Stephen Paints a Picture – Part Eighteen

December 18, 2013

6 September 2013

Stephen Scott brought his dog, Echo, over to my place because she gets lonely when he leaves her alone now that Sophie, his wife, has gone back to Fredericton. So now we have three dogs, my two, Clover, Kara and his, under foot as he attempts to work on my portrait. He is also here a hour early, one PM instead of the usual two, as we are running out of time and he needs to leave Sackville in a couple of days or so.clover dog

“This damn tooth infection is getting me down. It just won’t go away,” he tells me. Stephen had problems with a tooth ache for the last little while and it has been, in addition to be being painful, a bit of a worry. “I’m going over to Amherst for some tests.” “Don’t worry, I’ll go with you. I love to sit around hospitals. It’ll give me a chance to catch up on my reading. I’m sure it’s nothing,” I assure him.

In addition to the three oil sketches already in progress, he has brought over a larger, 36”x 42”, canvas on which he had already done some drawing. “I didn’t know how to start the drawing on this sucker yet,” he said referring to the big canvas, “but I am sure that it’ll come to me.” Our plan had always been to do a larger painting and now, at least, we had the canvas. He starts painting on one of the earlier oil sketches.

“This one I eyeballed a bit, but the drawings helped.”

“How did you know they did?” I said.

“Well, it’s working to a happy conclusion.”

“Yeah, it’s looking pretty decent,” I added.

“What I’m trying to see is the finished product—at least in my mind’s eye,” he said, adding a bit of paint to the tip of my nose on the painting.

“You know what we’re doing would make a damn interesting show. I think I’ll call Terry (Terry Graff, the Director of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery) and see if I can interest him,” I said, “What do you think?”

“Sure, what the hell.”

“Done. I’ll give him a call tomorrow.”

“I’ve been thinking, an artist that I really like is Miller Brittain. I don’t think that he’s noticed as much as he should be. He was a first rate painter,” Stephen said.

“It’s a classic case of being in the wrong place, Saint John, at the wrong time, the Depression,” I replied.

“Being in Saint John is always the wrong place,” he said.

“The Maritimes sort of sucks as a place for people with money to buy art and, in particular, good art by local artists. Any big money goes elsewhere like Toronto or New York to buy their goodies and I am not sure that the big local money buys that much art in the first place,” I said.

VH1 6SeptStephen had changed the oil sketch he was working on to an earlier version and was banging away at the surface with his brush. “I can see where I went wrong with this baby,” he says, “It was early in the looking process.” Painting a portrait from life is really all about looking and looking hard. This is something Stephen does all of the time he is working on a portrait. “You almost have to live your subject,” he comments and we have certainly spent a lot of time together this summer both working on the project and socially. I feel that he has really got to know me and this is showing up in his drawings and painting of me.

“You’ve got to make mistakes sometimes to get it right,” I said.

“Right, and you do need time to reflect,” he added.

“It’s rather like me, I always need a second eye to look at the stuff that I write. I send my work to Claudia (Mannion) and she finds all the crap I miss. She’s a good copy editor,” I said.

“Sure, it’s a good thing to have people you trust look at your work and give you their honest opinion, but in the end it’s your stuff you have to stand by come hell or high water.”

“That’s interesting. A friend of mine, a Toronto art critic, was complaining to me about the total lack of negative reviews in mainstream art magazines and newspapers and, in particular, when so much contemporary art is shit.”

“It’s all about advertising. Bad reviews and the galleries pull their ads,” he said.

“I hope you’re right, because if the critics, and I use the term loosely, actually believe the crap that they’re writing, we’re in trouble.”

“Of course, the big factor is money and there appears to be lots of that. If you can talk some dim bulb to part with thousands of dollars for a pile of dirty underwear, then you have a great scam and having it backed up by critical writing, so much the better,” he said.

“Did you know that the TLS (The Times Literary Supplement) gives a prize every year for the worst, most obfuscated writing, and it’s almost always won by someone writing on art?” I said.

“I’m not surprised, but, hey, in all this conversation, I forgot why I was mixing these two colours.”

“I’m sure that it’ll come to you and speaking of colour, are you familiar with mummy brown? It was used by a lot of 19th. Century painters for background and the like.”


“Yes, it was made from ground up mummies and oil. In the end, it didn’t work out so well, as it was fugitive. Seemed like a great idea at the time, as there were a lot mummies around, not all people, by the way, as there were tons of cats.”

“Fascinating, but I think I’ll stick with earth colours.”

“Well, it’s one of those colours you can’t get anyway, but you’ve got to admit that I am a fount of useless information.”

VH 6SeptStephen was looking hard at the painting he was doing, “I’m thinking that frames are going to be important on these paintings.” Framing was a subject that had come up from time to time over the summer. “I make my frames myself as I consider them an important part of the picture,” he said. Frames do seem to be a largely forgotten art as many modern and contemporary painting are hung frameless or with minimal frames. Yet, for most of the history of painting frames were an integral part of the completed art works. Van Eyck, in the 15th. Century, beautifully painted his frames as part of his painting. The gilded plaster frames of 18th. and 19th. Century paintings contained the works in their separate worlds.

“I think that we had better plan on working tomorrow. What do you think?” Stephen said.

“Well, I’ve got nothing better to do.”

“Let’s stop and take a look at where we are. Maybe have a coffee and take some photos,” he said.

“Sure, I’m pretty happy with the way things are going. It’s certainly been a labour of love. All of this stuff has given me new faith in art which is something I thought I’d lost.”

© Virgil Hammock, Sackville NB Canada, Sunday, December 15, 2013.

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