It has been slower going in recent weeks. There are those dips in the road where an artist feels the weight of the work and the pressure of trying to support ones family and its medical needs. But even if the progress hasn't been as well as I would like, it is important to trudge along in any case, and work through it.
I was tackling the detailing of the Brown Bear Totem painting, but I was overtaken by the need to begin another totem section. This has been an essential part of this journey with the totems, allowing them to draw me, each in their own time. In light of the dialogs around appropriation concerns, with concerns of First Nations designs being used or re-interpreted by non-Indigenous artists or companies as an example, mine is not to create new artworks in the conventional sense. Mine is not to interpret. I suppose that this self-discipline comes from my years in Byzantine Iconography, where to, I have always trusted the Masters and respected the forms, traditions, symbolism, colours, etc. In doing so, my works avoided error and inadvertently posing questions or scandal. The same can be said for this series, this journey with the totems. I allow myself to respond and to use my skills to capture what I see, and all the details within. It is imperative that I keep adjusting the forms and lines as required, until they are as exact as need be (aware of how precise these forms are from Nation to Nation, imparted with their meaning and movements). I trust the image of the totem and the Master's creation. My task is to capture a facet of a particular moment in time within a totem's life span, preserving the Master's vision and skill. And unlike a photograph, the canvas painting brings a viewer, while remaining true to the original totem, an experience of vibrancy from the totem; the same which I feel when I come in contact with it in real life.
So, being free from trying to come up with an artistic concept for a painting, I can follow the images of various totems as they beckon. And they do. This new canvas is a case in point. I had been considering a few options, keeping in mind the canvas sizes that I had on hand. One of my JPEGs was from the second lower layer of the House Pole at the Capilano Totem Visitors Center, "Seventh Generation Pole / Honour of the Children Pole". It seems simple enough but the forms and textures within and subtle colourings are actually complex in their simplicity.
The background information about this Totem is as follows:
Tlinghit Wolf Totem, 2017
24” x 36” x 1.5”
‘Wolf Totem Pole: Everyone’s Grandfather’ was raised at the Fairbanks University of Alaska Museum in 1988. The pole honors the wolf clan and was named by George Dalton, Elder of the Kaag Waan Taan (Wolf) Clan. The 20-foot pole is made of western red cedar from Ketchikan and features the three figures of eagle, wolf, and bear. This particular totem pole honors the traditional teaching method of a master artist working alongside his apprentices.
* The name of the carver(s) unknown.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
When I did the first painting of the Wolf painting in 2015. I had assumed that what I was seeing was a coat of a dark stain which had been added to replicate a black wolf. But then, I later came across an image of the same totem by the Alaskan photographer Patrick Endres. It was bright and with no sign of a dark patina.
It wasn't until I volunteered to assist Carey Newman with his Spirit Pole restoration, that I discovered what was really at play. The Spirit Pole, because of its location on the perimeter of a parking lot and nearby drive through, the totem had absorbed the carbon emissions which gave it a very dark patina, unlike the normal grey patinas of aging cedar. The initial sanding that was done, prior to restoring the paint, removed the carbon and restored the cedar to it natural colour.
To confirm this with this new image of the Wolf Totem, it was indeed taken early after its installation, and the carbon emission absorption was still minimal.
So in keeping with the 'Time Capsule' component of this totem series, the two totem paintings are distinct moments in the totem's life, and which quickly changes within its cycle.
This image had its own challenges, as you can see in the different colour ranges and textures which were new to me (in how to replicate them in my technique). There are always times when you have to reglaze over an area with the undertone in order to rework the the top layers.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
During my first exhibition of the Journeying With The Totems series in January-February of 2015, I was able to be onsite on a somewhat regular basis, to meet with viewers, answer their questions, and talk about the series. I set up a small easel in one corner so that I could paint during the quiet times, especially in the heavier rains of the season. It allowed me to be in the space without encroaching on the viewer(s) space while looking at the paintings. They could come and see what I was doing without feeling like I was like a 'saleman' in a store. It was a wonderful time as; here I was in the Silk Purse Gallery, with its wonderful view of English Bay, and with Eagles in the nearby tall cedars. I made a point of savoring every moment, imagining what it would be like to have a studio like this all the time. But it is only a temporary dream after all.
One cherished memory was the day of setting up the show. It was pouring rain. As I waited for the staff to arrive to open the gallery, I was feeling a bit glum standing in the rain, when I started to hear an eagle loudly vocalizing from the top the tree next to the gallery. It lifted my spirits and I understood this moment as a good omen.
I had chosen to work on a smaller canvas this time, as I wasn’t sure how much time I would have, and I needed an image that could accommodate a lot of interruptions. The larger images become almost impossible to do when my time is disjointed. For those, I need focused time in order to make progress. You just can’t jump in and start painting. Not with the realistic totems anyway.
Having completed the Eagle-Raven Shield painting, I was interested in a wolf totem that I had seen on the Fairbanks University website. I hadn’t worked on a wolf before and I loved the composition of this particular totem. It did pose a new challenge though. The wolf totem itself had been given a black stain and so I had to factor that and how it played with the wood underneath.
Because of the narrow size of the canvas, I chose a cropping of the face which reminded me of a Bateman painting a number of years ago, where he depicted a black wolf peering from behind a tree in a winter setting. I liked the strength of the one eye looking at you, the beauty of the upper composition and the menacing of the mouth.
I did manage to complete this painting during the four weeks I was in the Silk Purse Gallery.
As I continue to work on the detailing on the large Brown Bear totem painting, the lower section of the Brown Bear story totem at Capilano Suspension Bridge, I've started inking in a canvas of the lower section of the House Pole at the Capilano's Visitor's Centre. I've always loved this section's colouring and textures. But unfortunately, I've yet to find the descriptions of all the stories and crests contained in this totem.
The Tlingit Totem painting has been completed. I will varnish the painting after delivering the St. Kateri icon to Horseshoe Bay tomorrow morning.
When I received the request to paint another 12"x36" of the Tinglit, as a pair to the Beaver Detail, I clarified that I would do the painting from my reference photograph of the totem, rather then doing a copy of the previous painting, and let it guide the way. Because of the realism of my style, the two are actually very similar.
The painting will be delivered to JD Stevenson Gallery this weekend.
The commissioned Tlingit Totem painting was requested 3 weeks ago, by the gallery's client who was interested in a pair to the Beaver Totem Detail painting which is also 12"x36". The previous 'North Wolf' painting had sold.
Unfortunately, I've been sick for the past 2+ weeks and still not 100%. But I've been able to make slow progress as strength allows. I had initially hoped to get this new painting done along with a few others before the gallery reopened on Oct. 5th, but with having been out of commission... I can at least get he Tlingit painting completed and possibly start on another canvas.
I trust that I will well enough to deliver the St. Kateri icon to Horseshoe Bay on Wednesday. I am also awaiting news in finalizing the sale of the At Rest painting. It may require another Horseshoe Bay delivery.
Tlingit Wolf Totem
24"X36"X1.5" acrylic on exhibition canvas.
The Tlingit Wolf Totem is at the University of Fairbanks, Alaska. This painting was based on a picture taken a number of years ago by the Alaskan photographer Patrick Endres.
Background info on original totem:
After getting the St. Kateri icon completed, and getting my son set up with his new workstation (We had been sharing my studio up until now - not complaining. It was nice working together), I always need to take the time to clean and reorganize me wee studio space before proceeding.
I have two paintings that I need to get completed in time for submission to the Sidney Art Show on Sept. 10th! The Brown Bear just needs some added development of textures, but the Wolf has only been been based coloured, and need much work. But I know that today will be rough going in getting back in that groove again. The totem paintings and the icons are both iconic but each had different styles and different surfaces. All going well, I should be on the go by tomorrow.
Would love to hear your thoughts,
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):
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
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.
- - - - - - - - -
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.
Andre Prevost, began his work in theatre in the late 70s after completing his studies at the Banff School of Fine Arts, and in his iconography in 1980, and having a large body of work in each. He has since been based in Western Canada; North Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and now back on the West Coast.