A Walk In The Woods, Painting and Inspiration

Snow has fallen early in my little corner of the world, but I wanted to share some of the sights and insights that have been inspiring me lately.

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I’ve been finishing up the work I was doing over the summer, which more often than not just means letting the paintings sit for awhile, until they tell me whether they’re actually done, or whether they need a little more paint, another layer or a complete revamp.

I was in Montreal last week – I hadn’t been there in over a year, and I found it overwhelming. So many things to see, galleries to visit, shopping, restaurants, bookstores. Traffic. Crowds. Strangely, there was a lot of garbage blowing around, and it seemed like everyone walking around was smoking. Sometimes I think about moving back there – it would probably be easier to stay in touch with the goings-on in the art world and seek out opportunities, and it would be fun to have an appartment in the Plateau again, or maybe a condo with a view. A studio in one of those fabulous old industrial buildings…

it’s fun to dream about another kind of life. The truth is though, that every time I visit, I just can’t wait to get back to my shack in the forest. I would never have believed I’d one day feel that way about the city way back when I moved “up north”, to the Laurentians – I just realized that it’s been twenty years now, since October. And it’s been ten years since I stopped commuting to the city for work.

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I’ve been spending a lot of time walking in the woods near my home, just looking, letting what my eyes take in feed my creative drive. After years of walking the same paths, taking in the same vistas, witnessing the cycles of the same trees and plants, I can feel a shift coming through in my work.

I’ve always been inspired by the natural world – I know that being able to be close to nature is the reason that I eventually became a painter. This is something that I knew instinctively, but haven’t always understood clearly. When I first started painting, my interest was traditional landscape, but trying to copy what my eyes saw in front of me always felt like something was missing – it’s so much easier to just take a beautiful photo.

When I became interested in abstraction, I first thought that it would be purely about form and visual elements, but with time, I’ve begun to see how it’s all about honouring the natural world.

There’s an incredibly slow process that happens – it took years and years for my memories of the sea to make their way into my work, and now, the colours, forms and moods of the landscape where I live are starting to show up too: the lakes, streams and forests are working their way up out of my memory and onto the canvas.

The Mare Incognitum series has been about expressing an intersection between the moods of the sea and the sense of being adrift and lost. I don’t think I’m done with that theme yet, but I’ve definitely been feeling drawn to experiment with some new ideas. In the last few weeks, I’ve started to realize how important the seasons are to me, and how the changes that I observe in the landscape and the plants are the key to new forms and themes that are starting to emerge for me in the studio…

Transformation. Liminality. The passage of time. Impermanence. The ephemeral nature of living things, that they can be both so fragile and yet so tenacious. The cycles of life.

I’m still entirely focused on abstraction – still in love with the expressive properties of paint itself, rather than an impulse to reproduce or record. What’s changing is my understanding of the link between the inspiration gleaned from nature and how that gets distilled into a painting.

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