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Painting cycles

Exhibiting a group of paintings marks a natural end to what I think of as a cycle of work. For me that cycle really ends a couple months before the exhibition. Yesterday was the last day of my show at Yumart, Ways of the World, but I completed the paintings around the end of January to give the oil paint plenty of drying time.

I work on groups of paintings rather than individual paintings and for Ways of the the World, I prepared 17 small canvases and panels going in. I like to surround myself with a lot of painting ideas and I paint in a small basement studio, so at times there are paintings up on a pegboard, paintings leaning against various items, lying on the floor, and so on. I also like to remove and add paintings to the mix I’m working on because it changes the dynamics, the relationship of the various ideas I’m messing with at the time.

And then the painting cycle comes to an end. I left one unfinished panel in the studio back in January. I was just out of juice. I’ll hide that one away in a corner of the studio for a while and one day I’ll add it in to a new group and see what happens. Having an exhibition gives me a welcome opportunity to consider the works as a group on some clean walls outside the studio.

This time, as it is most times, I look at the paintings and wonder how it is I made these things. At the heart of it, after all these years painting is still that mysterious to me.  Maybe that’s what drives me back for more. I recall years ago a sculptor I knew was asked where his images came from, where he got them. He thought about it for a moment and said, “I make ’em up.” Of course that kind of answer is usually not welcome. What is expected is a little capsule that sums up in English what the paintings are all about. Those little capsules may be handy but I don’t think they are usually all that helpful.

I’ve been thinking about a new cycle of paintings. I’ll go in with a bunch of ideas or images or motifs or whatever. Starting points. I need them, but usually I dispense with them along the way. I admire painters who conceive of a group of works and then execute in a linear and straightforward way. That is never the case with my work and there have been times when my inability to think about painting that way was very frustrating to me. These days I’ve come to terms with it. My paintings don’t happen quickly and the results are often unexpected, at least to me.

For quite some time, I’ve been making small paintings, what some people might derisively call “easel paintings”. This was not always the case. For instance, there is The Source, which I exhibited in a show called Canadian Shield back in the late 90s. It’s a big diptych, maybe 10 feet across

The Source

The Source

I had a storage unit full of works of that scale (a number of which no longer exist), paintings I was unable to find homes for, but for years couldn’t bear to part with, paintings that for the most part could only hang in exhibition spaces. However, I enjoyed stretching out and working on canvases big enough that I could barely reach all parts of them.

As well, I admire painters who work on a truly grand scale. I recall back when I was in university, Picasso’s Guernica was hanging at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. I was used to seeing small pictures of it in art books and I wasn’t prepared for the experience of walking into the room and seeing this gigantic painting stretched out in front of me. It stopped me in my tracks.

Maybe one day I’ll work on a large scale again – I’m not discounting that as a possibility. Right now, I’m more interested in making paintings people can live with, paintings that can hang in a living room or a bedroom or a bathroom or a basement or a bathroom, paintings that can be part of someone’s everyday life, and the next cycle of paintings will again be modest in size.

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