“No guru, no method, no teacher
Just you and I and nature”
(In the Garden, Van Morrison)
Standhal Syndrome: Last year I visited an exhibition that I found so overwhelming I had to leave, twice. It felt like I was in an altered state of dizzying awareness. The condition of being completely overwhelmed by art is known as Standhal Syndrome. Plants and flowers were bursting, swirling and growing in every direction. The show was a whirling excess of patterns and complexity. It was like life itself, nothing simple about it. What resonated most for me, was the feeling that in my own work, I was tapped into something archetypal. It was clear that many artists from around the world, and throughout time, had felt the same intuition. The universe is like a garden.
A Cosmic Garden: These were gardens with a higher purpose. To me, these artists were making images that were like metaphors of the universe. Tiny images of the cosmos. Perhaps as humans we desperately want the universe to be like a garden so that it all makes sense. A garden has a gardener, who shapes nature, and makes order out of chaos.
Bliss: Gardens Real and Imagined: I was very moved by this exhibition curated by Natalia Nekrassova at the Textile Museum of Canada. It featured centuries of textile works from around the world. All of them unified by an exuberant love of plants and flowers. The time and craftsmanship that went into these works was mind blowing. I think we need more shows like this that emphasize what we have in common on a deep human level rather than everything that’s different.
What I see: When I look at In The Garden I see life swirling around. I feel energy and vibration. Plants growing and blossoms exploding. Particles and atoms zipping about. I see the heavens, planets and galaxies. I feel a world bubbling and blooming, evolving and fucking. Like Toronto, I see a beautiful mess. A vibrant crudeness, crowded and busy, filled up to the brink. Trying to punch holes. Packed with stuff to do and endless projects. Distractions and updates. Chaotic and unordered. Anxiety. Endless lists. I see a desire for an ordered world and a cleared out space. A need to always prove something. Or is that just me?
Blender: My work is like a blender with the same ingredients added in different combinations and then mixed together into new drinks. The cosmos has been a central theme in my work for years. So have storms, clouds, grasses, plants and flowers. Finding order in chaos, shifting perspectives and current news events. But until now the cosmos hadn’t mixed with the plants and flowers. Since Cape Flora, my last exhibition at loop Gallery, I’ve spent the last year out on the streets of Toronto photographing constantly every day. I’m always shooting details of colours, street life, plants and flowers. The result is thousands of photographs.
Colour Charts: Art School Untangled is my private studio art courses. I teach an intensive eight week course devoted exclusively to mixing paint called The Colour Mixing Detective. As I’ve developed this course I’ve created hundreds of complex colour charts and mixed an exhaustive amount of colour combinations. The process has been fascinating and I’ve learned a lot. I’m using colours I’d never have touched and discovered a remarkable level of nuance.
Byproducts: In the Garden emerged over time out of a process I’ve used in the past. While I was doing hundreds of colour charts, instead of squirting my paint on a palette, I used a wood painting surface. I’d continually turn it around, and randomly wipe my brushes on it. Essentially, these paintings are the accumulation of my wiped brushstrokes! Layer upon layer, built up over time, until something suddenly happened. A spark of life. It became a painting! Over a year this process grew into a body of work with over 25 paintings.
Emergence: The process was like improvisation or jazz. There’s a set of limits or rules, but then it’s all about letting surprising things emerge. I never set out to make paintings that evoked a garden, or the cosmos or anything like that. These paintings are totally abstract, yet I still feel those things. It just happened on it’s own without even trying. It’s not about thinking, it’s about trusting. Knowing without knowing. Letting it flow like nature. The key is recognizing it when it happens!
Changes: When I used this process in the past in my Cosmos and Anarchy series, I took the mess of paint that accumulated and added all sorts of imagery on top. For In the Garden I mostly left things alone. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t continue to work on them. I’d edit things out. Exaggerate or clarify. Create more volume or depth. Maybe pull something forward and push something back. In painting there’s a time for going nuts and throwing it all out there, but afterwards you need to get some perspective and do some editing. Does this actually work?
Lessons: For me the number one lesson of these paintings was “stop fucking with them!” Leave them alone. Let them be what they are. Accept them without feeling the need to fix them too much. I can now go back and look at “unfinished” paintings from the past and know that I can leave them alone. They’re already done, and often better than ones I thought were done. Now I continually ask can I accept this as a finished painting?”
Many Worlds: For a long time I’ve thought about painting as like building a universe. It’s a glimpse inside another world. Like opening windows or punching holes. Alternate universes could exist, but they will always have their own laws. They have to be internally coherent, You can’t just throw anything in there.
Joan Mitchell: I’ve grown to love the paintings of abstract expressionist Joan Mitchell. I admire her rawness. She was willing to let things sit there in a messy state. She didn’t finesse the life out of it or feel the need to present a well done painting. She knew that the mess was filled with energy and excitement. Leave it rough. The crudeness is the power.