For over ten years as an illustrator, I did a small papercut a month for The United Church Observer. Some years back I started doing larger pieces. As a way to translate drawings it’s kind of a wonderful challenge. Lines can’t be too skinny because they need to be cut and also every element acts as an anchors for whatever other cut elements are around it. Nothing can float free or be an island; every line or shape has to be attached. You’re working with only two values: the dark paper you cut (I always use black) and the lighter value of the mat against which you display the cut image. A cut line has graphic strength.
Life is a Parade
Of the three underwater images, the two single figures were painted in gouache. The others are acrylic on 300 lb. paper. Betsy and Mandy curled up at my feet on the verandah at Moya’s house in La Fortuna, on the Ecuadorian coast. I love their shape. Neither dog is alive now. Mandy was Betsy’s daughter. I think it was 2008. That’s the same year, I think, that I took that photo in the Fiestas of Canoa, of the grumpy little princess. The three swimmers are sisters: Taty, Sioban and Daphne. I’m their comadre, along with Kim Mcghee. We are collectively known as Kimelley.
Betsy & Mandy
At the core of this series are 12 pieces created from ‘96-‘97 in Ecuador. I was renting an adobe house overlooking a section of El Valle de los Chillos. I thought I was going to the equator to write, but the words didn’t come. The same thing happened to P.K. Page when she got to Brazil, so she started to draw. (Her book Brazilian Journal is a magnificent account of the impact on creativity of an intense tropical culture.)
The torso images were based on photographs of models but I thought of them less as nudes than as portraits of emotional states. I was working in a medium I’ll call painterly collage where torn bits of paper (often old paintings and drawings) were made to mimic a brushstroke. There are layers and layers of paint, mostly glazes, on these. The images measure around 18X24”—a full sheet of watercolour paper. I’d puddle on the colour, wait a minute, then wipe most of it off. The paint is absorbed more by the raw paper than on the collaged sections—that’s why there are those denser wedges of saturated colour. Each piece took about a month.
Out of this Marsupial Night
Riding It Out
The Tucked Figures, large
In 2003 or earlier I started working on oversized figurative drawings, acrylic washes over pencil on Arches paper off a roll, which I cut into squares (4.5 x 4.5 feet) or sheets of 300-pound Lana 3.5 x 5 feet. The paper would be pinned to a board leaning against the wall. After I’d made the base drawing in pencil, I’d shift the board to the floor to paint. William Kentridge talks about how the story of his films is really the story of a repeated short walk between the wall, where he draws in charcoal on paper, and the still camera about 4 feet away. (He shoots a few frames, makes changes to the drawing—deciding as he goes, rather than having a predetermined plot in mind—then shoots more frames, etc.) I was necessarily close to the wall/paper when drawing, but to see what I’d drawn in relation to the rest I had to stand back. That was the method: step in to draw, step back to see, repeat, anyway, it made for lots and lots of erasure. The painting was about kneeling and laying down paint, then standing and walking around to the bottom of the painting, a vantage point where I could gauge what I’d just done in the context of the overall image. The figures were ‘size as’ or larger and that made for an interesting encounter between artist and subject, and between subject and process.
The Small Drawings
This series started around 2011, I think. I’d been working on big images for a while and wanted the intimacy of the small scale. I had some old polaroids of nudes that I shot a couple of decades ago; they were moody, in keeping with that older technology. I took them to a print shop and photocopied them in black and white. The result was a wonderful chiaroscuro; the figure emerging from a dark cave.
Since then I’ve added to the roster of photos and sketches, asking friends and family to pose for me nude, occasionally clothed, underwater or on dry land. The photographs aren’t meant to be polished or published; they’re taken in service of a later drawing but sometimes the effects are surprising and terrific, not what I expect.
For me the drawings are fed by the relationship I have with the person, but they’re not portraits. If I’m going to stare at that body for a long time—and I need to do that to draw—if I’m going to work to capture exactly that plump curve or angular plane, then I want to feel that the drawing comes out of a deeper emotional place. Drawing is love. I don’t mean romantic love or even the love of a friend or sibling or parent. I mean attentiveness, attunement. The slow searching stare. The revelation when the line pertains.
Bend 2013-2014 7 X 6” coloured conte and chalk pastel on rag paper
Fallen Tree 2013-2014 11 X 9” charcoal and conte on rag paper
Polkadots 2013-2014 7 ¼ X 9 ½” coloured conte and chalk pastel on rag paper
Tuck (ankles crossed) 2013-2014 5 ½ X 6” charcoal and conte on rag paper
Breath 2013-2014 8 X 11” coloured conte and chalk pastel on rag paper
Between Trees (David) 2016 9 X 10½” charcoal and conte on rag paper
The Large Graphite Drawings
These are scaled-up drawings of pages in my sketchbook. The St John sketch was made at the ROM, the terracotta bust that was my subject is on the 3rd floor. It was made in the early part of the 16th C but despite attempts to identify the artist of these and other similar statuettes, the work remains anonymous. The single torso is based on a drawing I did in very low light at the AGO in the Thomson Ivories. The carving was done in Goa, in the late 17th C. It is wall-mounted and was probably designed for an altar. The two men back to back are my friends Manfred and Chris, who one afternoon in the early part of this century, willingly dove, jumped in, sank underwater and otherwise submerged themselves in Gull Lake while I took photos. I produced a sketch from one of those photos and worked it up to a larger scale.
Manfred & Chris
John the Baptist
I started these in the fall of 2014. I’d purchased a package of printmaking paper, BFK Rives, 34 x 46” There’s an explosive tendency to India ink when it hits water that I wanted to exploit. I didn’t want to use line, or paint with a brush or describe the real world; mostly I didn’t want it to be about me making direct contact with the paper because sometimes I abhor the marks my hand makes. So the distribution of black or color; the shape; coverage; the angles the ink would/could take, that was the water’s job. The paintings were about process and the somewhat uncontrollable movement of water across the page or the path water takes on a tilted or tilting surface. I experimented with angles, with how much water I added at one time, with rolling it down the slope of the tilted board and then altering the slope, or pulling it back to the horizontal, or just pushing down on a corner so that the corrugated plastic board would lift a bit at the other end. I was wrestling with gravity, oo la la. I’m sure there are all sorts of emotional or psychological reason for wanting to do this. I know some of them. But overriding that was the experience of watching ink and water mingle and act upon each other, the waves and blooms and veils of colour and shade.
They—the paintings—developed a layer at a time. Between each application it took about 24 hours, sometimes more, to dry. I like the process of adding to something a little at a time, even when the changes aren’t always noticeable or the piece doesn’t look very good at various stages. I have to keep an ideal in mind. That final imagined image never occurs and in fact, at each stage of the painting the ideal must undergo imaginary evolution so that at each new level there is a new ideal acting as a beacon or motivation. And then at some point the real thing is enough; it’s finished.
A painting accompanies or keeps pace with my life for a while; I don’t mind if it takes weeks or months.