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Canadian Art: Remembering and Honouring Canada’s Role in the Wars

Every year on November 11th a somber tone blankets Canada, as a Canadian artist this national day of Remembrance has bled into my artwork. Some Canadian artists’ express their thoughts through poetry, music and even film. My chosen mediums are painting and photography and I have used these mediums to honour the day in many different ways.

When I was younger my first encounter with ‘Canadian wartime art’ was through the eyes of painter Alex Colville. A celebrated Canadian painter, illustrator and lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Navy, Colville’s work from the fields of war and beyond, touched my soul and captured my attention. In fact, he was the first Canadian artist to which I could relate at the age of 12, perhaps this was because I came from a family, like many of my generation in Canada, that had grandparents and even parents active in Canada’s military. His paintings appeared ‘simplistic’ and ‘designed’ these paintings edited out what was necessary and focused on a central ‘tone’ thorough muted palettes. At closer look, his technique was incredibly detailed and rigorous, not unlike that of regimented life in the military.

Over the years I have come to express my thoughts on Remembrance Day, influenced by the poetry of Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, with his iconic poem, “In Flanders Fields”. A poem heard annually on November 11th, since the day I was born. He was inspired to write it on May 3, 1915, after presiding over the funeral of friend and fellow soldier Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, who died in the Second Battle of Ypres. According to legend, fellow soldiers retrieved the poem after McCrae, initially dissatisfied with his work, discarded it. “In Flanders Fields” was first published on December 8 of that year in the London magazine Punch.

So much art created out of war, and we are thankful for all the expressions, giving us a unique window into the souls of the artists who experienced it first-hand and perhaps into the souls and minds of those on the battlefields. Many of these great works cataloged in the Canadian War Museum, a journey into the past, one that we hope not to repeat in the future.

Remembrance Day, was first marked in Canada on Nov. 11, 1919. That date marked the one-year anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the First World War. This Sunday marks the 100-year anniversary of the end of the war.

To celebrate the 100-yr celebrations of Remembrance Day, and that crimson red poppy which signifies the day and honours those who have served and are serving in the Canadian Military. Paintings and photographs created between 2011-2018 honouring ‘Poppy Day’ and our Canadian military.

  1. Remember Us – a symbolic painting honoring the Canadian Women’s Army Corps and their roles in the military

2. Poppies For Louise – a symbolic painting with Canadian flag imposed on the horizon and red poppies in the foreground, symbolizing remembrance and freedom

3. Golden Ram – a somber landscape painting with Big Horn sheep and red poppies against the Rocky Mountains of Golden, BC

4. Aerial Landscape Flight – an early abstract piece of the forest floor appearing like camouflage, river and log booms below – red objects dropping from the sky like parachutes – an overall tone of conflict, nature versus man

5, 6, 7, 8. THE 100 POPPIES PROJECT – Photography from 2017 Remembrance Day project which honoured the 100th anniversary of Vimy, in which a donation was made to the the Veterans in exchange for 100 poppies as photographed in the project

9 and 10. The People of Canada Portrait Project – a crowd-sourcing portrait project between myself and Canadians across the country, in which Canadians send in photos and I paint their portrait and a background based on my interview with the subjects. Currently 11 portraits have been completed, how fitting as we head into Remembrance Day 2018. Below are portraits, ‘Vimy Jam’ honouring a meeting at the 100th anniversary Vimy celebrations in Vimy France and ‘Golden Days’ at Rideau Hall.

There we are, 10 artworks for Remembrance Day – some painted on canvas and some photographic. On this Remembrance Day my hope is that we continue to come together as we work towards tearing down borders on a course to becoming one world. Honoring the past, on a course set for the future.

Peace.

 

The Work Behind A Work of Art – Making A Painting

There is a famous quote that speaks to the work that goes into a work of art, it references the artist process, and vaguely refers to the creative process. The quote made famous by James Whistler is; “An artist is not paid for his labor, but for his vision.”

What did Whistler mean by, “paid for his, or her, vision”, was he speaking of paying an artist for their ability to see things others cannot? Perhaps, it is definitely about perspective and how artists make us see things in a different light, but I believe Whistler was also speaking of the time it takes to develop the vision for a new creation, the plan or blueprint to future work. As a painter, the painting is the result of the vision, developed through days, weeks, months and even years. An idea I have for an artwork today, may wait for a year before I have enough knowledge to understand how I will execute the painting. Artists are gatherers of visual, aural and emotional stimuli. We collect experiences, from a hiking trip in the Rocky Mountains, to a symphony. From the way a coffee spills on the ground, to the colours of a sunset. From the words of a writer to the moving pictures and soundtrack of a film. All this stimuli being collected literally and figuratively. A photo I take today may end up providing information for a painting I will create a year from now.

We take all this stimuli and boil it down to a message, a simplified thought or perspective on the world – then the physical work begins. It may be through writing, or sketching or editing images together in Photoshop, whatever the process for filtering the stimuli and finding the focus – a clear focal point, the central message. After solidifying the idea, I sketch the focal point of the future painting onto canvas and then I begin to paint. Over the course of the painting I develop the background and additional elements that will help support the story of the central image, I work from intuition with a a focus on color, form and composition. My goal is to create overall balance to the piece. With my paintings, which are generally 3×4 feet, I spend approximately 70 hours from initial sketch to finished painting. Then comes painting the edges of the piece, application of a finishing varnish and coated hanging wire fastened to the back. If I were to add in the time it took to develop my idea to the point of fruition, I am not sure where I would begin, thus an artist is paid for their vision, as it is impossible to track how many hours it takes to create a work of art.

Below is a peek into my process – the reference photos taken on two different art trips – the ‘selfie’ taken while in Winnipeg at the famously haunted Fort Garry Hotel, an old railway hotel in Canada designated a National Historic Site. The ‘stacked rocks’ photo at sunset was taken on a retreat to a cabin on the west coast at the Point No Point Resort. This past year I was also in Yellowknife, NWT famous for it’s aurora borealis. So many stimuli, collected over the course of a year, that ended up coming together in a painting, a year later.

Rock Stacking on a west coast beach

At The Fort Garry Hotel, Winnipeg MB

Painting Process: initial sketch on canvas

 

Painting Process: step 2 colour blocking

Painting Process: step 3 layering colours, creating depth and dimension