pencil and watercolour on paper
Essay (first draft)
My interest in architecture started young first with the grain elevators and main streets of our Saskatchewan towns. Remember too seeing an architectural model in the library and followed by taking out most every book on buildings.
Once at one of my father's auction sales I scavenged an abandoned set of house blueprints. They were fascinating to me. Pre-internet there were always magazines of homes you could buy for a couple dollars and copy away.
Why would a young child of eight or nine have this interest?
One can never be sure, but my sense is that it was a desire to remake what was experienced. Even as adults we think a better building is what is required. Look towards all the channels related to renovations, real estate and homes.
Later I realized in drafting school that architecture was about construction and money for which I had little real motivation to learn about. Did like the look and feeling of making the drawings. In retrospect the models and forms were a fascination of sculpture and the graphic work with visual art. In those times few took interest in vocational advice. You had to figure that out and it was still about getting jobs for most of us to get on with family life.
When I started it felt like a mistake but having trained it continued but I could not settle down. What I wanted was a home but not that of my fantasies nor the one of my friends in the conventional sense. There was a haunting from childhood which needed to be addressed above all as to not fall into despair or worse.
After many decades I conclude by accident or providence that home for me was about intimacy. Closeness is defined by relationship, and I agree yet it was about place rather than person. This seems quite ancient to me that we know the cycles, moods and personality of the land.
When I lived in my first apartment alone, visitors were struck by its starkness and lack of personality. For me it was a port where I docked to sleep and eat while searching for that other home noted. My memory of that time was the crab apple tree outside my bedroom which was a hint.
Though I was drawing for a living first manually then with a computer, I longed for something else which was creative as inspired by the music I listened to. Around age 30 already floundering in relationships, finances, career I began to make art as a new start. It was a response to my life conditions but also to the rediscovery of the Qu'Appelle Valley region where I spent many weekends in childhood.
Where it started was to visit the valley and work plein air then use my kitchen table to reproduce the sketches. It was based on my reading of the Canadian Group of Seven artists. My apartment took on a new use and appearance. It was tiny and really became a studio. I had no one over due to the mess of this nor did I spend time here out exploring my new artist life.
Fifteen years ago, moved to a larger condo in my complex to own my first dwelling. It had a large master bedroom and a huge deck. After some time and experimentation, a studio was developed and a garden. This transformed me slowly. Somehow, the process of figuring out the practice and working on the art provided a template to this long-lost domestic life. The lessons showed me how to arrange, change, experiment and resolve other simple concerns like cooking, decor, growing food and having others over. How I began to do these home activities mirrored my art practice. For the first time I felt a sense of home. Not attached to the condo or the valley so much but to the way they taught me to live.
A few years later I left architecture suddenly and spent a year and a half in my home. Very difficult financially and still paying for this choice yet the other aspects of living thrived further maturing a way of being more towards pace of life, flexibility, adjusting, exploring, patience, individuation and creativity. The art had no purpose beyond itself nor did my daily life. It was a pure existence of simply living. Virtually in solitude I learned that home is very much about the meshing of the inner and outer life. This is really what the art I appreciate and make does.
Going into a new field of work to support myself when the money ran out was aided by these lessons. Particularly I began to translate it towards working with others on a variety of levels as it was a large public organization. In many ways it was a flourishing for the first time. Began to use art in unusual ways to support the morale of staff and to solve communication problems we had in the office.
Times have changed towards a drawing in due to the pandemic and economic concerns. There is a strain in my work which relates to what I call sanctuary. To find a very basic and common remainder from something lost and try to expand it. Though not religious it is good to invoke John 6:5-15* from the Bible which is the common story of the loaves and the fish. It always was a curiosity and mystery as to how ordinary things are enriched to greater use.
Another lesson from my homelife related to our times. Slowly piece by piece began to squat on a small patch of earth below my stair up to the condo. Not good for grass so left bare. I took pavers, crushed rocks and patterned them. Hacked out roots from the pine tree to make a planting bed. Added a couple perennial plants each season. Took care to water and clean up the tiny garden. Others began to follow suit around me each adding bits of beauty according to taste, time and income. Now it is more about continuing this in the face of difficulty that we can maintain a type of standard even though things are falling apart. Droughts, hailstorms, vandalism, drug dealers and a turnstile of renters does not stop me from this pursuit.
To close, recently I had a falling out with the local museum. Admit to biases and hurts but mostly it was the feeling that it is no longer part of this type of home. This has little to do with inclusion but institutionalization if only for the best of purposes. My senses say that a primary decision has been made for which the place is not a sanctuary but a tool. Though the causes are valid and have believed in them for decades and there has been a renovation and new programming it is no longer where I go to contemplate. Realize I went there in an almost religious way as refuge. It had much to do with seeking another world which illuminated my own. No longer find this as the separateness, eternalism and silence is gone traded in for liberal populism, current causes and a type of cheerleading for the arts.
Most everything you see and read here are not considered art nor relevant. Simpler work which moves the past themes and techniques slowly forward is now dismissed . Perhaps we have homes so that we have a place to turn when the world forgets about our individuality, quirks, failings, weakness, wonder, uniqueness - all that make us lovable. This forsaken for the grand heroic and corporate advancements or achievements.
Is there no place for the tiny, broken or unusual?
So, hoping if you read this that you see art is not objects and causes but as a personal means of addressing our deepest human needs in an intuitive and intimate way. For me, I needed a creative home growing up towards my personality. As an adult, my purpose was to find that and art lead me through. If your need is different, I am not suggesting my approach but that you see art as maker or viewer as one path to discovery of your deepest longings and loves along with healing wounds and traumas for which we must to mature and live fully.
You could see this as a type of drama, a play. Rather than deny or act out our past and deficites and create public fabrications, we turn both through the art making/viewing and home life as a gestalt. This is a wrestling in a framed space with our demons and angels perhaps like or as an extension of psychotherapy with similar goals.
Although the essay is personal and micro to the universal and macro for a moment as we have entered this world more lately. We have been decadent in our materialism and spiritualism. Large homes and the metaverse as examples. I propose that art can assist to bring us between the extremity of our current world and keep us out of extremism in all its manifested forms. This story is an example where we attempt to move from these poles while paradoxically opening ourselves not to power and control but creativity starting small and letting that manifest as it will.
May 17, 2022
* From the NIV version of the bible:
5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
7 Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages[a] to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”
8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”
10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.
12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.
14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.