Stephen Paints a Picture – Part Fifteen

November 27, 2013

27 August 2013

stephen scott toolsOnly yesterday, Stephen Scott was at my house working on my portrait and now he was back starting from where he had left off. “I really doubt that I can get this done in the time I have left,” he said. “We had this conversation yesterday,” I replied, “we’ll just have to do what we can.” I told him that I had a call from Will Forrestall (a former student of mine, along with Stephen, and also a painter) asking me to write a forward to a booklet on an exhibition at The Yellow Box Gallery in Fredericton of Stephen’s paintings done last summer in Newfoundland. “Yes, I spent five weeks around Port aux Basque painting a series of small landscapes. Bad beer, great people. The paintings are all on my website. I was to do the same sort of thing this summer around Sackville until we started this.” “You sure can’t tell what fate is going to drop into your hands, can you?” I said. The reality was that if I hadn’t by chance dropped into Ducky’s that first day Stephen was in town that lead to dinner and a conversation, we wouldn’t be sitting here doing this now.

He was busy painting again, looking intently in my direction.

“Next place I would like to paint is Ireland, but I would have to find the money or some sort of fellowship, hopefully both,” he said.

“Where there is a will there is a way. Must be something out there. The Irish like artists. They have great tax laws for artists. You would have to remember to bring a shit load of green paint.”

“There is always the hope factor. Give it your best shot and hope for the best,” he said.

“You’ve done pretty well with the hope factor. You’ve managed to travel and paint in some interesting places.”

Yes, but there are a lot of places I haven’t been and would like to be.”

“Listen, you’re going to make good art wherever you are. It’s about the artist, not the place.”

I thought I would throw a little art quiz at Stephen; “There is an artist that I haven’t talked about, that I like. Have you ever heard of Larry Rivers?” “Sure, great draughtsman.” “I think he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Loved his take on George Washington a crossing the Delaware,” I said. “He was a Pop artist with a real talent in drawing and painting,” he added. We have spent a lion’s share of our time over the summer talking about what is and isn’t talent in painting both past and present. Art, history and criticism is full of loaded words and talent is one of them. It’s a minefield that blows up in your face more often than not, but both of us appear not afraid of blundering ahead regardless of our wounds.

“There’s a lot of history around painting and there’s more history to come. It’s not dead yet.” Stephen said.

“I sort of place what I call modern painting, to around the time of Giotto. Late 13th century, early 14th century,” I said.

“There was stuff before that.”

“Yes, but that’s where I would put the start of what we recognize as painting today—signed work by an individual and an individual who people, important people, saw as a genius or at least as important.”

“It’s back to the bit about the painting as an object, an object of value, isn’t it?” he said.

“It’s hard to get away from the idea about the stuff on walls. Windows of illusion to another world.”

“Illusion is the ticket and that’s what makes painting so important. It gives us a world that only exist is our imagination,” he said.

“Books and music can do the same thing. It’s all about stuff in our heads.” I added.

“Don’t you think there are important differences between painting, music and literature?”

“Yes, painting, in some ways is more real; at least realistic painting is. It’s taking something we know, something we see and putting it into another reality, three into two dimensions.”

“That’s going way back, to Greek philosophy, Plato” Stephen said.

“Right, but it doesn’t make it less valid. The bloody Greeks were on to something.”

“People have always had the need to make things, to interpret their reality. It goes back to somebody in a cave with a burnt stick in their hand trying to figure out what the fuck was going on in their world,” he said.

“And, we have yet to figure it out and, by the way, how’s the painting going? Am I looking good?”

VH 27AugHe stopped painting, I put on the coffee machine and had a look at what he was doing. “Is this picture any better than the last one?” I asked. “It’s not about better. It’s different. I think it’s better. Hopefully everything is adding up for the final portrait, but only time will tell.” Stephen was looking at the project from many viewpoints, many directions. There were drawings, oil sketches and, most of all, time, the luxury of time, to put things together in his head. Thus far we have had fifteen sessions of two or more hours each over a period of forty days since July the eightieth. To my mind, the art process is additive. You need time for things to sink in, for ideas to mature. When I tried to teach life drawing in a summer course over six weeks rather than over two terms of thirteen weeks each, the results were nowhere as good. The students needed the the year to get the information in their heads. That’s not to say that a quick thirty second drawing can not be better than a laborious three hour drawing. It’s the training and practice that lead up over the years to the ability to make a masterful thirty second drawing.

“I don’t know what keeps me going,” Stephen said.

“Perhaps, you can’t do anything else. I do what I do as it’s sign that I am alive and you do much more than me.”

“Does that mean that I’m more alive than you?”

“Many more people are more alive than me and many people, you included, have more talent than me.”

“It’s all about living in the now,” he said.

“Really? Do we have any choice?”

“No, because, even if you try to live in the past, you are stuck doing it in the present.”

“Sure, and the future is fucking impossible because we haven’t a clue what’s going to happen. So we might as well stick with the now.”

Stephen was trying to come to a conclusion to the afternoon’s work, “It’s not a carrot and stick for me,” he said, “I am driven from the rear, by art history, by all of those artists from the past.” His point is well taken, there is always the burden of the past. Artists who ignore art history are doing so at their peril. They may think that they are original, but, in fact, all art is a variation on a theme and that theme is art, itself. Of course, there is always ignorance and that’s a quality that many artists, past and present, possess. “The sooner you stop, the sooner we can get to the bar and have a drink before dinner,” I said. “If you put it that way,” he said putting his brush aside.

© Virgil Hammock, Sackville NB Canada, Monday, November 25, 2013.


  1. Good entry! The process of making art, or making music, is such a great activity. I sometimes wonder why I don’t spend much more time doing it instead of mindless activities! But I have come to the conclusion that I do what I need to do.

    I always knew that the process of practicing was just marvelous, and I have always loved doing it! I had a bad spell there for the past couple of years when I had to take time away from the piano to acknowledge, and hopefully find a way to accept my physical infirmities which now preclude my playing quite a bit of music I love and thought I would be playing until my death!

    I wasn’t sure I would ever want to practice again, as it was too painful and sad to know that now I would be what I thought of as very second-rate, never able to achieve the interpretation I could hear in my mind. But gradually playing the piano seemed like something I wanted to do. Now I am learning how to practice anew, this time with a couple of disabilities thrown into the mix, in addition to the natural aging process, and the process has become interesting all over again in new ways. I am glad I took the time I needed to take…that was a long “passage”, with an uncertain ending! And now, in addition, it appears I may be embarking on an entirely different journey…the musical!

    So… I don’t know if the process is so much “addictive” as it it is a simply great way to live every day!

    • And a very good reply. Jan, have you thought about doing your own blog? The kind of thing that you are saying here would be of interest to a lot of people.

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