Ah the warm golden morning sun, full on my face. This apartment, where I’ve lived and worked through thirty months of this Hamilton Residency experiment has housed me gracefully and generously. There’s enough space here to hang a show of twenty-one smaller pieces and several more larger ones. There are two beautiful trees in the backyard where cardinals sing me awake every morning, and this morning room on the top floor where I come every day, to greet the sun as it rises. The big window here faces 126 degrees southeast so the furniture moves according to season, to face the spot on the horizon where the sun appears. Right now I’m in the configuration that works from May through September. This place is full of light, and right now, at 7:41 on a holiday Monday morning the city sounds are dominated by birdsong. It has been a wonderful place to live and work and I feel quite blessed.
The Conversation Pieces Apartment Pop-up show continues here for a week, then some of the pieces will move to Centre3 for a Members Marketplace exhibit (I will post links for this on social media). I encourage you to find a piece or two that you like, purchase it and hang it on your wall. They were made for this, and by owning one you will connect yourself to the story that we are reconstructing for ourselves, as we emerge into a still-changing world. Each piece will be accompanied by a catalogue of the work that provides context for the story, and your piece within it. The work is affordably priced, and I’m also entirely open to instalment arrangements. Write to me through the contact tab and we’ll work out a schedule.
I have a few more showings and tours to do between now and Friday, and then I am released to build the next show in my patient lovely studio down the road – the one I couldn’t get to for the first half of 2021, and most of 2020. Now that the story of Conversation Pieces has been thoroughly honoured by an artist talk, and a nerdy artist statement about media and conceptual focus (see tabs in link), I’m very excited to move on and see what happens next, on canvas.
But I feel a little pause tugging at my sleeve. It could be useful, before I forge ahead, to reflect on all that’s happened. Gotta say, this whole process has provided a full course load of teachable moments, most of them coyote-style jokes around naievete and efforting.
In the fall of 2018 I was living off-grid in a tiny forest cabin by the shore, quite separate from the world of humans. It’s a paradise there, a place where you can learn the languages of tree, wind and water, confer with squirrels and birds, porcupines and toads, and drop all human ambition to willpower. It’s a place to BE, and in the summer of 2018 that’s what I’d needed. The friction of extreme change and shift in life circumstances had emptied me of my artistic confidence, and changed my perception of who I am, though not what I love to do. I had no energy to lift a brush or a pencil with any kind of healthy curiosity, though I did do a great deal of writing. I looked at my old work and saw incomplete ideas, knew I needed to clear the art boards and begin again. By the fall I felt called to find new horizons and grow, so I set off to seek my fortune as an artist.
Why not try commissions?, I thought. And what’s the other thing you’re terrified of – oh, yes, portraits. Okay, sure – and I received orders for seven of these, and added two more of my own. Great idea! I’ll do all nine during my three-month HAC residency! HA. Thirty-three months later and this project is still in progress. Two pieces are completed, one withdrawn for personal reasons, a fourth frozen on my wall in mid brushstroke by lockdowns, a fifth also in progress, and the sixth and seventh in pandemic limbo. I do hope these find their voice and completion within the year.
In early 2019 I completed a three-month Arts Council Residency, hung a little show, gave a talk on the night of a massive snowstorm when many of the roads were closed. My friend Ken made it through from London, bless him, and my studio partner’s family filled the room, so we had an audience. I’m proud of that little show, which was not about portrait commissions, but pavement: urban pathways, gates and barriers. I’d come from the open forest, and needed to make sense of people again.
I still wanted those expanded horizons, so made the commitment to stay and build new work over the three year period of my new Cotton Factory studio lease (the same studio I’ve barely been in this past six months, but where new work is indeed waiting, patiently). That was a masters degree, my father’s death, several courses, a perception-shifting visit to Florence and Edinburgh and three pandemic lockdowns ago. Thirty months later I sit in the sunlight with a pop-up apartment show of new work hanging on the walls downstairs, thinking about these last set of lessons, and the rewrite of a subscriber newsletter I feel should have postponed and thought about some more. So yes, little pause, you are right to tug at my sleeve.
It’s never as straight as it appears at the beginning, the road from where you are to a new imagined place. I thank the stars that I lived and breathed Tolkein as a kid, or I’d have no sense of the adventure of it, even through the failures and the roadblocks, the hard ‘no’s, the strangeness of living in a community where you don’t understand the language and culture. I’ve offended people here unknowingly, I’m sure, just because my reference points are different. I’ve met and grown very fond of others, but the pandemic isolation turned my focus back inward to the work, which is after all the reason I set out from my lovely forest cabin, in the first place.
I look up at the eastern horizon and I see that it is indeed much broader and wider than it was, just thirty-three months ago. I have a few injuries from the journey, but they are healing and I am much lighter in my heart than I was then, much more open to fun. Thanks to Tolkein, to this apartment, to the sun on the far horizon. To those who have supported my naieve efforts, I say a warm hello – I see you in this little pause, and I’m very grateful for the lessons – they’ve all helped.
On Friday I go north again to my little forest cabin, where I will jump in the lake. I’ll mouse-proof the bothy, and sleep there again while the brilliant Ray Racicot works at the cabin. When he’s done there I’ll whitewash the new interior walls he’s made, then restore the books, chairs and studio to full functionality. I’ll take the chainsaw into the forest and cut some firewood from the fallen elms and ironwood, and putter around with some watercolours.
Then I’ll come back and see what stories the studio canvases have to tell.