My interest in art developed rather later in life. I was in my second year of teaching English, History and Math in Stoney Creek, Ontario before I even knew I was vaguely interested.
It all started when the English Department of the high school held what was essentially a film festival for the school. Students would attend classes in the morning and then go to various films and a few selected workshops in the afternoon. For some unknown reason I was assigned to supervise a painting workshop. Actually it wasn't a painting workshop at all. It was a session conducted by an art supply salesman from the old Hughes Owens Art Supply Company. He dabbled a little with paint and a brush but really wasn't too very informative.
I don't know why but for some reason I was intrigued. I bought a metal box containing a rather large supply of oil paints and several quality brushes from the man for $25.
Thus it began.
Very shortly thereafter I had completed my first oil painting based on a photo from a National Geographic magazine. It was really bad. Nevertheless, a member of the staff bought it from me for $5. I know she was putting me on.
That summer I moved to Belleville and my budding art career came to a sudden halt. In those days teaching didn't pay well and so I spent a couple of years teaching night school English at Loyalist College as well as fulfilling my full time teaching responsibilities during the day. After a couple of years of this, however, I had had enough. I decided to try my hand at a night school watercolours course. It was followed by similar interest courses in oils, ceramics and drawing. They were all interesting but certainly not overly challenging.
Then came the momentous decision. I was going to apply for a university program in art. I submitted a portfolio to the University of Toronto for a summer program and here the hand of fate intervened. They lost my portfolio. Naturally they had to do the honourable thing and accept me for the program. Judging from the level of talent around me in that first year art class I would never have been accepted if it hadn't gone astray.
One of the most calamitous experiences of that first painting and drawing course was my use of acrylics in a painting which was to be the final culminating experience of the summer. It was an absolute disaster and I vowed never to touch the things again. How strange it is that today I work only with acrylics.
One of the greatest experiences of that first summer was an encounter I had with an old man. I needed a new battery for my camera and walked into a small photography store on Bloor Street, west of Spadina, in Toronto. I asked him for a battery and he asked me why I wanted one. I explained that I had to take some photos for a painting and he immediately dragged me into the rooms behind the shop. Every square foot of wall space in 2 rooms was covered floor to ceiling with paintings....his paintings. I don't really remember whether I thought they were good or not but I was totally awestruck by his love of what he had accomplished. I suddenly knew that that was what art was all about. Now when I am asked who has been the most influential artist in my life, I don't hesitate to answer. How strange it is that I am not sure I ever knew his name.
That summer really set me on to a new path. I spent 2 summers at U. of T. and 2 winters at Queen's University getting the equivalent of a degree. Mind you it was quite a financial strain and so to make ends meet I got a job driving taxi for a local company at night and on the weekends. Needless to say, the students got a real kick out of this. Never will I forget walking down the halls of the school to the screams of "Taxi!".
In the end it was all very worthwhile. Fate would once more intervene when the art teacher at the school quit as I was preparing to get my Specialist Certificate in Visual Arts. The job was mine.
During the first week of my new life in the art room the serendipitous nature of the whole experience was completed. In walked the very same Hughes Owens salesman who had sold me the oil paints 7 years before.
I taught art for 22 years in 2 different high schools and enjoyed every single minute of it. But I also knew that there was something burning inside that needed expression. From that moment on I started getting up at 4:30 in the morning to paint before going to school. This went on for 5 days a week over that entire time. Believe it or not I never missed a single day due to illness over that span of time. Needless to say, when I retired from teaching, getting up at 4:30 in the morning was the first thing I gave up.
It's interesting to look at what has happened since 1976 when I took over the art department. In 1982 I had my first show in the Belleville Public Library with a friend, David Owen Morris. Only a couple of the works from this period are still in existence. One of them is "Grey Queen".
I liked the expressive quality of these early works but was never too very sure of how they reflected my nature. Others weren't too very certain either. A local female reporter, in reviewing the show, talked disparagingly of my "misdirected breast fixation". I never did figure out whether she was referring to flaws in my personality or in the physical nature of the subjects.
Over time that aspect of my personality that appreciates the stability and the predictability of the concrete came to dominate my painting. The works found in my next public showing with David O. were composed of large flat areas of colour and strong outlines of form. "Harlequin Three", done just one year after "Grey Queen" is a good example.
More importantly, the works started to lose their "edgy" quality. I had come to realize that I wanted to hang images that comforted and delighted. Hence the move to decorative realistic paintings.
The first purely realistic painting I ever did was "Sunday's Storm". In many ways it bears great resemblance to the preceding works like "Harlequin Three" in its use of broad areas of flat colour. Here, however, was the first real attempt at texture to suggest light and depth. I maintained the use of cloisonné, that is, the outlining of forms. To this day it dominates my work. I love the sense of permanence and stability that it imparts.
My last show at the library took place in the autumn after I retired. The first painting on the wall was "Sunday's Storm" and then the rest were hung in chronological order....a total of 30 paintings.
I sold 2 paintings off the wall at that show. One was for $2000. That changed everything. Up until that point I had only ever sold to friends and acquaintances.
Actually that is not quite true. I did sell "Fall Ploughing" to a lady who managed a gallery in Toronto. I had gone into the shop with the intention of asking somebody to look at photos of my paintings. I first spent 20 minutes looking at what was on the wall to see if what I had to offer would fit with what they had to sell. I always have hated this process. It's like taking your clothes off and asking somebody if they like what they see. At any rate, the response was quite encouraging and she said she wanted the painting.
Some months later I got a nice letter from her. She owned a condominium in Queen's Quay in Toronto and she had decorated an entire second bedroom in a country theme around that painting. What a compliment!
An amusing thing happened when I made my next big sale. My lovely assistant (my dear wife) and I attended an outdoor show in Wellington in the summer of 2002. It was the first since a disastrous windblown event, elsewhere, some 10 years earlier. I sold 2 paintings that day in Wellington. One was to an American couple who bought "Mexican Village". The only problem was that I didn't accept credit cards (a problem that has since been corrected) and they didn't have any cheques. So the husband went to an ATM in the village where he used his credit card to withdraw $1000 in cash. Imagine my surprise when he returned with a wad of 10's and 20's folded in half, well over 2 inches thick. He insisted that we go someplace private and that I count the money. Within the week I received a very nice e-mail from them saying that they had had an empty spot over the chesterfield in their living room for 11 years and they had finally found the perfect painting to fill it.
My paintings now hang in collections throughout Southern Ontario and in Mexico, Germany, Japan and the United States.
It was about this time that I changed the format of my paintings. At the back of our home is a carriage house that belongs to somebody else but which we treat as our own. It contains a couple of apartments and has an old window at ground level which has long since been bricked up. For years I had promised myself that I was going to paint something to hang on this wall in that spot. With retirement came the opportunity. There were, however, a number of problems to deal with. First on the list was the question of which medium to use. Initially, I thought perhaps I would have to use sign paints but the folks in Kingston, Ont. who make the paints that I use assured me that acrylics were the best choice I could make. Next problem? What about the canvas whose texture had become so critical to me style? This was solved by gluing canvas to plywood. The entire surface was then waterproofed and the painting finished.
The process of gluing canvas to plywood in the first paintings had meant that I had to create my own stretchers. No more commercial frames. The hanging gardens had to have curved edges in order to shed water and, as a result, they stuck a couple of inches out from the wall surface. In this sense they had become sculptural. As soon as I saw this effect with the outdoor paintings, I knew it was the way to go with the indoor ones.
I love what the "Hanging Gardens" added to my garden. I sold a number of them including a couple of them to a local hairstylist who had a salon in her home. They spent the first summer outside but after she brought them into the salon for the winter she couldn't bear to have them out of sight so they haven't gone out since. I no longer do these outdoor paintings but appreciate what creating them has meant for my indoor canvases.
Since 2002 my wife, Mary Anne, and I have gone to many shows across southern Ontario, both indoor and outdoor shows. Now we only attend 4 or 5 indoor shows a year. We love to meet other artists and see the wide variety of talent that is on display. We also love to meet the general public and talk about what this whole process of creation means to us. Maybe one day we will meet you.
Thanks for your interest!