Monday, November 24, 2014

The Accidental Artist -Part 4 and then we move on...

As I was preparing to write this post, I received a very special gift from my friend and mentor Shane Garton.  He featured me on his website and told me he was proud of me!  This meant the world to me and I am deeply humbled by his words.

Day Dreams #1 by Shane Garton

If you have been reading my blog posts, you may see a trend developing in the way I "found" my art teachers!  Call it fate?  Call it what you want...whenever the time was right, another art teacher would magically appear in my life.  It was the same way when I met Shane Garton in 1999.  Prior to meeting him, friends kept telling me "you have to meet Shane".  Next thing I know, I wound up meeting him by accident at a coffee shop here in Kimberley.  We had an instant connection as we shared a love and passion for art!  The only problem was that Shane and his wife Edith were packing up and moving back to Tasmania where Shane was originally from.  If only we could have met sooner as we had so much to discuss and so little time!

Hanging out with Shane was very cool!  One day we were downtown having coffee on the patio of a coffee shop and all of a sudden he was struck by the fascinating shapes that were reflected in my sunglasses.  It was at that moment when it occurred to me that yes, artists truly do see things in a different way than everyone else!  It was great to be with someone else who could see things differently.  To quote Jack Shadbolt - "It is one thing to have roamed museums and to have received stimulation to the imagination from great forms of the past or present.  That is a permanent and understood phase of any artist's development.  It is another thing to receive clarification of ideas from a teacher or mentor."  This is what Shane did for me.  By the time I met Shane, I had already learned a great deal of art theory and art history but Shane helped me to really cement all that I had learned.

Homage to Kandinsky by Shane Garton
On our last evening together before he left, Shane and I went into my studio and he decided to teach me absolutely everything he knew about art...IN FOUR HOURS!  My head was spinning and as I look back I wish I had taken notes.  I learned so much from him and somehow everything he taught me in that short period of time sunk in!   He did tell me that someday the mountains will quit talking to me.  Through the years, there have indeed been those moments when I cannot hear the mountains and no doubt the day will come when it will be time for me to leave the mountains.  For this moment, the mountains are still talking and I will continue to listen!  Shane also told me that the way I was painting was not how I will always be painting.  As I study the painters that I truly admire and look at their early and late works I am mesmerized by how their work evolved and changed.  It is very exciting to imagine how my work will change.  What will I be painting when I am 50, 60 and 70 years old?  Will I still be painting landscapes?  What direction will I go?  I am eager to find out and maybe you will join me for the ride?

Day Dreams #3 by Shane Garton
As with my other mentors, Shane helped open the door to a whole new area of art that I had never experienced before.  His paintings were like nothing I had ever seen.  They were abstract and his work was very much guided by emotion and inspiration. Art really is an just "gotta take a line for a walk" as Shane always says!  He would simply begin with one line and let it take him to some amazing places!

One of Shane's favorite artists was Kandinsky.  I have studied Kandinsky and this lead me into other abstract painters. I was then able to understand the work of Jackson Pollack, Clyfford Still, Borduas, and Riopelle.  The world of art truly is a wonderful place and I hope I never quit learning!

My time spent with Shane was way too short before he moved to Tasmania.  I miss him terribly but we have been able to stay in touch through the wonders of the internet.  Please take the time to check out his website at I feel that I received the best art education possible...with not one, but four great mentors.  With all the advice, encouragement and knowledge I received in my early days, how can I possibly go wrong in my art career?  So blessed!  Thank you Shane. 

Shane, Mom & I, Kimberley, BC
September 1999

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Accidental Artist - Part Three!

I began writing this blog to share some of the stories along my art journey but more importantly to introduce you to some of the extraordinary people I have met along the way.  It has been quite the trip for me and it has been fun going back...way back to the beginning.  I have already introduced you to my first two mentors Karen Hersey and Keith Smith but my art education continued in the most serendipitous way.

Once again, this story begins with my Mom.  She had come across a job in the newspaper advertising for "a contemporary Mary Poppins".  This intrigued my Mom and she phoned and set up an interview.  Well, Mom was hired on the spot!  It was the perfect job for her, as she was basically hired to be "Grandma" to three beautiful little girls.  Would you believe that the woman who hired my Mom was actually an European artist?  Yup, you read that right!  Her name is Janicke and when she found out that I was a beginner painter she immediately took me under her wing and she had a huge impact on the way I see art!

Until this point my art studies had mainly been on Canadian art, primarily landscapes, such as the Group of Seven and Emily Carr.  Janicke introduced me to a whole new world of art and I realized at that point that I had only barely touched the surface!  It was my first introduction to the work of Matisse and the Bloomsbury Group.  I had no idea how naive I was about art until I started reading about the Bloomsbury Group.  They lead very liberal, promiscuous lives, yet their art was fascinating.  This group of painters, writers and intellectuals (probably the most famous of the group would be Virginia Woolf) lived and worked from a beautiful farm house near London called Charleston.  Here they painted everything inside the house...every piece of furniture, dishes, walls, you name it...had been painted!  Reading their life stories was an eye opening experience!  Janicke had loaned me a fantastic book called "Bloomsbury - It's Artists, Authors and Designers " which is now out of print.  I was able to finally get a copy of my own on Ebay many years later but I had to stay up half the night bidding on this book which in the end cost me over $200.  It was so worth it!  They have inspired me more times than you can imagine!  If you do not know about the Bloomsbury Group, please do yourself a favour and look them up. 

Janicke also led me into abstract art and modern art.  My first teacher Karen Hersey did not believe in abstract art and felt it did not belong in the art history books so this was all new to me and I loved it!  Janicke's painting had a much freer style, her education was more along the lines of letting inspiration flow and letting go of the rules.  This was a huge turning point for me. 

Janicke taught me a great deal about the art world and making it as an artist.  She had a studio space in a trendy neighbourhood in downtown Calgary.  It was an old red brick building that had been a warehouse by the train tracks.  The building was filled with artist's studios and you could feel the creativity everywhere.  She explained to me how important it was to have your studio outside of your house.  Not only is it more professional and you will be taken more seriously but it is a more creative environment with no distractions while you work.  I wound up renting a studio space in the same building.  What she said was exactly true!  Somehow once I arrived at the studio I was suddenly "at work".  My home life was left behind.  There were no distractions, no dishes to be done, phones to answer, etc.  All that I needed to do was paint.  When I wasn't painting I was reading my art books.  It truly was a creative space and I wound up producing a painting called "Grandfather Time".  This was my first large canvas and it was a pivotal piece in my career, as I felt it was truly inspired.  Janicke thought it looked like Van Gogh!  How about that?  I did as Janicke had suggested and let go of the rules and just let the paint flow.  This was the first time that I truly went into "the zone".  It was such fun!  This was a wonderful opportunity and I value the experience but in the end I discovered that a studio at home works best for me!  I often get my best ideas in the middle of the night and need to have access to my art books and my paintings when I first get up in the morning.  I like to spend time in my studio at the end of the day in the dark contemplating my half finished painting...etc, etc, etc.  This is just my way! 
Grandfather Time
'Grandfather Time', oil on canvas, 48"X24"

Mom and I moved from Calgary to Kimberley in 1997.  In June 1998, Janicke helped me organize my first solo art exhibition at her studio in Calgary.  She completely emptied her studio of all her things so that I could use the entire space.  It was incredibly successful and I could not have imagined I would nearly sell out on opening night.  Janicke truly knew what she was doing!  I had personally invited a lot of people I had not seen in years. I was blown away by the love and support I received that night.  Even one of my high school teachers came from Lethbridge!  Janicke had also invited many of her friends and they supported me as well (with a nudge from Janicke who suggested they bring their cheque books)!  A couple walked into my studio this summer here in Kimberley who had purchased a painting that night.   They still have their painting hanging on their wall!  What a surprise.

My first art exhibition
Janicke, Mom and I at my first art exhibition
at her studio in Calgary, Ab. 
June 12, 1998.
Ironically, Janicke was in my life helping me with my professional career at a time when my personal life was at it's deepest low.  She was a light in the dark and helped me and my Mom get through some very difficult days. She gave me a pin that said "Due to recent cutbacks, the light at the end of the tunnel has been temporarily disconnected."  Her sense of humour was a god-send! Her artistic talent and her professionalism was a great blessing to me, but more important was her friendship.  I will always be grateful for that!

As sometimes happens I lost touch with Janicke for several years.  She had moved and so had I.  Then years later we re-connected and I received an email from her stating "We are building a villa in Tuscany and you must come."  I was flabbergasted.  I pulled out my old journals and in May 1996 I had written "I've been reading a book on Michelangelo and it has really been inspiring me.  As I look at these brilliant pieces of work I know that someday I will go to Italy and see them in person."  I found out 14 years later that dreams do come true, sometimes you just have to be patient!  Mom and I went to Italy in 2010 and it truly was a life changing trip, thanks once again to Janicke!  Michelangelo completely lived up to my expectations!  Stories about Italy will just have to wait for a future blog post...
Our first night in Tuscany
Our first night in Tuscany with
Janicke & "momma"
April 30, 2010.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Further Adventures of the Accidental Artist

Karen Hersey was my first teacher who in turn introduced me to her mentor Keith C Smith.  I've been wanting to share some of the experiences I had with Keith and am finding it extremely difficult to put into words all that I learned from him.  Keith was a larger than life type of person - full of passion, a great sense of humour and just one of the neatest people I have ever met.  When I knew him he was in his seventies and he was in the prime of his life, extremely prolific with his painting and prosperous, his paintings were selling as fast as he could paint them and for big bucks!   One thing I know for sure is that Keith adored me and the feeling was mutual!  I am lucky to have had the opportunity to know him especially so early in my career.

Even though Keith lived on Vancouver Island and I lived in Calgary our connection was immediate.  Our relationship began with hand written letters.  Yes you did read that correctly, it was the time before everyone had access to email.  I spent the last week re-reading Keith's letters and what a gift they are to me.  Keith passed away in 2000 but reading his words in his hand writing is just like being able to talk to him. 

In his first letter he wrote: "You have certainly come a long way in your new found career.  How fortunate you are to have fallen into something as wonderful as this.  Especially to find it as easy as you obviously do."  Yes indeed how fortunate for me to have fallen into this career and to have Keith fall into my life!  He taught me so much about life, about art and about painting.  I would send him photos of my paintings and he would write back with a critique.  He would tell me all the things I did correctly in the paintings and he would give me a long list of things I could do to improve them.  Reading his words takes me back to 1996 when he wrote "I bet you are thinking what on earth does it take to please this guy?  Well I am going to see to it that you improve to the point that even you will not believe what you have done!".  Thanks to Keith he was right!

In June 1996 my Mom and I drove to the Island to finally meet Keith in person.  This was one of those trips where all the pieces fell into place and everything went perfectly, like living a dream!  We rented a small cottage on French Creek Marina but since the cottage was not wheelchair accessible the owners upgraded us to a suite.  Everyday Mom and I watched the fishing boats coming and going in the marina and watched the tide ebb and flow.  A perfect setting for what became a life changing week. 

Keith was teaching a week long workshop where we painted on location each day at a different place.  It was inspiring to have the opportunity to paint outdoors with a group of artists, especially when we were painting incredible scenery such as the old growth forest at Cathedral Grove (if you've never been there you must go).  One of the fellow painters named Walter decided that I always managed to find the very best places to paint, so he was going to paint wherever I painted.  Truth be told is that because of my wheelchair I simply could not go everywhere so I basically got out of the car and started painting the scene that was in front of me!  Keith commented on this in one of his letters saying "During my workshop you would be placed perhaps not exactly in the best place to paint a scene.  Yet you made no fuss and simply got at it.  Now I find that a genuine sign of someone who will realize a solid future in painting."  I was just happy to be in a beautiful place, with great people and with a paintbrush in my hand!
Photo of me painting at Rathtrevor Beach, Vancouver Island, June 1996.

For me the real magic happened when I was able to spend time with Keith in his studio.  He taught me how to paint rocks and trees.  When he picked up his brush paint would fly and within a half hour there would be a completed painting.  So that's how it's done!  Oy!  Keith's way of teaching was a bit controversial.  Karen taught me that one artist should not touch another artist's canvas.  However, Keith sometimes had a tough time explaining what he meant so he would take my paintbrush and show me what he wanted by painting on my canvas.  For me it was a thrill to watch the way he moved that brush.  I was there after all to learn from a Master!  I had taken some of my paintings for Keith to critique.  One painting was a mountain view with a lake and a pile of driftwood in the foreground.  Keith thought it was a good painting and that it needed just a 'few' minor changes.  Well, a little here and a little there and before I knew it Keith had repainted the ENTIRE painting....the only brush strokes of mine that were left on the canvas was my signature!  How ironic that I own an original Keith painting signed by Caprice!  No matter to me, I was on cloud 9 because of what I had learned from watching him! 

Photo of Keith in his studio. 

I think Keith was excited to have a student that was as focused and passionate about art as he was.  One day while we were painting on location, Keith told my Mom that "I love the way she paints.  She paints like a man!".  He had so much confidence in me and was proud of the work I was doing at the time.  Keith wrote to me and said "Just try and maintain that fresh bold technique that you have.  That is the honest magic in your work.  It is powerful, colorful, along with a spontaneous quality.  These are all desirable attributes in good art."

I was happy that Keith was able to see me on TV when I appeared on the Variety Club's "Show of Hearts" Telethon.  I had donated a painting to help children with special needs and they sold prints of the painting.  When Keith was really sick I sent him one of the prints.  I phoned him and he spent the entire conversation critiquing the print and how I could have made the painting just a bit better!  That was the last conversation I had with Keith and it was so typical of him to have talked about art the whole time.  I only wish he could see what I am doing now.  I think he would be proud of me.  I wonder what other great paintings he would have produced if he was still alive?  He was at his creative prime, still so full of life and he left us way too soon!

Two years after Keith passed away Mom and I went to visit Keith's wife Arlene on the Island.    Arlene was gracious enough to allow me to hang out in Keith's studio by myself.  I took a box of Kleenex with me, fully prepared to be sad and emotional but the tears never came.  Instead, as I sat there surrounded by all of Keith's last paintings, I had the strongest sense that Keith was right there with me.  The experience made me look at all paintings, particularly my own, in a completely different way.  It was profound to realize exactly how much of myself I put into the paintings that I produce.  I have to smile when I realize that as long as I still have paintings out there people will never truly be able to get rid of me!  Somehow there is also a little bit of Keith in every one of my paintings as well.  No wonder some paintings are able to stir people's souls.  Now I understand!  Thank you Keith for teaching me so much, even long after you died...

To see some of Keith's paintings, please check out my Pinterest board called "Paintings that Inspire".