The time has come to try to write about what happened on the canvas of EVENING AND THE ARBUTUS TREE 36 x 60 inch oil on canvas.
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We can begin with the first hand experience on the evening of November 10, 2012 and the resulting reference images with the primary one being this one simply called “The Arbutus Tree.”
We can refer back to November 23, 2012 and the early beginnings of this painting, where we can still see parts of the underpainting, and the hard lines of the tree and foreground developing.
We can examine the six paintings I painted in between this stage and completing the painting on January 4, 2013 for any hints of what was to come.
“Storm Clouds over Strait of Georgia” postcard size oil on paper
“Evening Thunderclouds over the Strait of Georgia” 20 x 20 inch oil on canvas
“Reef Bay morning experienced” 14 x 18 inch oil on canvas
And these three that were painting on the same morning as I returned to work on the larger canvas bringing mostly to completion by the end of the day.
“At the Beach another time” resting 12 x 12 inch oil on canvas
Late December West Coast Sunrise resting 6 x 6 inch oil on gessobord
Pear Trees in winter first light resting 8 x 10 inch oil on canvas
We can review my contemporary colleagues whose work is often part of my daily artistic exposure. The list is long with more than 300 in my network but a few may be worthwhile considering in relation to this particular work.
The first of these colleagues being Lena Levin for her skill in using and splitting colours into intricate tensions within her paintings.
Montara Beach 16 x 20 oil on canvas panel by Lena Levin
But there are also Gabriel Boray for his boldness and commitment to exaggeration
The Fields by Gabriel Boray
Shell Rummel and her attention to design so much so that it is now being made into fabric
Water’s Edge by Shell Rummel
This is not everyone of course but just a few of my peers whose landscape paintings come to mind.
Yet, there is also my long-term and recent study and musing of historic landscape works by Emily Carr
The Shoreline by Emily Carr
and The Group of Seven
as well as the landscapes of Edward Hopper
New York, New Haven and Hartford by Edward Hopper
and Gustav Klimt
Farm House with Birch Trees by Gustav Klimt
Of course, it would be impossible not to mention the French Impressionist painters with particular attention to Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro when listing those whose work I spend time digesting.
Yes, we can do this referring, reviewing and examining of influences and though these are all relevant aspect, they are not the nub of importance. What is, I believe, most important is my conscious effort to divorce the impressionist influences of Claude Monet and the other French Impressionist painters that are so predominantly relevant and internalized in my own painting process. This notice of separation was given on or about August 5, 2012.
However, the intention of my work both in painting and photography has not changed.
What is this intention you might ask. It is roughly as follows:
To demonstrate our relationship to our natural environment and the continuity of time. What is the season? What time is it? Where is the sun? Where am I? Where are you? Where shall we meet in this canvas? How is it intended to influence us? How does it influence us? The underlying tension is that if we do not address this connection and relationship in a deep and profound way in our daily lives, humanity will parish in a spiral of its own self-destruction.
(Reference: art journal March 21, 2012)
If the intention of my work holds then I must define the problem:
I was taught to start a painting from the farthest point from me. In a landscape this is often the sky. Also, I was to establish my darkest value somewhere in the foreground (though I often forget to do this until part way through a painting). Once the composition is blocked in then, when using oils I was told to work from my darkest areas towards my lightest areas while building the whole painting up at the same time. The reverse process was recommended for water colours for obvious reasons. The intent was to paint what was there or what was seen by following the light source with more detail in the foreground and less in the back ground – a rule I break repeatedly. Further, it was recommended to paint into the shadows in search of colour, light and shapes – noting the difference between cast shadows and form shadows.
But what if this isn’t so? What if even cast shadows are part of form – a continuation of the relationship between visual and energetic space of an object? What if Form is more than Shape, more than composition and cast shadows are part of understanding the elements and there relationships in the painting – beyond position and time of day.
I have primarily set my painting intention on painting light, movement, relationship and connection. Form has been a back drop for the other actors in my paintings. Hence, at times, I have never felt I was successful in providing adequate contrast between light and dark. To be frank, I have trouble seeing the shape or form of shadow even though I understand shadow intimately due to the significant amount of time I spend in natural light. I have had no concept to explore its strength until this idea came to me.
My proposition: The form shadow and the cast shadow are both in a primary relationship with the form. They should be painted and understood as one. Both continue to be attached to our understanding and experience of the Form – and not just with the light source and the underlying subject in the shadow of the form. For example, the grass is NOT understood as grass in the shadow of the tree but rather the tree’s shadow (possessive intentional) is spread across the grass. (Reference: art journal August 5, 2012)
This proposition is what I am exploring in current paintings and this is what is behind the shift we see in EVENING AND THE ARBUTUS TREE. It is this that is the impetus for my primary separation between my impressionist foundations in recent paintings. It is not an approach that consistently holds because I find it is so easy to follow the light into the shadows and represent how it softly plays on the grass instead of letting the shadow stand on its own, sometimes harshly against the light in the evening sky or the edge of the tree trunk. What this painting is saying is that the shadows can speak for themselves in relation to the light land the form. It is a complex language but can intuitively be understood. These harsher edges are part of the stillness that comes with the beginnings of silhouettes that will soon follow as time takes us steadily towards the approaching night. This is an important voice to record in the conversation of this landscape.
In this painting the caste shadow is from the lighthouse. It is this shadow that creates the strongest bridge between the foreground and the mist in the background and the rich hues on the right where the last vestiges of the evening sun are slammed against the sandstone and shrubbery before spilling across the sea and the mist. Therefore, I did not paint a tree that was half cast in shadow. I understood that the cast shadow was important to understanding the form shadow of the tree, of this landscape’s foreground and of its relationship to the background.
These tensions would have become unintelligible if I had followed the light into the shadows to such an extent that the relationship of the caste shadow lost its importance.
So if we can now hold all of these aspects of influences in one brush stroke and then another we possibly might have some idea as to what happened on this canvas that has brought about a notable shift from previous work. Yes, the work, as some have already confirmed, is still recognizable as my painting. It is still following the same intention as earlier work. Yet, I think we might agree that the language of expression has become more refined and complex in its simplification.
What now? Will it mean that this shift becomes consistent in future work? I do not know. If we go back to the previous six paintings that were painted in between starting and completing this painting, I would guess that there will continue to be this flip-flopping between the practice of following the light and that of letting the shadows stand on their own as part of the tension and expression of the relationships in the landscape. We shall have to wait and see.
What are your own most recent attempts to discern your creative influences and intentions?
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Creative Potager – Visit with painter and photographer Terrill Welch
From Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada
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