Archive for the ‘Stephen Paints a Picture’ Category

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Stephen Paints a Picture: Part Twenty Three

June 11, 2014

7 May 2014

VH June 2014Two weeks later finds me in Nashwaak Village at Stephen Scott’s house and studio, once again to continue work on the portrait. We went to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, around noon to pick up the unfinished painting from the exhibition and bring it back to the house. We managed, in the process, to create quite a stir. There was someone at the front desk who did not recognize me or Stephen and when I announced that we were going to take a painting from the gallery and replace it with a blank canvas all hell broke out. Thank God, Terry Graff, the gallery’s director, was not out to lunch and introduced me as an adjunct curator of the gallery, the curator of the exhibition and that finishing the large portrait was all part of the exhibition. It did, however, prove that the staff was on their toes.

Back at the house, around three in the afternoon, we had again to try and replicate the lighting of my kitchen in Sackville which is where we started the painting. We started talking about art forgeries and, in particular, the Chinese guy in New Jersey who painted fake abstract expressionist paintings that were being sold as originals in a high end New York gallery that in the end bankrupted the gallery. The poor painter, who got peanuts for his work, thought that he was painting replicas for people how couldn’t afford originals while others made millions from his work.

“Just another case of artists being screwed,” Stephen said.

“Hell, you can buy copies, good copies, from China of almost any painting be they old masters or modern art on the internet,” I added.

“It is just the way artists in China were trained, by copying. It’s not a bad away of learning, you know,” he replied.

“Still are as far as I know. When I was in China a few years ago, I had a chance to visit a few art schools and they still copy. Mind you, people are still copying old masters in museums like the the Met and they seem to know how to paint.”

“That does, once again bring up the question of emphasizing originality over technique in most art schools today,” Stephen said.

“That goes back a long time. Certainly that was the case when I went to art school and that was over fifty years ago. I thought I still got sort of a solid education at the San Francisco Art Institute, but there was still the idea that we’re artists rather than students.”

“You know,” Stephen, mused as he painted, “we might be able to use one of those Chinese guys just to do the work right now. It would be easier than figuring this painting out. It would give us more time to drink and bull shit.”

“I think it’s coming out pretty good, myself. Just that it’s taking a lot of time. I’m getting saddle sores.”

We did have an agreed upon deadline of May 25th to finish the painting. It would, we reasoned, be a nice touch to put the last touch on the painting at the gallery in the closing hours of the 25th. Lord Beaverbrook Day; a bit of added drama. But, it did mean that we would have to get our shit together. No mean feat as Stephen was not only a slow worker, but he is very demanding of himself and I lived in the terror of him deciding to wipe everything out and starting over again.

“Art is a mugs game, art is just a game,” he said.

“But, it’s one you enjoy playing. I mean what else can you do?”

“Not a whole lot and you?”

“I never claimed to be clever. I’m one step more down the tubes than you. I write about art and you do it. Using Plato’s analogy, it puts me pretty much on the bottom of the heap. First you got the idea; then the thing itself; then the imitation of the thing, art and finally, me writing about art. Tis’ a long way from reality.”

“I prefer Aristotle’s definition of art being an improvement on nature rather than an imitation,” Stephen said, “anyway who wants an innovation to The Republic? Sounds like a boring place.”

“Rather like Heaven. Give me Hell, at least it’s warm which is more than you can say for Canada in the winter and there is some variety in Hell,” I added.

“It seems that your namesake, Virgil, was quite the expert on Hell.”

“Yeah, Dante seemed to think so. Made him the guide to the whole damn place.”

“Art critics should be guides of some sort don’t you think? Leading people down the garden path to art appreciation.”

“Most critics,” I replied, “couldn’t find their way to the washroom unaided.”

“It’s upstairs.”

“Thanks for the information. I like those extensions you made for your brushes. Keeps you from getting too close to the canvas.”

“I’ve got all of these brushes and I can never find the right one.”

“Perhaps the right one is at the art gallery. There’s quite a bundle there.” (We had setup a dummy studio at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery as part of our exhibition which included a number of brushes.)

“Listen, you never have the right brush regardless of how many you own. How’s it going anyway? You seem to be enjoying yourself.”

“It’s got a long way to go. Let’s take a break for coffee and you can judge for yourself. You’re the critic aren’t you?”

We tend to work in periods of thirty to forty five minutes, then stop to take stock and generally have a cup of coffee. The good thing about this setup as compared to those that were at my house is that lighting, while artificial, is constant. We don’t have to worry if it’s cloudy, rainy and having the light change position as the sun moves. Natural light is certainly nicer, but it’s nice not to worry about the light. The big thing, of course, is colour temperature, but Stephen, with all his years of experience has a pretty good handle on the problem. Colour does look different under artificial light than it does under natural light and that’s what we’re talking about as colour temperature and it can be measured in degrees Kelvin, but who wants to go there.

The big problem that we were having is that I forgot to bring the right shirt, the famous yellow shirt, with me from Sackville so we were working around the missing shirt emphasizing my head and a beautiful head it is. “It looking pretty good to me,” I said taking a sip of coffee.

“Is that the best you can do? Not very profound for an expert.”

“Well, the coffee is better at my place,” I offered.

“I’m having a problem with the right hand side of your head.”

“Is it in the details?” I said.

“Likely the opposite. Too much detail. I should be using a bigger brush. I need to get the impression.”

As I have said, throughout this process, Stephen uses far larger brushes than one would think when looking at his finished paintings. I’ve watched Alex Colville and Chris Pratt paint and they do use tiny brushes, ones, twos while Stephen is popping away with tens and twelves. Brushes range in the size of their tip from 00, the one hair type, up to twelve and beyond. There are flats, rounds, brights and, believe it or not, filberts. All of this is very interesting to painters, but the general public tends not to care, but, for information sake, Stephen is a large flat guy when it comes to brushes. To not confuse this with Long Flat which is an Australian red wine and not a bad one.

The thing about how Stephen works, as did Rembrandt and Hals, when using broad brush work is that the paintings fall together when you step back and view the them at a proper distance. Some say that the proper distance is the diagonal of the painting, but I like to get my nose right up to the surface as well which drives museum guards wild. Stephen and I have gone around and around on this issue. It boils down to that there is no proper distance. Likely there is no proper anything, but that would leave Stephen and me with nothing to talk about.

I sat down and Stephen started painting again. “You know we’ve got all day tomorrow to paint,” I said, “I vote for dinner and a good bottle of wine.”

“You don’t have a vote and since my radiation treatment I can’t taste a fucking thing. Wine and food all taste like shit.”

“Bummer. Food is one of the great things in life and you know my opinion on wine. That only leaves sex.”

“A man your age shouldn’t be talking about sex. It could prove dangerous,” he told me.

“Look, I already had my heart attack back in 03 and If I got to go I would it rather be in bed after a great dinner while engaged in even greater sex.”

“Dream on and while you’re at it sit still for a minute.”

“Well, stop talking about sex.”

“You brought it up.”

“Shouldn’t you be using more medium?” I said making an uncalled for suggestion.

“I don’t need a medium.”

“Yes, you do. It makes wet on wet easier.”

“My wet on wet is just fine. Shut up with the medium stuff.

painting toolsMediums are mixtures of oils, solvents and varnishes that are used to thin paint from the tube to a consistency that’s more fluid. (Pedants: I know that plural of medium is media, but here we’re describing different painting mediums.) Stephen does mix walnut oil with his paint and, from time to time, occasionally, sparingly, uses a medium of his own mixture, but he is loathed to admit it.

“You’ve got to push control to the back burner,” he said, “The only time things happen is when you’re taking a chance.”

“Hey, Columbus took a chance and he died he in jail.”

“Very helpful.”

We painted for another hour or so and threw in the towel for the day around five-thirty. I was keen to get to the red wine even if Stephen couldn’t taste it and tomorrow could spend all day working.

© Virgil Hammock, Sackville NB, Canada, Monday, June 9, 2014.

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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.

Kara

Kara

“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.

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Stephen Paints a Picture: Part Twenty One

May 7, 2014

18/19 April 2014

Part One of Two

There has been a seven month hiatus since Stephen Scott worked on his portrait of me and an awful lot has happened during that time.

The major thing, of course, was Stephen’s battle with oral cancer. It was a fight that everyone hopes that he has won. It has not been easy; a long and complicated operation followed by many, many sessions of radiation, but he is a stubborn and courageous fighter. He has very good support from his family and friends and, in particular, from his wife and soulmate, Sophie. The other thing that has happened, and this a good thing, is that our project resulted in a major exhibition, which I curated, at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, New Brunswick that is presently on view and will continue until the 8th. of June. The exhibition’s title is the same as our project, Stephen Paints a Picture, and consists of the oil sketches and drawings he completed over last summer, plus an e-book of all of my blog posts. In addition, there are over twenty more, mostly large, oil paintings of his that I picked from his studio.

The exhibition was planned just prior to Stephen learning about his cancer. “Just prior” are the operative words here as it was only one week before he was diagnosed that we settled on a date for the exhibition. Many of us in Sackville over the summer, Stephen, in particular, had an idea that there was something seriously wrong with his health, but the idea of an exhibition of our summer’s work at a major public art gallery was certainly attractive. Originally the idea, if you were following my blog, was that I would go to Fredericton several times over the fall and Stephen would finish the large portrait that he had started in Sackville. This was to central to the idea of the exhibition. Plans change.

I thought that it was important that the exhibition go on regardless of Stephen’s illness in the grand cliché of the “show must go on”. I believe very strongly in the quality of Stephen’s work and when you have a chance at a major exhibition at a public art gallery you take it. Fortunately, Stephen agreed and we had to come up an alternative to our original plan. I thought, what would happen if we displayed the unfinished portrait, which was a charcoal cartoon on canvas, along with the oil sketches and drawings and that we finished the painting in the gallery during the run of the exhibition? There were a lot of imponderables in the idea as we had to believe that Stephen would be well enough to paint while the exhibition was up, but Stephen and I believed that he would be. Terry Graff, the Beaverbrook’s director, thought it was a really interesting idea and it was his idea to extend the exhibition to include more works by Stephen.

So when Stephen Paints a Picture opened on the 27th. of February we had created a small studio in one corner of the exhibition with the unfinished painting sitting on easel with brushes, paint and a palette on a small table beside it. It should be said that Stephen had just finished his radiation treatment a few days before the opening and it wasn’t certain that he would be well enough to attend, but nothing was going to stop him and he was there. Now we had to figure out the when and how of completing the portrait. So on the 16th. of April, I arrived at Stephen’s house, in Nashwaak Village which is just outside of Fredericton, and now is his studio as well, to see if we could get a head start on finishing the painting as there was no way that it could all be done in the gallery given how slowly he works. Stephen had spent over forty hours on the preliminary oil sketches and drawings during the summer as this was to be a major three by four foot painting.

The following day was a bust as the Saint John River, on which his house borders, was threatening to flood and we spent the day checking the basement and an escape route, but the river crested and all was OK except we were out of wine and beer. The next day we got to the gallery, had a pleasant lunch with Terry, took the unfinished canvas, replaced it with a blank canvas, bought lots of wine and retreated to Naswaak Village.

After drinking some of the wine we decided that it would be better to start painting the next day. After breakfast Stephen had to solve some technical problems before we could start. The big one was to recreate the lighting that we had at my house over the summer so that he could use the oil sketches and drawings as a guide for the large painting. This meant blocking all the windows in the studio and setting up artificial light.

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Portrait of Virgil by Stephen Scott

“What colour shirt do you want me to wear? The blue one or the yellow one?” I asked. During the summer we had used two different shirts for the oil sketches, two with me wearing a blue shirt and two with a yellow one. I had brought both of them with me. “It doesn’t matter. How about the yellow one?”

“Suits me.”

“Wait, I want to put some tape on the floor to mark the legs on the chair.” The idea was to mark everything so that we cold replicate the situation at each sitting. I sat in the chair, while he played with the lights and when he was satisfied, he marked their positions as well.

“It’s bloody cold in here, man, I’m going to freeze my ass off,” I complained.

“There’s a heater upstairs in the bathroom,” he told me.

“OK, I’ll go get it while you play with your paints.”

After I plugged in the heater and sat down again, he said, “Your hair is the same.”

“It’s been seven months and not seven years, but I assure you, I’m getting older and not necessarily better.”

“Sit still for a minute while I figure it out.” He told me to move my head this way and that before he figured he had it right.

“Look, you know that I’m going to move from time to time if I’m going to keep notes of our brilliant conversation.”

“Yeah, but try and keep it to a minimum.”

“The conversation or my movement?”

“Very funny and your left hand goes over your right.”

paintings in the beaverbrook

Stephen & Virgil at The Beaverbrook Art Gallery

“That was quite an interesting painting we looked at in the vault at the Beaverbrook yesterday. Graham Sutherland’s small portrait of Somerset Maugham. A good choice, if I say so myself,” I said. I was talking about a painting that was the first choice for a new project that Stephen and I were looking forward to doing this summer. Starting with the Beaverbrook, the only Canadian location, we want to go art museums in the north eastern United States from Maine to New York and, at each, pick a painting from their collection and have a conversation about it. I’ll put the conversation on my blog, produce an e-book and a short You Tube video on each painting.

“I really like Sutherland’s paintings, in particular, his portraits, but there was another picture on the same rack. A tall thin painting of a man in a grey overcoat,” Stephen said.

“I think I know the one you mean it’s by Walter Sickert. Another great British painter. It’s a shame that artists like Sutherland and Sickert aren’t appreciated as much has they should be.”

“They are in sort of a lost period, but I agree they are both really interesting artists,” he replied, “you know this surface is crap.” He was referring to canvas he was working on. “I bought this at Mt. A (Mount Allison University) bookstore. It was cheap and shows. It’s not sealed enough and it’s sucking up the paint. I’m going to put on a couple of coats shellac. It’ll dry fast. In the meantime, we can have another cup of coffee.”

“Sure, I’ve got no place to go. What did you think that you learned from our show?”

“I think that I have more freedom to move forward. It’s really interesting to see your work in a venue like the Beaverbrook.”

“It’s also cool to have it up in it’s own space for three to four months,” I added.

“In a commercial art gallery you’re lucky if it’s two weeks and then your work that doesn’t sell is generally tied up for a year.”

“The answer, Stephen, is to sell all your work at the opening.”

“Fat chance of that in a place like New Brunswick,” he said.

“I don’t know about you, but a life changing event like the one that you just went through is certainly a good time to reflect on your life. I know it was for me after my heart attack and my own bout of cancer and your crap was a whole lot more dramatic than mine. This much is for sure, you scared the shit the shit out of me.”

“Yeah, it does give you a pause. Life is short and I don’t feel like fucking around any more.”

He started back on the painting and was using quite a long maul stick. “I had one of those,” I said, “I gave it to one of my students when I retired and stopped painting.

Most artists don’t even know about them much less how to use them.”

“They come in handy to keep your hand steady and out of the paint,” he said. The other thing that he did was to add extensions, wooden dowels, to his brushes to make them longer so that he could paint further away from the canvas. Also, different from our Sackville sessions over the summer is that he was mostly standing while he painted rather than seated.

“Painters in the past did use much longer brushes when they were painting larger portraits. It’s hard to buy long portrait brushes these days,” I remarked, “however, I did find some remarkable and beautiful portrait brushes at Pearl Paint in New York City. They cost me a small fortune and I ended up giving them to the same student that I gave the maul stick to.”

“I didn’t want hear that. I wish that you had given them to me,” Stephen said.

“You weren’t around at the time, but I did give you that great French drawing paper and a roll of six foot canvas.”

“So you did. Try and keep your head in one place. You know one thing that we haven’t talked much about is 19th. century English Romantic painters like John William Waterhouse.”

“Yeah, he’s coming back in fashion after being nearly forgotten. I tried to look him up in my 1970 copy of The Oxford Companion to Art, a big honking 1200 page book, and he’s not there. I think his 1888 Lady of Shalott is a hoot, but it’s beautifully painted.”

“I like his The Mermaid around the turn of the century, 1901, I think. Again, a very pretty painting.”

“I guess you could call him a Post Pre-Raphaelite. He was out of date when he was painting his best pictures. It was round the same time as the Impressionists and the Post Impressionists, but he was wildly popular in his own time,” I said.

© Virgil Hammock, Sackville NB, Canada, Thursday, May 1, 2014.

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Portrait of an Artist

March 24, 2014

From the Telegraph Journal Salon section 22 March 2014

Last summer, adjunct curator Virgil Hammock sat for a portrait by Fredericton artist Stephen Scott. Hammock documented the almost two-month experience, sharing their conversations and his own thoughts about art. The collaboration has been assembled as the exhibition ‘Stephen Paints a Picture,’ on display at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery until June 8. Here are some excerpts from Hammock’s documentation.

Read/Download the PDF here:

Portrait Of An Artist TJ

The blog series: Stephen Paints a Picture

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Stephen Paints a Picture at The Beaverbrook Art Gallery

February 24, 2014

Stephen Paints a Picture at The Beaverbrook Art Gallery (link)

Fredericton, NB – Opening on 27 February 2014 from 5:00 to 7:00 PM

Until 8 June 2014

stephen scott artistMy friend, the artist Stephen Scott, likes to take his summers away from his Fredericton area studio and home to travel and paint in a different location. This year he decided on going back to his roots in Sackville, New Brunswick, where he had studied art at Mount Allison University from 1974 to 1978. I was the head of the fine arts department when he was a student here. Now he is nearly a senior citizen and certainly a senior artist. What that makes me is left to your imagination. Soon after his arrival this summer, we fell into a conversation over coffee about the act of painting. I told him about a book, Man with a Blue Scarf, I had read written by British art critic Martin Gayford, of sitting for a portrait by Lucian Freud, and how interesting it was to follow their conversation over the very long time it took Freud to complete the painting. One thing led to another and we decided to repeat the idea with me as the subject. Stephen is a very good portrait painter and likes to paint from life. It is a very different process from painting from photographs and Stephen, like Freud, is a very slow and meticulous artist.

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Stephen Paints a Picture – Part Twenty

January 2, 2014

12 September 2013

Today was the last day that Stephen Scott was going to work on our portrait project in Sackville before he returned home to Fredericton. We did have a short session three days before, on the 9th. of September, which was after our last two hour plus session on the 7th. The short session was to work more on tracing a drawing to a large canvas and to do a little more work on the first oil sketch. We had talked earlier that morning at the Black Duck Café about Bay Area (San Francisco) figurative painting and we continued the talk at my place while he worked on the drawing on the canvas. “I like the Bay Area painters,” he said, “but, seeing as you studied with a lot of them in San Francisco, you’ve seen a lot more of their real stuff than I have.” “Yeah, I spent five years at the San Francisco Art Institute between 1959 and 1965 and did get to know a lot of them pretty well. Actually, it was still the California School of Fine Arts when I started.” “Who did you like?” he said. “Well, there was a difference between who I liked best as a teacher and who I liked best as an artist.” “It’s true that the best teachers might not be the best artists. Some really good artists are more concerned with themselves than they’re with students,” he said.

“Of course, the most famous artist I studied with at the time was Richard Diebenkorn, but the guy I liked most was Jim Weeks. He did a lot for me,” I said.

“What was wrong with Diebenkorn?”

“Dick was OK, but we locked horns in my third or fourth year painting class. He was OK with the painting, but he couldn’t stand my subject matter—thought it was shit. On reflection, he may have been right.”

“What were you doing?”

“California style stuff with Pop content. He was more at home with Matisse.”

“The best teacher at Mount A was Ted Pulford,” Stephen said.

“I agree, but he was the one that most of the students complained to me about. They thought he was too hard-assed. It was only years later that some of those same student said he was their best teacher.”

“We’ve talked about this before,” he said, “ you often don’t have a clue what’s going on while you are at school. It only comes to you later and then it’s too late.”

“The thing about Weeks that was different, and I took a lot of classes from him, was that he would come to my house towards the end of my studies to look at my work. At that time at the school I was working full-time, married and had a child. So I ended up doing most of work at home on my own. He is the reason I finished art school. Great guy. Really good painter who never got the fame he deserved.”

“You should really write about your time in San Francisco. It was an important time.” he said.

“I did start a novel years ago. Maybe, I should go back and finish it.”

VH sketch 12Sept

On the 12th., Stephen brought over everything, the oil sketches, the drawings and the large canvas. “I need to work on the hands,” he said opening up his sketchbook and picking up a pencil. The large painting was to include my hands, but he had not decided whether to include me holding my note book. So, he did some quick studies of my hands with and without the notebook. “I’ll have to figure this out back in Fredericton. It’ll sure work better if you were posing in person than from drawings and sketches.” “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Maybe I’ve done all my best work,” he said.

“Ridiculous. You’re next painting will be your best work.”

“Would it be that easy.”

“Well, I’m hoping that your paintings of me will be masterpieces. I don’t want to be remembered in mediocre work. Should I be remembered at all. In any case, you’re the famous artist and I am your humble subject.”

“Get off the humble shit.”

He was now working on the third and, final, oil sketch and had placed a white paper frame around it, “It helps me, I can see the colours better.” The day before we had kicked around whether he thought he was a figurative or realist painter and he settled on figurative, perhaps because we had spent most of our time talking about the Bay Area Figurative School.

“I change my mind,” he announced, “I’m a realist. I am a mannerist for fuck sake.”

“Well, as I have said before, you’re full of contradictions, but who am I to judge? I change my mind on a daily basis.”

“Look, that’s what art is; it works its way through contradictions,” Stephen said.

“You were talking about regionalism and realism yesterday as well,” I said.

“Yes, and I said realism was a universal and regionalism obviously is not.”

“But, at times, it pretty hard not to be a regionalist if you happen to be a realist particularly when you live in place like this,” I countered.

“Yes and no. Even landscape can be universal. It all depends on the tone and, of course, portraiture and still-life can overcome place.”

“Is place such a bad thing?”

“Of course not, but maybe it shouldn’t be the main thing.”

VH 12Sept

Stephen was looking at me and painting furiously, “You know my biggest kick has been my German experience. I became more painterly,” he said. “Sure, it’s really important to look at as much good art has you can and there is certainly more to look at in Germany than in New Brunswick,” I said. “Max Beckmann and the earlier painters of Die Brücke like Nolde, Kirchner, Heckel and Schmidt-Rottluff were really revolutionary,” he said. “And it got them into hot shit when Nazis came along, particularly Beckmann,” I added. “In Beckmann’s case it was America’s gain, Germany’s loss,” he said.

“It’s hard to believe how much great painting was done before World War I and the period leading up to World War II in Germany and how it got all screwed around by the Nazis and Hitler,” I said

“Too bad Hitler wasn’t a better artist. The world would be a different place now,” he said.

“Actually, his watercolours weren’t that bad and certainly not bad enough to start a world war,” I added.

Art, we agreed, was only a mirror to history and not a revolution in itself. The politics of art when you come right down to it are minor when compared to the catastrophe of the real thing, but we both thought it was good to be an artist as no one is actual killed by bad painting or a bad piece of writing. “ I am pretty happy about the way this summer has panned out. I’ve learned something about painting,” he said. “And what would that be?” “Well, that honesty is important and I really don’t care how long it takes to make a decent picture.” I had to certainly agree with those conclusions and that it had, indeed, been a good summer. We had talked ourselves hoarse about art and were no closer to truth than when we started in mid-July, but we did have a product: some paintings, drawings and a lot of words. We still had a larger painting to complete and that was to come.

P.S. An exhibition of this project will open at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada on February 27th. 2014 and run through June 8th. 2014.

© Virgil Hammock, Sackville NB Canada, Saturday, December 28, 2013.

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Stephen Paints a Picture – Part Nineteen

December 26, 2013

7 September 2013

Stephen Scott arrived at my place after Saturday morning’s farmers market, and having had our, now traditional, Friday night lobster dinner and was keen to get to work on our portrait project although we had worked the day before, “I’ve been thinking about it and I do know what art is about,” he announced. “Do tell?”, I said. “It’s about being true to yourself, not following trends and always being behind,” he said. “Did all of this come from last night’s two bottles of wine?” “Don’t be such a shit. I’m serious.”

palette and portrait 7SeptHe started working on the first oil sketch, changing the shirt colour from red and blue to yellow, the colour of the shirt I was wearing today. We were talking about our idea of a new method of marketing his work and, perhaps, some other artists that we both knew using technology to reach a world wide market. “How do you think we should choose the artists?” I asked. “We need to start small. No more than three or four people,” he answered, “people we both know.”

“Granted. I think that it’s important that they can all get along, know each other. At least at the start. More important than everyone painting alike. They don’t all have to be realists, just good,” I said.

“A group of artists can be messy. Too many egos getting in the way,” he said.

“That’s why it’s important that you have somebody riding herd and, in this case, that would be me, but and it’s a very big but; the artists have to be in charge. It’s me working for the artists, not the other way around.”

“That’s a tall order,” he said, “rather like the chickens being in charge of the fox.”

“What I’m thinking is a co-op. There are a lot of co-op models around. The members hire a professional manager who runs the business, but the business belongs to the members,” I said.

“Sounds a little too idealistic to me,” he said.

“I think that it can be done, but it requires a lot of thought. It’s something we can work on over the winter. Surely there’s a way. It’s got to be better than what’s going on now.”

“OK, let’s leave it for now and concentrate on this damn painting.”

Playing with his brush, Stephen added, somewhat remorsefully, “Artists are a self-indulgent lot.” “And what do you mean by that? If they weren’t they wouldn’t be making art, they would be doing something useful like selling insurance.” “Very funny, I was being serious. Artists are using their art to communicate and make contact.” “Contact with who?” “People like you, stupid.” I thought that the painting and the conversation were going along swimmingly. We had three oil sketches on the go and by going back and forth between them, they were all, to my mind, looking pretty good, but I knew that Stephen had his doubts. He always has doubts and that’s what makes him a good painter. “Sooner or later, it should all come together,” he muttered. I knew that somewhere in his mind he a had a good idea what the final product would look like. It’s the same with writing. I know what I want, if only I can get the words to co-operate. There are in my head somewhere, I just have to spit them out.

“Paintings speak for themselves. Take cave art, we don’t know who did them, or why, and we don’t care. The images just are. I don’t like to get in the way of my art,” he said.

“You’ve got a point, but for a painting to be a painting, somebody got to paint it. I agree that I would rather look at a painting than read an artist’s statement.”

“Artist’s statements are usually the product of an art school education,” he said.

“We both should know as we both went to art school and I taught you. Actually, I don’t seem to remember writing one as an undergraduate, but that was fifty years ago. I didn’t do much in art school then, but paint and draw. Did do a piece of shit writing in grad school, though, for my defence.’’

We were listening to Bizet’s Carmen on the radio, he was drinking coffee and painting and I was drinking coffee and trying to pose and take notes all at the same time. “I’m going to miss these sessions,” he said, “but I’ve got to get back to Fredericton and Sophie (his wife) before she forgets about me.” “We’ve got a couple more days to get some work in. Then I’ve got to write all of the posts. I’m going to try to keep up the schedule of one every week on Wednesday mornings. Shit, that should take us to the end of the year.”

“My next step would be a re-invention of my work.” Stephen remarked, seemingly out of nowhere.

“That’s interesting as I’m trying to re-invent myself as well after all those years in the wilderness of local politics. In my case, it’s going back to where I was, both as a writer and photographer.”

“Me? I think that there is a lot of bad landscape painting out there and I’m not sure that I want do continue in that vein.”

“I keep telling you, don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. You have a nature gift for landscape.”

“Good landscape painting is all about mood, but that’s not enough,” he said

“And what would be enough?”

“I’m not exactly sure, but good art has to speak its own language.”

“You know,” I said, “I’m not really sure who we should be speaking to. I mean that there are a lot of bad people who like good art and good people who don’t give a fuck about art.”

“Perhaps, we should start with ourselves. If we can’t talk to each other as artists, I doubt if anyone else would give a damn,” he said.

“You do have a good point, you know, I am all in favour of art for art’s sake and artist’s artists, but you can’t ignore the viewer. I mean, we need a public, eh?”

“I’m not suggesting that we don’t, only that there is a sub-text to art that’s mostly invisible to non-artists.”

“It’s the visible stuff that sells, my son,” I answered.

“I’m not sure of that, look at all the Postmodern crap that seems to move at art fairs and the like. People with a lots money are buying the emperor’s new clothes and what could more invisible than that?”

“Yes, I have seen some high priced rocks and dirty underwear passing as art, but what they’re buying is status or laundering their ill-gotten money. Actually maybe they are just plain stupid.”

“Would that we could find the way to cash in with these people,” he said.

“Not a chance and, besides, what you do still takes too much time. Look, we’ve spent two months and, god knows, how many sittings and still haven’t got to where you want to be.”

“What I want right now is a beer. Let’s stop for today and head on down to Ducky’s,” he said, putting down his brush, “It hasn’t been a bad day’s work.”

© Virgil Hammock, Sackville NB Canada, Monday, December 23, 2013.

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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.”

“Mummy?”

“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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Stephen Paints a Picture – Part Seventeen

December 11, 2013

5 September 2013

It had been a few days since Stephen had worked on my portrait at my place. I asked him, when he arrived, about the last time he was here and our conversation about landscape painting. “Sure,” he said, “something to the effect that it was minor painting.” “And, if you remember, I said, that some of your best work was landscape and you were selling yourself short. Did you read that short forward to your show at the Yellow Box Gallery (in Fredericton) that’s going up Now?” “Yes.”

“Well, let me read it to you now. It’s short. Only three hundred words. It bears repeating.”

“Stephen Scott, as you can see from the paintings on the wall, has both a fine eye and hand. These small paintings speak elegantly to the long tradition of landscape painting. He is a plein-airist which simply means that he often paints directly from nature and that gives value to the immediacy of his art. Stephen is also an unabashed romantic and that, in this time and age, is a very good thing when so many of us are trying to be pragmatic about everything in our lives. One needs to step back and view the world in front of us as something wondrous; Stephen does.

Our relationship to nature has changed over the centuries from the fear of the unknown to the celebration of its beauty. Before the urbanization of European and North American society, nature could be a dangerous place where dark things could, and did, happen. Early landscape art reflected these feelings by showing nature as a place best avoided or as a background to human, generally religious, events and, at times, reduced to visual, stock, clichés. However by the mid-17th. Century, landscape painting came into its own as a reflection of the emerging values of humanism. During the 19th. and early 20th. Centuries, landscape painting came to optimize Romantic sensibilities. Today there seems to be little mainstream interest in landscape art perhaps because it does not fit readily into the Postmodern mode except perhaps as a vehicle for irony. Back to Stephen as a romantic–he paints landscape as a window to an understanding of nature, as a thing of beauty. There is no irony in these paintings of the west coast of Newfoundland, only his sense of that what was before his eyes waiting to be discovered by him and now shared with us.”

“Do you agree with that?” I asked.

“It’s hard to disagree, only a lot has changed since I painted those pictures, in particular, my thinking.” he said.

“All that I am suggesting is that you don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater,” I said, “You have a gift for landscape painting.”

“Enough of this stuff, let’s get down to work. Time is running out. I only have a few days before going back to Fredericton.”

“OK, so what’s the plan?” I said.

“I’m going to do my very best to finish the three oil sketches and then give the cartoon (the drawing on the large canvas) a shot.”

september paletteHe was working on the third of the oil sketches, “Mars violet, isn’t it pretty? Love these colours (his palette). Just like candy.” It was a dull day and he had bounced a flood light off the ceiling and turned on the light over the kitchen sink. We hadn’t much choice as time was running out and the weather had been bad for the last three or four days. “I hate working with these lights. It screws up the colour,” he said.

“The first thing you pick up is the emotional tone of a work. That’s something I learned from Cézanne,” he added.

“Well, Cézanne is a pretty good role model, but the first thing that I look at are the technical aspects of a painting and only then, at anything else.”

“I go with a gut feeling as did Cézanne,” Stephen said.

“Guts aside, both you and Cézanne are pretty good technical painters.”

“Let’s not compare me with Cézanne, but seriously, people who look at my paintings who know me see them differently than those who don’t.”

“So, the trick, if you are going to make any money out of this racket, is to get to know more people and that’s where I come in.”

“And what are you going to do?”

“It’s already happening. Lots of people are reading my blog posts about our project. The answer, my friend, is written on the web.”

Stephen and I had been talking all summer about a better way to market art than through the traditional gallery/artists model. Communication is now worldwide and instantaneous. The question is how do you use these new technologies to market something as material as painting in a way that is beneficial to artists. With new technologies there should be new ideas. Artists should be able to deal directly with buyers be they across town or halfway around world.

“Somehow, I can’t visualize the look of it. People want to see the real thing before they part with real cash,” Stephen said.

“Of course, but there are ways around it. Artists need agents just like musicians who work on their behalf worldwide and its a very different role than is currently being done by dealers and galleries.”

“I’m game, but where do you start?” he asked.

“Small. It’s something we should really look into this fall. Perhaps we could find two or three artists here in New Brunswick who would be interested. I have some friends here who really know their way around the web who might be interested to help.”

“OK, but let’s get back to work.”

“Sure, but tell me, do you remember the first painting, or close to it, that really turned you on?” I said.

“One I remember, from when I was young, is a copy of a Winslow Homer painting at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, After the Rain.”

“Homer was quite the painter, especially his watercolours. How about something later and original and not a copy.”

“Picasso’s Three Musicians. It’s so loaded. So much expression,” he said.

“Weird, that’s a painting that knocked my socks off too. I remember when I first saw it at MOMA in 1956. I was in New York awaiting shipment to Korea after finishing the US Army photo school in New Jersey. Changed my life, I think.”

“Yeah, he just nailed it, didn’t he? A couple of other artists I like are the Pratts and David Blackwood. It’s a Newfoundland thing, but, on the whole, I think that Tom Forrestall is a better painter.”

“Well, I should get you down to Halifax, really Dartmouth, to meet Tom. I am doing some work on him and I have known him for years.”

“I would like that.”

We agreed that we had better try and work every day until he leaves for home, but I might end up having to go to Fredericton for a couple of sittings as well. “I think this is all going to turn out well after all,” he said. “I couldn’t agree more. I think we will both have our fifteen minutes of fame.”

“That’s fourteen minutes more than most people get,” he added.

VH 5Sept

© Virgil Hammock, Sackville NB, Canada, Sunday, December 8, 2013.

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Stephen Paints a Picture – Part Sixteen

December 4, 2013

31 August 2013

It was Saturday and Stephen Scott and I had already met at the Sackville Farmers Market for a cup of coffee at the Black Duck Café and after the usual postmortem of last night’s dinner, lobster, again, we decided to continue his painting of my portrait in the afternoon at, as usual, my place. Sophie, his wife, had left to go back to Fredericton and her teaching job after spending the summer in Sackville. Stephen had found another place to live for the next couple of weeks so that we could keep working on our project. So, at 1:45 he was knocking at my door.

“This new place of mine is really depressing. Even Echo (his dog) doesn’t like it,” he said, “I don’t know how long I’ll be able to stand it.”

“Ah, but you still have me.”

“I think I would rather have Sophie.”

“Absence does make…”

“I know, make the heart grow fonder, but that’s bullshit,” he said finishing my sentence.

brush and paletteBullshit aside, Stephen noticed that he was running short on flake white paint. “I am going to have to dig some more up on Monday. It’s pretty key to my work.” He did pull out a new tube of mars yellow from of his paint box. “This might help with the lights,” he added. By lights, he was referring to the lighting in tone of the colours in his palette. He was working on the latest of the three oil sketches, blue and red shirt, white t-shirt, “I’ve got to find a good place to start. Look for the darkest and lightest spots. It’s a matter of play after all.” I suggested that a good light spot would be the tip of my nose and the darks would be my thoughts, but that he couldn’t paint them. “I don’t know about that,” he said, “I hope that my painting shows more of you than just the surface.” I assured him that my remark was only a lame attempt at humour. The nature of a good portrait is about both the sitter and the artist. Think of the portraits of Rembrandt and Goya and what they tell of us of their subjects and themselves. I really think that Stephen’s oil sketches of me are going far beyond any photograph in capturing me warts and all.

“Do you think that it’s important that the colour of your palette (the board on which places his colours) is the same as ground (the blank surface of the canvas),” I asked.

“I suppose so, but I am working with a white ground, but just the same, it’s good to have the colour look the same on the palette as it does on the canvas,” he answered.

“That’s why I asked. Because when I painted portraits, I tended to use a middle value ground, usually green or brown and it was important that the palette was a mid-value as well. That way I could work both ways. Middle to light and light to dark.”

“That’s very old fashioned. Most artists from the Impressionist on worked on white grounds.”

“I never claimed to be up to date. I rather like being old fashioned and you aren’t exactly up to date yourself. Walnut oil?” I said.

“But, you can be fresh with an old idea,” he replied.

“I can’t deny that old chestnut or, should I say walnut. There are very few really new ideas in art and fresh is about as good as it gets.”

VH 31Aug2013Stephen was looking intently at his painting, “You’ve got some tricky passages in your face.” I wasn’t sure what he meant; most people just think I have my fair share of wrinkles. “What colour is your face?” he asked. “I haven’t a clue. Off white? Pinkish?” I said. “I really wasn’t expecting an answer. I was asking myself.” We had, as usual the radio on in the background, “Nice to work by opera. What is it?” he said. “Mozart, I think. Let me look,” I said looking at the readout on my streaming radio, “I was right. It’s Bastien une Bastienne. A very early work, and I do mean early, by him. He was twelve” “Nice, all the same,” he said. “People like that really piss me off. When I was twelve, I was still playing with marbles,” I said. “Thank God, there aren’t many people like that. Most of us just have to bust our balls to do anything that’s remotely nice. Got to agree that geniuses are few and far between,” he added. This sort of brought up again, the question of raw talent versing hard work. We agreed, early on, that it would be best to have both talent and hard work, but the subject keeps coming up.

“I don’t know what to think about landscape anymore. It lacks the human condition and it’s easy to fake,” Stephen said.

“Christ, Stephen, you’ve spent your whole life painting landscapes and, I might add, good ones.”

“Still, I am reluctant to show them.”

“I wouldn’t go there. They are your bread and butter and besides, as I said, they are damn good. Let’s stop for coffee and think this out.”

We drink a lot of coffee during our sessions as it keeps both of us on edge and, in my case, awake. “It takes a major study for a major painting which I hope will be the result of all this work,” he said. “Look, I think these oil sketches are pretty nice on their own as are the drawings. It’s been a good summer’s work. Mind you, a honking great painting of myself wouldn’t be bad. Generations to come will say, who in the hell is that funny guy in the Scott painting?” “That’s assuming that either of us will have a place in history or that there is a future, period,” Stephen said.

Back at work, he remarked, “I love the feeling of paint, but it’s got to be right.” It was one of those remarks that only makes sense between painters as painting is such a physical activity. It is the act of painting rather than the product that drives printers to continue paint. “I keep going back to Colville all the time. It’s all about location. If I was in London, I’d be thinking about Stanley Spencer,” he said. “Well you are in my kitchen now and we’re in Sackville. How’s that for a location? Any different from any kitchen, anywhere?” I asked. “You are always where you are even if it’s only in your head,” he said. “I don’t know about a typical Canadian portrait unless I was wearing a plaid shirt and toque, eh?” “Maybe, I should get you to wear a toque,” he said. “Yeah, we could call it The Portrait of Jack Pine.”

“Speaking of Canadianisms, we have to stop painting as I promised Meredith that I would go with her to a friend’s cottage on the shore for some lobster,” I said. Even though, I have lived in Canada for the last forty-six years, I have never figured out the cottage thing, but I do like lobster. “OK,” he said, “I can work on some of this stuff at home.”

cabin

© Virgil Hammock, Sackville NB Canada, Sunday, December 1, 2013.