I have 2 favorite painters - Thomas Moran and Alphonse Mucha. Although their work is different from mine in style and subject, I still rely on them to show me what a great painting should look like. And I have 2 favorite thinkers - Carl Sagan and Joseph Campbell. Their ideas have somehow collided in my head to form a curious rational mysticism that has become the guiding philosophy of my art.
What is mythic naturalism?
The artists I admired as a young man were traditional realists, and I always knew that some kind of beautiful naturalism would be an important part of what I would try and accomplish as a painter. And yet I was also seized with the irrational belief that there must be some kind of plan in the world, a mysterious mythic poetry in the appearance and processes of nature that silently tries to explain to the ignorant artist why the world is the way it is. I have tried to paint this Unseen Intention.
What is your opinion on the cultural climate in Canada?
Hmm. The truth is I don’t get out much and so, not really knowing very much about such things, I ought not to be too critical. But I have noticed, as I peruse galleries across the country (and I’ve driven from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island), that we Canadians seem over-fond of the Group of Seven. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but a significant majority of the landscape work we do here is obviously inspired by just the one distinctive school. Perhaps I find that a bit annoying because it’s not my school, and most countries do indeed have an identifiable character in their artistic representations of the homeland. Art is a tough business, but I know a few artists who are doing just fine, so maybe the answer to your question is, could be worse…
Can you tell something about the creative process, from research and sketch to finished art?
Inspiration is mysterious, and after decades of effort I still don’t really know how it works. I have experienced lean years when I found no interesting ideas at all and wondered if perhaps I had nothing left to say…only to see or hear something curious that suddenly sets that creative part of the brain on fire. I wish I could turn it on when I need it, but it always seems to come by accident. When it does happen, however, images start flashing in my imagination very quickly, and so I’ll start with rough sketches to refine the idea, gradually building a complete composition around a detailed figure study. I’ll do a tonal study with charcoal and almost always a small (11” x 17”) color study; the finished oil painting always presents unforeseen challenges and unexpected surprises happen often, but I like to have a very strong idea of what I’m going to do before I actually start putting oil to canvas. In my experience, the design-development part of the process seems to take even more time than the actual painting.