Why I paint

Summer is captured in the sweet taste and glow of a strawberry. (Strawberry. Oil on canvas. 6×6”. 2017.)

 

Painting has become a compulsion of sorts, in the very best sense of the word.

I spend hours each week thinking about my paintings–mentally working out compositions, values, colours; considering how I will mix my colours to get the hues and shades I want; even thinking about the gorgeous texture of the oil paint and how I’ll create the brush marks. By the time I get to in front of the easel on the weekend, I have spent hours painting in my head.

The process of physically painting then is a sort of meditative affair. I immerse myself in the experience–in the colours, the smell, the textures, the sounds, the feel. Yes, I really do love the smell of oil paints!

 

I have always been driven to create, for as long as I can remember. Painting, drawing, sewing, baking, photography, and even writing or music at times. I don’t know why or where the urge to create comes from, but I am sure it is somewhere deep inside.

Three paintings in my rabbit series, developed from some work I did in high school and first year uni. (Acrylic on canvas, 10×8”).

 

For a long time, I saw my inability to settle on one form or medium as a negative thing. That I was less serious a maker because I couldn’t dedicate myself to just one way of expression. Now, I realize that my diversity of expression is not a drawback, but a benefit. The various forms of expression enrich and complement each other.

When I design sewing projects, I am thinking about colour and texture and how to take an idea in my head to a 2D pattern to a 3D creation. I spend ages in the fabric store choosing fabric that contrasts or matches in colour, texture, and hand.

When I photograph things, I delight in details, in finding what I think is the essence of a place, an object, an experience. I am thinking about colour and texture and shadow and light. I am thinking about how I can (hopefully) make the viewer contemplate the small details of nature that are too easily overlooked. I am thinking about how I can capture the feel of a place in a single photo of a seemingly insignificant detail.

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It’s all about the little things.

All of these modes seem to come together in my painting. I am taking 3D compositions and presenting them on a 2D surface. I am thinking about form, colour, shadow, light, texture. As much as possible, I am using my own photographs and, hopefully, presenting everyday or insignificant items in a new way, in a way that forces the viewer to recognize their beauty.

My reference photo for my garlic painting. The beautiful hues of purple and the papery texture attracted me. I like the drama of drop-out black.

As a youngster I created a ‘studio’ space in my parent’s unfinished basement. It was my space to create, and gifts of art and craft supplies found their way there. Art class projects I couldn’t bear to part with wound up there–a plaster lion mask, an elephant head made from strips of cardboard, and my OAC final project on détruis and debris.

But painting really started for me, I think, in my last year of university in Toronto. In blissful ignorance of what I didn’t know, I took myself off to a Loomis & Tooles and stocked up on pots of Golden acrylic paint. I propped my canvas up against a bookshelf and painted away.

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One of my very first ‘proper’ paintings, done from a photograph I took during my exchange year at Swansea. I even got it framed! (Acrylic on canvas, 11×9, 2002).

As life got busy, I drifted away from painting. But painting now has a hold of me again, and perhaps even stronger now.

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My first painting class after about a decade of not painting. I see the imperfections, but oh, how I enjoyed painting that fluff! Painted from my own photo. Full fluffy heads of dandelion seed are kinda boring—decay is much more interesting! (Acrylic on canvas board, 2016).

In November 2016 I sat down in my first painting class (and my first art class since the late 90s). I went home from that first class with my arms just aching to continue painting. My teacher became my mentor, and convinced me to give oil painting a try. So, in the summer of 2017, I had my first lessons with oil–and loved it.

My first oil painting. I couldn’t get over how luscious oil painting is and how it glows on the canvas. After Citron de Nice by Julian Marrow-Smith. (Lemon. Oil on canvas board. 11×14” 2017)

That’s when the fruit started. The glow and texture of oil painting just cries out for painting fruit and vegetables! After my first oil painting–a lemon– I started a series of fruit portraits. I use that term deliberately: As with my macro photographs, I want to present the fruit in a way that will encourage the viewer to see its beauty. The luscious fruits and dramatic shadows of Dutch masters paintings inspire me to show the glowing summer sunshine captured in delicious fruits.

Adriaen van Utrecht (1599-1652) Fruit Still Life
Adriaen van Utrecht (1599-1652) Fruit Still Life.

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Reblogged: “Why We Need to Start Seeing the Ancient World in Color”

Too often today, we fail to acknowledge and confront the incredible amount of racism that has shaped the ideas of scholars we cite in the field of ancient history.

How can we address the problem of the lily white antiquity that persists in the public imagination? What can classicists learn from the debate over whiteness and ancient sculpture?

Do we make it easy for people of color who want to study the ancient world? Do they see themselves in the ancient landscape that we present to them? The dearth of people of color in modern media depicting the ancient world is a pivotal issue here. Movies and video games, in particular, perpetuate the notion that the classical world was white.

I’m not suggesting that we go, with a bucket in hand, and attempt to repaint every white marble statue across the country. However, I believe that tactics such as better museum signage, the presentation of 3D reconstructions alongside originals, and the use of computerized light projections can help produce a contextual framework for understanding classical sculpture as it truly was. It may have taken just one classical statue to influence the false construction of race, but it will take many of us to tear it down. We have the power to return color to the ancient world, but it has to start with us.

Sarah E. Bond “Why We Need to Start Seeing the Classical World in Color” Hyperallergic. June 6, 2017.

 

religion & myth

I have heard a mythology professor bemoan students’ unfamiliarity with the Judeo-Christian religion, but never paid it much heed. It seems that in almost every first year Classics course, at some point a student will submit a paper that is a mash up of half-forgotten, half-misremembered Sunday School stories and a few facts from lecture. While in some way these are easy papers to mark, I don’t think any of us enjoy them because they are so far off the mark. Is this really something we want to encourage?

In the most recent mythology course I worked for, we endeavoured to teach students something about structuralism, which to be really successful requires knowledge of some sort of mythology aside from Graeco-Roman. Our teaching guidelines assumed that most students would have some familiarity with the Judeo-Christian mythology because of its enormous influence on western art and culture. But of the 40 students I had, not one was familiar with any of the Judeo-Christian myths referenced; I know from conversation that other classes were similar.

But the more I have thought about this professor’s comments, the more I am inclined to agree that students need exposure to religions– not for the purpose of moralizing or proselytizing (I would never support that) but so they can understand the cultural artefacts produced within these systems. Many, perhaps most, of the great works of art and literature in the western world stem from two strains of mythology: Graeco-Roman and Christian. An inability to understand a society’s mythology hampers one’s ability to understand its cultural products.

Now, I know referring to the Christian religion, or any religion, as mythology, will no doubt stir up some ire among adherents. But I use the term in its academic sense, rather than as a value judgment (I won’t touch that subject!)  Although we call these belief sets religions today, they fit the criteria of a mythology: that is, these belief systems seek to provide a comprehensive, total explanation of the cosmos. They attempt to answer questions such as where we come from, where we go when we die, why we can’t see the gods, how we should live, how we communicate with the gods, etc. Graeco-Roman mythology also addressed these questions and was once the religion of its day; While there was no set canon, it was equally diverse (if not more so) as any religion today in terms of individual beliefs.

So that leads me to think: What is the difference between religion and mythology? Is it simply a matter of time and distance– that is, if the culture is sufficiently distant from one’s one, does that make it myth? I think this is problematic as it creates a value hierarchy and considers some belief sets as more legitimate than others. Rather, I would suggest that mythology is the underlying system of understanding and that religion is the expression of this system through ritual and enforced norms; that is, the religious expression both stems from and reinforces the mythology. With time, elements of the religious expression outside of the original mythology are also incorporated into the mythology as the system is altered to maintain its currency and authority in a shifting society.

To follow this idea further, I would suggest that knowledge of mythologies is necessary to understand and appreciate art and literature produced within (or with reference to) these systems not simply for the basic story that is depicted by a painting or poem, but to understand things such as the artist’s intention, how the work relates to the artist’s contemporary society, and how the artist’s work is interpreted by different audiences. Exposure to these mythologies (religions) is necessary not only to understand what a particular work of art is about, but to understand its importance and significance in a society.