Back in March, when Covid 19 started to seriously impact our lives, I knew I wanted to do a piece of art as a way of processing what was happening. I had a large sheet of watercolour paper mounted on an archival board that had been sitting around the studio for a number of years. This seemed like the right surface for this project. The imagery came out of my subconscious, mostly fragments of dreams I was having, and some were pulled from sketchbooks. The theme is simple: human knowledge and structures, represented by the tree of knowledge, are humbled before nature.
This piece is called Twist. It was drawn for my other blog, And Ink in Unfailing Supplies, where I do a monthly drawing challenge with another artist based on a prompt phrase. For the rendering, I used a pen & nib, something I’ve been going back to lately – I find it more interesting to work with than the technical pens that have been my mainstay for the past 20 years.
Maybe it’s comparable to the analog/ digital debate in musical circles. I love the way the nib is a little bit unpredictable. Not all of the dots are the same. Lines are more varied. The flow of the ink is a little more “dangerous.” Sometimes it’s sublime, sometimes it’s like working with venom on the end of a snake’s fang, when the nib bites into the paper fiber – fuk. Still and all, working with nibs is overall more fun.
There will always be a place in my work for the trusted Rapidograph. I actually started drawing with steel nibs in high-school. It was exposure to the work of Moebius (Jean Giraud) through Heavy Metal magazine that set me on a search for the Rapidograph. I wanted to emulate that incredible clean style. Later, I met this guy called John. John was a painter, but he encouraged me to develop my stippling style – he knew a guy that used stippling to render mining scenes in northern Ontario. John taught me a lot about work ethic: produce, produce, produce! That was back in the 1980s. I fell in love with meticulous, tightly rendered drawings. It became my thing.
I never lost that original love for the nib though.
Of course, I have one aim, the grotesque. If I am not grotesque I am nothing.
In an interview with The Idler (1896), as quoted in Aubrey Beardsley : A Biography (1999) by Matthew Sturgis, p. 309
I thought I’d share some photos from last night’s opening of the latest exhibition by the Shadowood Collective. Unfortunately I didn’t have a chance take as many picture as I would have liked, but these shots should give you an idea of the event. Co-curators Sarah LeGault and Vincent Marcone (My Pet Skeleton) brought together a remarkable group of artists that included printmakers, photographers, painters, graphite artists, animators, doll artists and fashion designers. I have no idea how they coordinated the hanging of the show in less than one day. The event was very well attended despite the cold night, and it was great to connect with other artists and art fans. Also, I got a very cool surprise at the opening, but I’ll save that for a future post!
Here is my piece for the In the Depths show to be held at Copro Gallery in August. The show is curated by Cris Velasco and features works themed around the writing of H. P. Lovecraft.
I always associate the works of Lovecraft with the doldrums of summer. I was barely a teenager when I discovered Lovecraft, thanks to a rich vein – that reeked of the last owner’s cigarette smoke – in a nearby used bookshop. It was a discursion from Tolkien, Verne and Peake, my other favorites at the time.
It is pointless to pretend that his lush writing did not have an influence on my developing artistic aesthetic. All those strange cities and damp gardens, and of course the monsters, had a way of sticking in the mind and resurfacing at unexpected moments.
Maybe one day someone will hire me to illustrate a Lovecraftian edition, until then, I’ll leave you with the Nameless Larvae of the Other Gods. If you are interested in purchasing this piece from the show, please contact Copro Gallery.
Nameless Larvae of the Other Gods, 2016, ink on paper, 14″ x 10″
I came across the work of this artist, Pierre Huyghe today, thanks to a friend giving me one of his book covers. The video contains some arresting images, which resonated with me. Apparently there was a controversy about the dog in the video, but it was checked out and deemed to be happy and healthy.
One of the joys of the year coming to a close is thinking about what will come in the next year. This is a time when I make a lot of lists; possible names of new drawings, ideas for images, books I want to read and things to research. Right now I am thinking of a series of drawings that could be a book, or an exhibition or both. Time will tell. It’s going to be called Oneiric Natural History.
Along with a couple fairly involved ink drawings, I also have several paintings on the go. Everything is in various states, from OMFG why did I start this thing? to hey this is working. So, those of you who paint will know the piece above (put through a render on my “tin type” app) only has a neutral layer of oil. What you see here will vanish pretty quickly. I’ll post updates as I go along. I’m racking up half finished works to get me through the winter, like a squirrel storing nuts, or maybe a nut storing squirrels. Who’s to say?
Today’s musical recommendation is Foam Island by Darkstar. Or anything by Darkstar actually. Music is essential in the studio. If you don’t know them, check out Foam Island, I doubt you will be disappointed.
There is still much to be done on this new drawing, but having finished one fairly defined section I thought I’d share a work in progress (WIP). If you saw my earlier post on this piece, you’ll notice that I have added to the title. “Tears of the Poppy” is a line taken from the text of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, a book that has been occupying my reading time and weirdly, or perhaps not so weirdly, my dreams for a few weeks now. The phrase fits the theme of this work.
Here is a look at the drawing’s bones. What you see here will soon disappear under layers of ink. I find these line drawings have a beauty of their own, which is why I always take the time to make a high resolution scan of them before rendering.
The Dawn Botanist – detail
The ink looks a bit darker here than it is in the original. This is a first pass with a uniform value. With the next pass, I’ll be deepening shadows and accentuating highlights.
One of the great things about working in ink is the simplicity of of the tools. It’s amazing what you can do with a bottle of ink, some water and a brush.
Like a lot of artists, my favorite time to work is in the early morning. The house and the neighborhood are quiet, the mind is rested and not yet full of the concerns of the day. In the morning, it is possible to focus and get a different perspective on a creative project. I can’t tell you how many times I have woken up, walked down to my studio and looked at some problem that seemed intractable the night before, just to see how obvious the solution really was. I rely on this little gift of clarity. That is why I like to do the problem solving at the sketching or under-drawing stage. Once the ink is on the paper, I have to live with my mistakes and let them become part of what I have created.