artist I found him to be determined and modest with an incredible spatial awareness. As a child, he enjoyed taking things apart and putting them back together. His father was around to help if there was a piece missing afterwards. He began working in construction at 16, and ended up travelling the world, supporting himself with construction work in places like Australia. After 15 years of working, he began attending art school at the Simon Fraser University downtown campus. The freedom and support of school meant that he could integrate his construction skills seamlessly into his art practice.

His graduation project was entitled American Standard. He completely renovated the men’s washroom at SFU to create a wall of fountains, made from urinals. It was a riff on Duchamp, but also a spectacularly beautiful feat of engineering. Not shown is all the work he had to do to put the bathroom back into functioning order.

Reece is perhaps best known in Vancouver for his Ought Apartment, a tower of rooms from different decades. His work is not sculptural as much as an intervention on a specific site. He sees the potential for adding art to places because that is almost in his DNA.

T is for Tragedy

In 2008, I was preparing for my first solo show at a commercial gallery when my mother suffered a severe stroke. As an only child, I was thrust into hospital visits, medical consultations, and looking after her affairs. I was operating at only half-awareness that week, and I called the gallery owner to tell her what had happened. I assumed that she would understand that I couldn’t produce the work. But after she offered her sympathies, she said, “Mary Anne, you’re not going to let me down, are you?” “Um, no,” I agreed. I was in a complete daze.

So my routine for the following weeks was to go to the studio early and paint. Break to go to the hospital and later to the rehab facility. Back to the studio. All I did was paint and cry. My heroic husband took over a lot of the household duties. And I did finish a whole range of bright and surprisingly cheery paintings in time for the opening. But I think that painting was the best thing I could have done when I wasn’t with my mother. It was an escape for me and it had become enough of a routine that I could do without conscious thought.

Peter Combe is the only artist I didn’t interview directly for this speech. I went to hear him speak and I chatted with him briefly at his opening in Vancouver. However, I went to hear his artist talk which was a history of his career. As a boy growing up in B.C., he was interested in mathematics which later translated into his work. He travelled and began his art career in Europe. He was doing surreal collages when he had an accident that injured his wrist so badly that he was no longer able to use scissors for his collages.

While casting around for some new artistic expression, he was inspired by the fish scale pattern on the inside of an envelope to begin painting with paint chips cut into circles. He began with abstractions, but is known now for his portraits. While the works look almost computerized and pixelated, they are done by hand. Peter has found a lot of success with his new works and is represented by galleries internationally.

Returning to Reece Terris, for the Ought Apartment project, he collected materials from job sites for years and stored them in an old barn in the Fraser Valley. Then snow on the roof of the barn caused it to collapse with all his materials aside. It was a defining moment, as to abandon everything would have bankrupted him. But Reece got a group of friends together and they managed to salvage and store everything in a new location. The project eventually came together beautifully in the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Anyone faces tragedies and setbacks in life. But it’s all too easy for artists to turn away and think that perhaps things were not to be. The perseverance to continue in art is harder, but for most artists they have no other option. They want to make art, regardless of any difficulties.

I would like to thank the Seymour Art Gallery, specifically Sarah Cavanaugh and Vanessa Black, for the opportunity to put together this talk and for their help in preparing it. I want to thank Peter Combe for agreeing to share his images. Most of all, I want to thank Katherine Soucie, Brendan Tang, and Reece Terris, for being so generous with their time and experiences. They inspired me to share more of myself than I normally would. 

Good luck to everyone in pursuing their unique creative processes.


How To Be Great

Work in progress is progressing


Recently I went to see a movie about a piano virtuoso: Seymour: An Introduction. It’s a documentary about Seymour Bernstein, an 85 year-old pianist who gave up performing and now concentrates on teaching high-level students. Bernstein is truly fascinating and even after an entire film, I wanted to know more about him

Two qualities of his personality really stood out for me. First, as a teacher, he was able to make subtle tweaks in his students’ piano technique that made the music infinitely better and more moving. It’s a level of knowledge and sensitivity that even someone like me, who knows nothing about classical music, could appreciate.

Second, he has this huge love for classical piano music—an obsession so enormous that it blinds him to normal perceptions. For example, when he was drafted into the army, it was a complete mismatch for a sensitive boy who had never left home. But he found himself able to march for hours while others fell away, and he attributed that to the mental concentration he had learned from music. And when he found that there was a classical strings player in his troop in Europe, he suggested to his commanding officer that they could do performances. The C.O. scoffed that nobody would listen to classical music. But when Bernstein prevailed, the troops loved the concert. “They wouldn’t let us go,” he remembered happily.

When I saw the movie, about a month ago, I was going through a slump in my work. I had been painting, but I seemed to be stuck. The work for my big exhibition in May was well underway, but nowhere near completion. Therefore, one thing that Bernstein said made an especially big impact on me. He said that on the days when the music went well he was happy. Conversely, he was frustrated on those days when the music didn’t go well. His solution was to practise more, from two hours to three, right up to eight hours of practising.

This solution seems so logical, yet it’s contrary to the laziness inherent in many of us. If the painting isn’t going well, it’s easy to take a break and do something else—check Instagram, have a snack, go for a walk, cook dinner. Perhaps these distractions are even good or useful, but they move us away from the main purpose of our lives. If you want to excel at an art, it will never be easy. An artist will have to put long hours of work into their craft. Sometimes there will be setbacks and screw-ups, but you will keep moving forward. And as Bernstein said, on those good days, you will be happy. The best kind of happy, when you are satisfied with your important life's work.

Thanks, Seymour! The next day, I went into the studio and began working harder. I locked my smarthphone in the car, stopped puttering, and just got down to painting. And you know what? I was able to push my paintings into completed stages immediately. And now I’m happy.



New Work


I can’t remember the last time I had nine new paintings in the studio! Generally, it takes me months to complete a painting, but I had a few deadlines to meet this time. I have a show in Harrison Hot Springs during September, and I have an ongoing project which needs 12 new pieces, and of course, the Culture Crawl is coming up in November.

But right now, to the delight of visitors to the studio and to the horror of my insurance agent, I have a lot of art on hand. In addition, I’ve started making prints, and some of these paintings are available as prints as well.




blueberry pie, 48" x 48" 


rhubarb pie, 48" x 48" 


bumbleberry pie, 48" x 48" 



raspberry pie, 48" x 48"



All the pie paintings are also available as prints. 





born again, 48" x 48"



x-ray, 48" x 36"

lace memories,  48" x 36" 


And finally, one painting so fresh it hasn't been properly photographed yet!

stripes six, 24" x 72" 


Anatomy of a Painting

Recently I created a painting that was my largest single artwork ever. It was a commission work, so only a few people got to see it in person, but I thought I’d like to write about the process and share the painting with you.

Valerie and I met in 2009 when I exhibited at the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition. Since then, I have not returned to the TOAE, but Valerie and I have been in touch by email and I have done some commission work for her before. She has also visited my studio while in B.C., but mainly we work together virtually.

It’s always a joy to work with Valerie as she brings a lot of enthusiasm and very few restrictions. She determines the size and then we discuss which existing paintings she likes, and a very general colour scheme. Not surprisingly, we both love the same colours: brights especially pinks and purply blues.


When I work on a commission, it’s a bit stressful, because I’m constantly worried about whether the client will like the final artwork. It’s impossible to put yourself in someone else’s head, and my process is very unpredictable. Since this panel was 40” x 80”, it was even more daunting. So for the first time, I did an actual maquette on a tiny scale.


Directionally, Valerie told me she really liked my new jellyfish paintings, but she was looking for a more abstracted drawing. I had a vision in my head of a painting that used all the resin colours I have. I did this trial piece on two 6” x 6” panels, at a time when we were still deciding whether to do one large piece or diptych. It was a good starting point, as Valerie decided she preferred a single panel and she didn’t like all the red.


Next step was prepping the panel. I apply gesso, let it dry, and then sand. Repeat ten times (at least) until I get a beautifully smooth surface. It feels so nice to apply ink to a satiny surface.


Here’s the ink drawing. I loved the idea of a more abstracted jellyfish, and I think I will move into this direction. It’s an idea of movement rather than replicating the actual jellyfish. This is one way that doing something new, like a commission or a painting for a themed show, can change your painting direction. I also loved the scale here, it inspires me to do even bigger panels.


I showed Valerie the ink drawing, and once I saw it on the computer screen, we agreed it needed more black. I added that and then the fear set in. Once I added resin, it would be final. I would have to start all over with a new panel if I screwed up. For three days, I had the panel up on the wall, eying it as I did other work until I got up the courage to complete it!

And things did go wrong. Mixing large quantities of coloured resin is actually impossible, since they start to cure right in the containers as I’m working! I ended up moving a smoking container of green resin off the table at the beginning of the process. My overactive imagination had me setting the studio on fire, and becoming the building pariah. In the end, I managed to mix up proper quantities of non-flaming resin and achieve the effects I had in my head.

Since resin has toxic fumes, I have to leave the studio before I can see the final result. I returned the next morning to check on the painting and prep it for final curing. When I hung it on the wall, I felt breathless. The painting was so beautiful! I wanted to share it with someone, so I went out in the hall, but at 7:30 am, there aren't a lot of artists even awake. Luckily, Morley, our wonderful building manager, was in and he agreed to come to my studio for a peek. ("Usually people only want me to come in if a pipe is leaking or something," he said happily.) And he was sweetly appreciative. I also took photos so I could show my family. We were leaving that day for Ontario, so I couldn't bring anyone else in. 


One unique thing about Valerie is that she likes a surprise. So I while I keep her informed during the process—especially the parts I can change—once I do the resin that’s it. I have the painting packed and shipped and she doesn’t see it until she uncrates it in Toronto. I don’t know how she feels during the waiting time, but I’m always nervous until I hear back from her!



The happy ending: she loved it. Here it is in her home—with the giant bear friend of her two sons. I think they were in camp when the painting arrived, but I hope they like it too. I miss the painting! But the good thing about creating amazing new work is that it inspires us to new heights.

Never Say Never

Apply gesso, let dry, sand. Repeat ten times.


“I’m never going to….”

Fill in the blanks yourself. I’m never going to sound like my mother. I’m never going to wear ugly shoes like that. I’m never going to cheer for the Canucks again.

But you know what happens. One day, you’re yelling at your kids and you realize you’re channelling your mom, word-for-word. Or you’re at the shoe store, and you realize that comfort is now more important to you than sexy legs. Or the hockey season starts again, and there are promising players and a nice new team president, so you set the PVR and shake out the car flag.

I’m trying really hard never to say never again. But it’s tough, because I’m a person who makes snap judgements. And latest example of that occurred way back in art school, about seven years ago. My painting instructor was Jordan Bent. He was a young painter and new to teaching, so he tried really hard to challenge our painting process. He brought in car body parts for our still life class. He assigned us to do large-scale self-portraits in the style of our favourite painters—I did a Basquiat and discovered how much of his art was linked to his own appearance. And Jordan invited us to his open studio to get a feel for life after art school.

His studio was in a large, dilapidated factory building which has since been demolished. At the time, Jordan did large abstractions, and he was using giant squeegees to pull paint across in a dreamy geometric pattern. In particular, I remember him explaining his preparation. It involved painting and sanding layers and layers of white gesso before he even began painting. He rhapsodized over creating the perfect painting surface. And while he was talking, I was thinking, “Really, Jordan? Because you know Opus sells pre-primed canvas, right? Why go to all that work for something that nobody will notice?” And then I fatefully vowed, “I would never do that in a million years.”

Sigh. Well, you know where this is going to end up.

It started so innocently. I loved painting on the smooth surface of a wood panel, but I hated the brushstroke texture that occurred when I painted gesso on them. Then I read about an artist who was using a spackle knife to apply gesso. That’s brilliant, I thought. I could apply gesso and have it be all smooth and nice.

Of course, it wasn’t that easy. My small spackle knife was leaving ridges everywhere, and I had to sand them down. So I got a bigger knife, and there was less sanding. But more layers created a smoother surface. And I keep trying to perfect my technique. I ask workmen that I meet for tips, I search YouTube videos on plastering walls, and I was the only person at the art museum in Sydney who spent ten minutes watching the guy prepping the walls for the next exhibition. Luckily nothing is too weird for an art museum.

This past week, I have again been sanding and applying gesso to a two big panels in my studio. I don’t count the layers, but I would estimate them to be seven to ten deep, much like my layered paintings. My recent jellyfish paintings were done on such a surface.

I know the surface is done when it achieves this beautiful smoothness: it’s cool to the touch and silky soft. And when I apply ink to this surface, it flows beautifully. However the ink marks are permanent, as the gesso is porous and nothing can be erased.

Jellyfish, 16" x 16". 

It’s a ton of work, but very worthwhile. And if Jordan Bent were here, I’d apologize to him. And vow never to say never again.

Ten Things I Love About Australia

M.A. in Oz

I’m just back from a wonderful trip Down Under. My daughter, Julia, moved to Perth in June for a semester of school. Before she left, she hinted that a visit from me at the end of her term would not be unwelcome. The flight is loooong—15 hours from Vancouver to Sydney—so I tried to jam everything I could into this trip. We started off in Perth, and then went to Melbourne and Sydney.

At the risk of sounding like an idiot, I didn’t totally understand that it’s now summer in Australia. I knew that the weather was going to be 30 - 40°C, but I figured that their winter was our summer, if that makes any sense. And don’t get me started on the disconnect of hearing Christmas carols and looking at palm trees. Anyway, the flipping of the seasons completely discombobulated me. I felt like it was summer everywhere, and I was ready to buy little summer dresses and start making summery art. The whole holiday seemed to be out of normal time, and as a result I think I enjoyed everything much more. I’ve had some personal stress in my life lately, and it was nice to escape it all.

So, as a salute to one of my favourite movies, and the late Australia actor who starred in it, here are Ten Things I Love About Australia:

1. I loved the neighbourhood pride in Fremantle.
When you see addresses in Australia, they are identified by neighbourhood. People seem to identify with their neighbourhoods with a fan-like zeal. I visited Fremantle, an artistic town near Perth. They have used a Potemkin-like preservation technique I saw often in Australia: maintaining the original façade while creating a whole new building behind. It creates charming street fronts and modern interiors. We toured a sunny outdoor (!) Christmas craft fair at the Fremantle Arts Centre. Here’s a travel tip for you: indie craft fairs are the best place to buy souvenirs. The Freemantle one was patriotically local, with local signs like Dingo Flour gracing t-shirts, cards, etc. get souvenirs.
A Canadian aside for those of you who read Robert Genn’s newsletter, the Fremantle Arts Centre may sound familiar, where it gained recent notoriety for awarding a large cash award to a very naïve print. Despite this dubious incident, the Arts Centre was quite interesting to visit with a variety of modern work

 
Graffiti in Perth
2. I loved the sunlight in Perth.
I guess while much of North America is shivering under record snowstorms, I shouldn't mention that it was 40˚C in Perth. You probably don't want to hear about my tan either. Anyway, the light is so intense in Perth that even my 60 SPF sunscreen wasn’t doing the job. Naturally there is a connection between light and art. That kind of light makes the brightest colours seem natural and right, and I saw some vivid paintings in private galleries, as well as a beach installation at PICA (Perth Institute of Contemporary Art.) I have the sneaking suspicion that I belong somewhere tropical creating my bright, glossy artworks.


Science at Melbourne Now
3. I loved seeing Melbourne Now at the National Gallery of Victoria
This survey exhibition of contemporary local artists was like a crash course for visitors to Melbourne. It was the perfect overview show since the city itself was the subject of much of the art. There were video installations that were like tours of the city: an electronic map explaining various sociological changes in the city, and a seamless video tour of the various alleyways of the city.
In addition, the museum showcases a lot of local craft as well: fashion, jewellery, shoes, clay, and glass. The museum space is lovely and open, and it was packed with all kinds of people enjoying the variety of art there.


Didn't I see you in V for Vendetta?

4. I love that Melbourne is famous for graffiti.
How can you take a problem and turn it into an attraction? Melbourne has alleyways filled with colourful graffiti that apparently change weekly. Tourists take tours specifically to see the graffiti. Personally, I felt uneasy at being trapped in a narrow alleyway with a gang of teens in masks yelling and swearing as they tagged the walls, but I guess that’s part of the street scene. I do like the idea of it, though.

5. I love the way that art was woven into life in Melbourne.
Melbourne is known as an artistic hub, and rightfully so. The city is famous for its street art, and there are many studios, designers, and galleries there. What impressed me most about Melbourne was the way that art had been woven into the commercial side of the city. As well as the street art, there was excellent art in our hotel, the stores, and most of the restaurants. Art was being used to enhance the whole way of life in Melbourne, as well as show that artists are a valued part of the city. Art is clearly a viable career in Melbourne.
Adam Cullen's art was even in the elevator.
Horns not included.
We stayed in The Cullen, an art hotel in the Prahan neighbourhood. Budget allowing, I try to stay in art hotels everywhere, but I have to say that this was the best art hotel I’ve ever stayed in. There are three hotels in the Art Series chain, and each one chooses one artist and features him in all the art in the hotel, with originals in the public spaces, prints in the room, and even a curator to tell you more about the art. Our hotel featured Australian artist, Adam Cullen. Our room included two large prints, an imprinted image on the glass bathroom wall, and even a stack of art books. The hotel map includes art galleries, as well as the usual restaurants and shops. The Cullen was doing more than just using art as décor, they show a real passion for art.

But art is also in restaurants and shops. Not just decorative art either, but actually interesting abstractions that enhance the shopping experience. I loved this painting in a store called Green With Envy. The designers used challenging abstract work instead of pretty "wallpaper."
Why can't all stores look this amazing?

6. I loved the hands-on aspects of all the art museums I visited.
Perhaps you can judge museums on how they treat children. In every museum I visited, there were special tags besides certain paintings, explaining the art specifically to children. And they all had hands on activities for kids as well, although they let shameless adults have fun as well. We made necklaces at the NGV and  a paper Frank Stella room at the AGNSW.


This gorgeous room is part of the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia.
7. I loved the compactness of my Sydney art tour.
Strangely, a lot of Australians in other cities warned us about Sydney, all bad stuff. But we loved Sydney. It seemed more business-like, possibly because we stayed closer to the CBD (Central Business District.) But the city was beautifully organized. In one long afternoon, we managed to do the iconic Opera House, the Botanical Gardens, and two fabulous art museums, all on foot. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to have an artist for a mom, just ask my kids: you’re going to go to a ton of museums. But I do offer bribes treats in the gallery café. And naturally we do the beaches, parks, and zoos as well, it's not art 24/7/. 


8. I loved that the museums were free and well attended.
There is a definitely a problem in Canadian thinking about art. When our own Prime Minister equates artists with galas, you know that culture equals elitism. In my hometown, a visit to the Vancouver Art Galley will set you back $17 and with only three floors, parts of which are usually closed for installations, it’s generally not worth the price.
But in Australia, all the fantastic museums we went to were completely free. There were Australian artists featured everywhere, some of them quite current. In fact, I saw a lovely mix of art (below) in the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW.) 
Loved the juxtaposition of contemporary and traditional portraits.
In fact, the only disappointing show we saw was one we paid for, an overview of American art at the AGNSW. The show was apparently meant to showcase an evolution of American art linked to history, but the paintings featured were mainly second-tier. The Rothko and Pollock ones were especially disappointing. I think it’s very sad that the better paintings weren’t chosen or allowed to travel, especially since so many Australian art lovers were coming out to see the show. Ah well, we saw so many great pieces in the rest of the museum that it didn’t matter. Apparently the best things in life are free.


 
Gregor Schneider welcomes you.
9. I loved the riskiness of the installations.
Another problem I see in Canada is that art that is challenging or weird is sometimes decried as a waste of taxpayers’ money and hidden away. It’s deemed unsuitable for children and decent people. In Australia, there seems to be more openness about risky or experimental art.
I saw school tours checking out crazy nudes with a minimum of snickering. And in the AGNSW, we went through a super-creepy installation piece by Gregor Schneider, which mimicked the original basement of a house in Germany complete with corpses. I think the scariest part was that you had to inform staff that you were entering the installation. Was this in case you didn’t come out?


10. I loved the people in Australia.
It’s not all about art, one of the reasons you enjoy a trip is the people. The Australians were so friendly and relaxed that it made everything that much better. If you’ve never been to Australia—go! With the gorgeous beaches, the culture, the design and great people, you’ll find ten things you love in no time.

You can't post about Australia without a koala photo!



What You Liked in 2013

Can I be the first to wish you a Happy New Year?

For 2014, one of my resolutions is, as always, to post more often. I am heartened by the people who tell me they enjoy reading my blog, and wish there was more of it. And that's not just the people in my family, who are hostage to my mood swings. So, I resolve (once more) to post weekly. I have the world’s largest collection of half-finished posts, therefore all I need to do is finish them and I’ve got a few months done already.

WIP and my cats are what you can see if you follow me on instagram.
Except, you know, in a square format.

But while I was scrolling through my brand new instagram account (@matateishi, if you want to check it out) I also realized that the end of the year is great for looking back on the past year. As a writer, you wonder exactly what readers are interested in knowing about. What topics are the ones to break through and get eyeballs? Well, for me, these were the top posts of 2013.

The number three post was:
As I watch the World Junior hockey tournament right now, I am seized with a desire to go back to Malmø, Sweden. I remember how comfortable the bed was in our huge and inexpensive hotel suite, and how much I enjoyed the modern architecture by the sea. Reading about my art travels to the incredible museums of Sweden and Denmark was a top post for readers as well. If you were one of them, great news, my next post will be about my art-filled trip to Australia.

The number two post was:
My visit to Siobhan Humston’s artist studio in Harrison, B.C. was the number two post, and I believe the reason is community. I made this little road trip with two other artists, Rachael Ashe and Valerie Arnzten. All three of us wrote about it, and I linked to their posts and to the artist’s site as well. The synergy of social media and cross-links is probably what gained this post more clicks, something to remember if you want to gain more traffic for your own site. Community makes us all stronger.
And speaking of community, I was paired with artist Rosa Quintana Lillo, for a show in 2014 at the Cultch. She, in turn, invited me to show at the very gallery in Harrison that I visited. So my 2014 exhibition calendar is filling up nicely.

The number one post was
(drum roll, please … brrrrrrrrap)
I was absolutely incensed to see the work of an artist I admire being copied by an artist in Australia. This came on top of seeing a Vancouver artist copying a Toronto artist, and I wrote a scathing post contrasting and comparing the copiers with the originals. But then I calmed down and realized that calling these people out directly would not solve the problem and only make everyone more defensive. Instead I rewrote the post to examine my own work and wonder how much we are unconsciously influenced.
This post was shared on social media and even resulted in one fb comment saying that I was a copier too (ouch!) But the resulting discussion was great, and accomplished what I wanted: awareness without blame. And hopefully, less copying, even though I see that the Australia artist is still at it.

So that’s my 2013. For the first time, I took a whole month out of the studio. I went to Australia in December, and then Christmas came with all its craziness. I feel a little like an addict without a fix, as I’m itching to get back into the studio now and get painting. I feel that 2014 is going to be a great year, and I wish the same for you and all your creative endeavours.



Follow That Mouse



Not the famous mouse.


Early in my art career, I did a mouse painting for a show. It was very popular. Not only did it sell right away, but there were requests from a few people to contact them if I ever did more mouse paintings.

Excited by my success, I went to my home studio and started looking for mouse photos. I wondered if an acquaintance whose daughter had mice would let me come over and sketch them. My husband wondered what I was up to, and when I explained, he asked me, “Do you want to be Vancouver’s foremost rodent artist?”

After I stopped laughing, I agreed that I did not want to wear that particular crown. I went on with my regular art, which at that time was still life paintings. But I was reminded of the whole experience when I painted the neon mouse above, as a warm-up yesterday. There is always a temptation when we have success to follow it, to pursue what the market seems to want. But if you do this, are you always behind? The desires of the market change constantly. Many times I have had people fall for a painting that was already sold and say, “If you do another like this, call me.” Optimistically, I would produce the paintings I thought they wanted, but when I contacted them the answer was no. They were no longer interested or the colours weren’t quite right. This happened so often, I began to wonder if people actually wanted the original work, or they only wanted it when it was not available. 

I do take commission work these days, but only commission work where the client is serious and committed. Gone are the days when I toil away on spec projects. Because if you keep listening to the other voices in your head, and ignore your own true vision, the art will be a compromise. I create the paintings I want to live with, and strive to make each one as compelling as I can. You can never create work for hypothetical clients, but happily you can create work that speaks to someone, somewhere out there. Your paintings are perfect for someone, but you never know who that someone will be.


When you have nothing to say...paint


Montreal vibe.

My daughter, Julia, is doing semester of school in Perth, Australia. She left in June, and I won’t see again until at least Christmas. Luckily, these days it’s a lot easier to stay in touch with emails and Skype. In fact, when I went to write a letter to her, I realized I had nothing new to share. So I decided that I would send art instead.

The first two paintings.

I took a piece of illustration board and cut it into 5” x 5” pieces. I gessoed them and made a nice little stack in the studio. When I come in, I work on a board as a warm-up in the studio. Sometimes they are representational, sometimes abstract, but they are always fun to complete.

If she reads the blog, she'll know what's coming next.

I did this one today, it's a pixel squid.
I mailed the first one with no note, figuring that it would be more mysterious and interesting that way. I got a thank you email when it arrived. But I have been mailing a new painting every Thursday, a routine I maintained even when I went off to Montreal. I believe that the mail service is rather changeable, and they all arrive on different days. And I suspect one envelope has gotten lost. Julia wrote yesterday to say that her roommates, all guys, are rather jealous. They say she gets the most mail, and their moms don’t do anything like that. I suspect their moms do more useful things, like supply food and host dinners, but artist-moms are not always practical. 
Julia has begun an art wall to display the works.

Vancouver...

---to Perth, with love.

Although Julia has already been going away to university for many years now, Australia seems like it’s that much farther away, and accordingly, I miss her more. The art pieces are my way of saying that I'm thinking of her, always.



Ce que j'ai appris à Montréal

Palais de Congrès is my favourite building in Montréal
I’m now back from my two weeks of self-created artist residency in in Montréal, which turned out to be more Molly Maid shift/extreme home makeover/language school. Nevertheless, I did have a great experience and I wanted to share what I learnt.

How come this cat can speak French and I can't?
I learned French

While I was in Montréal, I took a four-day course at the Musée des Beaux Arts called “Stimulate Your Creativity.” It was for all levels of artists, and I really had no expectations going in. But the class proved to be challenging in a whole new way. It was all in French!
My French is okay since I grew up in Ottawa, but living in Vancouver I don’t practice often. And given that art vocabulary is very specific, it was tough to understand what the heck was going on; however everyone was extremely nice, and I muddled through. My French got better, but my English got worse, and at one point I seemed unable to make a correct sentence in either language.
What I loved most was the joie de vivre of the class, there was a lot of joking, conversation and admiration. And after brutal art school crits, listening to crits that were completely positive was a joy. Everyone’s confidence seemed to be building up and there was so much laughter and chatting by the last day. I have to say, I think French-Canadians, and Montréalers in general, are having more fun than most Canadians. They are quicker to smile and make jokes, and I loved being in that milieu.

I learned I’m online too much

Due to circumstances that seemed to be too complicated to solve by texting, I could not get the internet going in the apartment. So I had to lug my trusty laptop to the corner coffee shop where the French-Canadian guy was completely charming (see lesson above) but the Anglo guy kept saying, “Just the mineral water?” as if nobody on the planet had ever ordered only a drink before. Readers of the blog may not have noticed I was online less, since I was blogging more. I would write up blog posts at home and then use my hour at the café to post and get caught up on my social media. But I quickly realized how much more I was getting done when I didn’t watch hours of video on Maru’s new roommate or the latest red carpet fashion disaster. I wrote more constructive things (like posts), and I did more painting and home decorating. And I had all that time for walking and searching for free furniture. I’ll admit, I did get bored occasionally and took naps, but in general life was way more productive. I’ll be keeping that up.

Could I become a minimalist too?
I learned how much I like a simple life

Every time I take a vacation I think the same thing: life is easier with less. My life in Montréal was simplified with fewer clothes, possessions, duties, and friends. I didn’t even have a car, so many decisions rested upon walking distances. I was alone a lot, which rarely happens in Vancouver, but I enjoyed it…for a while anyway. Basically, my life was based on creating: art and writing. Everything else fell away, and it was all quite enjoyable.


I learned that you have to question everything

During my course, two issues came up. First, my instructor kindly told me to let her know whenever I didn’t understand something. The problem was that sometimes I did think I understood but when I asked questions, it occasionally turned out that I had completely misunderstood. Secondly, because I had to paint on paper and not panel, I found out that that the brushes I’ve been using for years are probably too stiff for the kind of painting I want to do.

These two separate issues made me realize that regularly painting is a routine, where I do what I think is right, and never ask questions. I assume I’m doing the right thing, because I’ve been successful in the past. But I could be better. I need to regularly shake up my routine, and challenge every part of the process to see how things could be better.  Besides, I get to buy new art supplies now, which is one of my favourite activities. You can see why living the minimalist life is a problem for me, so I'll have to throw out stuff when I buy new stuff.

I took the text from one of his favourite books.

I learned that art can make a huge difference in a home
While Sam’s apartment is still not done, it’s way better now. I didn’t add a ton of new furniture, but the addition of two large canvasses­­–above you can see the one I did for the living room–makes the rooms look modern and minimal rather than bare and sad. Of course, it’s long been my philosophy that art makes life better, but now I’ve seen that a little art can transform a room completely.



Mini vs. Maxi

You can drag your kids to the art museum, but can you make them drink the Kool-Aid? As a mom I had to use bribery when they were little (We’ll have treats in the café afterwards!”) but eventually my kids got to know and love art on their own. They developed their own tastes, but what I never expected was that my son would become a minimalist.

I guess my art could be best described as maximalist: lots of colour, pattern and texture. And I find it kind of amusing that Sam’s taste is the opposite, I’m glad that he has his own opinions. But what happens when I offer to paint a painting for him?.

So, here’s one of Sam’s favourite artists, Agnes Martin.



And here’s the artistic church I worship at, courtesy of the artist, Hense.



But since Sam is the “client” in this case, I have to try to create something quieter, which pretty much goes against every instinct I have. So I compromised and created this:

Do you remember the messy apartment in Montreal? It’s a lot neater and cleaner now, but unfortunately, I won’t be able to finish the living room because it’s still full of boxes that haven’t been picked up yet. But I can show you before and after photos of the bedroom.

The bedroom as it was when I arrived:


The bedroom today:

I had to buy the canvas for $29, but the duvet cover/shams/cushion were stuffed in his closet. I found a three drawer organizer on the sidewalk, where I could put away a lot of stuff in the closet. I bought two extra pillows for $11 (buy one, get one for a dollar at Provigo!) I moved the bed around so Sam can actually use his bedside table, and picked the lamp up from the floor(!) Like any good house porn decorator, I stuffed the excess items away and voilà: the perfect minimalist bedroom. Total cost of redo: $40.

I'm posting this once he's on the plane, but hopefully he'll like it! I know it won’t stay this way, but I’ll always remember…Montreál.


Walking and Seeing

When I see people walking around with big canvases, I always wonder what they’re up to and what projects they’re planning. Walking home in the hot sun with a 40” x 40” canvas yesterday, I now have some insight into what they’re thinking: “Crap, this canvas is heavy.”

I love to walk.

When I’m home, I hike around the foot of Mount Seymour with a friend (a friend is a necessity given that there are black bears around!) But here in Montreal, my walks are urban ones, and I love them! I like seeing the interesting old architecture, the beautiful gardens, the charming shops. I like seeing the chic Montrealers walking and biking to work. And of course, I love seeing cats.

If he lost his glasses, he probably can't find his way home.

There’s no better way to get to know a new place than by wondering around. It’s something we do on every vacation, and getting lost is even better. Walking alone, I’m observing more than usual. I’m quite inspired by places where art animates businesses. Graffiti art has definitely crossed over to the professional side, and young business people have adopted it. Today I saw a new café being built where black and white graffiti art is on feature walls and the menu frame, with minimalist décor it’s all very chic and cheap. I also saw this adorable patisserie:
Yum, if it's good enough for the bear, I'm in!
(Correction, I went to Sophie Sucre on the weekend, and I'm told that the "bear" is actually a cat! Better and better, and the cinnamon rolls are yummy there.)

Of course, having no car means that I have to carry everything I buy home. I really wanted two large canvases, but I decided that one at a time was enough. Having to work in the small space I’m in, that’s probably better anyway.  I’m used to being surrounded by all my equipment, and here I have to make do constantly. The focus is on the painting, rather than my normal process of layering.

Perhaps it’s like this in many big cities, but Montrealers have a habit of leaving their unwanted stuff on the sidewalk. On this morning’s walk, I could have had a choice of three different couches: brown leather(ette), burgundy velour, and a beige of unknown fibres. There were TVs, hangers, a footstool, and even dryer balls, although it’s tough to imagine anyone desperate enough to take used dryer balls.


Miraculously, exactly the things I need have been turning up. Yesterday, I found a like-new set of three wire drawers from Ikea, just what my son’s closet needed. Last night, I noticed my back was sore from bending over at my makeshift art table, and today voilà: a nice modern chair appears on my block, which saves me from having to lug it far. What will tomorrow bring? I think I’ll wish for a 40 x 40 canvas to magically appear on my doorstep.

My Own Private Artist Residency

A new painting about...guess what?

Today you’ll find me in glamourous Montreal…wearing rubber gloves and scouring a toilet as part of my artist residency! But before you all rush out to sign up for this alluring experience, perhaps I should explain how this happened.

I’ve been toying with the notion of doing an artist residency for a while, checking out glamourous villas in Spain or collaborative spaces in suburban Tokyo. But an artist friend warned me, “You’re really at their mercy, you get a call and you have to come out right away…it’s difficult to plan ahead.” While I’m sure that’s not true of all residencies, it is a factor for me. I have an ailing mother, so I can’t go too far for too long. Summers I like to spend at home in Vancouver, my kids are home from school and the weather is pretty damn nice, especially this summer. Fall is a busy time, as I get ready for the November Culture Crawl. And I have to admit, I love my studio, it’s perfectly set up and I have yet to find a residency that welcomes resin artists. “Bring your toxic chemicals to our lovely shared studio!” And not working in resin would mean a big change for me.

However, the idea of a residency kept nagging at me. I decided that I would arrange my own short residency; combining an art class with a city I loved. I chose Montreal, since my son already has an apartment there. He shares with two other McGill students, and I had seen the place when he moved in last September, it’s brand new and brilliantly located near downtown. I found a short art class I could take, and I was all set: museums visits, an apartment where I could paint as well, an interesting class and free accommodations. I promised my son I’d “pay” for my stay by leaving a big painting in the living room. What’s not to like?

If you could have predicted the problem already, you’re a lot smarter than I am. Apparently three intelligent young men, who can get admitted into a top university, are not smart enough to clean out the fridge before they leave for the summer. I saw mystery meat at university, but yesterday I got to see mystery vegetables…I have no idea what they were. And I’m pretty sure the apartment has not been cleaned since I saw it a year ago. So I’ve spent the first part of my residency getting the apartment into a state of minimum human habitability. I’m painting as well, but if my work is influenced by my surroundings, there’s going to be some sort of Hoarders masterpiece ahead.

Luckily for me, the hockey bag doesn't reek.

On the other hand, it is kind of satisfying to fix up a place like some HGTV show. If all goes well, I’ll post some before and after photos. And being all alone and in a new place is already inspiring some new ideas. I’ve been sketching Montreal buildings and my painting on canvas is very flat and smooth. And being able to make art at any time of the day is quite exciting. Despite the housework, I think my private artist residency is going to be great! 

Do Anything

Tracey Emin's My Bed


If you’re currently lying in a pool of bodily fluids on your unmade bed, alongside the attractive model you sketched last night before gorging, drinking and other things you can’t recall, then you don’t have to read this post. However, if you’re like me, a person who tries hard to do what’s right and feels guilty way too much…read on.

I’m currently reading the book, Antifragile, Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. And by read, I mean that I read a section, reread it, think about whether I get it or not, and then usually read it again. It’s not that the book is difficult to understand, but more that it’s stuffed with ideas which he builds upon, and I want to keep up.  At this rate, I figure I’ll be finished the book by the end of the year.

But it doesn’t matter when I’m done, because I have already read the section that set me free. As an author, Taleb discusses the effect of criticism on a book, “Criticism, for a book, is a truthful, unfaked badge of attention, signaling that it’s not boring; and boring is the only very bad thing for a book.” He adds that nothing could be better for a book than being banned, as people will then go out of their way to find it and read it. The greater the energy that is used to discredit the author, the great the resulting fame. He adds “it is not possible to stamp out criticism; if it harms you, get out. It is easier to change jobs than control your reputation or public perception.” Taleb, who has a rather violent streak for a university professor, fantasizes about punching out an economist with whom he disagrees. He uses this fantasy to demonstrate to his publisher what “antifragile” means: that certain professions cannot be harmed by disorder. If he punched out the economist, sales of his book would probably rise due to his new notoriety. Taleb concludes with these life-changing words: “Almost no scandal would hurt an artist or writer.”

Wait, what? Can this be true? Is there no horrible thing I could do that would cause sales of my paintings to fall? Let’s say I committed some heinous crime, like having an affair with a sheep. (Please note: I personally know no sheep, and no sheep were harmed in the making of this post. I don’t even know if female/ovine relations are possible.) When my crime was discovered, I would be infamous immediately. Sure, some people who already own my art might become outraged and burn the works on principle. But there would also be people who would want to buy my paintings, just to say that they were done by that woman who went baaaad. (Sorry.) Critics who looked into my work, could look for hints of mental illness and depravity. In any case, the number of people who knew my name and my artwork would vastly increase.

Think of the artwork that shocks or is banned. Chris Ofili’s painting, The Holy Virgin Mary, caused great controversy for its use of elephant dung as a medium. When, years later, I read an article about how Ofili paints delicate watercolour portraits as a warm-up exercise each day, I knew his name immediately. He was not an artist who courted controversy, like Damian Hirst, but nevertheless, he was famous due to controversy. And I would expect that after the initial backlash, all the negativity had a positive effect on his career.

But luckily for sheep, there’s no need to go to extremes. The main takeaway for me to be braver and more daring in my art and my life. To quiet the little voices in my head that worry about whether a painting is consistent with my style, whether it will sell, whether a wider audience will “like” them. I say to my art, and to all the safe art I see, go for it! Why not do something daring? Be bold and different, try new methods and make rash decisions in the studio. Wreck things, spray-paint over them, waste expensive materials…just try to do something bigger than what’s been done before. Artists are superheroes, we’re antifragile, and we can do anything.


Good Deeds

Doing something nice for someone else should be its own reward, right? Well sure...but there can be other benefits. My friend, Denise Relke, has been a huge supporter of my art for ages. Not only does she admire my work wholeheartedly and buy paintings from me, but she helps out too. Every year, she comes and minds my studio for an hour during the Culture Crawl, so that I can grab lunch and do a mini-tour of my own.

Denise runs her own jewellery business, Sporty Jewels.  She is very self-sufficient, and seldom asks me to help her in return, even though she has booths at various sporting events all year round. So I was very happy to have a chance to repay her kindness when she needed a promotional dartboard for her jewellery booth. She had an idea of what she wanted, and we brainstormed on how to achieve it. We got a round piece of plexiglass cut, and then I drew a dartboard pattern on it and painted it with bright acrylic colours. She got personalized darts to complete the game. The whole project was a big success, with her customers loving the playful aspect of the promotion.


It looks like a tropical location, but it's actually Victoria,

Of course, Denise was overly grateful and brought me a gorgeous orchid for the studio. So my good deed was already rewarded, right? Well, actually the biggest reward has been that I had to buy a compass to draw the dartboard. And having a compass has caused me to paint dartboard patterns everywhere. In the past months, here are some of the layers I’ve painted.





  

So you see, creative ideas can come from all kinds of places, even good deeds. Does this inspire you to do something nice for someone today?

Scandinavian Top Ten

This summer we travelled to Scandinavia, specifically to Denmark and Sweden. We began in Copenhagen, drove north through Denmark, took a ferry to Sweden and made our way to Stockholm.

I’d never been to this part of Northern Europe before, and it was incredible. We’ve been trying to maintain that holiday feeling by trying to bring little reminders of our trip back home, I’m lighting tea lights at mealtime, eating a homemade granola I developed after a fabulous hotel breakfast, and watching the TV series, Bron/Broen, which I highly recommend.

Of course, we did all the regular tourist things like canal cruises and castle tours, but we also hit art museums wherever possible, especially contemporary ones. Here are my top ten art highlights.

1. I wandered into the tiny Charlottenburg Museum in Copenhagen, simply because it was across the street from our apartment and I had a free hour. First I saw a local MFA show of mixed quality, but when I got to the top floor, there was an exhibition of two text artists: Simon Evans and Öyvind Fahlström.


If someone had told me I’d fall in love with an artist who used paper, ballpoint pen, scotch tape, and litter to make art, I would have thought they were nuts. But Simon Evans’s work is incredible. He balances obsessiveness, humour, and order to create incredible work. I could look for hours at his pieces; they look like the output of a creative genius locked in a cubicle with only office supplies. Unfortunately photos (and especially my crummy photos) do not do justice to his intricate works and he doesn't seem to have a website, so google him and check him out.
 
A close-up, where you can see a dissected mouse and his intricately-taped paper.



2. The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, located just outside Copenhagen, is a gorgeous contemporary art space right on the water. We got to see a Pop Art and Design show, which was excellent. I’ve noticed that I’ve seen a lot of incredible American art while I’m in Europe, but I guess the best art transcends nationalities. At the Louisiana, I discovered the obsessive work of Tara Donavan, an artist turning things as mundane as drinking straws and nails into art.


This giant sculpture was made from strips of film.
My favourite piece at the Louisiana was the permanent Yayoi Kusumi installation, “Gleaming Light of the Souls,” which you enter into. It’s a mirrored room of glass, water, and lights, which both delighted me and took me back to the disco days of my youth.




3. At the National Gallery of Denmark, I wandered through the works of many interesting Danish artists I had not encountered before. Afterwards, I found that I could learn more about them from the excellent museum website. But I was particularly struck by this huge painting by Poul Gernes, because it reminded me so much of the circle paintings I've been doing, right down to the painted metallic surface. His was done in 1925-26, and I swear I've never seen it before!





4. I loved Your Rainbow Panorama at the top of the Aros Museum in Aarhus, Denmark. It’s a fantastic multi-coloured transparent tunnel by Olafur Eliasson. The city of Aarhus is all around you, reflected in different colours as you walk through.
 
From the Aros website, the wider view.
Me, in the purple and pink section naturally.


 5. Also in Aarhus, we saw the Sculpture By The Sea exhibition, which consists of more than 60 sculptures set along a walkway beside the ocean. Lots of humourous works, including a simulated car crash/landfill and my favourite: a giant message in a bottle. Since the Danes love to picnic outside in the summer, it was the perfect blend of cultural activity and sea breezes. The path was filled with Danes of all ages, and tourists like us.

It's the scale that makes art pop.
Many international artists had to scrounge their raw materials, so lots of garbage was used.

6. Sometimes the building rivals the art inside. In Moderna Museet Malmö, everything was orange: the exterior, the interior, the furniture, even the elevator. But inside we did see the installation at the top of this post: Scandinavian Pain by Ragnar Kjartnsson. Originally a huge empty barn where the artist enacted the tortured lonely life of Nordic artists, here the barn was combined with the paintings of tortured Nordic artist, Edvard Munch.




7. Loved the modernist architecture of Malmo, Sweden. A huge area of the city has been redeveloped as modern condos, all with water views of the ports that were formerly shipyards. Also in this development is the famous Turning Torso building.




8. Did you know that Stockholm has a whole island of museums? I chose to visit the Moderna Museet, of course and it was amazing. There was a Niki de Saint Phalle retrospective, I always liked her big, bright female figures but I had no idea how dark and Freudian her oeuvre was. But the art student in me rejoiced as I got to see so many artworks that I had studied in art history like Tatlin’s Tower. 



And then this epic sculpture:


 Yes, Raushenberg’s goat! Amazing to see it, literally in the flesh.


9. Also at the Moderna Museet, I got to stand in the middle of four Gerhardt Richter paintings. For me, that’s better than drugs.




10. My favourite part of the many sights in Scandinavia was seeing the many and varied crowds enjoying the art. To see school kids laughing and pretending to bow down before an Andy Warhol painting, showed me they understood his importance in the canon. To see young families at the Louisiana, enjoying the art, and then playing among the Richard Serra sculptures on the wide green lawn. To have the rail employee tell us what train to get to a museum, and then say how much he envied that we were getting to go there. To see young men together, drinking beer, and wandering through the Sculptures by the Sea. It all showed that art is not elitist in Scandinavia.

And there is so much art! Vancouver and Copenhagen have the same populations, but where Vancouver has two art museums, Copenhagen has 10 art and architecture museums! Whenever I go to Europe, I am blown away by the sheer appreciation of art.


It's like tag, except you have to wear a wolf mask if you're it.