Now that our ultra-right-wing, security obsessed, paranoid government has been replaced by more rational politicians, perhaps I can safely admit to having started the new year committing a terrorist act without inviting severe repercussions. In fact, I’ve been terrifying myself for 5 days now, having taken on the most challenging piece in my painting career. I’m not sure that Bill C-51 makes a distinction between terrorizing yourself and terrorizing others – terror is terror and C.S.I.S. has six-year old children on their “no fly” lists that they won’t allow to visit Disneyland so would it matter to them who was being terrorized when laying charges?
My studio windows look out across the Strait of Georgia all the way to the Coast Mountain range. When moist air coming in from the Pacific hits that solid wall of rock and the warm air rising off it, enormous clouds are pushed up 20,000 or 30,000 feet. These clouds are the most massive things visible to the human eye on this planet, and I find them truly awesome. Mount Everest would be dwarfed into insignificance in their presence.
It was just such a cloud across the Strait that inspired me for the very first painting I attempted after my decades-long hiatus from painting. I called it “Pacific High” not only for the meteorological conditions that created this phenomenon and its tremendous height, but also for the elation I felt. I still have that painting in my studio to keep me humble by reminding me that I actually thought it was pretty good at the time I painted it.
Because my first attempt at tackling one of these clouds was so very bad, it took me hours of thinking, procrastinating, and just diddling around before putting the first brushstrokes on the canvas this time. Clouds present many challenges to an artist, not the least of which is conveying a sense of their enormous size. Clouds are random in their shape, not having any sort of set structure such as a horse, for example, but while there is no specific shape that is correct, it is still possible for a painted cloud to look quite wrong – how do you fix that? Their randomness makes texture and shading challenging, and their incredible variety of colours and shades can present confusing options. But the worst thing about painting clouds (and here’s where we return to the terrorism theme) is their propensity for subliminal messages. Who hasn’t lain in the grass making out interesting shapes in the clouds? Trust me, that tendency is exasperating for an artist painting clouds. Not a quarter of the way into painting this cloud, I realized a good portion of it was a perfect profile of a gorilla’s head. Once you see that, that is all you see and it has to be eliminated. So I “fixed” it only to step back and realize that the gorilla’s head had now turned into the hair of Margaret Thatcher looking the other way! How did that happen??? More adjustments and this time when I stepped back I was surprised to find Margaret’s eyes had become the nostrils of a fluffy sheep gazing at me from the canvas. At least it looked friendly.
The problem is everybody sees something different in those clouds. What might C.S.I.S. or Homeland Security see in my cloud? Do I risk being whisked off in the middle of the night to a secret, remote facility in the U.S. desert to be waterboarded until I reveal the state secrets I’m passing on in Arabic text disguised in this gigantic and complex cloud? Now there’s a scary thought!
I still have a lot of work to do on this painting, and if I’m not reasonably happy with it you will never see it on this website, but it is looking promising and certainly way better than my first attempt. Fingers crossed. And a Happy New Year to all.