Stephen Paints a Picture: Part Twenty Two

May 13, 2014

18/19 April 2014

Part Two of Two

“What happens when you lose interest, I asked Stephen Scott, “in a painting or a genre? You told me last summer that you liked figurative painting over landscape, but you’ve spent your life painting landscapes and doing them extremely well.”

“I’m not sure that I’ve lost all interest in landscape painting, but I think that there’s more thought in figurative art, more invention. A critical mind is an important thing.”

“All the work in your current exhibition at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery is figurative. Mind you, I did curate the show and I think that it works well as a body of work,” I said.

“The show is pretty much a majority of my serious work over the last couple of years.”

“But right here in the studio you have two series of small landscapes that you completed over the last two summers. Last summer in Sackville and the summer before that in Newfoundland. I think that they’re terrific. They would make a great little show, perhaps, two shows. Anyway, you could sell them a lot cheaper than your figurative works. A man cannot live on love alone. Mind you, in my case, I’m willing to try a little love, I just can’t get a woman to agree, but I digress.”

“You certainly do, you have to keep your mind on art and not sex, but, yes, those little landscapes were fun and the plein-air experience was good. You need to work fast.”

“It’s sort of the opposite of what you’re doing now. We’ve got a lot of time on this project. I’m pretty sure that most people looking at your stuff in the Beaverbrook haven’t a clue about the time factor in those paintings nor would they relate to how much thinking goes into them.”

“I guess. Most people just see the product. That’s OK. The thinking and doing is my job,” Stephen replied.

“I’m sure that artists, and I’m talking painters here, think differently than other people. It’s visual thinking to use the term psychologist Rudolf Arnheim used. I’ve been writing about this crap for a long time. A long enough time to know what I don’t know. As a painter I spent a long time looking at blank canvases and wondering what the fuck to do next. Then, if I was lucky, I would see the painting in my head. My problem was the painting in my head was always better than the one I painted. That’s why I quit. You, my friend, are a lot better at getting it right on the canvas.”

“I couldn’t rationalize it,” he said, “My life of being an artist is something that I had little control over. What else can I do? A painting never does measure up to expectations. If it did you would stop painting. It’s always the next one.”

“At least you have a next one. I seem to be trapped in a world of words. Watching you paint your paintings of me gives me an insight that will forever change the way that I look at them. Actually, change the way that I look at all your work.”

“I think that we should stop for today. Fix something to eat and take it easy. We can paint again tomorrow.”

We managed to throw something together for dinner and drank a goodly amount of wine before, during and after the meal. We continued our conversation about art throughout the evening. But even Stephen and I sometimes tire of our own brilliant conversation and I suggested watching Top Gear via Netflix on my iPad. In my non-art life, I am a gear head, a car nut, and the BBC programme Top Gear is a bit of an obsession. It’s a stupid show, but whose’s claiming to be smart and I sucked Stephen in. Three hours later, he threw in the towel and went to bed, I soldered on for another hour or so before I joined the cat in their spare bedroom and called it an evening.
The next morning Sophie, his wife, left to spend Easter with mother in northern New Brunswick leaving Stephen and me to cope with our breakfast alone. He made carrot and apple juice, in his new juicer, to go along with an omelet. We listened to Saturday morning programming on CBC radio. “Saturday morning still OK on CBC radio, but they’ve pretty much managed to dumb down their programming most of the time,” I said.

“It’s all part of the Harper government’s plan to screw the CBC and appeal to their base,” he added.

“I think the arts are fucked by this government. It’s our fault for allowing these idiots to be elected. If the left and centre could get their act together we would never have these right wing nut cases in charge,” I said.

“That’s not about to happen. Why do you want to change the world? Lets just get down to painting.”

“Excellent idea, there is much to said about art for art’s sake.”

VH 19april14We moved from the kitchen into the studio and I tried to get back into yesterday’s pose while Stephen got his painting materials together. “You know, I could have used more support in realism at art school from the third year on. It was really depressing and it was your bloody department, you were the head,” Stephen said, as he took up his position in front of his easel.

“Hey, it wasn’t all my fault. I had a department to deal with and a lot of my faculty and a fair number of the students thought that realism was a dead end. I always taught all of my drawing and painting classes 100 percent from the figure, but my courses were all first and second year.”

“So, how come it didn’t rub off?”

“Look you were there as well as me, art in the 70’s was going all over the place. The kids were painting with their face in Artforum. I had all sorts of students who were talented in realism, when they entered the school, who when they graduated were doing what they thought was ‘real’ art which certainly wasn’t realism. Not many, like you, stuck to their guns.”

“It wasn’t easy and it took time for me to recover from the experience.”

“Well, if it helps, you had company. I’ve talked to a number of students over the years, not only from Mount A, who felt they got pushed in the wrong direction.”

“Why was that? I have my own ideas, but I’d be interested in yours.” By this time Stephen was throwing the paint around pretty well.

“I think it was because those of us teaching art, particularly in university, thought that we had to teach students to be ‘artists’ and not how to make art—basically technique. It goes back along time, several generations. We’ve got teachers who simply don’t know technique, craft, who were taught themselves by teachers who didn’t have a clue.”

“Yeah, as I said, I had to pretty much teach myself how to paint after art school,” Stephen said.

“And, if I may be so bold, I think that you’re doing stuff that I have trouble with technically, but your results are great. I certainly could have done more as a teacher. Craft and technique are teachable, teaching somebody to be an ‘artist’ isn’t. It’s basically bullshit. Artists make themselves by making art and that should happen outside of art school.”

“I’ve always had to rely on gut feelings about what’s art and making it. Hell, as a kid I wanted to be a secret agent. The first James Bond film made me realize that I would rather be a secret agent than a priest which was something I thought about when I was very young. James Bond changed my life. Film told me that I want a little adventure in my life.”

“It must have been that sense of adventure that drove you to Europe after high school rather than going directly to university.”

“Of course, as they say, it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

“And Europe and that eureka moment on that Spanish beach where you realized you wanted to be an artist is all thanks to James Bond.”

“You could say that.”

“Funny these eureka moments. Mine was in Paris as a teenager when going into a bar in Montmartre, this would be ‘53 or ‘54, and looking around and saying, “This looks like fun,” and it sure, the hell, beats becoming an accountant. Then and there, I decided I wanted a life in the arts.”

“That aside,” he said, “how are we going to finish this painting? You’re going back to Sackville tomorrow,it’s a long way from done and we’ve agreed to paint in the Beaverbrook from May 20th to the 25th.”

“I can likely come back a couple of more times before that and there may be things you can do without me. You got the studies. I would sort of like to see the unfinished painting back in the gallery between our sessions as it’s more interesting than the totally blank canvas we’ve left in its space, but I’d sure as hell would like to see us finish the painting on the 25th. with a bang. It’s Lord Beaverbrook Day and there will be hundreds of people in the gallery.”

About this time I got a call from Sackville. My vet, and good friend, Gina Bradet told me that she needed to euthanize my seventeen year old dog, Kara. It was a call that I had been dreading. Kara was very sick with cancer and we had been keeping her going with drugs for well over a month. I had left her in the care of my son at my house and I knew that this moment might come at anytime. I told Gina that I trusted her and that she should do what she had to do. I think that she loved my dog as much as I did. In any case, this put a damper on the afternoon and Stephen, who knew Kara as well, knew it.



“I think that the painting is coming together alright now. I’m sort of happy with it,” he said.

“Sort of happy is about as good as it gets,” I replied, “how much longer do you want to work. I’d like to get into town and buy a couple of things and I’ll buy you dinner. I’d like to celebrate your health and the life of Kara.

“Let’s get the hell out of here. I could use a drink,” he said.

© Virgil Hammock, Sackville, NB Canada, Saturday, May 3, 2014.

One comment

  1. I liked Kara very much. Sweet disposition.
    Paintings last much longer than be
    loved dogs.

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