Sunday, February 27, 2011

Dancing Garbage: "Tango" and "Dance for Matisse"

I had the good fortune of being an art school student for fifteen years. The institution I attended,  Emily Carr College of Art and Design when I started, evolved into a degree-granting Institute. It's now a University. Each time a reorganization occurred or the rules were rewritten, the changes were always in my favour. At first, as a part-time student, I could only take evening and weekend courses, and would not have been able to continue past second year; but after a few years I was allowed to enrol in any course for which I was qualified, and to advance, one course at a time, through the four-year program. With no thought initially of pursuing a diploma or degree, I eventually reached a point where I had accumulated so many credits that I just had to keep going. I had to fit my art courses around my teaching schedule at Langara College, which narrowed my options; but strangely, there was always a space in some suitable course at an appropriate time. So it was that I continued until 2005, the year that I retired from Langara and obtained my BFA degree at Emily Carr.

I found the college to be a wonderfully stimulating and creative place, and I especially appreciated the projects that were assigned. Invariably they nudged me into some new direction that I might never have thought of on my own. They were always open to broad interpretation, and seeing what other students in the class came up with was an education in itself.

One of the most far-reaching assignments for me was to produce a series of paintings on subject matter that would normally be rejected, despised or overlooked.  I'm not sure why this was such a significant project for me, since I had accepted from an early age that art didn't have to be pretty or picturesque, and could be made from the most ordinary and unpromising material. More than a hundred years had elapsed since the Impressionists had shocked the exhibition-goers of their time with their depictions of ordinary people and scenes, and turned their backs on the traditional themes derived from history, religion and mythology. Perhaps it was simply a matter of emphasis: I was being asked to take the idea a step further, and consciously and deliberately choose subjects viewed as unworthy.

Branching Out 29"x 22" acrylic on paper
No More Monkeys... 22"x 29" acrylic on paper

At the time, in 2002, I was anxious to work on my painting skills and was also interested in still life. So for this project, instead of the traditional fruits and vegetables, I decided to paint parts that would normally be thrown away. I began to study banana skins and the twigs that come with on-the-vine tomatoes. As soon as l started drawing, to my amazement, the bits of rubbish took on a life of their own. This "life" wasn't still at all, but expressive of a whole range of movement and emotion. They reached out and crawled ("Branching Out"), flung themselves down in despair, and bounced up and down ("No More Monkeys Jumping on the Bed").

Tango 29"x 22" -  acrylic on paper
And they danced!  The fresh yellow banana skins reared themselves up in the proud stance of the tango, and I could hear the jerky rhythm of the music as they stepped out together. 

Dance for Matisse 22" x 29" - acrylic on paper
The dried up tomato leaves joined hands and whirled into a circle dance, so reminiscent of Matisse's "Dance"--please see --that I imitated his colour scheme, though with the red and green reversed.


From this project I learned that the most unlikely subject matter can tell stories, act out dramas, and put on performances. I was already familiar with the idea that a still life painting can be theatre in miniature, since as soon as two or more items are present there is an interaction between them; but the degree of expressive movement that can be implied was a new discovery and complete surprise. Paying attention to the most humble objects is an approach to art which underlies much of my painting, and appeals to me in other artists' work too.

For more information about paintings please see 

On the Ferry 32"x 24" - acrylic on canvas

 Next time (around March 6): 
Travelling hopefully: "On the Ferry"

No comments: