#Pace Day 7 – Harley and I.

THE HIGHLIGHT OF THE ENTIRE TRIP – MEETING UP WITH HARLEY BROWN

IMG_6826-1It was a beautiful Wednesday morning in Tucson.The sights and sounds of the convention gave way to the quiet of man in an Airstream Trailer getting ready with the nervousness and anticipation of a teenager before his first date.

The truth is – I was about to go to meet up with a man who decades ago gave me words of encouragement regarding a still wet painting I had brought into a gallery in South Calgary – rubbed his finger through the back edge of a house, and showed me in simple words and a small very precise blending stroke of his finger that being an artist was what I wanted to do.

Harley Brown

Harley Brown

His name is Harley Brown, who is an icon in the western art world. An incredibly talented portrait artist and a member of the The Tucson Seven which included Duane Bryers, Donald Crowley, Tom Hill, Kenneth Riley, Bob Kuhn, and Howard Terpning – many of them hanging on the walls of Settlers Gallery, a Tucson legend unto itself.

I hadn’t seen Harley in oh, 38 years and and as I waited in the gallery, that encounter so long ago was about to be brought full circle. I was nervous, I’ll admit it as I really didn’t know what to expect and I only had one hour before I would have to leave to catch my flight.

 

I waited anxiously pacing around the gallery looking at the magnificent works and then, through an opening in the back of the gallery he appeared.

“Grant” He walked toward me, hand up.
“Harley” We shook smiling and after the normal niceties, and how are you’s, began to get reacquainted.

I won’t go into detail about the next hour but suffice it say we talked nothing but art. The great works on the walls of the gallery, his history, and my reintroduction into painting after a 28 year hiatus. I chose photography, my second passion as I didn’t feel I could make a living as a painter. 
Terpning BookHarleys BookDuring our conversation, Harley mentioned how he liked to write and that he had written four books and also how he was the author of a book about the art of Howard Terpnings. Before I left, he had given me his signed Confessions of a Starving Artist book which is Harleys “How I did it” as well as Terpnings book. It was very gracious and I didn’t know what to say. Thank you obviously among many other things.

FullSizeRender-3Sadly, the hour had passed far to quickly I had to go. After getting a photo with Harley it was time to say goodbye. It started with a handshake and a deep heartfelt thank you. Harley bowed his head and I could feel myself getting emotional. I told him how much this meeting meant to me and I could feel the meeting I had with him so long ago connecting with the present – a full circle. I started to really get emotional (not full out blubbering but tearing up) and Harley noticed and gave me a hug and simply said to me “Friends” I couldn’t speak and the moment seemed to hold for a very long time although it was most likely only a few seconds. I gathered myself and thanked him again wishing I could stay then headed out to the car to begin my journey back to Calgary.

I often find that there are events in our lives that don’t fully reveal how influential and important they are to us at the time they occur – somewhere in a place deep within ourselves these events resonate in ways that we may not fully realize until what has stayed hidden reveals its nature and insights just when we need them most.

It’s important that we encourage these encounters. Get out and meet people, take chances and understand that no matter who you are or where you are in life, that simple innocent exchange in a dry creak bed in Arizona or in a gallery in Calgary or a Walmart Parking lot may plant a seed that someday you’ll look back on and realize what a wonderfully simple but powerful gift was given to you.

My visit with Harley so long ago like I said earlier, had a deeply profound effect on who I became as a creative, and my latest visit with Harley has had a profound effect on who I hope to become as an artist.

Thank you so much Mr. Brown!

 

He Ran His Fingers Through My Painting And Taught Me A Valuable Lesson…

Oil on Canvas - Kootenay BayI thought it was one of the best paintings that I had done. A small scene of a white cabin on the shores of Kootenay lake. I had been hanging around a gallery in Calgary, looking at all the great art for months and screwed up the courage to go and get a critique from one of the most respected Canadian artists – Harley Brown. Look him up – seriously. I gingerly walked in holding my precious work and meeting my gaze asked “what’s that you have there”? “A painting I just did” I replied. He motioned for me to place it on the counter and I leaned it against the cash register, an uncontrolled smile creeping into the corners of my mouth. “Wow he said, “very nice. He proceeded to give me some suggestions about how to improve my composition and other arty suggestions. I was good at “wow” but still listened.

Then, it happened.

“Is it still wet? He asked.
“Yes

With that, he took his finger and started to blend the area of trees behind the house smushing the green paint with the white side of the house! I didn’t know what to say but he did “that’s better don’t you think”? I stood there in dumb silence and a desire to grab a pen and draw a stick man on one of his pastel portraits briefly made an appearance. But I didn’t. I politely agreed and after a few more minutes left the gallery to digest what had just happened. I had just seen a very talented artist view and adjust another’s art work with his finger. I was expecting a – “go home and do this” kinda approach. Where I could take out my brushes and with great hesitation try something I was unsure of. What if he had wrecked it was all I could think.

This was the first lesson in a long series of lessons that started in Heritage Gallery and continued through art college…

The simple answer was… art is not precious.

That was the message that the instructors at ACAD taught all of us. The brush strokes I put on that painting were always meant to be played with if required with no fear. If the painting didn’t work, that was ok. But I have a certain amount of angst when working at the easel. Especially when the painting IS working. Ever make a card castle? When your only a few cards in, it doesn’t matter if it crashes. But when it’s three feet off the floor your moves become far more tentative and with the potential of catastrophe. I always wonder if these thoughts hold me back.

Red WorkOne of the most interesting paintings I ever did was an abstract for art school where I took several tubes of Gouche that I never thought I would use and squeezed them out onto some paper that I had masked the edges. I took out a painting knife and started running the knife through the paint creating texture and movement and… I just simply let my fearless painter out. Emotion took over, and I “felt” the work rather than direct it. My arm and hand worked fluidly letting a seemingly primal force work from within. Almost (almost) like I was possessed. On a side note, it felt similar to what I believed from film and description to what Jackson Pollack painted like. I pulled the tape off the edges and was stunned at how it not only it looked but how it felt to create without fear. After all I had nothing to lose – it was paint I was going to throw away anyway – on paper no less.

As a commercial artist, I have begun to understand why I was drawn to Photoshop. It’s safe. I can muck around all I want and not ruin anything. Adjust and tinker all day. Painting is different – seemingly. But maybe I need to adapt to the digital ideal and listen to my mentors.

Every piece of art is a journey and not an end unto itself.

What is precious, is the process. Crashes and all. It’s only paint, film, glass and fabric. To develop, you have to be comfortable with the idea that each piece you do, will either be a lesson, or a piece you want to sell or hang on a wall. In a way – I’m starting to prefer the lesson.