Monday, August 31, 2009

The Visions of Van Gogh - Madness, Starvation, or both

The Potato Eaters: Vincent Van Gogh

" a must read article for artists"

C. Bertelsen sets forth a fascinating theory, that Vincent Van Gogh's visions were the result of being a 'starving artist'. This theory runs counter to such ideas that the artistic community at Arles, in the South of France, indulged in over abuse of Absinthe, and even drugs.

This is an intriquing website and the article is a great read for any serious student of art.

What Distinquished Van Gogh's Art
From His French Contemporaries?
the influence of Calvanism on the art of Vincent Van Gogh
by Ann Murray

The Religious Background of Vincent van Gogh and its Relation to his Views on Nature and Art Ann H. Murray

Ann H. Murray (Ph.D., Brown) is Assistant Professor of Art and Director of Watson Gallery at Wheaton College, Norton, Massachusetts, where she specializes in the history of modern art. Her publications include (author), Printout: An Exhibition of Computer-Generated Graphics; (coauthor) The Portrait Bust, Renaissance to Enlightenment; and (coeditor), Process of Perfection. The present article is an outgrowth of a chapter from her doctoral dissertation on Vincent van Gogh.

As the son of a Dutch Reformed Minister, Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890) was dominated by intense spiritual needs even after he had renounced formalized religion. Although art historians have recognized an essentially religious motivation for van Gogh's paintings, no one has related his artistic views specifically to his early religious training.

Van Gogh's art theories clearly diverge from those of Paul Gauguin (1848–1903) and his followers. These French Post-Impressionist painters, with whom he corresponded frequently, maintained that the artist should work from imagination rather than from a model in nature. On the other hand van Gogh's pantheistic view of nature relates him to earlier Romantic painters—especially those in Germany, whose work he had not seen but whose subjects anticipate his own. His reverence for nature as the one place where he might experience God actually prevented van Gogh from following Gauguin's advice to abandon the real world as his artistic starting point. This paper postulates that van Gogh's religious background conditioned such attitudes toward nature and its role in the creative process.

Van Gogh was not reared according to the strict Calvinist creed of the Dutch Reformed Church but according to the moderate Groningen branch. This made it possible for him to develop more liberal attitudes toward art and religion than orthodox Calvinism would have tolerated. By the early 1880s he had turned to nature as his sole source of spiritual fulfillment and admittedly tried to express such feelings in his art. This explains why he rarely painted religious themes, but focused instead on landscapes and portraits of simple people who lived in harmony with nature.

Of particular relevance to van Gogh's theory of art is the fact that the Groningen branch formed in the 1820s under the influence of German theologians such as August Twesten (1789–1876) and Karl Ullmann (1796–1865), whose ideas were indebted to Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834). Not only did Schleiermacher look favorably upon the Romantic movement, but he is credited with introducing elements of Romantic thought into theology. Thus the Groningen branch of the Dutch Reformed Church provides a concrete link between van Gogh and the romantic tradition in Germany. This clarifies why his attitudes and motifs reflect those of the Northern Romantics whose work he did not know, and remain distinct from those of his contemporaries in France.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunlit Splendour

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This work is 99% imagination and 1% reality. But, when you think of it, imagination is a reconstruction of what you see and what you have experienced. Its a bit like shuffling the life deck of cards. You then take the cards and set them out on the table and rearrange them. You add the colours you think would be best suited and you move the landscape around to suit your purpose and click the shutter and construct a new and higher reality.

Emily Carr: The Art of Picture Construction

Hundred and Thousands: pg 95
Douglas & McIntyre
Vancouver, Toronto, Berkley. 2006

I am painting a flat landscape, low lying hills with an expanding sky. What am I after, crush and exaltation? It is not a landscape and not a sky but something outside and beyond the enclosed forms. I grasp for a place and a thing one cannot see with these eyes, only very, very faintly, with one's higher eyes.
I begin to see that everything is perfectly balanced so that what one borrows, one must pay back in some form or another that everything has its own place, and is interdependent on the rest, that a picture, like life, must also have perfect balance. Every part of it is also dependent on the whole and the whole is dependent on every part. It is a swinging rhythmn of thought, swaying back and forth, leading up to, suggesting, waiting, urging, the unworded statement to come forth and proclaim itself, voicing the notes from its very soul to be caught up and echoed by other souls, filling space and at the other time, leaving space, shouting but silent. Oh, to be still enough to hear and see and know the glory of the sky and earth and sea.

Emily and Lee Nan: Oriental Painting

Painting Link

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Emily and Lee Nan: Oriental Painting

Seasons by Guzi Lui

Emily Carr was a friend of Lee Nan, a Chinese artist who lived in Victoria. Emily felt an artistic kinship with Lee, and a profound sense of empathy for him - for he was marginalized and an outsider. I suspect that Emily understood that, for her eccentricities separated her from the outisde stream of life. She would occasionally be seen pushing a baby buggy (pram) along the sidewalks of Victoria, with Woo, her monkey inside it.

In her September 16th, 1933 diary, Emily writes of receiving an invitation from Lee Nan to attend a personal exhibition of his works. He sent out a scant seven invitations. Emily recognized that unless she intervened, his show would be a public failure. So, with that she telephoned friends within the arts to tell them about it and encourage them to come. Few came.

Emily writes:

Lee Nan met each guest and said a few words. His English is very difficult but his face beamed with nervous smiles. I love his work. It is simple and serene and very Oriental. He bookkeeps in a Chinese store, and has not a great deal of time to paint. His subjects are mostly birds and flowers with a few landscapes. They are mostly watercolours. The birds live and are put into their space just right. There is a dainty tenderness about them and one is not conscious of paint but of spirit. As I stood by little Lee Nan something in me went out to him, sort of the mother part of me. I wanted to sheild him from the brutal buffets of the "whites" and their patronizing (Quite good for a Chinaman, aren't they? they say.)

"Did you send out many invitations?" I ask.
"Oh yes, " he said and stopped to count. "Seven."

I could imagine the labour those seven neat little half sheets had cost. I have telephoned a lot of people including two newspaper women. I hoped they would give him some write ups. It would please him greatly. I, and my work feel brutally material beside Lee Nan and his. I ask for the price of a sketch. "Oh, I don't know. Who would want it?" He replied.

I went again to Lee Nan's exhibition. Not one of the old sticks I told about it who thanked me so smugly, and said they would surely go, had been. A great old fuss there would have been if it had been someone in society. Lee Nan was smiling cheerfully. He expects so little. He has sold three sketches and thinks people will come by and by. He would like me to teach him. I feel more that I would like him to teach me. He has what I lack, an airy, living daintyness, more of the "exquisite" of life. There is a purity and sweetness about his things, much life and little paint. How different the Oriental viewpoint is! I should think we hurt them mightily with our clumsy heaviness.

Tangled Tapestry

It often seems to me that our life is

interwoven with nature and other people.

Much of our life weave has come from our

environment and our choices: we socialize

with friends we have known for years, we go to the same places for vacations, and we
delight in refamiliarizing ourselves with foods and repeated experiences.

When we feel this way about our life, we are in harmony with our inner and outer worlds. And we feel comfortable and a sense of peace within ourselves.

The North American natives saw this in spiritual terms. It is known for instance that the Inuit would pray for the spirit of the seal they would kill -for they shared this earth with the living spirit of all of nature. And the seal they depended upon for food and clothing was part of this shared spiritual experience. And even though they would take the seal's life it was important that it be done with reverence and respect.

The tangled tapestry of these rushes seem to be a metaphor for life. It's the source for a future painting.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Emily Carr: British Columbia Artist


Emily Carr: December 13, 1871 – March 2, 1945
Emily Carr has reached iconic levels of acclaim in Canada. She was born in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1871, a daughter of English immigrants.

I am presently reading her Journals, 'Hundreds and Thousands.'

I identify with Emily, insomuch as her journals tell of her struggle with believing in herself as an artist.

Wednesday: November 22. 1930.

On her visit to Canada's National Museum to see her premier national showing, she wrote"
"My work looked flat and lifeless."

Tuesday, November 15, 1930.
"I feel that the group will be dissastified when they see my work."

Saturday, November 27, 1930.
They asked me to design a cover for the catalogue (for the National Museum's showing of her works). "I made one. I made 2 ghastly mistakes. First with size, and another in print and could have cried with mortification.

On her show in Seattle Wa., USA.
"No word from Seattle. The show opened last night. Well forget it old girl. I guess your work is only humdrum - ordinary anyhow - just a little sideshow of the galleries of the month."

November 16, 1932.
A wire from Brown asking for 3 watercolours for the Royal Scottish Watercolour Society. "My watercolours are not so good. I have none spot fresh and someohow I cannot feel things done after 2 years ago are yourself today."

I have talked to artists who seem to be indifferent to their works, after they have completed them. Alex Colville reported once that once a work left his hands, he never thought twice about it. One artist, I know said that, after she completes a work, she loses all emotional response to it. Whether someone likes it or not is indifferent to her. A famous French artist, (Gaugin, I beleive), once said that if he had his way, he would call back most of the paintings he had painted and sold and walk all over them.

I have to fight, to keep to myself, my negative responses to many of my own paintings. If not, I find myself having to explain why I dislike them. And, this doesn't make sense, for what others see in my art, I seldom see. They bring to their viewing their own set of life responses and experiences. What's more, what right do I have to point out a perceived flaw in a painting that someone else may love?

As for Emily her candid remarks in her journals, give me hope, for I often find myself walking down the same hyper analytical, pathway.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Art of Living: Richard Hayman, artist and teacher

Richard Hayman was in some ways the best of my art teachers. Thats not to say that he was the best artist, among my teachers. But taking that aside, Richard was an excellent art teacher, no doubt the result of him having taught at art at Lakefield College, for many years.

I cannot put Richard on a pedestal, for he was a man and not a saint, and as a man he was a less than perfect - as are we all.

Richard was born in India. His mother died in his infancy. His biography on the Art School of Peterborough website, reports that he was raised by a rather stern and autocratic father and an artistic step mother.

I signed on to Richard's beginning watercolour class a few years ago and was impressed by the depth and quality of his instruction. He was a masterful instructor. His classes were composed of sequential lessons, and he would lead by example in his demonstrations, and he would guide us in copying the works of other painters.

But he also had his artistic eccentricities. Richard would ride his bicycle through the streets of Peterborough to the art school. And, I don't think I ever saw him when he wasn't wearing his favourite pair of old pinstripe trousers - even when he publicly appeared at the reknown Buckhorn Arts Festival which featured many of Ontario's premier artists.

Di Collins, a friend of Richard's wrote a magnfiicent tribute in memory of Richard on the Art School website. You can also find many of his beautiful oil paintings displayed there.

But, I write, not as a friend, but as a student. He gave me my first example of the generosity of artists, when he would unselfishly reach for his best Kolinsky brush and say, "here try this."

Richard had a goal set out in his mind when he taught. He once said in class, "I want you to be aware of potential problems before they happen."

He enjoyed gathering his students around him as he painted and taught by example, as might a mediaeval master. And he guided people in copying the works of other artists, but he did so with careful explanation that they had to identify the original artist with the title, "After, whomever" Richard said many times, "Copying is what created great medaieval artists. Its an important learning tool."

As I said, Richard was a man, and not a saint. He could be indiscrete on occasion, if someone upset him. But taking all in all, this was a secondary issue, for Richard was a man of vision, who was responsible for the creation of the Art School of Peterborough, which has enriched the lives of uncounted number of people.
Richard was at his best publicly when he wore his tuxedo, representing the Art School at the prestigious annual fund raising auction.

Richard is missed and his gift will live on through the years to follow.

The Struggle - With Green

I appropriately selected for this blog posting, a picture I painted about a year ago, which I called 'The Struggle'.
Many artists have knee jerk reactions when they look at the colour green. I know of a few who refuse to use commercial greens in their works. And, I know one artist who says that she "point blank refuses to use green at all". I wouldn't go to that extreme, but I am amazed at how far you can bend colour perceptions and get away with it with green.
If you look at the tree line above the rocks in this work, you will see that green is almost conspicuous by its absence. (click on the picture to enlarge it for better viewing)
I have stood beside this picture and walked viewers through it, and answered questions, and have yet to have anyone comment on the liberties I have taken by straying so far away from green.And, in most cases, those who I have shown this work to, have been delightfully surprised when I pointed this out to them.
I use this example, as a follow up to previous blog postings on the theme of variance. Indeed, people crave novelty in art.
The late Richard Hayman (who I will provide a blog posting on in the future) stunned me as a beginning painter in his introductory art class when he said........"For God's sake, this is about art, not photography."The point being - its not only ok to stray from what people perceive to be normal. (eg. the appearance of green), but its expected.
I invite you now to look down at the late Jack Reid mountain scene which I posted below.
Take a look at how far he strayed from using paint box greens.
I think one of the reason people feel the urge to move away from green is because green is such a preponderance colour around us. When I am in the countyrside or the forest, its presence is overwhelming. If I try to reproduce it in a work - its presence becomes monotonous and tiring.
Straying away from greens, creates delightfully pleasing surprises for viewers of art.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Passing of Jack Reid

I was saddened today to learn of the passing of Canadian watercolour artist Jack Reid.

Jack had that marvellous ability to simplify what he saw and strengthen these elements with the power of colour and composition.

But, even moreso, Jack gave thousands of watercolour artists their first start with his instructional books for beginners. This is how I first became acquainted with Jack.

Thanks to the Wet Canvas, and to Maria on the I Draw and Paint Website, for sharing this information with the art community.

I feel like I lost a good friend and mentor, even though our paths never crossed.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ancient Stone Artwork Discovered

From the Nothing is New Under the Sun, category.

Prehistoric artwork has been discovered by an amateur archaeologist at a Perthshire mountain range. The ancient carvings were discovered by rock art enthusiast George Currie at Ben Lawers, near Loch Tay. Mr Currie discovered a piece of rock which has more than 90 cup marks, which are circular depressions in the stone.

Some of the cups have rings around them and a number of linear grooves can also be seen, with some still showing the individual blows of craftsmens' tools. Similar discoveries have been made in the area, but it is unusual to find so many markings on the one stone.

The purpose of the artworks are still unknown.

Derek Alexander, archaeologist for the National Trust for Scotland, said: "This is an exciting find as it shows that there remains undiscovered prehistoric rock art to be found in the Scottish hills.

"More surprising are the quantity and variety of the symbols displayed on this boulder.
"Through both targeted research by professional archaeologists and the work of dedicated amateurs like George Currie we now know that Ben Lawers forms one of the major concentrations of cup and ring marks in the Highlands, which suggests it was a very significant landscape in prehistory."

BBC News online

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Paint me Warts and All

Oliver Cromwell

While this quotation, may not be entirely accurate, there is something to be said for it in art. At least according to Robert Genn, who writes in a recent edition of Painters Keys, his popular art eletter that people crave novelty or bumps on the road of art.

But yet, Mamma Bear keeps telling me that women buy most of the pictures that hang on the walls of homes and she maintains that women like 'pretty pictures', with bright colours and lovely scenes - and definitely not warty works. They like their paintings like pretty Easter bonnets. (I wonder if this isn't Mamma Bear's preference?)

But, I like painting wildlife scenes with rocks and knobs and bumps (and trees and water too).

So the struggle goes on. Do I paint pretty pictures to sell or do I paint the warts to answer some inner need. And, can there be any compromise?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Quote from Robert Genn

Robert Genn is one of Canada's premier painters. And, along the way he manages to produce one of art's most intriquing eletters, "Painters Key"

Every once in a while a quote from Bob, jumps out of the page. Check out his August 14th, 2009 newsletter:

.... "the human brain and eye love novelty. Something new around the corner--a surprise, a jolt out of the normal--arrests our flow and gives a sudden flush of wonder and joy. In the evenness that describes so much of life, humanity craves the bump of novelty".

Sunday, August 16, 2009

As Old As Time

Forget the business about the reason for humans beings more highly evolved then apes, is because of us having rotatable thumbs and being able to pick things up and use rocks and stones as tools.

I say that the thing that separate us from other species is our artistic, creative ability.

This is something inherent within the human spirit. We yearn to replicate our lives in some artistic context, be it primitive dance, rap music, or stringing together intricate patterns of jewellery.

Hindu mystics saw the presence of this insightfulness, located within the inner eye. This has been stylized into the decorative beauty spot on Hindu women's foreheads.

Mary Caroline Richards wrote of this inner urge to create when she spoke of looking at the potential of the seed of the avocado.

"with the inner eye of imagination can we see inner forms of Being and Becoming. In this lifeless-looking seed there is a germinating center, totally alive and totally invisible."

I leave you with this thought. Christians identify the soul as the sweet spot where spirituality is seated within the human form.

Ask 90% of modern people where the soul is, and they would tap on their heads. Does that tell you something? Does it tell you that contemporary humans blur the soul with their own individual reasoning powers? I think therefore I am divine?

Traditional Catholics painted pictures of Christ with a glowing red heart and a crown over it, which suggets its that they saw the spiritual cente of life within the heart. I love therefore I am divine?

Of course, all of this is beyond reason or definition. If jelly can be nailed to a wall, I opt to see the defining uniqueness of our species as the creative urge of mankind - call it an inner eye, or a soul, or whatever. For me, its what sets us aside from all other forms of life. Its the divine spark. The luminescent light which gives us life as we know it.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Broken Dreams

This is a picture from my path of broken dreams. My journey is littered with hundreds of such pictures.

A visitor to my house, spied one of my half finished works which had fallen short of the mark.

She asked if she could see it, and when she looked it over, she politely asked, "What's wrong with this one?" I said..."It didn't pass my test for acceptable work." She looked at me as if I had an empty space between my ears and she responded. "You must be kidding."

The trail of broken dreams isn't a negative journey. On the contrary, each failed work, reinforces for me some basic technique of watercolour painting that I have ignored. For example, when I look at the ruined works above, I see that I have been so product orientated that I see pictures that were finished ahead of their time. When you look carefully at them, you will see piecemeal montages or completed mini pictures within pictures. I had neglected to establish overall, wholistic colour applications before integrating these into completed works.

The bottom line is, failure, is our greatest teacher. The sting of failure, seems to outweigh the joy of success. Thats why my ruined works are so meaningful to me in my progress. The important thing is, a ruined work is only valuable if you understand where you have taken the wrong path.

And...acknowledgement of failure, sharpens our personal critiquing skills and at the end of the day, helps us grow as artists.

Following in the Steps

I have met artists who have dead eyed me and announced that they want to develop an uncontaminated style of their own, They avoid art classes and they dance to their own violin.
All well and fair, but that hasn't been the route that I have taken. I don't want to paint like a new found Mondigliani. Do I care? All I aspire to be is a good painter. Nothing more, nothing less. What others think of my style is their concern.

I delight in talking to artists whose work I admire. And, even moreso I troll their words for insights into how to become a good painter.

I posted this old truck because it brings to mind the many conversations I have had with Ron Morrison, a west coast, Canadian watercolourist.

You can find his blog along the right hand side of this page.

Ron specializes in painting, discarded trucks, car, sheds, and boats. Although the subject may not be everyone's baileywick, Ron brings to his painting his advanced mastery of colour. He's one of the best. His mastery of colour and his ability to use colour to create atmosphere and mood puts him in the upper league of watercolour artists.

The point of this blog, is not just to acknowledge the willingness I have found among artists to share the tools of the craft but to encourage beginners as well.

My suggestion to a newcomer is to draw from the rich resources of those who have gone before you. And hopefully the day will come when you will be able to hand back to those who come behind you the same gifts.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Rocks on the Trail

I had a challenging time in the past couple of weeks, with getting online. This is getting to be a familiar story for most of us from time to time. I won't bore you with details but it was frustrating, working back and forth between my equipment and my service provider and then setting up a new wireless router and getting used to Vista on a new laptop computer.
I think, it safe to say, that my artful career is seriously impeded by not being able to get online. I have become accustomed to writing this blog, and checking out favourite art websites. Suddenly, I found myself undergoing a cultural return to the good old days BC (before computers). I read more and possibly even painted a bit more - and might have even watched more television. (perish the thought). Strange when you think of it, that rocks on the trail have now taken on a new cultural dimension.
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Monday, August 10, 2009

Seen Better Days

The days of the old family farm are rapidly disappearing
in Canada.

This picture was painted from sketches and photographs of the Quakenbush farm, east of Havelock, Ontario.

Any resemblance to the orginal farm is strictly coincidental.

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Friday, August 7, 2009

At The End of the Day

This old warrior stands apart from the trees which surround it on the headland. It's seen better days come and go and it now leans away from the reckless crowd which jockeys for life. It won't be long before a strong storm comes and it crashes into the lake.

I intentionally painted the old warrior in gold and sepia tones. He has lived a glorious life and has earned his colours to celebrate his life.

When the day comes that it tumbles into the lake, it will become a protective haven for fish to swim among its submerged branches and new life will begin where the old left off.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

North of Town

This is where the North River, flows out of C.Wright's Bay and begins its journey from Round Lake to Belmont Lake.

This picture draws your eyes into the distance to a time and place in our past where dreams, ecstacy and beauty help us transcend from the ordinary chores of daily life.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Great Divide

I invited a friend into my little gallery studio the other day.
As he scanned over my paintings, I sensed an emotional distance between my art and where he was at the moment.
He was reflective.
He then told me the story of his father who was an artist. It was a sad story, for his dad died when he was a 9 year old boy. He recalled his mother, taking his father's entire collection of oils and setting them on the street for garbage pickup and he recalls people jumping from their cars and rummaging through them and hauling away the collection.
He retained this memory, for somehow it seemed to capture The Great Divide. Its as if, his mother was unable to see the beauty of his father's life.
As he gave my works a cursory 'once over', I recognized that at this moment the Great Divide was being played out.
In those few moments in my gallery, it was more important for him to replay his life story and the impact of art on his life then it was for him to discuss my paintings.
We all experience this Great Divide from time to time. The opportunity to be surrounded by my works, released this painful awareness from his past.
Even though there was a disconnect with my works at that moment, my art set him free on a reflective journey with deep, tender, and painful memories. My art took him to the recognition of his own personal Great Divide.
And in that delicate and tender moment of reflection, I opened a drawer and gently set my egotistical need to be stroked into the dark recesses where it belonged.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Making a Splash

This is one of several works I have done as I have been studying the fall of water along a forest stream.
This is an extrovertive work. All splash and no depth. But it was fun to play with colours and give light, life and bounce to dancing waters.
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Fredericks-Artworks Blog, copying policy

The Canadian Copyright act, section 29 reports on fairdealing, that it is not an infringement to reproduce someone else's work for research, study, criticism, review or to report. Which pretty much sums up what this site is about. All content sources, be they artists, printed references, and website url's are respectfully identified on this site. http://http//

Mission Statement
A Portrait of the Visual Arts in Canada, is intended to celebrate the richness of Canada's visual arts, and to promote the arts in Canada.

Statement of Intent
I make every effort to credit the sources of information used in this blog and to obtain the permission and cooperation of all the works presented by living artists. I try, as much as possible to use works from public sources eg. national and provincial collections, of deceased artists. If for any reason, any artist disapproves of anything written about them or their work the artist is encouraged to request withdrawal of the content.