Sunday, March 13, 2011

Painting in a Wet Climate: "The Rhythm of the Falling Rain " and "Hanging in the Rain"

In "Dancing Garbage" (Feb. 27, 2011) I described my discovery that subjects for paintings could be found in the most unpromising material. Two more recent  examples of this approach are "The Rhythm of the Falling Rain" and "Hanging in the Rain," both painted in 2009. They form 
part of an ongoing series of paintings on the theme "In Praise of November."
The Rhythm of the Falling Rain - acrylic - 20" x 20"

The former depicts raindrops pelting into a leaf-choked gutter. The rain was so heavy that the impact caused bubbles to bounce up, sail briefly down the street, and make patterns of ripples when they burst.

The subject of the second painting was just as improbable: a cement bucket, viewed through the filthy window of my former studio, making its lonely way through the downpour to an unfinished apartment tower.

Hanging in the Rain - acrylic - 18" x 24"

"In Praise of November" now numbers fifteen works, and each year I collect a few more images. The whole project stems from the "something from nothing much" idea. November is perhaps the least attractive month in Vancouver, when for days or even weeks on end we slosh around, shoulders hunched, intent only on getting home and dry. The sky sits like a massive grey lid just above our heads, and the storm drains fight a losing battle. It's easy to become depressed in these late-autumn weeks, so four years ago I decided to create an antidote for myself by seeking out striking images--anything that stood out against the gloomy backdrop. Initially I planned to take at least one photo per day with a view to using them as the basis for paintings. I lasted about ten days, but that gave me enough material to make a start on the series.From the outset I visualized a whole roomful of November paintings, and found this to be a refreshing way to work, less stressful than agonizing over each individual piece.

Starting with the November stereotype in mind, I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of weather and colour effects that the month had to offer once I really looked. My collection of images soon included snow-laden trees, a spectacular rainbow, remains of autumn leaves and berries. This past November, when we again had an early snowfall, I added images of vivid pink light, reflected off roofs and hillsides at sunrise or sunset. Nevertheless, the most characteristic feature of the season is the relentless rain, and I had to include it. 

The photos I took of the gutter looked dreary in the extreme, but as I worked on the painting the bubbles and ripples took on a jaunty aspect, and the murky grey colour gave way to shades of blue-green. I became aware of a lively movement and rhythm that suggested the title I chose. I have received many compliments on the painting, a gratifying surprise considering its bottom-of the-barrel starting point.

The suspended cement bucket and skeletal building were if anything an even more dismal subject, but in this case too the painting acquired colour as it progressed. The bucket became a metaphor for the isolation of human beings in a rainy climate. We scurry along with heads down, and scarcely interact with anyone in the street until the sun comes out and we suddenly remember how to smile. It's the reverse of the street scene we associate particularly with the Mediterranean countries, where the serious socializing takes place outdoors. 

When I had finished "Hanging in the Rain," I was reasonably satisfied that I had expressed what I saw and felt that dark afternoon when I took the photo, but I thought the subject might be too depressing for anyone to want to look at it. I was therefore particularly pleased when it was selected for the "Window Views" exhibition at CitySpace in North Vancouver in 2010, and sold a few weeks later at the Eastside Culture Crawl. Several people commented that the painting captures the essence of Vancouver in November, but I'm still a bit startled that the couple who bought it were so enthusiastic that they just had to have it in their apartment! One thing I have learned, though, is that I can never predict what will appeal to people, either collectively or individually. At exhibitions and sales, a dozen people may walk past a work with scarcely a glance, but then the thirteenth stops abruptly and moves in for a closer look. And just occasionally, for that person the painting is a must-have. "The Rhythm of the Falling Rain" is still waiting for that thirteenth person!

The Bathtub Voyeur - acrylic - 18 cm x 15 cm
Next time (around March 20): 
Unplugged but Much Travelled: "The Bathtub Voyeur"

1 comment:

Diane said...

Well, yes, I can really relate to these rainy Vancouver moments and you will have given me a new insight into November next time it comes around.