Stephen Paints a Picture: Part Nine

October 16, 2013

15 August 2013

pallette 15Aug“You’re right,” Stephen Scott, told me as he came into the house, “Sophie (his wife), is my muse. She is always there when I need her.” Muse and Musae were a major subject of our last sitting of three days ago. “Of course, who else would it be?” I said. Without telling him, I thought how lucky he was to have his own muse. Someone whose very presence gives him reason to work. Changing the subject, I asked, “Where do you think (Lucian) Freud would start each session.” “He picked up where he had left off.” “And, in your case, where would that be?” By this time he had started to sit down and paint my portrait, once again. “With the bridge of the nose,” he said. “Why there?” “It’s sort of the closest point of the picture; if you think about it spatially.” It is interesting that painters think about their paintings in three dimensions while they are reducing them to two dimensions. Of course, if a painter is working from a photograph, the reduction has already been done.

I brought this point up with Stephen and it was a subject we had been talking about for weeks. “I have never liked photo realism. They look like painted photographs,” he said. “And, so they are,” I replied. “You are speaking against some sacred cows in Canadian art like Mary Pratt. People like her work,” I continued. “Yes, I know, but I find the photo realist stuff, just too slick,” he said. “Part of the problem, in working from life, is that your subjects just don’t cooperate. Like me, I move and the light is always changing,” I said. “That’s what makes it interesting. It goes back to the struggle thing,” he said. Making a good painting is a fight and Stephen is a fighter. He held the brush in front of him to get a good handle on the angle of my face. “Bring your chin up a bit and tilt your head a bit to the left,” he said. “You know, I still have to write while you are painting.” I said. “Yes, I know, I just want to get the pose in my head.” That’s the way it works, I thought; you have to have an idea what you want the painting to look like as compared to the reality that you are faced with. “The painting is starting to come to life,” Stephen said.

“I am stuck in the middle of a never, never land. A fully aware romantic realist painter left out of the mainstream,” he said.
“Do you mean Toronto?”
“Not really, there is a mainstream everywhere and I am not in it.”
“Even Fredericton?” I said.
“There is no critical analysis in Fredericton,” Stephen said.
“Do you mean press? As far as I know, the only arts stuff in the province in the press is the Salon section in the Telegraph Journal in Saint John.”
“No, it is more than that. There is just not the critical mass of people in a place like New Brunswick for an active art scene,” he said.
“Then why do you stay here? I said.
“As I have said before, there is a sense of place and even though I travel a lot, I feel I belong here,” he said. This I understand. I grew up in large cities, in different countries, yet I feel comfortable in a small Maritime town even though it lacks many features I crave. It is, as Stephen said, a never, never land.

“You did go to Montreal for a couple of years to take that art therapy course at Concordia,” I said. “Yes, I figured that I needed a way to make a living as I wasn’t making much money from painting.” “What happened?” “When I finished I found out that I could not do both, art therapy and painting. So, in the end, I returned to full time painting. I guess painting is in my blood,” he said. It is a fact of life that many art students who leave school with dreams of being a full time artist eventually give up and do something else.

Stephen had been painting for nearly twenty years before the Montreal episode and I am glad that, in the end, he stuck to painting. “Montreal was not a total bust,” he said, “I learned a lot about myself and the power of art to heal.” “I have always seen my art as therapy, both painting and writing. It seems to work for me,” I said. “The people I worked with were not artists, but art helped them nonetheless,” he said.

paint 15Aug“There is the thing about art’s ability to transform, isn’t there?” I asked Stephen as he continued to paint. “It is beautiful when it works. Humans, at least some of them, are better for the power of art,” he said. “I find what you are doing to be quite relaxing.” “That could be because I am doing all the work and you are just sitting,” he said. “That’s not fair. It takes two to have a conversation and I am trying to take notes while not looking at my notebook.” “All is forgiven, if you will crank up your Nespresso machine and make as both a cup of coffee. I need to step back and take a look at what I am doing.” I wanted to see what he was doing as well, so I complied.

“It does look like me,” I said sticking my nose close to the painting. “It is supposed to. That is the point,” he said. “One artist that we haven’t kicked around is Klimt, Gustav Klimt,” I said. “Ya, you know what I like are his landscapes. Most people don’t know about them,” Stephen said. “There are couple of great ones in New York,” I replied. “Yes, I have seen them.” “I saw a really great show of his drawings in Vienna. They were on butcher paper in red Conté. Drop dead beautiful line drawings of nude women some of them seemingly masturbating,” I said. “Rather like that strange Titian painting. Do you know the one I mean?” he said. “Yes, the Venus of Urbino. Really odd. God knows what’s going on in the background.” “Nice dog in the painting, though and Manet used the Venus as the basis for his Olympia,” he said. “But, he put a cat in place of the dog,” I added. “Art is all about quotes, isn’t?” he said.

When we got back to painting, Stephen said, “You know what helped, was the drawing. This is a better painting.” I thought so too. “Do you think that you can go back to the other painting and make it better?” I said. “It is a possibility, but I still don’t have a clear idea where this whole project is going, but I am having fun,” he said. “It is a strange way for us to spend the summer. Sitting in my kitchen and you painting my portrait,” I said. “I feel things in my body. The more you work, the better it gets,” he said. “I know what you mean. When the words come while I am writing, it is like magic, but usually the magic only happens when I work real hard at it. You were talking about being in the ‘zone’, were you not?” I said. “Yes, the zone is a magic place.”

VH 15AugMagic places, art for art’s sake, all in all, the afternoon was turning out fine. “There is a place in this world for old men,” I mused. “But we got to keep working on it. It is the simple case of use it or lose it,” He said. “I think that there is a good case for me breaking out a really good bottle of wine, throwing together something to eat, and having a great evening here with you and Sophie,” I said. “Now, that sounds like a plan, but just give me a few more minutes to paint.”

© Virgil Hammock, Sackville NB Canada, Sunday, 13 October, 2013.


  1. This is a brilliant fucking idea Virgil. Literal originality spurting out of paint tubes.

    • Hmm. My reading of Graham’s second sentence suggests that his first is meant to be understood both literally and figuratively.

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