Not the Usual Target – my entry to Saatchi’s on-line showdown

Yes, it’s scary.  I can’t tell you how many times I almost chickened out.  But here it is …. my very own painting, entered with more than 1800 other abstract works to-date — and probably more before the entries close.  It’s an exciting time.  Here’s the link:

Here you can buy the original, or archival art prints, or even canvas prints of this image. And voting by the public  begins March 13th around noon.  I’ll keep you posted.

Abstract painting – acrylic & oil on canvas; Dimensions 40″ high x 30″ wide

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Art – Making it happen

I did not come up with the desire to paint about my Grandparents on my own.  It was never my intention to explore my past, but a few things motivated me along the way.

Two years ago, while a mature student at Capilano University (North Vancouver BC Canada),  I learned to weld – first oxyacetylene, then arc welding. The school has a respectable forge and all the tools required for working with molten metal.

Every time I saw the anvil, I wondered about my Grandfather, who was, by reputation, a fine blacksmith. There are many stories around his blacksmithing days, both in Russia, and as a farmer in Saskatchewan.

A number of projects led me to paint images of my family – first my father, and the things he held dear. Some of them appear in this diptych, with my father looking proudly skyward in the left panel.  An avid gardener, he built his own house single-handedly – but with help from gyproc crews and other tradesmen.  It was my job to straighten the bent nails – in those days we did not toss them out, but re-shaped them for re-use.  We could learn a lot from those practices today, as we now dispose of almost everything. My dad even built his own refrigerator, with the motor housed on the ceiling in the basement directly below. One day I’ll draw them both from memory. They no longer exist, as the house has been bulldozed to make room for new development.

Remembering Dad – diptych, acrylic & oil on canvas, 36″ x 54″ x 1.5″

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Finding family – looking for the needle in the haystack

Have you ever tried to find a relative named Jones or Smith?  Well that’s what it’s like for me – I’m trying to locate people who came to BC when my grandparents arrived in Canada in 1923.  I’m a bit late.  All those people have passed away, and so have many of their offspring.  So I must rely on the memories of their grandkids, and also on church records. But those are miles from where I live, and often on microfeish – and that’s tough to read.  Plus you have to GO there to do the research. Another blind alley.

How do I find the right Warkentin and Isaak in a region where those names are common as Jones or Smith? My first clue is that my grandfather was reputedly a fine blacksmith.

my grandfather was a blacksmith by trade

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The process

For those who wonder what I’m up to here, I’m journaling the process of my next large set of artworks – thinking, researching, drawing, writing, collaging, painting, listening to and transcribing oral histories – they all form part of the process. Also, I’m hoping for feedback and/or information that would add to my knowledge pool. I gain insights from the process of writing itself.  Sometimes the work of other artists sparks an idea or new direction.

For the past few months I’ve been involved in researching my grandparents and their lives abroad. I hope to convey somewhat abstractly what that journey may have entailed. I plan to paint these ideas over 3 or 4 canvases … and maybe more. At least 4 of them will be 4 feet high. One grouping will be a diptych. Ultimately, it will turn out to be a large body of work. The investigation is part of my learning, and blogging helps clarify my thoughts. It’s helpful, as this will take place over many months, and as an artist, I’m usually alone in the process.

The header on this blog is a detail of a drawing that recalls memories of my mother and things that she cherished. The drawing, in pastel & graphite, consists of 2 panels, each 40” high and 28” wide. The header shows the top of the right panel.

Dorothy Doherty

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Summoning the muse

We are fortunate to have the work of Richard Diebenkorn as an example of how any topic close to us can become the foundation for painting.

Diebenkorn – Seawall 1957

Source: Wikipaintings

I can’t recall where I first found Diebenkorn’s Notes to myself before starting a painting, but I have noticed several artists quoting them on blogs and websites. Rather than repeat them, here are some web links that show the notes in their entirety.  good follow-up discussion here

A few notes puzzle me. Instead of simply holding them in high esteem, engaging with the notes might shed some light on their meaning, and on my own approach to art. I’ll call this exercise Playing with Diebenkorn. It is probably the antithesis of what he intended in writing this list.

Starting in reverse order:

#10 – Be careful only in a perverse way.

After looking at the meaning of the individual words, I’ve interpreted this note to mean taking care to deviate where necessary to bring life and energy to your work. My reasons?

After checking a few dictionaries, one gives the following definition for perverse: deliberately deviating from what is regarded as normal, good, or proper – source:

#9 Tolerate Chaos.

That’s easy – I live and work in chaos.  But I really don’t feel good about it and am always thinking of ways to be more orderly. They rarely work.

#8 – Keep thinking about Polyanna.

This one’s difficult, as we really don’t know which aspect of her life he’s referring to – her general good nature or the accident which paralyzed her. He could be referring to the Polyanna principle, outlined here:

This seems to imply that one should not get overly optimistic – a difficult task, especially when we hear good things about our work.

So, how does being optimistic fit into the list? (pleased that things are actually going well with our work, or optimistic that it will sell, or create the impact that will bring recognition?) Any of these could be the desire of the working artist. Just don’t get too cheerful about anything? Isn’t that what we call being “positive” these days? Or, does he mean that if we are optimistic, those around us will be optimistic also? I need more help with this, and welcome your comments.

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In search of form

My greatest challenge is finding out where to begin …. that applies to this blog, and also to almost everything I do.  I call this post In search of form because that’s what seems to occupy my thoughts, from the first ambiguous idea, through the stages of research, preparation,  and completion. I’m never quite sure I’m there.

searching for form

still searching

Currently, I’m looking for information on the Mennonite communities of southern Russia. My mother and her family were born there and immigrated to Canada in the early 1920s. Her family went to Saskatchewan, but the larger family was separated and are unknown to me.  I plan to do some large art pieces based on the the stories mother relayed shortly before her death. It’s hard to find information specific to the communities in which she lived, but I have read a number of accounts of the hardship encountered by people who lived in neighboring villages.

I have several line drawings of the villages of Gnadenheim and Slavgorod, but that’s all. After a long and arduous journey by train in less than adequate cattle cars, the family arrived in Germany, where they lived for 2 years before traveling by ship from London to Quebec. Passport stamps tell me she arrived in Canada in 1923 and travelled by train to Rosthern, Saskatchewan, where a sponsor arranged employment.

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