Friday, March 14, 2014

A New Blog: Conversations on Art

Rebecca Crowell and I have just launched a co-blog we call Conversations on Art.  We will post discussions on art from time to time as well as continue to write our own blog posts.  Our first post on this new site is called Two Friends/Two Irish Residencies-Part 1.  We thought that we would discuss our shared experiences at each residency as a way of introduction.  I invite you to read our first post:

If you wish to receive those posts by email, please sign up on that website by putting your email address into the box on the right column of the post.

Please feel free to send us suggestions for topics for our 'conversations'.

Hope you enjoy the read.


Sunday, March 2, 2014

What Goes Around-a Personal Vision

Fragile 18    29x29"  oil/cold wax on panel   ©2014 Janice Mason Steeves

Sitting in my somewhat beaten-up but oh-so-comfortable studio chair the other day, considering a painting I was working on, I began to think of earlier work I had done that had some similarity to this new work.  I pulled out an old slide album from 1992.  I documented my paintings with slides in those days.  In 1992 I made my first foray into abstraction, spurred on by a trip to Baffin Island in Canada's arctic.

I had the good fortune that year to travel with the well-known Canadian landscape painter, Doris McCarthy.  We travelled to Pond Inlet in the month of January when the sun had not yet returned to the arctic.  The thermometer in the window of our church/home remained at a steady -40C (which is the same as -40F)....maybe it was frozen at that temperature.  The wind chill took it to a place that was beyond reckoning.  Doris was 82 years old then and as fit, strong and hard-working as a woman 20 years younger.  We bundled up in our down jackets with real fur trim on the hoods (which warmed the air making it possible to breathe in that cold), and ventured out two or three times a day for short periods to walk and observe the colours and to photograph (quickly so the battery wouldn't freeze).  The days were short: two hours of dawn and two hours of dusk with no daylight in between. The days were turquoise, mauve and indigo blue.  We stayed in the old wooden Catholic church which stood empty for several years because of the declining Catholic population in Pond.  Someone had fired up the old oil stove for us so it was cozy and warm when we arrived. I slept in a bunk bed that was jammed into the narthex, beneath a mural of Jesus in the arctic. I slept well there.  Oh and there was the time when Doris and I had to flag down the twin engine aircraft that was firing up, preparing to leave us on Broughton Island, our bags and purses still on the airplane.  Ah but enough stories......that trip was one adventure after another.

It might look like sunrise, but it wasn't!

When I came home I spent the spring and summer working on series of abstract paintings I called Iceworks.  I worked outside, pouring indigo, turquoise and purple inks onto elephant-sized watercolour paper, spraying with the hose at a certain moment to make crystalline patterns. Then I worked into that with white ink.  I had never worked abstractly before but it seemed the best way to describe my sense of the silence and power of the arctic in the winter.

Iceworks 1  Ink on paper    29x41"   © Janice Mason Steeves 1992

Iceworks 2  ink on paper  29x41"   © Janice Mason Steeves 1992

I showed the Iceworks series at the Burlington Art Centre as well as at the Inniskillen Winery in Ontario. After the exhibitions, my enthusiasm for the series dissipated and I went back to working again in a more representational way, with images in my work. 

About five years ago, at the opening of a group show in Oakville, I spoke with one of the other artists in the exhibition, who commented on my work. A complete stranger.  She suggested I take the plunge, get rid of my images and work abstractly.  I was ready for that suggestion and welcomed the nudge.  I spent  the summer and fall that year working 12-15 hour days, committed to the process, trying to find my way in abstraction.  Even though I'd been painting for 25 years by that time, I was like a fish out of water. Surprisingly I had forgotten all about my earlier journey into abstraction.

Only in the last few weeks have I revisited the work I made that summer.  Amazingly, the work is very similar not only to the earlier Iceworks series, but also to the series I'm currently exploring.
Although I have experimented with various styles of painting and mediums over the years,  my main interest has always been in studying light (and the contrast between light and dark), and my emotional response to place-the land, a sacred site, or an inner experience.  This way of working keeps coming back to me in a slow circular motion that I would not see if I had not kept working all these years.  Just showing up each day in my studio.  Painting.  Making messes. Painting. Making mistakes. Disappointments.  Successes, sadness, happiness.  Painting. Unfolding.

© Janice Mason Steeves 2009