Wednesday, 18 December 2013

 Observation # 7
Observations During  painting of  cousin Terry's Farm:

    Over the years I have painted pictures of dozens of family farms, residences, churches,barns schools, even factory workplaces- buildings that have significance for those who lived in them or otherwise used them. When a relative asked me to make a painting of her childhood home  a part of me said : "Oh no I thought I was finished with that topic !" but a relative is a relative so I agreed.
           While doing the painting I took pictures everyday for the  3 weeks it took me to finish the work. Then of course I said to myself : why take the pictures if no one will ever see them ?....thus the Blog entry that follows...which may or may not be something anyone other than another illustrator painter would be interested in.
                           First a bit of background ( you can check out when my 800 words are up.)
    My earliest experience drawing a building (an architectural structure!), was during my first year at OCA.
(now called OCAD) The course was, as I recall, called Field Studies. I chose a building along Lake-shore Blvd -the Redpath Sugar Plant -no longer there I suspect. I spent the entire day (missing my afternoon classes) trying to solve the problems of perspective and proportion -so many confusing shapes to control. It was around that time I saw works by other truly talented students, works much more advance than my beginner stuff that made a strong impression on me-  Previous to that I never thought I would like drawing buildings and if I had not been exposed to the works of those truly talented students I would not likely have seen the potential in such subjects.
                The drawing I did wasn't very impressive but I was surprised that I rather got to enjoy the process of judging the angles and shapes in buildings on the streets of Toronto -especially in Kennsington Market. The Market then was a brand new experience for me with live chickens and the smell of fresh fish and fresh pastry and an overall foreign feel with languages I had never heard before- a fun place to sit and draw..In my second year at OCA I got the dream job for an art  student -a part time night  'grave yard shift' job as a security guard. In the dozen or so places I 'guarded' in Toronto I filled a sketchbook with what I saw around me  on the streets or in the factories.
             Later as I experimented with various subjects I noticed on my trips home to Kingsbridge that there were dozens of old houses in the area where I grew up and walked to school and rode my bicycle to fishing creeks. Later when I got my licence and could drive and worked for local farmers as a teenager in summer jobs, I came in contact with many of the other old abandoned farm houses in the area.
          When I began to draw those places I knew as a kid, I started to feel like this was a subject that spoke to me. When I was a child the community around Kingsbridge seemed to have an unusually high number of seniors- 'older' bachelors- retired old farmers who lived in the same house they grew up in, or close by. I knew them all and when I entered my last years at art College most of them were deceased but their houses still stood. It seems like it would be ungrateful not to mention an Artist mentor Eric Friefeld-an instructor at OCA. He and his work provided me with a lot of inspiration, validation and encouragement to do what I was doing, at a time when other well meaning instructors said I should be doing work that was more 'current'.
                    I knew what they meant and even agreed with them, but I kept being called to by the voices and ghosts of those old places and spaces.
        Often the houses of the old folks were left unlocked when the old folks went to the 'Home'. Many of them never came back to pack up their belongings. On weekends I would wander through those places taking many photographs.These were not houses that were built for the ages, as some of the stone houses built before the turn of the century were. It became clear as time passed and the rural agricultural society changed that they would soon be taken down.
    As part of a photography course in my 3rd year I took hundreds of black and white  photographs of those old places.One of the greatest losses of my life as a painter was when the roof leaked over a garage in a house we were renting in Guelph and my boxes and boxes of negatives were destroyed. However  I  did retain quite a few slides.
       All the old houses are now gone but not before I managed to a explore quite a few of them. For me they were like stage sets -full of the presence of those who had walked off that stage years before but had left the set as it was when the curtain came down their time was up.

     When I started this Seventh 'Observation' my intention was to present a step by step (almost) series of observations on painting my most recent farm 'scene'. I use the word 'scene' cautiously here because it is so often associated with the typical rural images one sees in calendars and sentimental illustrations of a  bucolic countryside.
   However now that I've been reflecting on how I got interested in painting buildings, maybe I'll toss in a few examples of early works on the theme.These will be works from the abandoned houses(buildings) series that apparently I am not finished with yet!

This is a drawing from 1969- one of the oldest drawings I had still had in my possession at the time I retired in 2003.
It was done in Ripley while on a painting trip with some college friends.During a trip to Lake Huron from Toronto,when we found ourselves in a worn out little village called Ripley .The students from the city were impressed by the  run-down old fashioned look of the place and we spent a few hours drawing and painting.
Little did I know that 34 years later my wife Ruth would open a Pottery shop in Ripley where we spent close to a decade- Ruth making Pots and I making Paintings-good years.
this is the corner of Queen St and Huron St  done on that same trip
the building on the left became Ruth's Potter/Gallery 34 years later.

Before final renovations were done I did a study in ink . The Original doors and windows
were replaced thanks to landlord David Brown and this corner building served as a
great spacious light filled gallery for our work for 8 years

 -a look at some of the shop/gallery area
where the real work got done

....where I hung out

...and did some drawing on Ruth's pottery
....still doing buildings, in this case
the Point Clark light house.

Back to the old buildings topic about 1970 just after OCA

An early Painting of a deserted house just north of Guelph on Hwy 6.
This was started as an under painting -imprimatura ,but I liked it as a monochrome so
left it that way.

Another old building just upstream  from the meeting of the Irving and Grand rivers
 -this time an Etching with aquatint from a copper plate. Etching- Intaglio was something I did a lot of while at the University of Guelph-found an excellent pair of Printmakers there -Walter Bachinski and Gene Chu-I
learned a lot from those two men.
This one was done during a great time in a Shop/Studio-Gallery in Elora with a couple of
 University of Guelph pals-good friends- Barry McCarthy and Werner Zimmermann.
 We each have good memories of a generous patron Bill Robinson.

 This is typical drawing of a church that was turned into a home -
 one of many drawings and paintings  that helped to pay the rent during the Ripley years

This one  is an example of a drawing done while inside one of the abandoned houses
This was done while still at OCA and was one of dozens I did while sitting in rooms
surrounded by ghosts of the past-at least it felt that way.
Sitting and drawing for 8 or 9 hours noticing all the things from the lives of the previous
dwellers often caused me to think of how brief life is and how impermanent everything is.....

Mabels's Kitchen-I spent a lot of hours here a midst scurrying  mice, 
 sleeping bats, a raccoon who grumpily waited for me to leave and the old paraphernalia 
of the people who once lived there.
It seems to surprise a lot of people that places like this really did exist and were
 suddenly abandoned-but some of the old folks must have had no relatives
 and their old neighbors had already gone to the home or had  shucked off this mortal coil-
in some cases decades before anyone got around to checking out 
those old houses that were overgrown with trees and bushes-
That reminds me of a place I went into at least 2 decades ago 
and it is still there !

From October of 2013- I draw the line at entering some places without a hard hat
and even then...I know I have photographs of this place from much earlier days.
Maybe I'll go back and poke around next spring.

 -a study done from a small sketch and photographs from a trip to Ireland-none of the Ontario ruins
I used to poke around in could be called 'old' when one thinks of what my old relatives here used to
refer to as 'the old country' 
this was somewhere in County Cork
-the land of my Paternal ancestors

About 1979 I went into an old barn with the boards falling off
and the top floor falling in.This was a barn that stopped being used suddenly while it
was still one of those very authentic 'Family Farm' barns-with evidence of chickens and pigs
 and cows and horses-as well as being a great place to draw I thought if I could design a stage set
with this kind of feeling, any old play would be successful in that space.
While sitting there I kept wondering if those timbers above  might just collapse on me.
I did two more versions of this place on it's way to  total decay.

a poster for an exhibition that was mostly old buildings
a pretty poor example of poster design-neglected to include
the date which was 1990

     that dumpy lookin guy found himself selecting a door from the back porch
 of an old house as the main image for  a poster
for an Exhibition in Harriston in Spring 2013  -thanks Wesley Bates and Tony Tsotros

an example of a work I had to start and finish at the site
-that is ice on the pond

the 'shop' after all renovations

This has been a very brief look at  48 years of  only one subject  in the drawings and paintings
that I have messed around with. To keep it from getting too long I'll not include the last few works in this series that I finally finished after  more years than I care to mention.
I'll save the two 'Attic' paintings and the Bookish Family painting for another time.

I'd like to return now to my original plan of depicting and saying a bit about how and why I draw and paint
using my latest and maybe last work in the family farm series- cousin Terry's farm.That will be next time.

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