I am most often described as being a landscape painter, and I suppose I am, but I am not of the 'scenic' variety. I don't seek out and record the novel or search for impressive natural splendour to depict. I consider that a form of 'artistic tourism', getting a small taste of an alien locale, recording quick sketches of a place you have no real connection to, and then elaborating the theme from faint and passing impressions. The result, more often than not, is that you create mole-hills out of mountains.
I prefer to paint subjects on a more modest and familiar scale, weeds, rocks, trees which are found in my own backyard, 400 acres worth. When I paint small themes on a large scale, I gain rather than lose a sense of monumentality.
I wouldn't call what I do 'realistic' but something more like 'believable'. An intimate engagement with what I paint is essential. Even in non-landscape pieces like the still life in my show, I required intimacy with my subject. The art and books depicted are from my own collection. If I didn't actually own these pieces, but just copied them from an art book, it would have been an empty exercise. The collecting of the objects was part of the art-making process, many years in the making.
I like the traditional format of doing watercolour sketches first, then doing an elaborated version later. This allows me to explore memory and imagination fully as it relates to the place, allows me to elaborate, simplify and anamorphisize as needed. The distortions caused by misperceptions are just as important as the raw data that one could collect by photography. Strangely enough, the finished painting feels more real than the on the spot product.
Impressionism has its limitations. The concern about accurate depiction is there, but it must give way to the needs of good 'picture making' and good 'paint pushing'. I want to find a middle ground between realism and abstraction, using no more of either than necessary.
I avoid details showing a 'moment in time', like a bird in flight, because it trivializes the subject by placing a limit on the experience. For that reason I either play down or even banish cast shadows.
If it took hours to do the sketch and months for it to sit around until used, then weeks to finish the piece, I would like the work to reflect, in some way, the passing of time, maybe implying that the plants depicted are still in the act of growing: The scene being an average representation rather than a snapshot frozen in time.
Painting is What I do, Nature is What I Like
An Intimate Approach to Landscape
I was born in 1957 and raised in North York, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto, where I began painting at the age of 13. My allied activities at this time were geology, chemistry and natural science. My interest in nature was more toward the experience, rather than understanding it. Exploring and experiencing the city ravines directly influenced me to become an artist. As this landscape did not include panoramic views, such as landscapes or forest interiors, weeds and rocks, this approach has remained with me throughout the years and only recently have I begun to paint skies, a much broader subject.
I find the further away from me a subject is, the less connection and interest I have in it. My satisfaction remains in making 'a mountain out of a molehill'. To me, the smaller a subject is the more monumental it seems. I seldom leave my 160 hectare farm in Bruce county to sketch. It's all here - I'm an extreme regionalist.
I don't use photographs as part of the painting process. I feel it is critical to get the details right and record both one's perceptions and misperceptions. The on-site experience allows me to choose which elements to emphasize, where to abstract, and, where to simplify or detail.
When I paint a large oil version of a smaller field sketch, the work goes through another level of transformation. Often, the finished work seems more real or believable than the former.
Site is very important - broad 'scenic' landscape is akin to tourist post cards or snapshots. When I sketch an unfamiliar site, I feel that I fail to catch its essence. I prefer a site that I can revisit often and get to know intimately. This enables me to go beyond impressionism to a more holistic approach.
Sometimes it takes me only hours to do a watercolour sketch but then it sits around for months. When I do the finished work, it may again take a few weeks. This enables me to depict the scene in the fullness of time, as if the herbs and trees are growing and dying before my eyes. One way of achieving this effect is by banishing objects that take me to an exact moment in time, e.g.. a bird in flight or a falling leaf. I also de-emphasize shadows for this same reason.
Unlike most nature artists, I'm quite ignorant about the names of plants. It's something I don't need to know. To prevent myself from painting in a finicky style, I always paint the smallest possible detail with my largest possible brush. I'm happy that this business of painting allows me to shamelessly exploit nature, without having to destroy it. I'm left with the option, if not duty, to improve on it.
The major artistic influences on my career have been: Emily Carr, Vincent Van Gogh, The Group of Seven, and several Chinese painters of the Sung Dynasty. When not painting, I'm an avid TV watcher, mostly cartoons, and reader of art, history and religion. As well, I write poetry and play the stock market.