Pinhole Photography – Canadian artist Murray Polson is his own technological shutter.

Family-History-web

 Murray Polson makes his own cameras out of ABS plastic sheet and pipe. He lets action determine exposure and takes his pulse as a measuring device. He creates scenes for the pinhole camera to see. Canadian Murray Polson is his own technological shutter.

I had the opportunity to ask the artist why his experiments are like trapping a film in a single frame and what he is going to show in his upcoming exhibition “Pinhole Photography” at the Metropolis Photo Gallery in Victoria, B.C., starting Saturday, 7 April 2018.

Murray Polson, when you think back to your very first camera who taught you how to use it?

Murray: The first camera I remember was a Brownie Hawkeye, made by Kodak.  It was almost cubic in shape, made of black plastic with its viewfinder on the top.  To see what I was going to photograph, I held the camera at about waist level and looked down and through the square viewfinder to see my subject and composition.  The shutter would make a ‘ping’ sound not at all like the click of the today’s cameras.  It was very easy to use.  It took Kodak’s 620 film.  If I really wanted to get fancy I could clip on a flash unit.  I don’t think I ever got that complicated.  I’m sure I learnt how to use it by determined fiddling rather than formal instruction.

 These days, you make your own cameras out of plumbing supplies. What type of cameras do you work with and for what projects?

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Murray: Today I make my own cameras out of ABS plastic sheet and pipe that I find in the plumbing section of the hardware store.  The camera I use the most takes a 35 mm film cassette.  It is round so that the camera sees about 340 degrees.

What kind of film do you use?

 Murray: I use both black and white, and colour film; the kind of film depends on the subject or the idea I want to illustrate.

 Where did you get your idea for the round camera?

Murray: The idea came from a painting project.  I had been going out to a local park to paint.  The park was big enough so that I could walk for about an hour, mostly to get away from people, before I choose a place to paint.  After many walkings out, painting and walking back I realized that the walk out created a history of that journey.   In that series of paintings I was using my sensibilities to choose what colours and shapes the landscape suggests rather than painting in a realistic manner what was in front of me.

The idea of the history of my walk out offered a look backwards.  In keeping with the use of my senses, I choose my sense of light as a medium and photography as a way of recording that sense.

 Hence the round camera…

Murray: Yes, it looks all around as well as backwards.  In order to use my sense of light in an uncluttered way, I took as much of the technology of photographing out of the camera in order to leave only my relationship between light and film.   I took away any lenses and allowed light to find the film through a pinhole drilled through a thin sheet of metal.  I took away the mechanical mechanisms of a shutter and used a piece of tape over the pinhole to keep the light out; then taking the tape away to let the light in.

If you like, I was my own technological shutter.  I didn’t what to use any light meter or technical tool to “get results” as it were.  It took time for me to understand the quality of the light on any given day and how the film would respond to that light.

 What does counting to 50 according to your heartbeat have to do with pinhole cameras?

Murray: I needed some kind of measuring device to keep track of how I was relating to the film.  I took my pulse as a measuring device.  After a while I was able to sense the day and say to myself: this is a 50-pulse-day.  And I would let light into the camera by removing the tape, then find my pulse and count to fifty, and then replace the tape over the pinhole to make the exposure.

 Did it take some time to create some sympathy between you and the tool?

Murray: Indeed, but after a while I was getting the kind of results I imagined.  And along the way I discovered many variations that different exposures can bring.

Babington-Hill

 I am looking at the result of a particular picture of Babington Hill on Vancouver Island where you took your big pinhole camera. At first glance, it looks like a normal scene in nature. But then you realize that there is nowhere for the eye to rest. Can you explain why?

 Murray: Yes, Daniela, ‘Babington Hill’ is an interesting picture.  Because the camera is round, it needs more than one pinhole to expose the film.  The camera I used to take Babington Hill has four pinholes arranged symmetrically around the camera’s edge.  In this instance, I opened all the pinholes at the same time, counted my pulse to the number wanted and then closed the pinholes.

 Let’s think about this a bit – the camera is doing what you do when you stand in one place and turn around so that you see all the sights around you?

Murray: Yes, and when the film is developed and printed, the action of going around in one place is rendered in a single panoramic image.  That’s how the photograph appears as a usual landscape picture.  But, when you look closely at the picture, you can see that the image from one pinhole overlaps the image of the pinhole beside it.

 As you see an image or a location from different points of view, the images begin to overlap. The observer senses a filming quality of some sort, why is that?

Murray: The overlapping produces images that just don’t quite make sense to your eye.  In fact, you are seeing four adjacent landscapes side by side.  The consequence of this is that the viewer has no single place to view the picture from.  There are four places to view the photograph from and consequently your eye moves from one centre to the next, leaving the viewer with no place to rest.

 Let’s talk about ‘dispersion’, one topic of your creative work. When you talked to your sister about the death of your Grandfather, you came across 2 different stories. How did this discrepancy between ideas of a family experience affect your artistic work?

Murray: Taking photographs of scenes that are already there is one way I use my cameras.  Another way I use them is to create scenes for the camera to see.  I remember having a conversation with my sister about the death of our grandfather.  I said that he died a crazy man after a brain operation and she said: no, he died of a liver infection.

IMG_5856 Two members of the same family having two very different versions of our family history; I thought that was worth portraying.  I thought that glass could be the consistent family, and shattered glass the divergent histories.  I bought a bunch of drinking glasses and broke them into smallish pieces.  I glued pictures of the family to many of the shards of glass and then poured all the shards into a transparent doughnut shaped plastic mote.  The camera was in the middle of the doughnut.  I made several exposures and choose the ones that best illustrated the idea.  I found this a very interesting way to look at both art making and understanding family, if that is possible.

 “Dinner” is the title of one of your photographs in which the social aspect determines exposure, not the actual technology.

Murray: I opened the aperture of the camera when we started dinner and closed it at the end of dinner.

 What was your intention behind this?

Murray: I wanted to take the technology out the process because I liked the idea of action determining the exposure time.  In a normal photographic situation the technology of the camera determines the exposure time.  It is nice reversal.

I decided to make an exposure during a dinner party. I placed the camera in the centre of the table and when we all sat down to eat I opened the shutter or more accurately took the tape off the pinholes.  When we finished dinner and got up from the table I replaced the tape over the pinholes.

Dinner

This photograph is very interesting as all the things that did not move during dinner are in sharp and clear focus, but all the moving things, like the people and the wine glasses are blurs. 

Murray: Yes, but the best part of all is having the action – the dinner party – control the exposure, or the subject of the image, determine the length of the exposure.  I had let the action determine the exposure, not the mechanical technology of usual cameras.

It struck me that this was a wonderful reversal of the intention of the camera.  Most cameras have mechanisms that allow the photographer to adjust the camera to capture a moment in an action.  My pinhole camera let the whole action appear in the exposure.  It is like trapping a film in a single frame.  I like to experiment like this.

 Murray, thank you very much for the interview and all the best for your show at the Metropolis Photo Gallery starting 7 April 2018.

More information:

“Pinhole photography” opens Saturday, 7 April 2018.
It closes on Thursday  26, April 2018.
The Metropolis Photo Gallery, #102 – 864 Pembroke St. Victoria, BC.

https://www.facebook.com/Metropolis-Photo-Gallery-508409019501958/

 

Photographs by Murray Polson and Daniela Herold / Copyright 2018

 

 

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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.

Pocket Beach

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

 

 

 

 

“A colony of things” – B.C. artist James Mulchinock on driftwood and baseball marks

photo 4James Mulchinock, you gather, arrange and transform easily accessible objects—or their residue—such as driftwood, coat hangers, baseball marks. Have you turned your childhood passion for collecting into an integral part of your art practice?

James: I think most artists become collectors through necessity. Depending on your approach and medium, you need collectible stuff as the raw material for both ideas and even as material for the work.

Have you entered the hoarding zone yet?

James: No, but give me time and space. Having a childhood passion for collecting helps, especially when faced with the choice between keeping or ignoring interesting stuff one encounters in day-to-day travels. I’m inclined to keep. It may take years before I use it, but that day always seems to arrive.

You told me that you always have a clear concept of what you want to achieve before starting a piece of art. What is the story behind the two large driftwood pieces in “A colony of things”?

James: The two large pieces in Colony of Things using drift sticks started as both concept and process. Years ago, I did a quick study sculpture using drift sticks. At the same time, I was painting more and more on raised wood cradle canvasses, so I thought a lot about painting above the actual traditional painting canvas. Is it possible for me to paint on a non-canvas (surface of beach stick ends) surface a couple inches out from a wall? That’s the idea. But it sat, like a lot of ideas, for a few years. Finally, the itch to create from that one concept was too much to ignore any longer.

James Mulchinock, for the last month these 2 large wall stick sculptures caught my eye every time I was passing by them in our gallery XChanges. First as close-up, unique items with their own beauty and second as part of a group or colony of hundreds of individuals. The sticks’ individuality is disguised when incorporated into the larger mass. In fact, the viewer is hard pressed to identify this mysterious mass as originating from the beach.

James: The large wall stick sculptures are part of a series about the transformation of hundreds of natural wood beach drift sticks into a state of duality. The original organic character of these beach sticks is transformed from an item of utilitarian function into a relief surface of uncertain scale, texture and colour.

photo 1Does that mean your exhibition A Colony of Things is about the dual behaviour of individual marks and objects?

James: Indeed. This larger mass hides the individuality of its members by the sheer volume (300-2000) of collected items or marks.

Your exhibition also contains several paintings (for lack of better word) with a reference to baseball. I am not a baseball fan at all, but these pieces of art keep fascinating me. Tell us more about the concept behind them and why your back hurt so much working on them, you could not get out of bed for a day or two?

James: The baseball drawings, Painting the Corners, came about after several seasons traveling with my son’s elite baseball team to the various baseball parks across British Columbia. When you have hours to kill waiting for the team to complete pre-game warm-up, you notice things: weathered structures around the ball field, marks of baseballs left on dugout walls, cleat spike marks on dirt, grass, and wood. Baseball is not kind to baseball diamonds. However, for an artist, the marks left behind tell a story of the game itself: dreams, emotions, repetitive skill development, it’s all there in what’s left behind.

Making the drawings was a simple trial and error process of what works to capture that erosive quality about the game. I settled on coating baseballs with compressed charcoal and dropping them on pristine drawing paper. Months later, I attempted to do two drawings in one day. With over 500 marks involving repetitive major body motions, I pulled muscles in my lower back. I had to go on the 15-day disabled list.

Your paintings capture the story of specific games in a very special way. How?

James: They represent the violent, yet delicate population of marks made by a baseball on a surface. It explores the controlled randomness of repetitive mark-making and is part of a larger project of documenting chance marks. While each mark leaves a delicate trace of individuality, as a mass they transform into something with its own form and distinctive character.

The marks left by baseballs, bats, and cleats on the worn and impacted surfaces of baseball diamonds strike me as a metaphor of youth, the role of sports in growing up, and even the drama and decay of dreams and ambition in life.

baseball painting by James

What do the Toronto Blue Jays have to do with your paintings?

James: The series is based on six games played by the Toronto Blue Jays professional baseball team during three months of their exciting and successful 2015 season. My process is to drop a charcoal-coated baseball onto the drawing paper, which has a penciled 1:1 scale rectangular strike zone representing where the real life pitch crossed home plate.

I have always been interested in collecting: childhood collections of similar cultural and non-cultural items such as postage stamps, leaves, and hockey cards. When organized and mounted for display, the individual items yield to the collective appearance of the group. Even prosaic and utilitarian collections of firewood, nails, and lawn trimmings have perhaps unintentional meanings when brought together. This work explores and transcends the formalistic qualities of known natural materials and ready-mades. Both series takes the familiar and transposes it into the mysterious.

photo 3Being an artist can sometimes be frustrating. What are the obstacles you have run into preparing “A colony of things”?

James: Installing Colony of Things involved the same technical challenges and frustrations experienced by any installation artist. In this case, it was hanging a very heavy wall sculpture on a stud-and-drywall gallery. We were once taught how to draw, paint, and make art. But most of us aren’t carpenters or welders. Yet, we forge on into those trades unprepared to meet the requirements. So, figuring out how to do something in a trade you’ve had no training or experience in can be very frustrating and potentially dangerous. If you’re smart, you cultivate friendships with carpenters and welders.

James Mulchinock, thank you very much for this interview.

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My latest ‘lemon squares’

Oil painting series ‘lemon squares’ by Daniela Herold (2016)

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“I thought of you in Paris”, my godchild Lilly wrote to me yesterday. “I saw Manet’s lemon – it’s beautiful!”

I couldn’t agree more. Manet’s oil painting of a single lemon from 1880 is ‘lovely’ – for lack of a better word.  For hundreds of years, painters have chosen lemons as objects in their art – for instance Jan Davidsz. de Heem (1606-1684), Luis Melendez, Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) or Edouard Manet in the late 19th century, to name but a few.

But what is it about lemons that they are so often featured in still lifes? Is it their bold colour? Their unique shape and texture? Is it how they reflect light?

All of that is true – and they are simply great fun to paint! Here is my latest series of my ‘lemons squares’, enjoy 🙂

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Further lemons:

Check out Noah Layne’s website – he’s the master of lemons
http://www.noahlayne.com/Lemons,BaggedandBoxed.html

 

 

 

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.

IMG_2084What was the most inspiring moment during your collaboration?

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

 

 

There is always more to learn …

Marcus Aurelius

Last week, I  finished my cast drawing semester under the guidance of Noah Layne at the Realist Academy in Victoria, B.C. Working beside this amazing Canadian artist – who teaches dispassionately and without holding back  –  was a constant reminder to me that there is more to learn beyond whatever proficiency I might already have. And I recognized how little I really know compared with true masters of the arts.

Completing this second part of my apprenticeship with Noah meant fulfillment. Only by exposing myself to someone better than I have I been able to improve my skills and techniques. But technical knowledge alone is not enough: disciplined study can foster a student’s growth in many ways.

Noah has taught me to allow patience and stillness to take over when my impatience was starting to kick in while working on a sketch or a painting.

‘Do not rush’, he said. ‘If you manage to paint one square inch perfectly, you will also be able to perfectly paint a canvas the size of a skyscraper  – just take your time.’

Once I managed to calm my mind, I was able to patiently concentrate on finishing the smallest detail.

More information:
Noah Layne Academy of Realist Art / Victoria, B.C. Canada
www.noahlayne.com

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Charcoal ‘Marcus’ by Daniela Herold at the Noah Layne Academy of Realist Art in Victoria, B.C.