Stephen Paints a Picture: Part Twenty Four

June 23, 2014

8 May 2014

It was around two in the afternoon before we got our asses in gear and began working again on the large portrait of me that Stephen Scott was painting in his home studio. “We really shouldn’t be having these leisurely breakfasts if we’re going to get this sucker finished before the show opens,” Stephen said.

stephen painting 24

“Got to remember that I’m getting old and takes me quite awhile to her up to speed, but we do have a couple more days before I have to get back to Sackville,” I replied.

“I’m thinking,” Stephen said, looking at the painting, “that the formal elements are always more important than the narrative ones.”

“I agree,” I said, “I can’t get to the content of a painting until I can get by the formal values of a work. If it’s a crummy painting technically and I just can’t interested in its content.”

“True, but there’s a lot of shit out there that’s content over form and we’re supposed to like it because it has an important message.”

“Look, if art could solve the world’s problems we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in now. Art to me is all about catharsis. You’re the art therapist aren’t you?”

“Yeah, but I gave it up to return to painting,” he replied.

“And, I’m glad you did.”

“You know, I think that I’m going to do some drawing before I start painting. I’ve got to do something about your hands.” He got some butcher paper that he had and taped it to his drawing board.

“That paper reminds me of a show I saw in Vienna years ago of Klimt drawings of the nude done on butcher paper. They were drop dead beautiful,” I said.

“Yes, he could do great things with so few lines.”

“I really think that your drawing has really been important to this project.”

“I used to do a lot more drawing because my studio was outside, in my car, but it’s good to be doing some drawing again even if I’m working inside. I’m way out of my comfort zone, however, inventing as I go. Normally, I might take photographs of your hands and play with them when you weren’t here, but we agreed, no photography.”

“And I said no recording. Just notes. We’ve made it hard on ourselves rather like wearing hair shirts and, speaking of shirts, I apologize again for forgetting to bring the yellow shirt.”

“We’ve got plenty to work on without the shirt.” he worked until about an hour on the hand study and then took a short coffee break before he started on the painting. He had put yesterday’s leftover paint on a sheet of glass which he stored under water in glass baking dish which he now transferred to a wooden palette.


“Shall we start?” he said.

“Realism is always in vogue, no matter what. People just like it. It never goes out of fashion,” I said.

“If you try to follow style, the latest trends, you’re always one step behind. You should stick to what you believe in,” Stephen added.

“That’s a good thought, but art is fickle. Art is what people say it is and right now that can be pretty much anything. Duchamp really screwed things up and that was a hundred years ago.”

“Stop, you’re depressing me.”

“What establishes value is the market place and there’s fuck all we can do about it,” I continued.

“Surely there’s a breaking point. Somewhere, sometime there’s got to be a realization that a lot of what is passing for high art is crap.”

“I’m not sure, but one thing is for sure that so much is so poorly made that it’ll self destruct. Dust to dust.”

“A whole lot of Jeff Koons’s stuff will last forever.”

“You’re right. Now you’re depressing me.”

Stephen was looking intently at me as he painted and I attempted to sit still. The studies made at my place last summer were done while he sat. Now he was painting the large painting on a studio easel while he stood. He did a sort of dance while he painted, darting back and forth at the canvas. He looked to me like he was enjoying himself.

“Painting on your feet is a whole different process, isn’t it?” I asked.

“It’s certainly more physical,” he replied, “you can get away from the canvas and see the whole thing.”

“That’s why the long brushes are important. You can stand back and paint at the same time,” I said.

“Yeah, and you just can’t buy them. That’s why I made these extensions.”

“The only time I saw them was at Pearl Paint in New York and that was many years ago.”

“And you gave them away, you shit.”

“I’m sorry about that. You just weren’t in the right place at the right time.”

He was working on the right side of the head. “It’s more about what’s not there than what’s there,” he said.

“Good painting is certainly about making people think that they are seeing something that really isn’t there. The Dutch and British portrait painters of the 17th. and 18th. centuries had that down pat,” I said.

“That’s why I have to use big brushes. Stops me from being too finicky. I pick a brush, then put it down and pick a bigger brush.”

“Another thing you have in common with the Dutch artists like Rembrandt and Hals is a very limited palette.”

“There are contemporary Canadian artists who have masterful technique outside of the usual suspects like Colville, Forrestall and Pratt,” Stephen said.

“Like who?”

“Well, Robert Bateman, Ken Danby and David Blackwood.”

“I certainly wouldn’t put Bateman and Danby in the same ballpark as Blackwood.

Well, neither would I, but I was speaking of technique not if they were interesting artist or not.”
“Bateman, Danby, and to some extent, Pratt, I assume we’re talking talking about Chris and not Mary, are photo realists. I thought you didn’t like photo realists.”

“I don’t really, but they do have technique.”

“Sure, but it’s very different than Rembrandt and Halls. It’s like night and day. You paint nothing like a magic or photo realist.”

“Early in my career, I was much tighter. Like Tom or Alex.”

“I like what you’re doing now and I do like Forrestall and Colville.”

“The maritime realists, Alex, Chris and Tom are individualists and really don’t fit neatly into mainstream Canadian art history,” he added.

“How about Jack Chambers?” I asked.

“I do like him, but he’s an exception. I find a lot of Canadian art of the 60s and 70s crap. A low point.”

“You mean stuff like Bush and Molinari?”

“Exactly. I’m a romantic and they’re not.”

“I’ll give you Molinari, but I’m not sure about Bush. His last paintings, the colour field ones, are pretty. I like them. Anyway, let’s have a look at what you’re doing. We’ve pretty much butchered Canadian art history and I need a cup of coffee.”

The painting, to my eyes, was coming, although slowly, together, but Stephen was still be very critical. “Maybe, I should start over,” he said as we both looked at the painting. “For God’s sake, no. Look at the time we’ve both got invested in this thing.”

It hard to be objective when you’re looking at a painting of yourself, but I was feeling that he was finding faults were there were none. There was still a ways to go before the painting was finished, however, what he had done thus far was pretty damn good. “Look, man, why don’t we stop before you screw it up, have a drink, go into town for dinner and start fresh in the morning?”

“OK, as long as you’re buying.”

© Virgil Hammock, Sackville, NB Canada, Sunday, June 22, 2014.

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