I think we’ve all lost a little weight in honor of our art. I have. Twenty pounds in just the last few months. I didn’t want to lose that weight. I’d already lost too many pounds after surgery last year and I was into a getting it all back.
But then came the boards.
It started a few years ago when I was invited to accept a skate board in honor of Isaac The Puma Miller and do something with it. Anything. I could paint on it, draw on it, glue things to it, nail things to it, throw things at it, etch it, sketch it, burn it, subject it to esoteric processes and I could even use witchcraft. But I’m not a witch, so none of the spells worked. I’m a man with pens. Lots of pens. Black gel pens and a deep need to spread ink over things.
But why a skate board? Because Isaac was a skate boarder…and a movie maker, and he wasn’t just talented. You could tell this kid had a destiny…and he was loved by everyone who knew him, but he was taken away from us far too soon. I can’t even begin to comprehend the loss, even years later.
His family wanted to do something special in his honor, something what would preserve his memory in the context of the things he loved.
They decided to build a skate board park in his honor. It would be an expensive undertaking, but they had the arts community on their side. Artists around the province received skate boards to turn into art that would be auctioned off to raise money for the park. Take a look at some of the skate board art they created…
The boards were auctioned off at the Freddie Beach Playhouse and they raised several thousand dollars. It was one of the most unique art shows the city had ever seen.
My daughter, Cassie Mae, sent one from Alberta…
Here’s my board (slightly unfinished)…
That was my first board.
It took a while for the addiction to really dig in under my skin and soul. A few months later, I bought a plank of pine and set on it with ink. It took almost a year to finish.
A few months ago, I started doing them in earnest, to the extent that they’ve changed my life style. I come home from work, shower to wash the smell of IT off my body and soul, sit at the table in the kitchenette, pick up a pen, put it on the board and suddenly it’s ten or eleven in the evening and I haven’t had anything to eat.
And that’s where the pounds went: through the nib of the pen and onto the wood, shedding micro ounce after micro ounce into the fiber and grain of a pine board. Honestly, it’s addicting. Once I put that pen on the wood, I’m there till the finish line.
It starts at the lumber store, standing in front of a stack of 12 x 24 pine boards, examining each for possible stories hiding in grains and knot holes. I look for anything that feels like some kind of connection to the board.
Here’s my theory…
That board was once part of a tree, a living thing, and living things have energy, some of which sticks to the board when the tree is cut down and sliced into building material. I look for that energy with my hands. I swear, after a while you can feel it. It’s not loud or flashy…it’s faint and hidden somewhere inside the death of the tree.
I usually buy three or four at a time. They come from a pile of rejects: those ones with obnoxious knot holes, absurd splits down the center and crazy grain patterns that will make you sea sick.
Then comes the really hard part: figuring out which board to work on first. I examine each of them, hold them up close to my eyes and ears, run my hand over the front and back surfaces, close my eyes and listen with invisible artist antennae. And then I just toss one on the table and say, “Ah ha! It’s you my lovely. I’m going to cover you with ink and love. I’m going to listen to you from the afterlife and tell your stories.”
Well, not really. I don’t talk out loud.
But I do try to tune myself into the life of the tree while I’m drawing. It starts with a few big lines to set the rhythm and composition; then, I really get into delving into whatever vestiges of energy might be left in the board. That’s when I start getting images in my head that I can’t see until they travel down my arm into the pen and my hand and onto the board where lines of ink begin looking like animals, sprites and otherworldly beings climbing up through the wood grain.
The stories are mesmerizing: heroic battles for survival between ants and snails and beetles, generations of bird families returning year-after-year to the common nest, centuries of shooting stars, vicious fang and claw wars to reign over territory…all told by knot holes, grooves, grain and blemish.
I’ve been doing these drawings since I was a kid…when I was influenced by Inuit art…the simplicity and power of that single object floating in the space of its own existence. Later, I came across the work of Aubrey Beardsley and the exquisite contrast between light and dark. Still later, I succumbed to the brilliantly rhythmic symbolism of Deanna Musgrave’s work and Pamela Marie Pierce’s bold lines defining everyday things with intense power.
BTW, how do I know that something’s influenced me? Easy…as I’m creating the work, I see traces of the influence. Still waiting to see some Van Gogh.
There was a time in the early 70s when you could walk into just about any place in the city where people were doing acid and see one of my drawings on the wall. The ones I did on cigarette papers were, of course, mostly smoked.
Along with the Emerge Artists’ Collective, they re-emerged a few years ago as 105 Personal Demons in a show at Government House.
And once again with Emerge at the McCain Gallery in Florenceville.
Those pieces of paper spilling out of the landfill along with the garbage bags are drawings hoarded for years.
I rarely do these drawings on anything but pine boards now (and I might start looking at different types of wood) with the exception of postcards made for watercolor paintings.
BTW, the triptych image at the beginning of this post isn’t complete. I still have to stain it with red wine. I stain them all with red wine. It just seems fitting.
More to come…