10 January, 1999

09 January, 1999

04 January, 1999

OP260 Fossilized Orange Chair


OP260 Fossilized Orange Chair
24 x 18" oil on canvas
private collection

October 30, 1999: I squeezed an orange chair onto a small canvas this morning, before setting to work on P254. Yes, I have changed the series designation for this work, since it so obviously belongs to the Paleozoic Series. When I began it, the Paleozoic Series did not exist, so I suppose this is the Prototype. Back at the small canvas on the easel, I surprised myself by carving the orange chair out of its background with French Ultramarine, which I have not used in some time. But then, the Pthalo Blue was a few feet away, over by P254, and I was too lazy to fetch it. The chair, at any rate, is a flow of orange, waiting to solidify into something else. Or at least until the underpainting dries.

November 4, 1999: This evening I spent entirely in the studio, working on P260, the little orange chair painting, and another sketch of a fossilized orange chair, this one sporting an appendage. I am still enjoying the crimson and orange and blue combination, with some of the flesh of the Paleozoic series added. In fact, I would not be surprised to see the orange eventually make its way into the big wall hanging, whose rocks and fossils have gold and rusty tinges already.

November 12, 1999: While working on the fossilized orange chair, P260, I began adding some of the organic shapes I have found in the fossils of the big hanging, the holes and creases and shapely hollows that make them more than rocks but less than living, the solidified parts of once-life. The chair, of course, has always fascinated me as the backward imprint of a being, like some fossils. In P254, the bigger spiral of the original vector has once again reasserted its form. It is squirming with petrified creatures, trying to come alive (again?). The cosmic spiral becomes appropriate, a birthing nebula. But are these beings improving?

Looking over my shoulder at the orange chair on the easel, I wonder if it is transcendent or simply decadent. But decay would not dare blush that fleshy pink, or crease into such a lively pucker. The chair is about to explode with exuberance, an ancient volcano.
I dare not sit down today, but pace the studio, looking from one painting to the other.

25 January 2000: My work today on the fossilized orange chair seemed to alter my own view of the painting. At times chaotic, at times a flow, the form streams in and out of collapse, the most complicated vector arrangement yet to appear in this series. Mildly disturbing folds appear, changing to pleasant bulges. It is the disintegration of the bold and decadent creature, indolent and self-aware, the modern psyche. It is the decadence of the twenty-first century sybarite, admiring its own flabbiness and the disorder of its indecisive shape.

As I paint, I am partly amused, somewhat repelled. What IS that green? Iridescence, or the onset of a sort of mental gangrene?

26 January 2000: Even in its advanced decadence, the Orange Chair is convinced that it will go to heaven. It is the bliss of orange, soothing itself. It is the complacency of a chair, the settled confidence of a utilitarian object. What would happen if two orange chairs bumped into each other? On collision, would they merge? They might trade elements, exciting each other to change.

This afternoon I finished P260, and as usually happens by the end of a painting, the entire picture resolved itself rather nicely, contorting back into something like the original idea.

Paleozoic Series

03 January, 1999

P259 Figure Painting Fossils


P259 Figure Painting Fossils
20x26" oil on canvas
private collection

September 11, 1999: The new painting, P259, is progressing well. I began it almost on a whimsey, something to fool with after the intense work of P258. And I felt I should do something with the underpainting on the canvas, which I started at the Artists Colony this summer. The artist in the painting is bent over under a great burden, seemingly. The sky, which usually represents the future or escape to us, has petrified to a great folded mass, crouching on her shoulders as it secretes its eons of heaviness into deeper and more convoluted folds of stone.

Is the woman trying to hold up the entire sky by herself, the weight of a future graven in stone? She writes or paints or engraves on a canvas or tablet. Something emerges, the stone record she will leave behind. There is a furtiveness in her expression, as if she has stolen time away from other responsibilities to make her art, the markers she will leave behind her. What else is there? She works for others, shoulders cracking under her burden. She places herself last, scratching furtively at the stones when she can find a moment. Her shoulders are bowed and deformed under the weight of others problems. She has no time to do anything for herself except make a few marks in the rocks she moves or leaves behind.

September 28, 1999: As P259 shapes up, I am torn between assigning it to the Visage Series and the Paleozoic Series, as it has elements of both. It is a Visage making a Paleozoic painting, actually. The painting will have to show on the back of the panel she is working on, a trick that will work well, as there is a bit of inside-out going on elsewhere...the hand, the body cavity. Perhaps it should have been called the Visceral series. The character is twisted or morphed like the Poser figures in my three dimensional computer program. A few times, people have mentioned that my figures are almost sculptures, or would make sculptures, and I suppose that is true, even though I work at keeping a certain flatness to the perspective.

The viscera patterns are equally ambiguous. Flipped one way, they are convoluted organs, but with the shading and highlighting reversed or pick-up colours changed, they resemble the parts of plants, leaves and petals and stamens. Perhaps the creature is making note of the stupidity of the social monster, so falsely and elaborately clothed, yet ignorant of the basic structure and working of things. The guts remain the same, though society does its best to make them look different or make them disappear altogether.

October 1, 1999: What is the artist writing or painting, I have been thinking all morning. The fossil record, a recording of the spiral. A luminous fungal green emerges, patina and sgraffito.

October 3, 1999: Last night, after alternating between household chores and painting all day, I completed P259 at about 12:30am. As often happens in the last third or so of a painting, everything fell together, and my puzzling over the arm and the upper left background was resolved, with scarcely a thought, by the crimson and red that has come to represent the fossils.

But this speedy ending would not have occurred if, the night before, also in the small hours, WHAT she was painting has not suddenly appeared, right out of her own breast, a version of what she was feeling, in the fervent green incandescence of creation. The artist, feeling the past in a primitive curl in her chest, creates a mirror image, but re-written to the present. Perhaps she, too, is becoming a fossil, huddled under the intricate increments of the shell she has built over the years.

Paleozoic Series

02 January, 1999

P258 Figure reading Brachiopod


P258 Figure reading Brachiopod
36x24" oil on canvas
private collection

April 12, 1999: The direction my series work has taken is also distracting me. What is it doing? What do the fossils really mean? Ancient. Immutable. Carved in stone. Petrified viscera. Why are my characters so interested in them? They are looking deeply into the past, looking for patterns. Yes, our own viscera, and the chemistry of our own brains, is attracted to, yearns for those patterns repeated through the millennia. We see the same spirals, the same V-shapes everywhere. The stone books of the past are open to us, if we will pause to read them.
Even the colours I am using now are fleshier, more earthy. Always searching, reviewing, what will I see this summer when the earth comes to life again, in bloom and leaf? How do these stone flowers come to life, revealing what shades? Only bone and shell remain, the skeletons of harder things. There are some fossil plants imprints from some eras, as well, but I have none at hand. I shall have to visit the museums the next time I am in Toronto or Ottawa.

The sun brightens even more outside, dappled patterns on the snow leaping out. Birds twitter faintly through my closed windows. I am waiting, looking for an incongruity. It will come to me.
April 19, 1999: It is the peeled' look of the fossils that appeals to me, I think, the way the insides are revealed, and also the way the fossil emerges from the rock. I picture the fossil shells emerging from an amorphous background, and the figure emerging in turn from the shell. It harkens back to the Raven Series, R7, in which the creature emerges from chaos.

A raven will pick up a shell. A raven curled, with a spiral shell in his beak. The curled shell becomes a figure.

This afternoon I laid in the imprimatura for V258, the figure reading a brachiopod, which Melanie posed for last week. I have kept the Pthalo blue ground to the upper third or so, and blended the figure out to the edges with a Naples yellow robe or blanket effect; this may later turn out to be a shell or rock from which the figure emerges. It encases her, whether cloth or rock. The brachiopod, as intended, resembles a book or set of wings.

May 11, 1999: Working on V258, figure with brachiopod, I am very pleased, first at the way I was able to enlarge the figure enough to fill the panel and leave some large areas for my 'quilted' texture, and secondly I am excited over the new (for this series) combination of Pthalo blue and Indian red, both heavy-staining colours which make vibrant darks and splendid pick-up combinations with the other main colours, flesh and Naples yellow. The wicked facial expression, which desean half-jokingly called vampire-like, has softened as I added colour to the features, and the surrounding detail of the hair and background.

I have almost decided to call this "figure reading brachiopod", because the fossil looks like an open book, which is probably what attracted me to the shape. It also resembles wings or a bird. 'Reading' a fossil implies studying the past, or ancient ways or words. The shell, though, evokes for me old forms or old shapes, old armour cast off, its former occupant gone. The shell too is an old dwelling place, a once sanctuary now deserted and still holding the petrified remains of its builder.

June 18, 1999: Writing the little poem about shapes and fossils has made me think along other paths. The fossils, for example, could remind me of the brevity and redundancy of life. Perhaps we humans do not feel half so useful, since we leave no delicate shell, unless like the residents of Pompeii we are caught up in a wave of lava. All that we leave behind, some of us, is the castings of our brains in the arts and technology, in the detritus of our cities. Once dead we are not the least bit decorative or useful. All that we can become is the compost for some more efficient life form. That could be why looking at the fossils fills me with primal longing, as if I am reminded for an instant of how far the path of evolution has wandered, so far from our beginnings that we can never know, only pick up hints along the shores of whatever seas we come upon.

Looking at the figure 'reading' the brachiopod, with this interpretation, lends the woman an expression of resignation, as she sees her own future in the past of a primitive creature. The woman, indeed larger than life and full of vitality, concentrates all her awareness on this certainty, that life is briefer than we can ever imagine, and more pointless than we all hope.
What will the woman do next? Will she curl up and think about such futility, or will she unfurl in a great burst of creativity, determined to leave her castings among the millions, to be discovered and pondered briefly by some future creature in a parallel moment? Is this moment a nexus, collapsing in on itself, or is it a concentration, about to radiate in all directions? Which is the undetermined path, the path of unresisting flow?

August 16, 1999: Back at work on P258 this morning, I have been thinking about how formality applies to these works. The formalisation of ideas in stylized and repeating patterns, as well as the concatenation of the elements as they follow the strong vectors of each work, creates pathways to follow throughout the series. What is this element or shape doing here again; why is this element out of place? Why is the background trying to be a foreground?
The brachiopod appears strung together, like kernels of corn or a binary threading. The figures ruled appears to be solidifying around her, an exoskeleton. Her large hands are reading', perhaps playing the fossil. Or it is an abacus for her to calculate upon.

August 17, 1999: P258 has completely changed in appearance, since I have begun painting the figure's robe. It is rather startling, and like many of my experiments, slightly disturbing. The woman appears consumed by folds everywhere, the creases and bumps of the background, which resume on her clothing, and the cobbled fossil, the fat ropes of her hair. I am considering intensifying the chiaroscuro of the robe, but will bring more area up to the state of today's painting before I do that.

August 21, 1999: My hesitation over P258 I think is due to the concatenation of the right side sleeve of the figure, which is at odds with the background instead of making the figure blend into or emerge out of the ground, as I had originally intended. The concatenated effect adds an extra, unexpected texture, especially appearing as it does next to the detail of the brachiopod.

September 9, 1999:With P258 completed, I'm thinking of making a small series of alla prima oil sketches on canvas, small gestural pieces without preliminary sketches. I wish to pursue the fossil or shell shapes as well as the idea of emerging' from a sanctuary or from the past. The reading theme as well presents another interpretation of my Visage characters with their faces immersed in their hands and their fixation with rocks. In fact, P258 could be such an interpretation of my characters' intent, piled up in the spirals in the extrusions of petrified vectors. Looking backward, these creatures see all the possibilities ahead of them.

Paleozoic Series

01 January, 1999

P257 Brachiopod


P257 Brachiopod
11x14" oil on canvas
private collection

March 24, 1999: I fetched a small stretched canvas from the studio store-room, and made a sketch of a large brachiopod shape on it. I am fascinated with its spirals and divided hemispheres, like a brain with wings. Before I went to bed, I stained the background with metallic copper oil paint. How lovely the shape of this creature is, curled in its gorgeous shell.

March 25, 1999: I worked on the little brachiopod painting, which has a copper-fleshy life of its own. I am not sure it makes an actual painting. An oil sketch, I suppose. But the shape fascinates me, and the unusual colour combination. It is interesting to be working on a stretched canvas again, for the first time in perhaps fifteen years.

March 26, 1999: Although I spent several hours painting in the studio today, I did not make the progress I expected. Working on the new fossil creature, I was at first not happy with the Viridian I had added, and so removed it from the picture and from my palette. Then I decided that the French Ultramarine was bothering me, and removed it, which effectively wiped out most of my previous work, so I dipped a cloth in thinner and wiped it all off, leaving a somewhat subdued version of my simple pencil sketch. I decided that it is best to remain with a limited palette when trying ideas; in this case, the palette is, and has been for some time, Pthalo blue, Indian red, and Naples yellow. For this picture I am using the copper oil paint, which is in the same family as the Indian red, imparting now a green, now a purple glow to the other colours. The fossil resembles bone at times, a winged creature at others, a rock or a flower. It doesnt matter which. It is a compelling shape, an ambiguous design from the past, embedded in our memories but nameless.

March 28, 1999: The brachiopod, P257, is coming along nicely now that I have changed the background from copper to Pthalo blue. I realize now that I should have begun with an under-painting of blue, and perhaps added the copper on top, as I have done with the gold in V254. Many false starts on this one. It feels different, probably because of the stretched canvas, and the subject is ambiguous enough to be disturbing at times. I see something different in it every time I walk by, something floral, something organic, a rock, a skull. But its first image, of a winged creature, is still what draws me to the pattern.

March 30, 1999: I am struggling with my feelings over the fossils. In V254, the hanging, and the small canvas, P257, they seem more like objects placed on a ground than subjects for a painting. An odd thing for me to say, since I usually put whatever comes to mind in my paintings. I did not create these fossil creatures, but I have turned them into something, my own creatures I suppose. I want to combine a fossil with a Visage, a creature which will puzzle over it as I have. Again and again, I pick up the fossils in the studio and turn them over, staring into them, eagerly following their curves and their sudden immersion into the rock. The forces behind their creation are beyond imagining, of a different era. But what attracts me is their fractured parts, revealing petrified chambers and imprints of organs, spreading like plants and flowers inside the spirals and fans of their shells. Organic shapes, especially primitive ones, have a wonderful hugeness about them, as if they were entire universes. They contain in miniature the spiral of the galaxy, the wisps of the nebula, the twin curls of the brain.

Paleozoic Series