Several years back, I was looking through a brochure for the McMichael Gallery Juried Show and I was seeing all this work that looked just like what I had been doing – pictures of beautiful landscapes. This is a crowded field. Around the same time, I would be watching C.S.I.-N.Y. and to show that the action was going back to the lab, these amazing aerial shots would be spliced in. We’d be flying over the tops of skyscrapers at reach-out-and-touch height. The magnificent angular abstracts formed from buildings were reminiscent of paintings by Hoffman or Mondrian. The slow pan that amplified the radical perspective gives the feel of dropping into. I could watch a whole show of just these shots.
I wanted to paint what I saw. I started in a very primitive way.
Going to New York and hiring a helicopter and getting a better camera and learning to take great pictures was beyond doing. I rented DVD’s of C.S.I.-N.Y. and watched a season in fast forward pausing when I found a possible image and shooting the T.V. screen with a film camera. I shot two rolls of film but when I got back the prints I had only one or two useable images. One of them became the painting “C.S.I.-N.Y.”
This method of image capture wasn’t working for me, so with trepidation I turned to the internet. IMAGE OVERLOAD. I scrolled through innumerable photos until, finally, I found a shot I liked – Times Square done for a Newsweek article.
At around the same time, my friend Carmen – who designed the Domestic Picasso Catalogue and is featured in the drip painting of Pollock upending the Thanksgiving table (she says I gave her a red nose) – had a plan to make industrial fixtures to suit loft spaces. As a possible bedspread I ordered a truck tarp from Tarp-man (who was actually tarp-lady) . She sewed up this eight foot square, treated “Cordova” canvas tarp with a heavy border and grommets. Carmen and I tossed this monstrous thing on a bed and instantly discovered it was not a workable idea. So now I had a spare eight foot square canvas. The treated side wasn’t going to be good for painting but the underside was useable. I prepped it like a floor cloth- four coats of sanded emulsion. The surface is like a plaster wall. The brush sticks a bit and the paint soaks in quickly. Image and canvas united to become “Squared Times”. Give it ten coats of varnish and it could be the living room rug.
The pictures all look like they were done by the same guy even though the images originated in numerous different places. My brother Jay sent me photos he’d taken from a trip up the Empire State Building. He was the source for “Blue N.Y.” and ” Pinstripe Suit”. Moira, my sister , who works in a very tall office tower supplied the original for “T.O.Boogie”. Anne , my significant other, took the photo that resulted in “Vancouver Mosaic”. The two Paris pieces and “Out MOMA’s Window” were my own shots.
By far , the largest source for material was a photo shoot by David Acker for the Denver Post. I never used Acker’s whole image, just chunks. Pieces of his photos are the basis of – “Three Eyed King”, “Edge of Empire”, “PAN AM”, “Isaac and Rebecca”, “Bavaria”, “Dancing in the Street”, “Portrait”, and “Mother and Child” and “Grids and Vanishing Points”. A fact peculiar to source appropriation is I have probably examined the photographs in greater detail than the photographer ever did. It’s funny to look at Ackers full pictures and to pick out my paintings that now reside in them.
We were doing a house-painting job for a couple who had a photo mural of the flat iron building leaning against the patio doors. I watched the light stream through it as we ate lunch and I found myself thinking how much I wanted to paint it. I later Googled Flat iron building N.Y. , I pulled up all kinds of images but not the one I was looking for. I finally found it under IKEA / Angelo Cavalli . If you want the photo mural IKEA’s where you get it. I found and used a photo I liked even better by Joseph Eta.
Why paint a picture of a commercially available print? It seems kinda crazy. The reason is-it becomes something other. This is true of all the pieces.
Doing a picture from a source is like assembling the unfamiliar from an instruction manual. It’s a little like doing a jig saw puzzle. Often I’ll see a shape in the source, turn to the canvas to see where it goes, turn back to check it and it has vanished. A lot of the capture has to be quick and confident. The drawing is a guide but the colouration and the shading require a lot of looking and then, accurate interpretation in pigment.
After the drawing is on and the under painting is complete, aspects of the calligraphy start taking on lives of their own. The pictures become populated with images that morph into other images, opening up a strange Rorschach inkblot world.
If you look carefully you will begin to see a tambourine man, a mermaid , elephants and ray guns, a baboon, a slobbering drooling monster and creatures from the deep. Even words begin appearing.
In the picture of the Flat Iron Building I call “Ironed Flat” you will find the mermaid. She morphs into a loud puffy-faced creature like Divine, a horse gallops down the roadway as buildings look down with bemused expressions.
The full title of “The Three Eyed King” should be “The Three Eyed King and his giant robot who casts the shadow of a sea monster”. There’re other things happening as well. The crawling baby seems to be strangling an elastic bodied duck creature. A toothless crocodile hovers. The soothing aqua colour of the street calms the nerves and the green of the roof at the bottom provides as many minerals as a salad. I hope the viewer can travel into the pictures by following the obvious images and branching out to find their own. As in a trance i want the viewer to feel the shapes and rhythms and patterns unfold around them.
“Dancing in the Street” should perhaps return to its first name of ‘Faces in the Street” as it should be Detroit or Philadelphia P.A. to wear the moniker correctly. The faces were obvious, the dancing happened when I gave it a conservative frame.
I was re-reading sections of the book “Rembrandt’s Eyes”, seeing in the reproductions, paint mastery to make you weep. Once I saw these two buildings as a couple, I was reminded of the “Jewish Bride- Isaac and Rebecca” and so that’s what this picture is about. On the left is Isaac with his enormous smokestack and related appendage. He has creepy hands reaching out to his larger somewhat bland Mrs. She seems a bit dazed.
Other anthropomorphic pictures are “Mother and Child” (two buildings in a delicate relationship), and “Portrait” (a vertigo inducing – portrait).
Not all the pictures work in this way. The ones I took the photos for are all fairly normal realist paintings.(this may say something about my photography). In the case of “Out MOMA’s Window” and “Paris-Metro” what’s most interesting is how they are painted. “MOMA” looks the way it does because it is painted on an unprimed panel. If there is a message beyond Connolly’s Restaurant Pub it might be that I’m looking out the window instead of at the rooms full of art behind me. But that was only true of the moment, I did look at a lot of pictures. “Paris-Metro” is painted in Marbelux, a commercial wall coating that I have treated as negative fresco. Instead of plastering the wall and painting it, I have applied the coloured plaster to the surface. It is even more awkward than painting with stucco. Marbelux won’t even drip. It’s like painting with extra thick, extra sticky cake icing. It’s a difficult medium to use. In the power outage my tins froze and I lost seventy-five dollars worth of Marbelux.
The “Cityscapes” show had it debut at the Wychwood Gallery now named the Peter McKendrick Community Gallery. Don – from “Peace of Mind Art Transport Co” – drove the pieces to the gallery. It was the first warm day in months. In shirtsleeves we went to lunch. Anne came by later and rearranged my order, making it pronouncedly better. She has an aptitude for seeing the large picture and curated the show to the betterment of all the pieces. A beautiful day, a beautiful show, everything was looking sunny. Then – the next day was one of the worst blizzards of the winter – figures. By opening night the world was back in the “let’s stay home” deep freeze. A huge thank you to all those devoted art lovers who ventured out and were so supportive of my efforts. An extra special thank you to those who purchased pieces. I’m sorry more people couldn’t see the show- it was only up for six days. I have contemplated remounting “Cityscapes” but I’m already on the next idea so I’m not sure. You may have to settle for seeing it on line.
Whitby – April / 2014