Home Back Forward July 9, 1999: Art on the Wild Side

Maureen at work

Biscuit walking on by

Chico stands for a better look

(Click on any Image to see a higher resolution version)


It is a bit hard to consider what the wild part is.Maybe it is the artist, our cubs, camp at Kambalnoe Lake, Charlie, the Cocktail Family (the mother bear and her two year old cubs; Brandy, Gin and Tonic, respectively) or all of the above.

I don't know, but it is all fun and challenging. I have known for some time that I put exhibition deadlines on my agenda to put me on some kind of edge to dig a bit deeper to produce some good work. What I have discovered in the last ten years, is that I also thrive on the difficulties imposed by living in wilderness country with little or few amenities or comfort at least for a few months of the year. When the access to the outside world is limited and the country is as beautiful as it is today at Kambalnoe Lake, the paint comes off the brush with the intuitive freedom I strive for in my art making process.

Brandy and her two cubs were up in Chico Basin this morning. We hiked up into the basin, which is now brilliant northern tropical green with bright patches of snow. The Cocktail family was grazing on mixed greens, which are almost visibly shooting up on the southeast facing slopes. In fact if you are really quiet, you can hear plants grow this time of year as they push up through dead foliage. We sat down quite a way from her as they munched their way in our direction. The cubs stopping to tussle, beg for a drink from Mom (we know that sound well from living with our own cubs) and gradually an hour later, paused about 40ft. from us. Brandy is about a 500 pound Mother bear and is truly beautifu,l especially this time of year with her full winter coat blowing in the wind. Her cubs are not quite as cute as ours were at that age. In fact we have discovered no young bears to equal their looks, intelligence or capabilities!!! But I guess that evaluation is to be expected.

Back to art production: At the beginning of a season like this I usually write down some loose goals of amount of work I want to complete and some notes about what the work will be about. Then I forget about my good intentions and let the experience of living here dictate what I will do. I start with lots of black and white photos. Thanks to a contribution of equipment from one of our sponsors, Daymen Photo Marketing in Toronto, Canada, I have a relatively well equipped dark room in a 4ft.x 6ft.space at one end of our one room cabin. I bring all the chemicals up to temperature on top of the diesel stove, black out the space with a sleeping bag over the door to the tiny dark room and make prints. I ended up with about 50 prints three days ago. I fill a 5-gallon bucket with freezing lake water which I strain through a tea-towel to make a halfhearted attempt at the rinse step. A storm blew in at about the time I had the images on towels all over our one table. Charlie was whining as I was taking up his workspace. The diesel stove started to down draft awful dust and fumes and I raced to hang up the prints in the small-protected dark room environment. The next few days, I lit a small camper's one burner stove in the 10ft x 12ft adjoining"artist's cabin" to warm it up somewhat so I could paint. Water was dripping in through the windows, the wind was howling, the tin on the side of the building was buckling loudly, but I was on a roll. I bring paper primed with gesso (a covering I roll on paper at home to make archival for paint) with me in two carry on cases for the return journey home by airplane. I usually paint on three pieces of primed paper at once.

I woke up in the middle of the night last night figuring out how to apply the addition of the photo component to "Biscuit Walking on By". I have added cutouts of black and white photos glued directly on my painting on paper for some years. I enjoy the layers of illusory space and the playing with realism and abstraction such a process provides. In this painting, I glued down the image of Biscuit on the upper left corner and repeated her image as a ghost image. Reflected images, shadow, ghost-like repeated forms are part of an intellectual exploration about "Another Dimension": the world of a bear that I began last year. In the painting, "Chico Stands for a Better Look", Chico is part of a cut out black and white photo and the rest of the painting is about mankind looking in at the bear's world, which is why the surrounding structure looks so referenced to man-made architecture rather than natural forms. The bright colors in all my painting that has come out of Kamchatka the last two years reflects the colors I see on the tundra, or on the surface of a brightly glazed male sockeye salmon at the spawning grounds. I notice that as I leave the civilized world behind and feel once more at peace with the world of nature, my colors become even more intense by their juxtaposition. Maybe that is because life in the wild is one of contrasts.

I am continuing a series of charcoal drawings, which I began two years ago, that deal with the controversy surrounding whether animals have feelings and if so are they similar to a humans. I wrote about this topic in depth in 1998. I am increasingly interested in capturing images of bears that reflect how their emotions are similar to a human's -"Anthropomorphism", almost a dirty word in some circles. I finally caught an expression on Biscuit's face yesterday, of some anxiety, as she sniffed the wind, trying to identify the scent blowing over the lake. I was standing in front of her as she raised her nose to catch the wind with that look of " I wonder who (in this case what bear) that is? Is it a dangerous one? I guess not". A half-hour later a single young female grizzly walked out of the bush and both cubs were quite relaxed with her approach. This bear's response to seeing Charlie stand up amongst our cubs was one I wish I could have captured. She almost doubled in size as she expanded her posture to look in utter amazement at this spectacle. She didn't run away though. She sat for a while, then ambled off to eat greens. I suspect another bear is in the making that will learn to trust man. We think Brandy learned to trust us last year by watching our cubs with us.


© Lenticular Productions Ltd. 1999