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Can you go home again

Home Again, no.7; 40" x 40";oil & collage on canvas

I recently received a message on my website from someone who had purchased an older piece of mine. I assume it was from one of those auctions of people or institution unloading collections, but I didn’t ask. What fascinated me was how different the piece was from what I am doing now.

He asked me to tell him something about the piece. There were two dates on the back (where I sign all work), 1984 and 1986. That was shortly after I had moved to Nova Scotia from New York City. As I had just come in from a long walk in the woods with Romeo, I was grateful for the excuse to sit down for a bit and chat with him. This is what I told him:

It is oil pastel (Holbein is the brand) on paper. The way I work, even in my current oil paintings, is to rework them until I am completely sure I don't want to do more to it. That is why you have the two dates on the back. At that time I played with geometric shapes in the many and subtle forms they can create without being too obvious. Subtlety is important to me in my work although I do want an immediate reaction. So after that comes more information about what is there (non-verbal, of course). Any other questions, happy to answer. You caught me at a good time. Just got back from a long walk in the woods with my dog and needed to sit down! Leya

One more thing: there probably are collage elements underneath the paint. Probably magazine photographs glued to the paper before I started the image. I think I was also drawing into the paper with a nail or pencil, giving an indentation which created the white lines.

Then he asked me about the title, did it have one.

I find titles very challenging so do it in series because I paint so much. It probably has a title but maybe better is you just make one up!

What is so different about this piece and what I am doing now is that there is so much more in my recent work. I am letting a lot more of how I begin a painting show in the final piece, even if it is added along the way. The apparent simplicity of the composition in the paper piece has morphed into a more elaborate way of achieving a cohesive image, to make the painting feel like a single object.

A lot of the way of working a piece comes from the size, materials and shape of what I am working on. Paper is a very liberating support. It’s ephemeral quality, and being less expensive, frees the imagination. Canvas is much more demanding. I find it talks back and I like that quality. It is constantly challenging me to live up to its expectations.

Then also what is happening in my life and the world definitely effects the way I work. It’s true that maturity is a bonus. I have less desire to get in my own way and will manage my time and energy so that painting has a major priority. It has become a natural way to approach the day. It is not about going home but making a new place to live. Recently I had titled a series of paintings "Home Again." Strange how the past and present can merge.

What has stayed the same over the many years I have been making art is my need to have a major part of the work be a solid colour field. At this point the field has a lot more obvious underpinnings, such as collage or drawing elements, and more variety in the colour, more subtlety, changes within the colour.

A friend was visiting this afternoon and of course I had to show him my recent paintings in my overcrowded studio. He connected with a painting in the far corner that, to me, incorporates both what I was doing in 1984-6, but also what I am doing now. There is a small wild area down near the bottom (recent fascination for me) and the more structured, controlled field and a bar of green across the top. I remember working and reworking that piece until the green was just the right size to challenge the large quiet area and balance the wild marks near the bottom. So maybe I can go home again, but the home will be changed somewhat, of course.


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