So much has taken place over the short while. With it all being intertwined, I thought it best to combine the updates for both the icons and totems as they are part of the same picture. Only time will tell whether it is a sign of the journey that is ahead.
As soon as I had completed and delivered the Ste. Anne icon on July 17th, I needed to push ahead and get the design going for the St. Kateri icon for St. Thomas Aquinas High School. The research was a bit tedious as the statues and images of St. Kateri are all over the place. None struck me as authentic, other then the small original painting of her which gives precious little information, typical of most paintings of that era. I also researched Mohawk images given that her father was from the Mohawk Nation. I also sent a few emails to the shrine and conference center in the United States (both with Mohican contacts) to double check my info and whether I was on the right path.
From all that, I prepared the design and constructed the board. I had just inked in the design onto the board when I saw a Facebook posting about Carey Newman refurbishing his 2008 totem. I inquired as to where the totem was. When he said Duncan, I volunteered my help if he needed. So I happily went in to Duncan on Wednesday last week to help for the day, with no idea what to expect. I was just ready to help in whatever way that was needed. I was just thrilled that I had followed my instincts, in that this was an opportunity to connect with a totem in its refurbishing, (after my journey with totems within my painting series).
I had no expectations in particular for the day, other then just doing what was needed. I started by doing some sanding, and after a short while, I was asked if i could start painting. That was great. I was part of that first coat of colours after the Spirit Pole had been sanded. I may not be an expert on all forms used by each nation, but I was familiar with what I was seeing, and recognizing where the edges were (or should be if sanded out). There was one small form that I had to double check on. After the first day, I offered to return on Thursday, so long as I was more of a help then a hindrance. After a good long day of painting on Thursday, I returned Friday to help with the oiling of the totem. I didn't have a lot to do on Friday, so it gave me quality time to study the totem and the carved movement within.
The totem experience was memorable.
There was a one very special moment on the first day, when a blind Elder came to visit with the totem. It was one of those rare and important moments where you become fully aware and just know that you need to absorb it all. I was there to experience it. To best capture the experience, I’ve just copy/pasted what I had put together on my Facebook page that same evening (July 26th):
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It was a great day on many levels today. The opportunity of helping Carey Newman in a small way, an artist that I greatly admire, as he refurbishes one of his totems in Duncan, raised in 2008. The day started with some sanding. I would have been content with that. Then came the joyous task of painting. All a blessing. It was especially dear to me as it was a visceral connection to the totem. The final blessing which I will have etched in my memory always, was witnessing the joy and animation of an Elder that arrived to visit with the totem. The moment became sacred for me (hard to know how else to describe it). In an instant, when Carey and his assistant Tegas cleared the space for the Elder to approach, the interaction that followed was like having a veil removed from my eyes, and seeing the truth of the totem and Culture, through new eyes. I've always had a deep love and respect of the totems, and the wonder and majesty that they are, but here, this was different. I hope that I am not sharing something that I shouldn't. The Elder was blind. Once helped to the totem, the sight of the Elder was brilliant, as he felt the forms of the Frog and the rest of the totem which he could reach at ground level. Carey described the totem which was out of reach. The interaction was so natural and superseded everything else that was going on around us. All the while, through the Elder's wonderment and words, I for the first time, felt a glimpse of what he was seeing. This wasn't just a solid carved form but a swirl of life and interaction. And the joy of finding cracks within which gifts of tobacco etc. could be placed. I've always loved the aging of wood but cracks will never just be cracks anymore. I feel as I had been given a great gift today.
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On the weekend following, I began mixing colours and trying base colours for the Kateri icon.
Father Laboucane called yesterday (July 31), saying how much people liked the Siksika Sacred Heart icon and the Ste. Anne icon during the Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage in Alberta, the annual pilgrimage attended by many First Nations. He said that I may have opened a whole other niche in my iconography. The possibility is interesting but also a bit daunting. But so long as I can eventually find my way with each, with the support of First Nations collaborators...
I then received an email from Sister Kateri Mitchell in the United States, in reply to my inquiry for the Kateri icon. She herself is Mohican. I was pleased to read that she was happy with the research I had done, and the direction in which I was going with the design. This icon, like my others, will be distinct, and will reconnect somewhat to the original portrait. It reminds me of the process with the Anne-Marie Martel icon where the original (and only authentic image) also needed much research.
The one recommendation from Sister Kateri, which was an “Oh” moment, was that braids not be used. My design on the icon board had braids… She said that all artists resort to the stereotype of braids, but they were not typical with Mohawk or Iroquois. I replied in thanks for her guidance and for the timeliness given that I was just starting painting the icon board. I could still sand down what I needed to in order to rework the image.
I am pleased with the growing First Nations collaborators within my work, especially within the my new direction of First Nation icons. I am hoping to also gradually make inroads within totem painting series, as more and more see the series for what they are. But it isn't surprising to me that both these interests combine as easily as they do. They after all, are all part of me, all part of the same. Both forms are iconographic. Both are based on the life of wood, both are in water based colour, both comprise of spiritual language, symbolism, and stories, and both are finished with coats of oil; the variation being that I use a non-yellowing sealer for my acrylic icons which are used indoors).
So as I said earlier, the past few days have been full. The key in the next few weeks or months, will be to keep eyes wide open to decipher other opportunities as they present themselves.
But in the short term, the immediate challenge will be the record breaking temperatures we are experiencing in British Columbia (as so many other areas). Even with the 2 portable AC units, it gets hot in here. We are headed into the high 30s before humidex.
My work in iconography and the series on the West Coast totems are both based on being true to the traditions and originals. They all come from the same place within me, as do the recent First Nations icons of the Coast Salish St. Paul and the Siksika Sacred Heart. To know me in the one is to know me in the other(s).
I thought this would be a good time to present my body of work within 'Journeying With The Totems' in relation to the originals that each were based on. Some colours vary slightly depending on the colours within other reference photographs or the 11"x17" colour copies that I get made to guide the process. I need lots of reference information in the images I use, in order to paint the level of detail that I work within.
I've prepared a series of jpegs which present the painting and the reference picture of the original.
The Brown Bear painting has been completed. It is 36" x 36" on exhibition canvas. It will be travelling to its home in Ottawa.
From the Bear Pole at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park.
The pole tells the story of an abandoned blind man saved from starvation by a bear who brought him fish to eat. The blind man's descendants became known as the Bear Clan.
I'm very close to completing the 36"x36" Brown Bear painting. I think I have another day's work to do before I can varnish it and let to dry for packing. This one will be going to Ottawa.
Once this one is done, I will completing the 48"x48" canvas of the same totem. I am hoping that this one will be accepted into the 2017 Sooke Fine Arts Show this summer.
The dilemma of getting to know the real artist, or a reasonable facsimile
Something happened this past week that reopened questions on being an artist, questions of professionalism, and the dilemma of marketing. I received a call in response to a recent complaint based on my personal Facebook page. The complaint was on its ‘negativity’. The offense(s) in question were my personal interactions and responses to global issues with friends on my page, and particularly, my occasional release of frustration over the ongoing struggle in getting sales and awareness for my artwork. It was my one outlet. I was told that it made me appear unprofessional and reflected badly on artists and galleries associated to me. I was advised that I should not include my personal self in any social media, as it pushed people away. And at all times, keep it upbeat and with a smile.
The ‘professionalism’ critique cut deeply as it has been a priority through the years, and the loss of my personal page where I could just be who I am has left me feeling numb. But I’ve had time to ponder on this, as I’ve done in previous challenges. I needed to think through the questions and the various forks in the road that they presented. I wouldn’t still be an artist today if I had succumbed to past criticism at face value. I’ve learned a long time ago that I couldn’t please everyone, while maintained my continued hope that there were enough supporters out there who believed in my work. But even then, there are times of doubt when I even wonder whether there is. It is part of the journey. The one truth that I’ve come to know is how I’ve been a lone wolf in my work through the years, pursuing my artwork when I’ve usually been the square peg fitting a round hole. Only I know the compromises I’ve had to make in the quest of balance between my art, supporting my family, and the financial restrictions. Professionalism and integrity are always at the core of what I do.
Returning to the Facebook page question, it was originally my personal page to interact with the outside world, keeping in touch with friends, family, and people that I’ve worked with through the years. My artwork gradually came into the mix as I was trying to get the word out. I’ve been wrestling with the growingly complex mix, so I then created a Facebook Artist page, thinking that would be the solution. But I found that I could not invite people to this page. It had to just sit there and wait for people to find it, unless I paid for ongoing Facebook ads to help things moving along. I was left with the complex mix. Occasionally, I posted a few statuses about the concern, and how my political views etc. may be getting in the way of promoting my art. But it was/is part of who I am. It all is part of the whole. My art does not unfold as a completely separate entity. But I do also still maintain my website, including blogs (Journals) about my art, both in Iconography and Painting. But there too, a website is not a solution in itself. There is the hurdle of getting traffic to a website. It sits there online, waiting for people to come across it haphazardly, as most don’t know to look for it. And there too, there is always the solution of throwing more money into advertisement.
I’ve never had the only key component for the phrase “It takes money to make money”.
I had approached both Federal and Provincial Granting bodies, inquiring about a possible application to further paint close-up time capsules of the West Coast Totems. Having a collaborator connected to the project would help, but the problem is that they insist that I don’t qualify for assistance, as they’ve pegged me as being a ‘commercial’ artist. The reason for this conclusion is my not having been paid fees by a professional gallery to show my work (even though I’ve had 4 solo exhibitions in Community Arts Galleries, have had pieces accepted in two large Fine Arts Shows, plus a 35+ years body of work in Iconography). ‘Commercial’ is such an odd niche to be put into. Commercial! What does that mean exactly! All artists need sales in order to survive. Does it suggest that I just crank out art for sales, without the ‘fine arts aspirations’ and goals normally associated with an artist? But that is a whole other topic.
Back to the recent critique.
The research that I’ve done on marketing artwork indicated that patrons want to get to know the artist behind the work. It often helps in making a sale once that connection is made. But the critique received poses the question as to whether patrons initially want to know the real artist (with the nuts and bolts of an artist’s passion and challenges along the way), or do they prefer hearing what they want to hear when meeting an artist, and only hearing the marketing spin. Also, if there is a painting, or series of paintings that they like or are drawn to, do the paintings lose their impact and ‘professionalism’ after meeting the real artist behind them, or reading of the passions in the artist’s life? These all inform an artist’s choices and direction.
So yes, I’ve since gone through my Facebook page and deleted anything political, and anything that could possibly be inferred as negative. But of course that can only include what I post, with no control as to what persons in my friends list post. So it is now another art page where I post updated artwork, and attach links to my blogs with all the behind the scenes information. I actually call them ‘Journals’ as it better represents how I use them, and it is rare to receive comments even though viewers have the feature available to them. My website also has all the layers, commentaries, and ongoing journals entries with background and thoughts.
But having done that with the Facebook page, I felt as though I had been silenced, cut off. It had been my window to world but now, I was no longer able to respond to what friends and acquaintances shared, or to react to global issues. I live a life within isolation given the multitude times that I’ve moved around, and because of circumstances, commitments and finances. That combination isn’t conducive to maintaining friends along the way as they move along on there own paths. So it has been me and my son, and ever changing studio(s). So, as a way of regaining my voice and connection to the world, I created yet another personal Facebook page, which I’ve assigned with a private setting in order to keep it disconnected from the art page. But with the Facebook limitations, I’ve ended up with two Andre Prevost pages, with the only way of distinguishing one from the other by using two different profile pictures: one with painting reference profile jpegs, and the other with no art reference. I am sorry for the confusion to my friends (list), and I now feel a bit ambiguous about this new level of complexity. I find myself hesitating now, every time it comes to logging in. Log in to which! My new Personal page, my transitioned art Facebook page, my Artist Facebook page, or my Iconography Facebook page (not to mention Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.). Which contacts do I keep in one or the other? Many are connected to the art, either theirs or mine, while some also share serious issues for awareness and dialog (First Nations, America, Europe etc.). Which page can I respond to these? So it is all leaving me as a split personality, and having to segregate much of myself in order to maintain a more marketable self.
I venture to think that artists of pre-social media days had their time in cafes, friend’s homes and such to discuss anything they so wished, and being themselves. And yet there were also those who worked and struggled with isolation and their work, and many did live impoverished lives. But even so, it did not make their work less professional or less crucial. I wanted to believe that patrons supported the art for its sake, in spite of the artist’s complexity, or whether the art institutions and critiques of the day accepted the artist or not. But in fact, galleries, benefactors, and art institutions can in fact act as a buffer between the artist and patron, and do have an impact on how an artist’s work was categorized, for public consumption. It is all part of the journey, passion and belief in ones works. If it was just myself, going hungry and struggling with my budget is one thing, but when you have a family, it’s a whole other ball of wax. You can’t make the decision that your family will also be hungry and go without.
Am I an artist? Absolutely. Am I a professional artist? Absolutely. Being a financially struggling artist does not make me unprofessional. Commercial? Well, I would argue that, if I were doing this for purely commercial reasons, then I would have totally missed the mark given that the focus of art I’ve followed isn’t necessarily so. I need sales yes, in order to survive and stay in my studio. But there is much that I still need and want to do, even though I know that a lot of it would not be typically marketable or commercial in the conventional sense re: style, choice, colour, etc. This is where funding agencies and collaborators come in to help permit me to continue the work still to be done.
So yes, being the Virgo and perfectionist that I am, I have had numerous soul searchings, both as the artist and the person. It all makes me who I am, informing my journey, with all the foibles, hurdles, accomplishments, self-doubts, limitations, love, and disappointments. I bear the many similar traits of an artist, even though I for the most part, am not a ‘joiner’ by nature. It is how my art was formed, and on my own terms, carving my own way and styles while most often straddling seemingly opposite art forms and cultures. But always in respect.
My living room, which has become more studio then living room, is a game of rotating, musical easels. The two paintings on the floor have been relegated to the back burner for now, as I need to complete the commissioned Brown Bear painting on the easel on the right, and proceed with the commissioned Blackfoot Sacred Heart Icon on the left. The two paintings on the floor need to be completed in time for submission to the 2017 Sooke Fine Arts Show.
I'm in the final stretch with the Brown Bear, working in the wood grain details.
I just got the icon design inked in this morning. There will be adjustments as I move forward and as I begin to block in the base colours.
I'm making progress with the 36" x 36" Brown Bear commission. I've started on the wood grain and cracking, but have a bit of undertone glazing to complete before getting in the extensive wood grain of this totem (at the Capilano Suspension Bridge park).
The past week had a few hurdles as a self employed artist. The banks just make things so difficult for self-employed persons. And utilities expect their payments on schedule even though art income doesn't come in as initially expected. Fortunately, I was invited to do a Icon Presentation and a 1-day Icon Workshop in Vancouver this past weekend.
I haven't been feeling well the last few days, but still pushing forward with the Brown Bear commission. I'm still in the process of shaping the totem and getting the undertones in as I go. These all have to be done before i can begin developing the wood grain which is predominant in this totem. The forms in West Coast Totems are such that you just need to keep tweaking the image on the canvas to that they are exact to the style of the carver and Nation/Family it represents.
I have a few scheduling conflicts this coming week, and I'll be in Vancouver this coming weekend to do a presentation and workshop, so I'll get the painting as far as I can. I want to have this painting completed as soon as possible.
Now that I was some firewood, thanks to a dear friend, and heat in the studio has been restored, I am able to return to painting. I had started a 4ft x 4ft canvas of the Brown Bear for art show submissions, but I received a commission request for a 3ft x 3ft painting of the same subject. So that explains the canvas sitting on the floor in the background.