Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Last February I was working on the first three Angel No paintings. Three went to XeXe Gallery, and a triptych went off to La Petite Mort gallery. Then, I more or less stopped work for awhile afterwards for some scheduled medical maintenance. The six months break I initially planned grew as I felt the need to recharge. It's been about nine months or so, now. Nine months without producing new work, or feeling any novel creative oomph.

I tend to berate myself when I'm not nagging myself to think up new things, or forcing myself to "produce". But I've had to remind myself that I've been painting as a full-time occupation now since 1995, and, until a few years ago, been working on the side at one job or another at the same time. Needing a break is a very natural thing.

I'm feeling very, very shy about getting back to work. That's a wonderful feeling, because it's so gentle. To not get back to work, exactly, but to come more into loving it.

It's hard to love something inconsistent, though - or something that we're inconsistent in relation to. I wonder and worry a lot about producing or not producing, the role and capability of art anywhere now - especially painting, and of my own capabilities.

At one time I could love art more easily, because it seemed so much more grand, steadfast and certain than I was. Maybe, out there, somehow, it still is. The last five years have shown me, though, that art is as fragile as I am. As fragile as we are. It's not something imperial, unchanging, unendingly beautiful and amazing. If we're weary, it can weary. If we're sick and tired, it might just annoy and reproach us. The mystery shrinks to indecipherability, the composed to the contrived. The culture to the commodity. It can fail.

I wish I knew where the keys were to reliably seeing it through. I wish the cultural situation was a bit different, that the atmosphere was more rich in artistic vitamins. There's lots of remarkable and beautiful social creativity going on, but not a lot involving mere linseed oil and canvas. Early twenty-first century Toronto is a long way from wherever painting was deeply venerated, whenever that was.

To be an artist here is to be soft, irrational, suspect, perhaps useless.

In the book and then, you act (making art in an unpredictable world), the author Anne Bogart writes:
"The South African writer Antje Krog described meeting a nomadic desert poet in Senegal who described the role of poets in his culture. The job of the poet, he explained to her, is to remember where the water holes are. The survival of the whole group depends on a few water holes scattered around the desert. When his people forget where the water is, the poet can lead them to it".

This is a lovely, self-satisfying metaphor. But now, the group is so populous, so inventive, it has wandered so far from the original water holes...who can say they haven't found streams, lakes, rivers, or even a beer parlour or two? Sailing and firewater, soda pop, candy bars and sushi. Electricity, antidepressants, gaming and factory beef?

There's no way that I can see that oil painting will ever speak again with the cultural voice and authority it posessed one hundred years ago. C'est la vie, I suppose. Certainly I wouldn't want to live back in a world without bleach, antibiotics, electricity and proper sewers. Not to mention a Monarchic state control on official art production. Times have changed. It puts oil painting in a strange and tacky position, though: something along the lines of an ingratiating novelty, a boutique luxury item or persistent superstition.

Although art shouldn't be merely tied to utility - what artist doesn't want their work to be meaningful to society? A sense of shared worth is the social currency that presages commerce - and esteem.

I think the thing is now, the tribe has moved on. You can move on with them, if you can live with yourself, not honouring all the poetry in your head. If it won't drive you crazy. You can turn those old poems into cults or pop songs. Or, you can sit by your very own water hole like at some inverse altar, repeating obliquities to whoever chances by at intervals. Get defensive, get generous? Maybe dig some new ones. Maybe start a new group. I don't know.
But whatever the case, the choices, the roles and the social support aren't what they used to be.

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