On Where The Paintings Come From
Someone once said he climbed Mount Everest because it was there.
I make paintings because they aren't there.
There are many reasons to make art. Some think that a political or social cause is the only meaningful approach. Others like the idea of being a mirror to nature. Although I sympathize with both, neither would describe the way I work.
I have exhibited with the "On The Edge" environmental artists to support the preservation of local woods and streams, and participated in two "Reading The Waters" projects to raise awareness of the Bay (Hamilton Harbour). In these exhibitions (unlike the present one) I have used imagery which is readily recognizable by anyone: skeletons of mermaids and other "real" objects. This show, however, is further into abstraction and abstract associations.
I love what is called "nature". I feel no need to go into nature as a big game hunter to capture part of it and bring it back to civilization to hang like a stuffed moosehead on a den wall. I am nature, and my art is as natural as birds' nests and beaver dams.
This is not to say that I am not aware of "the world of art" which often seems very divorced from nature. I admire the European masters I was educated to admire, but I am North American, western hemispheric or Canadian to the bone. I have acquired a distaste for colonial attitudes.
I think artists necessarily make art from where they are, which necessarily includes where they came from. This includes psychological places as well as physical ones. When art is made from where you want to be instead of where you are, all sorts of insincerities and blindnesses will gladly support and praise you.
It seems it is the fashion in these days of multinationalism to tout the nationalism or group you came from. I have always found this a bit awkward because I am a mongrel. (I am on the avant-garde in this issue because mongrelization is surely the Canadian destiny.)
I can bow down to no national or racial group as a primary sustaining source of what I think of as "me". (My ancestors were English, Dutch, German, Scottish, French and Algonquin. The earliest of my English ancestors were Puritans who denounced England and came to Massachusetts Bay as immigrants in the 1620's. The Dutch were from New Amsterdam, the Germans from the area now known as Pennsylvania, the Scottish and French from what is now called Quebec.)
I love and honour my ancestors because that is where I came from but I feel no profound attachment to any of the picayune nationalist groups to which they happened to be born and bred. I am certainly not English, I am not Dutch and I am not Algonquin. I would not be a member of any group that would have me as a second-class member.
"Canadian" is the only sub-category that comes close to fitting me. I like the looseness of the fit. The way I think of "Canadian", it is a word incompatible with nationalism. (I would say I'm an "unhyphenated Canadian" but that sounds too much like another well-tailored and starchy sub-group.)
Sensitivity to the appropriation of voices in the arts can be found only in the absence of possessively exclusionary group-loving snobs. So, which of my roots feeds my flowers and fruits? I claim all my ancestors as mine because they are me. Even what are called feminist causes can be mine. Probably I'm not unique in this, but family legend has it that a full 50 per cent of my ancestors were female. This is where I come from.
My hopes for the paintings in this exhibition is that they will be objects with "a presence", like masks or totems or symbols or icons -- objects the viewer can confront without being the least bit concerned about the personality and opinions of the artist who made them.
These paintings were not intended as commentaries on our society with all its mad excesses and injustices. They do not openly criticize our collective way of life, but neither do they support it. They point to (and serve) a centre of the universe that has been marginalized by the dominant view of the world whose heart, attention and concerns are occupied by the economy, power and money.
With an introduction like that it would now be easy to slide into talk about art in terms of spirituality, but I want to avoid that. I think it is a mistake to isolate spirituality and talk about it as something "special" we experience, as if it wasn't the foundation of everything we say and do.
Whether we recognize it and embellish it, or ignore it and suppress it, we all are on a spiritual journey. What we do, the life we live, is necessarily a manifestation of our spirituality.
or The Widening Gyre
at the CARNEGIE GALLERY
Nov 1 - Dec 14, 2000