Dave and Allan Thomas collaborate artistically on “Connectivity”

Scratchboard, intricate drawings and oil paintings – after working together on commissioned murals for many years, the brothers Dave and Allan Thomas recently started focusing on their individual art – both working on canvas – but pursuing very different styles. I had the pleasure of talking with the artists at the opening night of their show “Connectivity” at the Front Gallery in Edmonton.

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By Dave Thomas

Dave and Allan Thomas, before talking about your fabulous art show, let me focus for a moment on your artistic past. You might be familiar with the success story of artist David Choe, who was approached by Facebook with a proposition in 2005 to paint his famous murals on the office walls for $60,000 or company stock. The 35-year-old chose the stock and when Facebook announced its initial public offerings of stock – to raise $5 billion – Choe made about $200 million. His murals are still in the Facebook offices today. Have you had such luck with your work so far?

Dave and Allan (chuckling): Not yet, but there is always hope!

You grew up in Edmonton. What or who got you both interested in murals and when?

Dave Thomas: As a teenager a wall was just another surface for me to express myself on, I didn’t differentiate painting on a wall from drawing my teacher on a school notepad or painting a still-life for my mother’s Christmas present, it was just natural like breathing.

I guess the big change came at 18 when I was hired by a local entrepreneur to produce murals and painted advertising for his Night Clubs and restaurants.

Allan Thomas: I think it may have grown out of my years as a sign painter. I got in the trade right around the time computer signage was just beginning but I do remember seeing all the billboards that were being hand painted at the time and I was always amazed at how artists could do such good work on such a large scale. Coincidently it was when the computers took over the sign industry that I began to lose interest and luckily listened to my brother Dave when he encouraged me to quit my job and join him painting murals which he had begun doing. That is when we started Flying Colors Mural & Design.

Many kids paint their first mural on withered bits of plywood in their back yard that they dragged out of a dumpster somewhere. Where was your first mural and is it still available to see today?

Dave Thomas: Haha, actually that’s not far off. When I was around fourteen, me and a bunch of kids from the neighbourhood would gather up discarded wood from construction sites and build these elaborate forts where we could hangout, talk about girls and smoke cigarettes. I was always the guy elected to adorn the interior walls with images; usually copies of album covers from our favourite bands, unfortunately these have all been destroyed long ago.

Allan Thomas: My mother was always very supportive of our interest in art when growing up and let us paint murals all over the walls in the basement where we had our bedrooms. If I really wanted to I might be able to track one or two pieces down that friends took and replaced with new drywall when I was moving out of the house.

Why did you start putting your art onto walls?

Dave Thomas: In the beginning it was just another surface to paint on, as a self-employed artist I was always hustling to build a name for myself taking commissions wherever I could.

Allan Thomas: I always had an interest in working large so what better way than doing murals. It’s also a great way for others to see the work especially outdoor murals that can be seen by hundreds of people a day.

At the time, did you have any preferred surfaces such as walls, trucks or trains?

Dave Thomas: Always walls for Allan, but I went through a lot of phases. I don’t think anything beats the rush you get being up on a scissor lift, painting a huge mural in front of people passing by.

Which artists have inspired you back then?

Dave Thomas: Back then is hard to pinpoint, I guess it started with D.C. and Marvel. In my teen years, I was in awe of the late renaissance painters such as Caravaggio and Rembrandt, these days I’m more into guys like Adrian Ghenie and Alex Kanevsky who have a more fresh approach to painting the figure.

Allan Thomas: I grew up with 70’s Marvel and Mad comics which then turned into a love of record covers and artists like Franzetta. When I got older I was very open minded and got into a lot of different artists and movements.

Until recently, you mostly worked on commission murals. These days, with occasional stints painting legal walls over in Edmonton, you focus on your individual art, both working on canvas, but pursuing very different styles. How has your work evolved through the years?

Dave Thomas: For me, it’s always been about the figure. Early on, I had a more academic approach to my art and worked mainly from life, but eventually these seemed too much like model studies to me so I moved towards using my family as inspiration. The biggest change though has come in the past few years where I see the message – not the figure – as the main focus in the painting.

 Allan Thomas: As I got interested in lots of different art movements and styles over the years, my work has changed dramatically from a pop art influence to abstract to collage work and pop surrealism. I was even getting serious about Mosaic work until I told myself that I needed to focus on what I wanted to do most so I could develop a style that I could approach galleries with. When I did that, I realised Photorealistic urban landscape paintings were what I wanted to do most.

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By Allan Thomas

Let’s talk about Allan’s scratch art for a moment. Your most intricate drawings are the complete opposite of your murals – you seem to love to work in detailed realism. You are using a black-and-white graphic technique that creates a drawing look like etching. How many hours does it roughly take you to finish one of your amazing pieces?

Allan Thomas: They are very time consuming but I’m not quite sure how long each piece takes. I usually do about one a month but I also work on paintings at the same time.

Where do you get your inspiration?

Allan Thomas: Lots of different places but since I work with urban landscapes it is usually alleyways and fire escapes or rundown streets with graffiti and garbage. I get a lot of my reference photos when I visit different cities and if I’m in a nice area with modern buildings and clean streets it can be very hard to feel inspired. It’s not until I get into the seedier worn down areas that things start happening for me. 

Scratchboard is a paper board that is covered with gesso or wax and coated over with black ink. Your delicate drawings are perfectly executed – as the scratching technique does not leave any room for error, how do you achieve such perfection in your work?

Allan Thomas: You really need to think five steps ahead because if you scratch away an area it’s gone and that will be a problem later on if you realise you did something wrong. That is why they take me so long because it is a slow process of thinking out every scratch, making sure to capture the proper tone and get the right texture.

Modern scratchboard (or scraperboard) originated in the 19th century in Britain and France. As printing methods developed, it became a popular medium for reproduction because it replaced wood, metal and linoleum engraving. What made you choose this particular technique?

Allan Thomas: I’ve always thought my love of scratchboard could someday develop into wood engraving or lino cuts for small print runs but I’m not sure how scratchboard could be used for print making because the scratches made are not deep enough to hold paint. If you ran your hand over one of my pieces I don’t think you would feel any texture at all.

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By Dave Thomas

Dave Thomas, your oil paintings focus on your experience as a husband and a father. You are known to have a deep appreciation of ordinary moments in your family’s everyday life. Is painting for you a way to hold on to these moments?

Dave Thomas: Interesting, I believe there’s something to that but it’s more about my experience as a human being on this planet and trying to make sense of all these fleeting moments small and large we all go through. It’s also about a larger picture of wondering where it’s all leading too. Maybe intuitively keeping the work so personal is a way of drawing a hard line in the sand, separating it from my commercial work that is so impersonal.

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Many of your paintings were inspired by your concern as a parent about the amount of time your children spend indoors on their electronics. Your own parents were concerned with the amount of time you were spending outdoors. Why are these generational differences of such importance to your work?

Dave Thomas: I think the painting you’re referring to is ‘Outside In’ from my solo show Unfinished Symphony at the Naess Gallery back in 2016; the show was meant to be a look at the modern family using my own family as a guide. It touched on a number of issues I’m sure many parents are concerned with. As a father I’m constantly questioning what’s best for my children and how they will be affected by the ever changing world we live in.

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The background of some of your paintings is largely made up of earth tones. Why?

Dave Thomas: I usually work with a fairly neutral pallet, though I am trying to bring more colours into the work. My colour choices do change a lot depending on what I’m trying to say with the work. In Al and my recent two person show called “Connectivity” at The Front Gallery, my paintings touched on connecting in this digital world we live in and had a much more artificial glitchy feel to the background colours.

“I’m in constant dialogue with the paint and subject matter, adding and subtracting as I go, and many times painting myself into a corner and fighting my way out”, you said once. Can you describe that creative battle a bit more?

Dave Thomas: When I finish a painting, I never really know how I got there or if I could do it again. It’s a much more intuitive process than my commercial work where I go from point a to b as fast as possible and can map the steps out in my head before starting. Even though I work with the figure, I approach my paintings more like a de Kooning throwing down marks and reacting to them. Sometimes it just feels right to drag a paint loaded squeegee across a portrait I laboured over for 10 hours …

And then you do it?

Dave Thomas: Yes, I do it without question and react to that.

Any upcoming exhibitions, shows or projects?

Dave Thomas: I’m currently designing a mural for a lounge in downtown Edmonton and have a large mural project coming up in Toronto late July-August. As far as my personal work goes I’ve just finished spending two weeks renovating the studio and can’t wait to get back at it. I have some vague ideas for a new body of work that I want to start working towards even though I currently don’t have any shows booked in; it’s that whole if you build it they will come mentality.

Allan Thomas: It will take me about eighteen months to develop enough work for a solo show which I am now hard at work on. I am always posting images on Instagram of work as it is being done, so anyone who wants to get a better idea of my technique or where my work is headed, please visit me at : allan_thomas_artist.

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Thank you very much for the interview and all the very best with your art. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.

Allan and Dave Thomas: Thanks for showing interest in our work and having us on ART BECAUSE. We appreciate it.

ABOUT ALLAN THOMAS:

Artist Website:  allanthomasartist.com
INSTAGRAM  allan_thomas_artist
Artist statement / Front Gallery
Flying colors murals

ABOUT DAVE THOMAS:

Artist Website: davethomasartist.com
Artist statement / Front Gallery
INSTAGRAM davethomasart66
Flying colors murals

Photographs by D. Herold 2018 / All rights reserved

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SEEN AND LIKED in EDMONTON – Part 1

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There are no boring places as long as you keep an open mind and like to explore.  I found exquisite art, architecture and places in Edmonton, and even if I had not, I remembered an Eric Weiner quote: “When you relinquish the spectacular, you are rewarded with the quieter joy of the ordinary.” How true.

West End Gallery

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“My paintings are all about emotion and light.  If the viewer has felt the emotion I felt when I painted the piece, then we have clicked. “– W. H. Webb

I had the pleasure to see Prairie Aspects, a solo exhibition of new work by W. H. Webb at the West End Gallery.

His highly realistic work, signed W.H. Webb, is often mistaken for photography.  It is not until you look very closely at the canvas, that you see small dots and dashes of acrylic paint that reminds of watercolour. These markings tighten up to a photograph-like image when you take a step back.

“Webb’s views of the often stark Alberta landscape are intensively worked in a manner reminiscent of the traditional school of watercolourists. Fully realized and meticulously crafted, his acrylic paintings express a deep seated admiration for the impressive and rugged vistas of Alberta; particularly the brilliant beauty of winter’s snow covered open spaces and hard bright skies.”

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by W.H. Webb

The Front Gallery

“Connectivity” is the title of a fab exhibition by Dave Thomas and Allan Thomas at the Front Art Gallery – a forty year landmark in the heart of the gallery walk district.  The exhibition closes on May 17th, so make sure you get to see this first joint show of the two artist brothers before it is over. More information about their art work in my upcoming interview with both artists on ‘Art Because’ next month.

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LOL by Dave Thomas

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By Allan Thomas

Peter Robertson Gallery

Mark in your calendar a wonderful upcoming exhibition showing art work of Jonathan Forrest (May 24 – June 9). Forrest currently divides his time between Vancouver Island and rural Saskatchewan, where his “rustic” studio, an old church built in the late 1940s, offers the ideal space for Forrest’s ongoing exploration of the complexities of colour and paint application.

“Over the last 25 years, Jonathan Forrest has explored vibrant and engaging colour and form through paint”, says Gallery owner Peter Robertson who represents a roster of emerging, mid-career, and senior Canadian artists. “The bold and colourful geometric paintings in his latest exhibition are created from thick, yet smoothly articulated planes of glossy acrylic against matte grounds. Graphic shapes in the works appear to shift as their surfaces reflect in changing light.”

The Art Gallery of Alberta – a must see!

IMG_6079“There is no must in art, because art is free,” said the great Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky.  The beautiful Art Gallery of Alberta – designed by architect Randall Stout and first opened in 2010 – has been taking that motto to heart, offering free admission to all children and youth under the age of 18 – as well as anyone registered as a student in an Alberta post-secondary institution, regardless of age.

Today is the last day of the amazing exhibition of Peter von Tiesenhausen: Songs for Pythagoras  (more information in my upcoming post ‘Seen and liked Edmonton II’ next week).

For Peter von Tiesenhausen, the landscape of Alberta has been a primary source of inspiration, with sustainability being a constant thread that has woven its way through his work over the course of his long career. Addressing ideas of time, life, nature and re-generation, this exhibition engaged audiences with important issues related to extraction, production and our impact on the environment.

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Exhibition Songs for Pythagoras by Peter von Tiesenhausen

The Neon Sign Museum

The Neon Sign Museum, the first of its kind in Canada, features a collection of functional historic signs that tell a story about Edmonton’s neon past. The City has collected 20 neon signs, all of which have been restored and installed on the east wall of the TELUS building and the south wall of the Mercer Warehouse building on 104 Street and 104 Avenue. The museum is outdoors and is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. No admission is required.

The Churchill Wire Centre

IMG_6085A 1886 telephone directory would have been easy to print. Four subscribers joined Edmonton’s first telephone exchange established by Alexander Taylor. Within twenty years, this creative entrepreneur had connected 500 patrons to the revolutionary telephone and sold his company to the city.

Outgoing calls were transmitted through telephone exchange equipment, with switchmen and operators connecting each call to the receiving line. Edmonton built the first municipal exchange on this site in 1907.

The next year, the city became a telecommunications leader when it installed the first automatic dial phones in North America. Built in 1947, this beautiful two and a half storey building was designed by City Architect Maxwell Dewar.

The Edmonton City Hall

City Hall’s award winning architecture was designed by Edmonton architect Gene Dub and opened in 1992. Gene Dub’s design combines the old with the new by incorporating materials such as marble and granite from the old City Hall into the new building. It is also designed as a ‘people place’ – a place for civic government and a gathering place for Edmontonians.

The McLeod Building

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Kenneth McLeod was a former Edmonton alderman, contractor and real estate speculator, who in 1912 announced the construction of the McLeod Building, which he claimed would be the tallest in the city, 25 ft (7.6 m) taller than the Tegler Building. Architect John K. Dow was instructed to copy the Paulsen Building in Spokane, Washington. The construction began in 1913 and was completed in 1915.

Public Art Collection of Edmonton

“Catching Neutrinos” (2005) is the title of this sculpture by Darci Mallon that commemorates the centenary of the Edmonton Journal. The shape refers to the cylindrical form evident in almost every aspect of the printing process: printing press rollers, curled lead linotypes, and paper rolls. The vertical form evokes trees and the poster pillars once used to announce events. The medium, granite, is also used in paper production as the supporting core for the enormous paper rolls. Authentic Journal headlines from the last 100 years spiral up and around the granite and are from notable events specific to the history of the city.

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Photographs by Daniela Herold

 

 

In search of lost time – what real and woven trees can teach us

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“Without a trace” – woven willow by Ken Clarke, 2016, at the Duthie Gallery on Salt Spring Island.

How long does it take to weave a tree? Canadian artist Ken Clarke would know – a long time. Ken has woven thousands of fine willow branches into the shape of a magnificent tree, which dazzles the eye and mind of the observer.

A piece of art like this only comes to life through a vision, complete dedication and focus. It’s not an endeavour for the impatient.

Everybody seems to be busy these days – even busier than 150 years ago when Alexis de Tocqueville already observed that North Americans are “always in a hurry.”

We have too many choices and tasks. We are leading a scattered life dominated by an urgency to make every moment count. Trying to do everything at once, multi-tasking is what usually makes me feel pressed for time. So how do we manage to focus on the essential? As I have noticed that I feel better when I give undivided attention to one thing, my answer to my question is – focus.

But what to focus on when so many things need doing?  While I am looking at the intricate patterns of this woven willow, I am starting to wonder about my own busy life and how I try to manage my precious time on earth.

Life is not about making a choice. It’s about making the right choice. As I am walking around the woven willow tree in the Duthie Gallery Sculpture Park on Salt Spring Island, I remember the following passage by Hermann Hesse from his essay “Trees: Reflections and poems.”

“So the tree rustles in the evening,
when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts:
Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful,
just as they have longer lives than ours.

They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them.
But when we have learned how to listen to trees,
then the brevity and the quickness
and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts
achieve an incomparable joy.
Whoever has learned how to listen to trees
no longer wants to be a tree.
He wants to be nothing except what he is.
That is home. That is happiness.”

 

 

 

Further information:

Ken Clarke:
Ken Clarke is a sculptor and artist in Vancouver British Columbia specialising in architectural and water features, and figurative and organic fine art sculpture.

Also watch Ken Clarke’s video on Youtube.

Duthie Gallery Sculpture Park

The Duthie Gallery on Salt Spring Island, Canada, represents art for the landscape such as Michael Dennis’ monumental figures, Brent Comber’s site specific installations, Peter Pierobon’s Illuminati and sculptures and Ron Crawford’s singular stonework.

More represented artists:  http://www.duthiegallery.com/artists/

Photo credit: Dean Baltesson and Daniela Herold, Copyright 2018

The art of musical story-telling: Canadian songwriter Dean Baltesson is “Covering Ground”

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“Maybe you wonder why nobody seems to try. And they never give anything, but they want everything”. All morning I have been singing this line from Dean Baltesson’s new song “Lonely Ghost”.  The Canadian musician uses his music and lyrics to tell a story, I use my paintings. 

For thousands of years, people have told stories to share their experiences and we do – in many different ways – to this day.  In the old days stories were passed on by word of mouth, often in the form of verse ballads, or songs.  And wherever pilgrims, merchants and wandering people travelled, they took their stories with them.

Songs are our fears, hopes, dreams, losses, celebrations, memories and experiences. And they are each a story. Good musical story-telling is an art, as proven by the Czech composer Bedrich Smetana, who composed the symphonic poem “The Moldau” to musically represent the course of the great river Vitava as it flows through his homeland past a forest hunt, a peasant wedding or the city of Prague. Dean Baltesson’s CD “Covering Ground” is the story of his journey from the Canadian Prairies to the West Coast, and I had the chance to talk to the songwriter in detail about the art of musical story-telling shortly after the release of his new album “Covering Ground’.

Dean Baltesson, your musical journey began on the Canadian Central Plains, a land of gently rolling hills, burning summers and hard winters. ‘Covering Ground’ is the title of your new cd. What ground have you covered before you began writing the lyrics, composing the music, playing all the instruments and singing your songs three years ago?

Dean: My music is a reflection of the country that shaped my life as I made my way slowly west – from the Prairies to the Rockies and eventually to the Pacific Coast. This geography has an influence on us all in some manner, and that is something I find worth writing about.

5 - Empty Road - FraserIs “Covering Ground” the musical story of your life?

Dean: I suppose that my journey “Covering Ground” is in a way an autobiography, but not in the sense that it is a story of my life and what I accomplished, which – if I may add – I don’t consider remarkable.

Growing up, I was a solitary person and retreated into music, specifically the singer-songwriter album oriented music of the seventies. The other things that impressed me were landscape, weather, and the beauty of the land. I loved all kinds of landscapes, even unnatural ones. I remember one frozen winter morning when I arrived at work in downtown Edmonton, seeing the sun rise over the refineries to the east of the city. Ironically, I was even drawn to this kind of industrial beauty.

It seems like music and nature have been the 2 staples in your life that particularly speak to you?

Dean: Absolutely. They have made life appealing for me, and I guess the obvious result of such a combination is a collection of songs about the land. That is really why “Covering Ground” exists.

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When you think back to those lonely highways and endless distances during long winter nights, what music comes to your mind?

Dean: There were so many different kinds of music I listened to growing up that it’s difficult to identify a particular song or artist that characterizes my original home. In 1979, however, I started listening to the music of Pat Metheny. I love the album “New Chautauqua”, which is sparse, brooding and beautiful. Its songs, and also Pat Metheny´s “Cross The Heartland” still take me back to the prairie.

To this day those songs awaken your feelings and memories. Dean Baltesson, you mentioned that just as powerful as music were the photographs of Canadian photographer Courtney Milne to you. Why is that?

Dean: Courtney Milne published a book in 1985 called “Prairie Light”. I was infatuated with his images because I felt they captured my emotions and sensations about the land I lived on.

As is happens, “Homeless hills” is one of my favourite songs on your album “Covering Ground”. Were you inspired by a certain image or memory?

Dean: One of the photos by Courtney Milne entitled “Almost Home” is in fact the inspiration for the song “Homeless Hills”. It is a picture of a single light shining on a dark blue winter night. The mood conveyed by that photo is something I know very well. I would have loved to meet Courtney, but unfortunately he passed away in 2010. The book was filled with many similar images that were very compelling to me. I tried to acquire the use of some of these photos for my CD, but it was not possible.

Dean, you sing about hills that were peaceful and safe. Have you ever wondered if you once believed in truth because of your innocence?

Dean: I believe that truth exists, even though some people may argue that the truth is relative or arbitrary. I do admit though that defining the truth can be complicated, particularly when it gets entangled with our beliefs and desires.

On “Covering Ground”, I am suggesting that truth seems less complicated during childhood, the setting for “Homeless Hills”. For example, if you are lucky enough to have loving parents, you can trust them and therefore believe what they tell you. As a child, you believe in truth. But after you grow up and move out on your own, it starts to become more complicated.

Where did you find peace when you were young?

Dean: I often experienced a strong feeling of contentment, but it didn’t always have to be peaceful – it could be passionate and emotional, and always came from nature, music and books. I was a dreamer. I wandered in the fields and the forests surrounding my home, where my imagination would really run away with itself. I loved the idea of living outdoors primitively, really being a part of the earth, the rivers and the sky. I liked the urgency of dramatic weather and wind blowing in the trees. Those things soothed my mind and energized me.

Did music consume you in the same way?

Dean: I could become lost in an album looking at pictures and following along with the lyrics. I imagined playing each instrument as I listened to songs. Of course reading books also activated the imagination, so I would say that dreaming and creative imagination were the activities that occupied my youth and gave me peace of mind.

Dean Baltesson, as a boy, which instrument did you choose to play first and how did you learn it?

Dean: I was always drawn to the drums because I liked the precision and the texture of the sounds. My favourite drummers showed me that it wasn’t just about keeping time. Drumming is musical and creative. I was fascinated with their ability to play time, but also to fill a space at just the right moment.

Did you find rock the easiest music to learn to play drums to?

Dean: Yes, because you can get up and running pretty quickly. Learn a few things and you can find yourself playing along with almost anything on the popular radio stations. I taught myself by listening to Elton John and mimicking the drums on those big hits of the seventies. I treated it like learning a musical score and memorized the drums of entire albums. It was an obsession. Before I owned my first set of drums, I would look at pictures of drum sets and play songs on them in my head.

Would you say that musicians choose different instruments to express different emotions? Like a painter may choose between bright and dark colours?

Dean: That is an interesting question. I love trying to play any musical instrument. When you are teenage boy, it can be very difficult and risky to express emotions, but if you play a musical instrument, it’s like an accepted, even a cool way, to be emotional. Playing the drums could do that for you, but it is probably the guitar that best illustrates what I am talking about. It offers great freedom. You can cry out with a guitar. No wonder so many kids play them.

3 - Lonely Ghost - TorontoYour song ‘Lonely Ghost’ is about people trying to cry out in their own misunderstood way, unable to identify the true source of their pain. How, do you think, is this kind of suffering a result of our modern world?

Dean: I think that the modern world amplifies suffering, which is a problem as old as time itself, or perhaps we should think of it as a mystery rather than a problem. The mystery is that we just don’t know where we are, why we are here, and where we are going. As progress occurs, life becomes apparently too easy, and I say apparently because there really is no easy way to be alive …

… although we never seem to stop looking for one!

Dean (chuckling): One of the things that I’ve noticed about my own life is that it has usually been possible to coast. There have been – and still are – issues and challenges I could better serve myself by dealing with immediately, but it’s so easy to push them aside and distract myself with an easy form of gratification.

When problems are too much to deal with, I sometimes wonder, “Can I just stop pedalling and coast without any real detriment to my lifestyle?” I’m not going to fall off the bike. It is just luck that I can do this – luck and the fact that many, many people have taken the trouble and sacrifice to create a society that makes this possible.

The modern world strives to make our lives one long downhill coast, but one wonders whether this doesn’t lead to stagnancy and disaffection in many ways.

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One of your songs is about a wide, deep river that is calm on the surface, holding a strong current in its heart. You say of yourself that you have become used to searching constantly. Is this your quest, like the river’s current could not be halted?

Dean: The river in “Treading Water” is a reference to a little story at the beginning of Richard Bach’s book “Illusions”. In the story, there are creatures that live by clinging to rocks and twigs, and the big challenge for them is to let go and let the river take them. The song tries to convey the difficulty of letting oneself go in the current, and also the idea that it will lead to the sea, which is where my album is headed as it travels from the Prairie across a widely varied geography to the ocean.

The ocean is also symbolic of life in the song as we are treading water in a directionless place and have to keep moving until we are drawn back into it.

I heard you recall calm moments in the mornings, carefully making a fire,
waiting quietly for sun to break above the high peaks, touching the flames. You were just a teenager when you learned to appreciate mountain weather. Did the patience you discovered then become a valuable skill while letting go of all expectations as you got older?

Dean: Unfortunately, most of the time I discover patience in hindsight, which as you know has 20/20 vision. But when I look back, I remember quite well the moments when I just stopped struggling and trying to force things.

I remember my first time in Vancouver. I was hell bent on walking everywhere and seeing everything, but as it was raining continuously, I finally had to stop. So I sat down outside at a little cafe out of the rain and relaxed. I find that these “what’s the rush”-moments feel incredibly satisfying. It is only when you are in that state that you can observe things and are open to experience.

A particularly enjoyable moment for me is the one you mention – a cold morning in a campsite when you get the fire going to keep you warm until the sun gets over those high peaks. And then it’s a great feeling. You’re suddenly ok again and the sun is going to keep you alive. I’m happy to say that as I get older, I am able to be patient more often. Patience is always available to us.

Dean, it seems like you are very driven to find answers. Will you keep covering ground with new music?

Dean: It took me three years to write and record “Covering Ground”, and I’ve really been looking forward to stopping the obsessive momentum now that it’s finished. I thought I would just sit back and enjoy the destination and do nothing, but this attitude, I think, is really no different than resisting change and trying to stay in the same happy place all the time.

I have plenty of notes and ideas for new music. “Covering Ground” has been a great journey me for literally and artistically. It has helped me shed some of my seriousness, at least for the time being. I’d like to write some happy songs for a change. Life and love have to move onward in whatever way possible.

Dean Baltesson, thank you for this interview and all the very best for “Covering Ground” and your future musical journey.

More information:

Dean Baltesson: deanbaltesson.com

Courtney Milne: coolscapes.sk.ca/index.php

Photo credits: Mark Petrick, Derek Ford, Daniela Herold and Dean Baltesson

 

 

 

 

Artists as willing participants in a force of nature

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My artistic highlight last weekend was the discovery of ‘Forestrial Brain’, a collaborative installation-painting by Canadian artists Matt Shane of Pender Island and Jim Holyoak of Montreal at the Open Space Gallery in Victoria B.C. The artists wrapped a room 40 metres long and almost four metres high with rolls of Italian drawing paper, laying in the graphic elements with ink lines followed by tonal washes to create a stunning tapestry of images and memories of their hike along the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island.

In a world of many choices, offerings and oeuvres one does not often stand in awe in front of a piece of art. When compelling art finds you, it not only captures your attention, it touches your soul. And I can truly say that ‘Forestrial Brain’ has done that to me.

This time, I will let my pictures talk, while encouraging you to read the whole story HERE (Times Colonist, Aug 13, 2017)

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Seen and liked: Blue Whale exhibition and Henry Moore Sculpture Centre

 

 

Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), Toronto

The Art Gallery of Ontario is known for its extraordinary collection of Henry Moore works. The Henry Moore Sculpture Centre opened in 1974 to house Moore’s original gift to the AGO, now totalling more than 900 sculptures and works on paper.

The collection of the AGO includes more than 80,000 works spanning the first century to the present day. The gallery has 45,000 square metres of physical space, making it one of the largest galleries in North America.

Click here to read more about the Henry Moore Sculpture Centre.

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Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), Toronto

In 2014, nine rare blue whales became trapped in ice off the coast of Newfoundland and died. Their loss represents about three percent of the Northwest Atlantic’s blue whale population. Blue whales usually sink when they die, but in an unusual occurrence two of the blue whales washed ashore in Trout River and Rocky Harbour, Newfoundland and Labrador, offering an unprecedented opportunity for research.

Working with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Research Casting International and the local communities, scientists of the Royal Ontario Museum de-fleshed and recovered the bones of this endangered species, transporting them to Ontario. After a two-year process where the bones were buried in manure, and de-greased, one of these awe-inspiring animals is now displayed at the ROM.

Click here to read more about the exquisite Blue Whale exhibition.

Intuition, Experience and Blind Faith: Morley Myers and Clem Crosby collaborate for the first time to make sculpture

Being an artist can sometimes be an isolating experience. Even though some say that collaboration means giving up your individuality, I believe in the power of collaboration. Having a team of people united in one effort can bring about amazing results. “A partner’s different perspective is valuable’, Astronaut Ron Garan once said, ‘but the very fact that it is different means that it will require work, humility, time, and resources to incorporate that perspective. At times, this will require checking one’s pride at the door.”

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When I ran into sculptor Morley Myers a few weeks ago, he introduced me to his friend Clem Crosby. The London-based painter, whose art has been exhibited at the Tate Modern and the UC Berkeley Art Museum – to name but a few – is working at the radical center of a growing circle of painters who accept the accumulated legacy of art history and contemporary culture in their work, but ‘without any traces of the irony that characterized a generation of appropriation’. (1)

‘Are you working on a project together?’ I asked.

‘Yes, we’re working with raw emotions’, Morley said.

‘Rather than calling it ‘raw emotions’ I prefer to call it intuition’, Clem added.

Morley and Clem – who grew up on the same small base in Suffield, Alberta, where their fathers were posted with the Canadian Forces and British Forces in the Seventies – decided to spend 10 days focusing on a collaborative project at Myer’s home on Salt Spring Island after having talked about it for years.

‘Clem’s approach to creating art is very different to mine’, Morley Myers says, ‘which is why I was very interested in seeing this process at work.’ Clem, in turn, was very receptive to the idea of creating sculptures as he had done little 3D work up until this point.

Morley, can you tell us more about your artistic collaboration with Clem? 

Morley: Clem’s approach is much looser than mine. He is constantly looking to turn convention on its head. For instance I would be setting up a starting point – usually involving a recognizable figure – and then Clem would start to deconstruct the piece.

We used a lot of foam for the armatures and built upon that with plaster, cloth and sticks. It had a sense of fort building, the stuff I did when I was a boy. We basically used what we had on hand, and then let ‘it’ happen.

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Clem, you have never made sculpture before. Can you tell us more about your artistic collaboration with Morley? 

Clem: I have been painting for over 25 years so I guess it’s important to recognize the experience an artist accumulates from making something from nearly nothing. But let me start by saying that being on an island – Salt Spring Island – is both a blessing and a possible hindrance. The place is ridiculously beautiful so in my mind there is little point in trying to record nature through paint or otherwise – it already exists. Secondly, I was away from any distraction and overt criticism so I felt a certain liberty to fail, make mistakes and have fun making a mess with a good old pal and super artist Morley Myers.

We decided pretty much immediately that we would try and keep it loose, not get too technical – lucky for me! We literally grabbed some paper towels a couple of bags of quick drying plaster (important because less time to pontificate) from Morley’s studio and twigs and sticks from the yard.

The first pieces were modest in size, neither abstract nor representational although they did have an anthropomorphic quality. Morley would slap the plaster on an armature fashioned out of styrofoam and twigs then I would step in and do the same.

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Only when we decided to push the scale did Morley’s preference for the figure become apparent. He would start by carving in to the foam and i would do my best to undermine the emerging form by skewering the foam with sticks and having Morley’s outline disrupted only for him to then start again.

Sounds like the actual figure is not necessary for Clem?

Morley: That’s right. He is just interested in raw emotion and has a way of expressing that in the true abstract.

Clem: I prefer to call it both intuition and experience. I think ‘raw emotion’ makes the way I work sound like it’s coming from nowhere, I prefer to call it a mix of intuition and experience. Also, I wouldn’t say that my painting is truly abstract in the concrete sense of the term, for example, it’s not just about the materials I use.

I read that Clem Crosby works in relentless cycles of revision, corrective erasure, and overlay, ‘mixing topical concerns with reference to the past as seamlessly as he mixes colour and drawing’. The resulting paintings have been described as ‘at once emotional and yet rigorously intellectual, improvised and yet painstakingly considered’. What theme did you choose for your sculpting project and why? 

Morley: If there was a theme, then it was to disregard how we had been working up until this point. The project was mostly an exercise for both of us – an exercise for me to loosen up, and an introduction for Clem to sculpt with real hands on.

Clem: I think it helps if you know your collaborator because you have to be able to let go of preconceptions. In London, I never have anyone near my studio when I am painting so I knew this would be difficult enough.

The maddening thing about Morley is that he is so talented, he fixes old bikes and cars, he’s always known about nature and incredibly informed about almost anything, he’s the most self deprecating fellow I know and he makes amazing work. There is no doubt that if he were living in London he would be showing! And he’s as funny as hell so I knew it would be a great, creative atmosphere. At the very least if it didn’t work we could throw it all away and have some beers.

We added plaster, wrapped the paper around the styrofoam, pushed in the sticks, cut the foam, pulled out the sticks, added more plaster….and on it went, trying not to make ‘art’ but to go out there and make that ‘something else’ happen. Sometimes we talked a lot whilst working, sometimes we said very little. Then these wonderful, raw, immediate, unfussy, figurative/abstract sculptures emerged.

I think that the last piece we made is amazing, so too the are the first couple and i’m thrilled that we pulled something out of the experience. I learned a great deal about having an object sit in space, to make a convincing ‘thing’ that has volume and that one can believe in.

Then the beers did come out…….
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The history of art, music and literature is filled with many unusual partnerships, or at times stormy, passionate affairs between creative spirits – like Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat in the Eighties. What did Clem and you accomplish together that you would not have been able to do alone?

Morley: The finished work – some of which is very good – would otherwise never have happened. I have the luxury of living with the fruits of our labour and have been enjoying their presence in my studio. There is a freedom in the way Clem works that I had the chance to experience and internalize.

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Morley: I think some of our walks together. As Clem comes from London, I wanted him to experience my environment on Salt Spring Island. I wanted him to see what living in the pines is all about, and we talked about the importance of being healthy and connected to the earth through exercise and food. I have been dealing with cancer for a while and don’t know what my time line is, which brings an urgency to who we are and what we do as artists.

Morley Myers and Clem Crosby, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and insights with my readers.

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About Morley Myers

Morley Myers was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in 1956, and grew up primarily in the Medicine Hat region. A self taught sculptor, Morley has been working with stone since 1991 and has been involved in exhibits on the west coast and has displayed in galleries in New York, Vancouver, Victoria, Tofino, Salt Spring Island, Calgary, Winnipeg and Medicine Hat.

About Clem Crosby

Clem Crosby is a British painter living and working in London, UK and is represented by the Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London

Crosby’s work is represented in the following Tate Archive, London, UC Berkeley Museum, USA, and the Microsoft Collection, USA amongst others.

He recently exhibited his paintings at the Armory, NY (2016) with Houldsworth and is being featured in an interview with the artist Ian Davenport in Turps Magazine (July, 2016)

Other collaborative projects in the art world

The history of art, music and literature is filled with many unusual and passionate partnerships, and at times stormy, love affairs between creative spirits.

– Painter Dalí and filmmaker Luis Buñuel were still relatively unknown in their fields when they created the classic surrealist short film “Un Chien Andalou” back in 1928.

– When in 1949, LIFE staff photographer Mili went to visit the Picasso at his studio in France, the painter became so fascinated with Mili’s light painting technique that he suggested to have pictures of him taken as he painted in the air.

– After meeting Warhol in 1980, Jean-Michel Basquiat entered into a collaborative relationship with the artist that lasted until 1985 and created many products of the admired and refuted 1980s Pop art.

– Abstract expressionist Robert Rauschenberg contributed this “money thrower” to an installation for an exhibition of Tinguely’s work in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art.

Creative couple collaborations:

The following couples dared to mix business with pleasure, establishing compatible relationships on both a personal and professional level. Their professional collaboration often produced extraordinary results: the intellectual souls Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre; the Mexican painters Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera; Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock – two of the best known American artists of the 20th century – and the poets and writer Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes.

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Recent work by M. Myers