painting and photographic works


Jock Macdonald at the Vancouver Art Gallery

While recently in Vancouver I did what I try to do every time that I make it to that city – visit the Vancouver Art Gallery and very specifically to visit their collection of Emily Carr paintings. The Vancouver Art Gallery occupies a wonderful old building in downtown Vancouver with the top floor gallery devoted to Emily Carr. There are however 3 other floors, exhibiting other shows and what ever I can see there is just a bonus for me. See my previous post about what I saw on the Emily Carr floor on this visit.

Perhaps the highlight for me on this visit was the exhibition “Jock Macdonald: Evolving Forms“.20141116_110656_1 I must admit that before I got there, I’d heard there was an exhibit of work by the Canadian painter J. MacDonald and I just assumed it was J.E.H MacDonald, one of my favorite painters from the Group of Seven.

But wrong I was. It was a different Macdonald and while I guess I’d heard the of Jock Macdonald but never really seen his work – I got a good education!

Jock (more formally James William Galloway) Macdonald was a leading Canadian modernist painter of the 20th Century. He was born (1897) and raised in Scotland before coming to Canada in the 1920’s. He first settled in Vancouver but would live in a number of places in Canada before passing away in 1960 in Toronto after over a decade there.

His early training was as a designer and some of his early work bears the influence of commercial design. In Canada he worked with Fred Varley of the Group of Seven  and produced some fine landscape canvases that fit right in with the work of the Group.

But most significantly (and enlightening for me) was his development as a leading modernist abstract painter. In fact he was an important member of the Canadian Painters Eleven group.

20141106_162403_2Accompanying the exhibit is a fine catalog (printed by black dog publishing), that I just had to bring home with me as a reminder and reference, after seeing the exhibition.

Jock Macdonald: Evolving Forms runs at the Vancouver Art Gallery until 2015 January 4th.

[link to Jock Macdonald at the National Gallery of Canada website]


Credit to a Curator

It might be said that a curator (of an art exhibition) is doing their job when they aren’t even noticed or thought about by the visitor to an exhibit. Most of the time, I never give any thought to who the curator was or how well they did their job. The exhibit either works and I enjoy it (the art work presented) or it doesn’t really make an impression on me so I just move on.

Last week though, while visiting the Vancouver Art Gallery, I found myself thinking “This shouldn’t be working but it does – Who curated this?”

The exhibit I refer to is “Emily Carr and Landon Mackenzie: Wood Chopper and the Monkey“, described in the exhibition guide:

Engaging in a dialogue with the work of eminent British Columbia artist Emily Carr, Vancouver-based painter Landon Mackenzie presents three thematically arranged galleries with more than 50 artworks that collectively span over 100 years of landscape paintings by these two artists.

Why I was skeptical about this exhibition working is because I hold Emily Carr in such high esteem. I couldn’t imagine presenting her work with anyone but, say Tom Thomson or the Group of Seven members. Landon Mackenzie is a contemporary artist, born in 1954, whose work while including some landscape elements also extends to large abstract paintings that at first glance would seem to have no way of being connected to Carr’s work. Somehow though, the juxtaposition of the work of these two artists works and delivers and pleasing and meaningful experience.

images of paintings by Mackenzie and Carr (from the Exhibition catalog)

images of paintings by Mackenzie and Carr (from the Exhibition catalog)

This exhibit runs at the Vancouver Art Gallery from 2014 September 20 to 2015 April 6. Incidentally this exhibit is the fourth in a series of exhibitions pairing Carr’s work with that of contemporary artists from the region. It was the first one that I’ve seen (or was even aware of) but my interest is piqued.

Oh, yes, the curator? Grant Arnold, Audain Curator of British Columbia Art – BRAVO!


Gerhard Richter, A Life in Painting – a book review

I recently finished reading Gerhard Richter, A Life in Painting by Dietmar Elger (English translation by Elizabeth M. Solaro). I thoroughly enjoyed the book and the insights it provided into the life and works of Richter. I must confess that before reading this book I knew very little about this iconic German painter. The book describes his life growing up in Dresden, first under Nazi rule and then as part of communist East Germany. He became a painter under the soviet society but escaped to the West  in 1961, shortly before the infamous Berlin wall was built.

The book describes Richter’s life in West Germany – his friends and associates, the galleries where he showed his work. At the time Richter was noted for his paintings that looked like black and white (and later color) photographs. He often used newspaper photographs as the reference source for these paintings. In the late sixties he was inspired to do something different and that was to paint elaborate “color charts”. At another phase of his career he painted landscapes in a most serene, classical sense. Richter continued to change and explore different forms of expression including what might be called pure abstract paintings, “photo” paintings of politically charged images from the terrorist activities in Germany in the 1980’s, some interesting works with glass and mirrors and some huge commissions including a stained glass window for the Cologne Cathedral and a huge installation in the Reichstag in Berlin. The book is illustrated with lots of examples (78 plates) of Richter’s work through the years so one gets a good feel for each of these phases in his career.

If you know nothing about Gerhard Richter, this book would be a good place to start and if you want to retain a reference of his life and work this would be a good one to have in your library. The book was written in 2002 and translated in 2009. An excerpt from the book may be read here.

Heather Horton – Painter and Explorer

I would like to draw your attention to one of my favorite contemporary Canadian painters. Her name is Heather Horton and she paints compelling (and mainly) figurative works, in a realistic and emotional style . Her rendering of  faces and fabrics is truly breathtaking.

Not only do I admire her painting talent but I am also envious of how she lives life,  her travels and adventures. As she describes it:

“I have traveled a lot over the past two years. A LOT. I believe travel is the best education certainly, yet there is a time and place for it. As a painter, I need a quiet studio, without frenetic energy, in which to create.”

That quiet studio is at her home base in Burlington, Ontario. She is not exaggerating about a lot of travel – just from what I can recall, in the last year she has traveled to Turkey, southern France and Paris, a few points across the central U.S., New Orleans, Alaska, and the Yukon (and I’ve probably missed a few).

On top of all this travel in the last year, Heather has been very involved  in a major project on the life and travels of Christopher McCandless. – a fascinating and tragic story that you can find out about in the Wikipedia synopsis of Into the Wild, the Sean Penn-directed film from 2007.  This project involves a series of paintings that Horton has produced. Paintings from the McCandless project will be exhibited June 3-18 (2011) at the Abbozzo gallery in Oakville.

A great talent with great  and inspiring energy.  If you are not following her already please do by visiting her website, subscribing to her blog , liking her on Facebook or following her on Twitter @Heather_Horton. On Twitter, she often shares inspiring  photos from here travels or some of the great quotes that she has collected. Here is one inspiring recent example:

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”~Mary Oliver

Original works by Horton are available from the Abbozzo gallery and prints of a number of her works are available on-line from DeviantArt. ( from where I purchased a small framed print of  one of my favorite Horton paintings: “The Red Toque” )

Abstract Harris and Carr

Today I got back to the Art Gallery of Alberta. My first motivation was to re-visit the Emily Carr exhibit. My second reason was a visit to the new exhibition of abstract paintings by Lawren Harris, renowned landscape painter with the Canadian Group of Seven.

Lawren Harris was a founding member of the Canadian landscape school but even in some of his later landscape paintings the move to abstraction was very apparent. This exhibit, simply and appropriately called Lawren Harris Abstractions, focuses solely on the abstract works later in Harris’ career. The core of this relatively small exhibit are six paintings from the Art Gallery of Alberta’s own collection. Supplementing those works are sixteen from the National Gallery of Canada.  Probably half of the works are large (a meter or two) paintings and very interestingly there are a number of  abstract sketches, some apparently preparatory sketches for the works on canvas. There is a certain spirituality to Harris abstracts relating to Harris’s following of Theosophy.

I really enjoyed these Harris works and spent some time studying the curves, colors, shapes, volumes and composition. They are interesting from across the room and intriguing up close. The Harris exhibit runs through to September 11, 2011.

For more about Harris and his abstracts check out this CBC story from 1961.

The other exhibit I had an opportunity to visit today was Nature and Spirit: Emily Carr’s Coastal Landscapes. I had seen this exhibit a few weeks ago  and at the time vowed to visit again. It was just as impressive this time as it was the first time. I focused just on Carr’s paintings today foregoing the companion exhibit of Canadian west coast native art and artifacts. For more on my first visit see my earlier blog post.

The Carr exhibit runs until 2011 June 5 and I will get back, at least one more time.

William Wray – Urban Landscape Painter

With this, I am starting a new series of blog posts to point my readers to artists I know and respect. Many of the artist’s I currently follow are part of the twitter community and may well be known to each other and to you. There are a few artists that I came to know  from before twitter (yes there was a time) – particularly from the WetCanvas on-line community and this artist is one of those.

The artist  to introduce you to is California painter William Wray. He often paints what I would describe as gritty, urban landscapes. It is not uncommon to see industrial factories, gas stations or downtown canyons. He has also made compelling works with car, trains and shopping carts as the subjects. Wray’s unique style is also applied to some still life and figure painting.

His subject matter often makes his work distinctive but so is masterful use of color, light and shadow. Words can’t really do justice so please visit his website and his blog to see his works and to learn more about him.

Be sure to also look for the links to a couple of books he has of his paintings.

Emily Carr at the AGA

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting “Nature and Spirit: Emily Carr’s Coastal Landscapes” at the Art Gallery of Alberta in Edmonton. Anyone that knows me well, will know that I count Emily Carr among my most favorite and influential painters.

I never miss an opportunity to see Carr’s work in person. A few years ago I took in a great show in Ottawa at the National Gallery. Any time I get to Vancouver I make a point of visiting the Vancouver Art Gallery with probably the greatest permanent collection of this west coast Canadian painter. Fortunately this AGA exhibition was organized by the Vancouver Art Gallery and features many of their key, and my favorite works. Among the great works that caused by slow trip past the works to come to a complete stand still were Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky and some luscious views of the interior of the west coast rainforests (specific titles escape me at the moment).

Like the national exhibition a few years ago this exhibit of paintings is complemented by Haida Art: Mapping an Ancient Language, an equally large display of west coast native art and artifacts. The indigenous west coast peoples and cultures were a huge influence and inspiration for Carr so this pairing is ideal.

This exhibition (of 35 Carr paintings) began 2011 March 5 and runs through to June 5. If you are in the Edmonton area this is a must see exhibition. I’ll be back, a few more times – guaranteed!


Bending to the Sky by Randall Talbot (influenced by Emily Carr)

“Portrait of an Artist” – audiobook review

I recently finished listening to the audio version of  Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O’Keeffe by Laurie Lisle. What did I think of it? In two words: Very Good.

I must confess I knew very little about Georgia O’Keeffe before this book. I knew she was an American painter one of the giants of the 20th century. I was vaguely familiar with with her large flower paintings and works depicting bones. I also knew of her connection to New Mexico – that was about it. For some reason, these iconic images never clicked with me, never drove me to learn more about O’Keeffe.

Portrait of an Artist is a comprehensive biography laying out the story of Georgia’s parents before she was born and continuing right through O’Keeffe’s long life to the age of 98. From her childhood , through her schooling to her time as a teacher, the story is told and provides an understanding of this unique, strong, independent character. As is appropriate, large part of the story focuses upon her professional  painting years and her time and relationship with photographer, promoter and husband, Alfred Steiglitz.

It is a fascinating story and Lisle tells it in an entertaining way. The book was published in 1980 and the audio version released in 1995 but it is timeless. The book’s narrator Grace Conlin does a very good job of reading the story so as to hold the listener’s attention. There were a few minor errors  that I noticed in the reading but in a 13 hour and 42 minute book, they were really inconsequential.

This was one of those books that made me sad when it came to the end, but my education about O’Keeffe has only begun. My appetite has been whetted and now I must see images of the works which the biography talked about. In fact, I have ordered and I am anxiously awaiting the delivery of a printed  book  that will have images of many of O’Keeffe’s paintings. I am especially looking forward to studying her landscape work.

In summary – a very good book and audio version. I highly recommend it.

Tom Thomson – Snow

In an earlier post I pointed readers to some of my favorite snow paintings by the Canadian Group of Seven. I did not include there any of the paintings by the not-quite-a-Group-of-Seven-member Tom Thomson. You might say I was saving the best for last. Tom Thomson is my favorite and certainly was a master of the rugged Canadian landscape in all seasons. Although he would typically spend his winters working in his studio in Toronto, Thomson certainly encountered and painted snow and ice in the early spring and late fall.

As I had done with the Group of Seven snow paintings, I studied prints of Thomson’s works to better understand the values he used for snow and the relative difference between snow in the sun versus in the shade. I used my value scale comparator with a value 1 being associated with pure white and a 9 for black.  I observed a fair bit of variation in Thomson’s paintings with snow in sun appearing to be anywhere from a 2 to a 5 but 3 was the most common sunny snow value. When the snow was in the shade the value usually dipped a couple of points. Although not scientific, with my eye I estimated the shady snow in Thomson’s paintings to rand from 5 to 8 with 5.5 being the most common.

First Snow in Autumn is a very snowy painting with clear areas in sun and shade. By my estimate this one of the highest values for sunlit snow. The almost white color I would estimate to be a value 2 while the light blue shadows are about a 5.5.  Early Snow from the Winnipeg Art Gallery although darker in value overall with a 5 in the sun and 7 in the shadows still reads believably as a snowy winter scene. Probably a textbook example of values for snow is in Thomson’s  Woods in Winter with a value 3 for snow in the sun and a drop of 3 to a 6 in the shadows.

The painting that I observed the biggest difference between sun and shade values was Path Behind Mowat Lodge with a difference of 5 – from a 3 in the sunlit area to an 8 in the blue/purple shadows cast upon the snow.

So what did I learn from my little  study? Snow in the sun should be depicted with a value of around a 2 to 4 and the shadow on the snow are about 2 to 3 points lower (darker). This generally mean a value between 5 and 7. Of course my little investigation is not highly scientific. I was just working off prints in books (Incidentally Tom Thomson, edited by Dennis Reid is a good one, full of images ). I think that maybe if I could measure the value with scientific instruments directly off the original paintings then I could know the secret – but then again I think it probably wouldn’t make that much difference and having a formula, or specific numerical values certainly isn’t going to allow one to recreate the magic of a Tom Thomson painting.

Here are links to a few other Tom Thomson paintings featuring snow from the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, Canada:

Snow Covered Trees

Ice in Spring

Thaw in the Woods

First Snow in Autumn

Winter in the Woods


Diebenkorn in New Mexico – a Book Review

I fell in love with the art of Richard Diebenkorn first when I saw some of his  pieces in San Francisco at the Museum of Modern Art, then when I read “The Art of Richard Diebenkorn” by Jane Livingston (See my earlier blog post). I was hungry to learn more about him and to see more of his work.

This book, Richard Diebenkorn in New Mexico, satisfied my hunger. It  focuses on Diebenkorn’s time in Albuquerque while he was doing a Masters degree at the University of New Mexico. He was there from 1950 to 1952 and produced some 200 works (paintings mainly but also some prints and sculpture). I like how the paintings occasionally hint at the colors and forms of the New Mexico landscape.

Richard Diebenkorn in New Mexico, the 2007  book was published in conjunction with an exhibition of the same name. It features 83 full page color plates and many other photos of his work amongst the text. The text is made up of an introduction by Charles M. Lovell and 3 essays – by Charles Strong and Gerald Nordland and Mark Lavatelli.  These three takes on Diebenkorn’s time in the region have some overlap but are nonetheless each interesting.

Charles Strong is a curator and artist who studied with Diebenkorn for a short time in San Francisco. Strong’s two page “The Sky is the Ocean” serves as an overview to Diebenkorn’s life and work.

Gerald Nordland is the author of the book Richard Diebenkorn: Revised and Expanded and a recognized authority on Diebenkorn. His substantial section of this book entitled “Richard Diebenkorn: Routes to New Mexico” sets the stage for the Albuquerque period describing  Diebenkorn’s life from his childhood to his life as a student in New Mexico (and a little beyond)

The Mark Lavatelli short, 5 page essay, “Diebenkorn’s Albuquerque Years” focuses on just that. He talks about the paintings from that time as well as the influences and how the period shaped Diebenkorn’s style. Lavatelli too know the work of Diebenkorn well, having done his MFA on Diebenkorn’s paintings from the New Mexico period.

All in all, this is a good book. I’d loved to have seen the exhibition which this volume accompanied but since I didn’t, this book will have to do.  I know I will be coming back to the images in this book regularly in the future, as I enjoy and try to understand, the works of this wonderful painter: Richard Diebenkorn.

For more, read the New York Times review of the book.