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A Summer of Pastel Colours & Green Mountains

The view up to Festung Hohensalzburg, where my studio was located for 3 weeks in the Summer Academy
The view up to Festung Hohensalzburg, where my studio was located for 3 weeks in the Summer Academy

I’m back from my stay in Salzburg, Austria, where I was at the Summer Academy for three weeks. Each residency experience I’ve had has been unique, and this time abroad was no different. For all the positive things about being away in a new environment to create art, without the distractions of daily life at home, there are also things that I’ve found hard about doing residencies. Maybe it’s the lack of familiarity of daily life, and having to navigate a new city in such a short amount of time, where you are still a tourist but need to function and work day to day as well. There is also a sense of isolation that can be inherent in residencies.

The walls of the fortress
The walls of the Festung Hohensalzburg

Salzburg is a small city, but while I was there, it also coincided with the Salzburg Festival, one of the largest classical music festivals in the world, and a few days after my arrival, the city was teeming with tourists. The Summer Academy is also located in the Festung Hohensalzburg, one of the main tourist attractions that sits high above the city. Every morning I would have to cram into a packed funicular to go up the steep hill to my studio in the walls of the fortress.

The view from our studio
The view from our studio
My studio corner where I worked for 3 weeks
My studio corner at the Summer Academy

The site of the Summer Academy offered spectacular views of the city and its surrounding mountains, but it also was up on the top of a very steep hill that was in the middle of a large tourist attraction. And the summer tourist season was in full swing while I was there. I was struck by the sheer number of tourists in such a small city, of the bus loads of people going on The Sound of Music tours, women around walking in traditional dirndl dresses, and families being taken around in horse drawn carriages every ten minutes. It was slightly surreal.

Quick studies in oil pastel
Quick studies in oil pastel

My time in the studio was spent mainly working from life models – we had two models that worked with us for the entire day, for three weeks straight. When I first applied for the Summer Academy, I was unsure what the structure of the studio time was going to be. It was described as a course about life painting, but also sounded like a residency with free time to pursue your own projects. When I arrived, there was a mix of artists there, from complete beginners to professional artists, and while this was interesting in some respects, it was also frustrating in others. The model poses were often too short for me to paint from, as I had brought my oil paints with me, and many of the more inexperienced artists rushed through their paintings well under an hour and wanted to move onto the next pose.

Life drawing at the rock quarry
Life drawing at the rock quarry

So I spent the first week or so, working on quick sketches, to loosen up my hand and get back into drawing from the nude body. But this grew tiresome, as I did not want to continue this for the entire time I was there. I thought back to previous self-directed residencies I have been on and decided to treat this the same way, and to try to find something about where I was, in this new environment, that I could work from.

One of many places in Salzburg where The Sound of Music was filmed
One of many places in Salzburg where The Sound of Music was filmed

And that’s when I thought about actually being in Salzburg, and my experience of it, in the height of summer. The Sound of Music is not very popular with Austrians, but there were so many large tour groups of foreigners, including sing-along bus tours, that took people to see where they filmed the movie. And tourists dressed up in dirndl and lederhosen wandering the streets, mixing with locals dressed up in fancier versions out at the opera. It is a bit hard for me to imagine what the city is like without all the tourists, as I imagine it is much more tranquil and quiet, surrounded by the green mountains in all directions. The other thing I noticed about Salzburg, and many other cities in Europe, is the colour of the buildings. Unlike in North America, where you get houses and buildings in every colour, it seemed like a very restrained palette of pastel peaches, creams and yellows in Salzburg. And of course, the main reason I was in Austria was to be at the Summer Academy, working from the life models, and with the short time frames available for me to work from, I decided to focus solely on the arms of the model.

Salzburg I
Salzburg I
Salzburg II
Salzburg II

And so I created these oil paintings, drawing from the mountains I could see out in the distance, wrapped in the colours of Salzburg, where “the hills are alive”. I worked on primed linen that I had brought with me, and I intend on mounting them onto board now that I’m back in Vancouver. I haven’t decided on the background yet but I don’t think I will leave them white. A flat colour perhaps. The work is still unfinished. Working in oils can be limiting, as I’ve learned from past residencies, I need to leave enough time for the paint to dry so that I can take the work back with me without damaging the surface. And in the end, I felt good about the work that I created, and that it can lead to further explorations here in Vancouver.

My paintings on display at the Summer Academy's open studios
My paintings on display at the Summer Academy’s open studios

Spring Cleaning

Once again, I’m sitting here looking outside my window at a street full of magnolia blooms and a sunny blue sky. It’s already spring. The sun is out, and Vancouverites are already in their shorts and sandals. This quick turn of seasons was a good reminder to myself that I need to update my blog with all the goings on from the past few months. And it’s been a good busy time with different projects and a move!

Frank Stella at the Whitney

Late last fall, I made a quick trip to New York and was lucky enough to visit the new Whitney Museum and catch Frank Stella’s retrospective. I’ve only seen some of his paintings in group shows, but this was a retrospective of his work and I was awestruck by the scale of some of his sculptural works.

Frank Stella’s large sculptural works

Here was an artist that I never really gave too much thought to in relation to my own work, but at this show, it suddenly hit me that our paintings share visual and conceptual similarities. And while I liked seeing his paintings, it was the 3D works that really caught my imagination. It was just the creative boost I needed, and I rushed back into the studio to work out new ideas. Which was perfect timing, as I moved into a new studio in December. I am now in the Mount Pleasant area of East Vancouver working amongst a talented group of women artists including Sunshine Frere, Rebecca Chaperon, Biliana Velkova and Mira Song.

Bright & shiny new studio
Bright & shiny new studio

Meanwhile, over in Calgary, Mary Porter and my collaborative project, A Conversation, was getting its second showing of the year. Shown in a new format on two opposing monitors, A Conversation was displayed in TRUCK Gallery’s +15 Windows in December and January.

A Conversation, with Mary Porter, at TRUCK Gallery +15 Windows
A Conversation, with Mary Porter, at TRUCK Gallery +15 Windows
truck-setup1
Monitors in conversation

My limited edition screen print, The Drought, that was created for The New Gallery in Calgary also sold during their fundraiser. I have a limited number of prints available for sale, so if you are interested please contact me.

The Drought, Silkscreen on paper, 11×14 inches, Limited edition of 30, 2015
The Drought, Silkscreen on paper, 11×14 inches, Limited edition of 30, 2015

***

I’ve been busy in the studio, quietly working away on new paintings. I thought it would be fun to show some work-in-progress shots alongside the final works. I often post photos of the painting process on Instagram but some of the rougher early stuff I like to keep to myself as a record of what I’ve done. I’ve mostly been in the studio working on new ideas, trying not to repeat myself in my painting and seeing where I can go with my art.

Little test studies in colour and textures
Little test studies in colour and textures
Close up of flowers in progress
Close up of flowers in progress in Beyond the Realm of Failure

Beyond the Realm of Failure was originally intended for a large scale mural in downtown Vancouver at the L’Occitane flagship store, but it didn’t work out and they ended up going a different route. I wrote about this on my blog a couple of years ago – you can read about it here.

My initial sketch for the mural project
My initial sketch for the mural project
Beyond the Realm of Failure, Oil & linen on wood panel, 48 x 36 inches, 2015
Beyond the Realm of Failure, Oil & linen on wood panel, 48 x 36 inches, 2015

I really liked my original sketch and idea and didn’t want to see it forgotten on my computer somewhere, so I reworked the image to incorporate more of my own ideas, textures and patterns. I also wanted to experiment with actual collage of shapes cut from linen. My paintings are often mistaken for collage, but it’s all hand painted.

Rhapsody, in the early stages
Rhapsody, in the early stages

Along with using different textures and materials, I’ve also been playing with looser inky areas of paint. I worked and re-worked this painting, on and off for about a year, and I finally reached the point where I believe it’s finished. I still feel a bit iffy about it sometimes. When I look at it for too long I feel like I can pick out problems with it. But then when I’ve put it away for a while and take it back out to look at it with refreshed eyes, I can also appreciate those same “problem” areas.

rhapsody
Rhapsody, Oil & ink on wood panel, 24 x 36 inches, 2016

February was also the start of the Chinese New Year. 2016 is the Year of the Monkey, which also happens to be my zodiac sign. I’ve been working on ideas around horoscopes and zodiacs for a while now, but no big project has come of this yet. This idea came to me suddenly one day and I had to draw it out. I feverishly finished it in two days, just before my self-imposed deadline of Chinese New Year.

From princess to monkey...
From princess to monkey…
Salome (Year of the Monkey), Coloured pencil on paper, 14 x 17 inches, 2016
Salome (Year of the Monkey), Coloured pencil on paper, 14 x 17 inches, 2016

And lastly, I just finished a new painting that I feel brings together many of my past ideas and is also evolving in a new direction. I’ll have to let it sit on the wall and breathe a little before I look at it again and think about where to go next.

The underpainting and early stages
The underpainting and early stages
Painting the gnarled hands was a challenge

I’ll be taking part in ROVE, an art walk through Mount Pleasant, and my studio will be open to the public the evening of May 27th. I’ll post more details in the upcoming weeks. I haven’t had an open studio for a few years, since I took part in the Eastside Culture Crawl. This will be a good opportunity to come see my work space and my new drawings and paintings, and I will also have prints for sale. I’ll post when I have more information on that soon. In the meantime, if you’d like to receive news and updates from me in your inbox, you can sign up for my mailing list.

The Nested Babushka, Oil on wood panel, 16 x 20 inches, 2016
The Nested Babushka, Oil on wood panel, 16 x 20 inches, 2016

It’s Not You, It’s Me

A detail of my mural sketch
A detail of my mural sketch

My blog has been a little quiet lately as I was working on a project, which unfortunately (or fortunately for that matter) I am no longer a part of. Without going into too much detail, I was commissioned to do a large mural for a new store in downtown Vancouver. I was very excited about the prospect of working on such a large scale, as it would have been just under 30 x 30 feet of blank wall for me to play with.

I was initially under the impression that I had a bit of creative freedom in the process, but in the end it turned out that they wanted someone to hand paint a very specific visual (a wall full of their best-sellers). The mural had to be painted in a specific style completely foreign to my work, but I still had to do press and media events relating the work back to my practice in order to promote their company working with a local artist. I was very uncomfortable with this, as it had not been what I originally thought the project was, and after much back and forth attempts to compromise, it came time to walk away.

When I was first awarded the project, I was given a few themes to work with and to look at the artist Cézanne’s work. While my first sketch was rejected right off the bat, I wanted to share the sketch and some ideas behind it.

The day I found out I got the commission, I wase visiting the Seattle Art Museum. While in the Japanese section, I came across a Hokusai painting, Five Beautiful Women:

Katsushika Hokusai - Five Beautiful Women (1804-18)
Katsushika Hokusai – Five Beautiful Women (1804-18)

I was immediately drawn to the way that the kimono patterns were painted, the flat graphicness with the black lines, and the clashing yet complimentary array of patterns. With this image in mind, I began researching for the mural, studying Cezanne’s work. In the process, I found some mention of his influence by Japonisme, and his paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire in relation to Hokusai’s Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji.

Paul Cezanne - Mont Sainte-Victoire (1888-90)
Paul Cezanne – Mont Sainte-Victoire (1888-90)
Katsushika Hokusai - Inume Pass, K?sh? (1760–1849)
Katsushika Hokusai – Inume Pass, K?sh? (1760–1849)

With these ideas in mind, I went to work and created a sketch that both worked in the company’s visuals and themes and also stayed true to my work. I created an image inspired by the Three Graces:

My initial sketch for the mural project
My initial sketch for the mural project

I’ve had to change the sketch a bit so that I’m able to put it on my blog without revealing the company that had commissioned me. I’m hoping that I will be able to use this idea in another work in the future as I’m quite fond of the image and feel like it could exist on its own.

I’ve painted commissions in the past, and I have to say, after this experience, how grateful I am to have worked on those commissions, as my clients wanted me to create freely and use my creativity in interpreting their ideas. Working on this project has been an eye opener for me. Challenging and frustrating at times, it’s helped me understand how dedicated to my art practice I am. I’ve worked hard to get to where am I now, committing myself to my full time practice for the past 10 years. And never one to dwell too much on the negative, I now have time to dedicate to my own work in the studio and to preparing for my upcoming exhibition in Calgary next month.

And now for a little classic Seinfeld:

Triangulation

Here’s another drawing I’ve just finished working on. A new study for some future work….

Roselina Hung - Virgo, coloured pencil on paper, 11" x 14" (2013)
Roselina Hung – Virgo, coloured pencil on paper, 11″ x 14″ (2013)
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