Tunnel Vision

I've been working on a diptych (i before y I have to remind myself) but had decided before I started to get one close to completion before beginning number 2. This may have been a mistake.

The photo source shows one Afghan soldier, clean cut and with a small smile, while the second soldier has a beard and a sheepish expression. I knew that the clean cut guy was going to be less interesting, but that was fine because the project is partially about boredom. The trick is to make an image whose subject is boring but whose painted content has some sort of passive dynamic.

Close to completion, I moved onto number 2, but a funny thing happened. After 2 sessions and still far from completion, I realized it was almost done. There's nothing really earth-shattering there as paintings reveal themselves as much as they are constructed. Having tunnel vision for some dangerous belief in how you're gonna conclude a painting is always a bad strategy.

There's a part of me that just wants to toss out the almost finished but boring painting and keep only the unexpected and arresting image. If I was just painting for painting's sake: Doing portraits and figures within the broad scope of depicting the human form or even the narrower scope of depicting The Canadian Contribution to the ISAF mission, that'd be fine. However, I have a structured project that requires me to work with "Twins" and so I need both guys, side by side.

No decision has been made yet, but the thing I really wanted to say is it's great to have these unexpected moments that require me to make decisions, play with the tension between the project and the painting and think about how much I'm willing to let the paintings reveal themselves versus how much I want to dictate to them.

In a couple of sentences I'll insert the images but feel compelled to clarify that I'm somewhat embarrassed by the journeyman quality of the "finished" piece. That's balanced out by the awesomeness of the unexpected "Portrait of Satan"*. Maybe I'll start over... maybe in the end I'll have to, but maybe I can come to a place where I balance the currently unresolved tension between these twins. Maybe they both need to be weird in their own ways and when in doubt I'll usually go weird. What the ways will be is the sort of mystery that keeps me slogging away as a painter.

*That title is purely off-hand and is no way meant to imply anything about Afghans or Afghan soldiers.


Letting you in, but not really

Yesterday, painter Keita Morimoto tweeted the following,
""You need to embrace the artifice. Construct everything exactly the way you want it to appear and then hide your tricks."
To which I replied,
"Showing some of your tricks to the viewer lets them feel like they're part of the game, even though they're not."

Keita (besides being one of my favourite local figurative painters) is right, it is all about illusion, but I'm a fan of letting it slip, of that moment when we see behind the curtain – of The Great and Powerful Oz as a charmingly avuncular, but relatively powerless guy. 

As Dave Hickey wrote, (and here I paraphrase) we all know that a painting is an illusion but want to believe in it, we want to believe in illusion because it allows us to believe that the world is not what it actually is.

But as I was educated in the world of Western academically oriented art, the honesty of the process was successfully infused/brainwashed into my psyche. Lord knows I won't be shifting to abstraction any time soon, but (for good or bad) I feel drawn to the importance of "truth in advertising ", of showing the limits of my ability, because if truth be told and humility be tucked away for a moment, my ability is pretty high.

With all of the above in mind, and with thanks to Keita for getting me thinking, here's the preliminary gridding step for my small portrait of CSM Rich Davey – one of my favourite soldiers.


The Bulgarians

The first of the major paintings: Complete.
With the large paintings, the driving visual cues will start from repetition. As I look at this painting online, for the first time I realize that all these stripes make it look a bit like a golf shirt. Or, let's say Rugby shirt... that's easier to live with.

Next up: Afghans in matching tracks tops.

Also, last week (during one of our few wintery days) I gave a talk at The Toronto to School of Art.Thanks to Peter Kingstone for inviting me to talk to his class.

It was my first chance to talk about the project to an audience so while it was fun to discuss my earlier work and how it segues into this project, it was more personally relevant as the act of talking helped me clarify some things.

Specifically, (and though this should be totally obvious to me) only during the talk did I realize that while my earliest military/fraternity paintings were about the contemplative possibilities of violence, this project engages the contemplative possibilities of the boredom that stems from the-lack-of-violence. Well, I knew that, but like so much of my practice, themes and thoughts are often latent and only announce themselves after some gestation time.

Yep, it's all about contemplation. Probably, I think too much but have a crappy short-term memory.