What shape is your block?…

“a memory of walking with your grandmother through the meadow past the red barn to the orchard where you picked ripe apples, while laughing at the golden lab named Milton as he chased that crazy squirrel”

What shape is your block?

It’s calm, the morning dew hangs from long alpine grass while a low cloud lays lazily over the lake, it’s head on the northern shore. A bank of trees slopes in from the left, the sun just kissing their tops. The mountain slopes steeply from behind and scree forms fingers reaching into the cold glacial water. On the right? Well, nothing on the right and there’s a funny looking log hanging off a drab rock like a shipwrecked sailor.

I move on.

This happens several times. I look at different variations of the scene from alternate vantage points. Crop that out. I need to see more of this and less of that. I walk along the shore looking intently for nothing in particular but waiting for what I always wait for – the artistic sense detector to start clicking with more feverish activity. It’s kind of like that old childhood game we used to play – “your getting warmer….waaaarmer….REALLY HOT! Oh, colder, colder…. ice cold.”

Maybe there’s a subconscious art director in my head that directs me to move this way and that while not really telling me what it’s looking for until it finds it. The best scene of the bunch.

But based on what?

Where did this sense come from? What shaped it? Remember the blocks in different shapes and the board that had the corresponding holes activity we had when very young? I watched my children play it. Round hole, round peg! Yay! This is what it’s like I believe. We have developed a particularly complex shaped block based on many different influences. What art our parents, friends and mentors liked. What we read and watched and what art caught our uniquely personal eye. The shaft of light coming through the kitchen window, lighting the coffee cup and bagel on the table. Or simply the flowers in the crystal vase on the sill.

Something shaped our artistic sense. The like of a particular palette or style or subject matter was something shaped from birth and developed over years or decades. Events that had meaning for us whether positive or negative that move us in a particular direction. An art show, or a performance. An accident, a garden, a death, a birth, a sunset, a memory of walking with your grandmother through the meadow past the red barn to the orchard where you picked ripe apples, while laughing at the golden lab named Milton as he chased that crazy squirrel.

These moments over our lifetime. These inputs that our brains gather and fold or toss away. Large shapes, small shapes? Colorful or muted? Dark or bright, still life, landscape, portrait or figure. Formal or informal? Soft or hard, warm or cool. Combinations of each in thousands of possibilities.

There’s a reason we prefer certain things and dislike others. It’s something I’ve been wondering about. Why the landscape? What not flowers? What about abstracts? Portraits?

Well the landscape is obvious to me as my influences were all landscape artists early on mainly my grandfather as he was a landscape painter. I also have a had a deep connection to the landscape, especially the more intimate places where I feel alone, and connected. One reason why the “Grand Vista” has never played a big role in my art; I like a place nestled in the woods where I feel protected. Close to waterfalls or small open spaces with boulders or a small creek. I like swamps or small mountain lakes. I love the texture of nature close up. I need to paint more of this.

Flowers? They hold no particular sway with me. I mean, there nice to look at and may pose a challenge and I really admire those that can paint them well but it’s one subject that I’ll probably not bother with.

Abstracts? Simple…fear.
Portraits? Same thing.

So? What shape is your block?

Looking Down The Path, I Knew It Wanted Me To Come Closer…

Copyright - Grant Waddell

I have always had a love affair with everything that wasn’t the city. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love the convenience of city life – being able to get a six pack or jug of milk on a moments notice. But the escape is what I have always loved. As a child, I spent hours by myself in the woods feeling a deep contentment and inner calm that most children today don’t get to experience. I attribute this to my father, who loved the outdoors as well – camping, skiing, canoeing and small hikes.I was always off into the deep woods with an inner confidence and love that pervaded my being. At peace by myself – never lonely as I had the best friend I could have ever found.

This is where my creativity was nurtured. My mind was free to wander and dream. Walk among the trees, look up in awe at the mountains, the warm sunlight and the sounds of the wind and birds helped create visions that made me smile as I lay on my back looking up into the canopy.

But then things changed…

There was a point in the last few years where my life as I had known it collapsed out from under me. I fell hard. And when I came to metaphorically, I had lost that love and that security. Going to the mountains brought a sad feeling and as you can imagine, brought  unbelievable internal conflict. What the hell! I can still feel the openness, a yearning for the connection, but at the same time, a smothering pain that draws off the memories off a different time.

Creativity, unfortunately vanished to sadness and a deep depression that I never thought I would survive.

Up Heart Creek

What I was surprised at, was how I still felt the pull. 

Amazingly, I was compelled to go out again and again, to paint, walk, write, take pictures, or lay in a hammock and read. Like an old friend who takes your hand and says “everything is going to be ok, you can trust me”.

Trust now, is something I find elusive. But day by day, those I love most will still be there, coaxing me forward, those who know the deepest parts of my story, stand beside me. My defences are slowly coming down. My connection to my friends, family and the natural world are deepening thank God. I know it will take time, patience and a practice of active engagement to wear away the sharp edges of a story that will always be there. To allow myself to open up and allow an old friend back inside.

Sam Train Tracks

As an artist who has always loved the the spiritual nature of the landscape, I have a ways to go with my dear companion – to peel away this strange sadness and feel that innocence I felt not so long ago. I just have to keep moving forward. To keep painting, writing, and taking pictures.

Art, in whatever shape it takes will be the way I honour my relationships, regain the trust in myself and those things closest to me and make each day and each creation something I can be proud of and I can proudly say that after 28 years, I have started painting again. I am on my way!

The Farm

Art College, Growth, and the Group of Seven…

Group of Seven and Tom Thompson

Years ago, I attended the Alberta College of Art in Calgary and was a painting major for all of a year before shifting into photography. I had grown up as many of us do, with easy to understand representational art in the house. Very commercial. The type of art you would find at the local gallery. Generally, landscapes with horses (we do live in Alberta you know). Exceptional work by some exceptional artists.

So, pencils and paint brushes in hand, I entered college with the idea that this is what art was all about. I knew about modern art but thought that “my” type of art would be nurtured and supported. Not so much. I remember one instructor in particular – Dave Casey. He would get us going on drawing a still life, and would walk around the class looking over your shoulder at what you were up to. If he thought you were being too “precious”, he would pull out his trusty giant red marker and draw a line through your work and tell you to start over. Sigh… You would think I would not like this, Mr. Casey character very much, and possibly want to poke his eyes out with a Staedtler Mars Lumograph – but no. He taught me some very valuable lessons about letting go of what I believed to be “good art”, and start to open up to art that I didn’t really like specifically because of biases I had developed during my upbringing. As a matter of fact, the college seemed to be bent on removing that part of my brain. Kinda like a – LabARTomy.

Enter Art History and our dear professor Hannah White. Over the course of her classes, and with the help of my new open view of art, I was able to begin to understand the various art movements and yes, start to actually appreciate them. Even Impressionism, Cubism, Abstract Expressionism and more.  This, despite the fact that apparently, my father had a trained monkey that could do almost any of the work produced by these so called artists. Dad was never able to produce this monkey unfortunately, as I would have taken him around the world and made a fortune.

So, as you may or may not know already, I switched majors and became a photographer. Looking back, sadly, much of this came from the pressure to make a living and I believed I could never do that through painting.

So, how does the Group of Seven enter into this? I held onto the stubborn idea of what good landscapes looked like. Upon refection, I probably still do to some degree. My first paintings in twenty eight years would have been well received by my dad. But recently I picked up a copy of The Group of Seven and Tom Thompson by David P Silcox and was mesmerized by the work again. I was then treated to seeing some of this work at the Glenbow Museums “Masterworks from the Beaverbrook Art Gallery” and I began to realize that this was something that I wanted to explore. The internal arguments were (and still are) highly annoying. – no no Grant, you have to make the tree look like this, here, let me show you, there ya go – But what if I make the tree look like this? – Well, that would be silly, trees don’t look like that – But I’m going for the way the tree and the rest of the landscape make me feel and trying to simplify and convey that to the viewer – feel schmeel… and on and on it would go.

So, where to from here? I’ve decided that I’m going to let go of what I think I should be doing, and just letting what happens happen. Paint and sketch with simplification in mind. Reduce the noise and volume of the landscape to it’s forms. Hopefully, that trained monkey won’t show up and start painting next to me.

 

 

The Walking Dead…

I was watching The Walking Dead tonight and Michonne who plays a sword wielding Zombie killer, was having a dream about a normal life. Maybe from her past as a flashback or maybe not. She was in a beautiful white kitchen making dinner for a friend and her “lover” Mike . They discuss not staying in camp or going out “there” and Mike says, “Where is the happy ending here? “This isn’t life”. Then asks “whats the answer?”, and his friend replies back, “whats the damn question?!” Michonne tries to ignore the comments and her dream turns nasty when she looks up and sees the two men sitting with there arms hacked off like her “pets”. She screams…

I sat there with my ginger ale, thinking, heres a show about a bunch of people who used to have lives with families, friends, jobs, houses, chores, hobbies, and pets. A show about the loss of everything they thought important and the simple struggle to survive. There have been others who have written about this subject, Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” comes to mind. No zombies but the struggle for survival and the loss of familiarity.

And, without much effort, my inner voice said, “hmmm…Thats depression”. That same loss of the familiar coupled with little if any hope. And I thought about what Mike said “This isn’t life”. As in, the loss of what we all consider the normal experience of happiness through the way we interact with our surroundings, families and friends that we find comfortable and/or meaningful. I mean, imagine taking away everything that you work for everyday? The reason you get up in the morning and there are no other options, no other jobs, no cars, houses or resorts to visit in the winter. Once you remove the trappings of our modern world and the constant way we are taught to achieve this dream at all costs, what’s left? Do you suddenly have no reason to live? Of course not, but it really made me think about our purpose, and how the dissolution in the belief of that purpose can cause disparity. 

What is life? Well, I guess life is what we have since we have a beating heart. Living is a different thing; it’s what we do while our heart beats. When you distill it down, we human beings are all all the same. Our blood is red and our bones are white.  We live, we die.

So whether you live in a beautiful condo with a giant mortgage, an apartment on a small subsidy, or are running around in a post apocalyptic world trying to find a safe place to live, or are inside the walls of your troubled mind, it’s simply survival. 

What makes it bearable, and has the ability to bring us real happiness are the connections to each other that we make along the way. Our need for love and friendship. Everything else means… quite literally, nothing. 

So, where’s your happy ending?

The Three Directions… or Depression, Midlife and Creativity.

New Growth

“My creative world suffered. I pretty much gave up on my chosen career – photography, to sit in a cafe in stunned silence for a very long time trying to make sense of it all.”

I’ve been struggling lately in many different ways. And this is reflected in my blog. What started out as an outlet for my creativity, overtime took on my attempts to grasp meaning in a world that started too make little sense to me. I understood so many posts ago that the blog was going to mean something more than just words and pretty pictures. Something else was driving this. Something I couldn’t grasp. All I knew was I needed to do this. But my first attempts fell short of what it asked for. I was posting little bits and pieces of myself never fully giving of the whole.

What was I so damned afraid of?

Each little bit of myself that I picked up and put out for anyone to see was like removing stones from a large pile. One by one, until I could sense something under all the weight. Something dark, and something light. Warm and yet cold. And very powerful. It scared the crap out of me.

What was below in the spaces and cracks and shadows started to move. I began to realize that I lacked the focused attention needed to free what was there. And in many ways I questioned freeing it at all. I was very depressed, going through an upheaval that started back when I was in my mid forties and coming to a full on crisis by my fiftieth year. My creative world suffered. I pretty much gave up on my chosen career – photography, to sit in a cafe in stunned silence for a very long time trying to make sense of it all.

What you have seen here are attempts to breath life back into myself. To “see” again. In reality, this is a blog about severe depression, and a gut wrenching mid-life crisis. Too much time has passed that I don’t know which came first, and well, it doesn’t really matter anyway.

So in essence, those of you who followed me for my creative endeavours, I hope you stick around. And for those who do, you may gain some insight into the mind of an artist who will continue to struggle greatly. Watching my failures and successes, my struggles and triumphs. Mid life made me re-examine almost every decision I had ever made. Depression took away my hope and my sight. In the empty space that was left, there remained one thing. My inner passion to create.

I know I am not alone in this. We all have our demons. Connection and Creativity and the energy they give, will be what saves me. Fear and isolation has the ability to defeat me. I hope by bringing some clarity into my world through a more open examination and dialogue, will help clear away the fog that I take too much comfort in.

The Garden…

20130305-101043.jpg

Wandering around inside my mind,

A garden holds memories.

Each a blade of grass,

a leaf,

an insect buzzing one of many flowers.

 

To white walls and loving eyes we are brought into this world,

where unseen hands tend new experience

that thrusts instantly towards the open clear skies.

Our minds lush with planted beliefs and seeded memory,

and fed by the warm light of laughter

or the cool rains of gray days, they flourish and spread,

or curl and become distant.

 

And for a time we sit, and hold our ground,

stake out our spot on the grass amidst the Trembling Aspens and shout out to the world,

our place.

But as we lay back and look up at the leaves shimmering in the wind and sun we wonder,

how much of this garden

is truly

our own.

Wading…

She stands at waters edge, leaning into the cool morning air…waiting for him to return. Stepping onto the dock and into the sun, she can hear water lapping and birds in the trees across the lake, their calls echoing over the still water.  Snapping turtles rest on a partially submerged log, wary of passing boats and the bullfrog croaks loudly from some reeds to her left and she wonders if they really do taste like chicken like she’d heard. The smell of burning Alder wood hangs in the air and reminds her of, those days.

He wades back into her thoughts. Hands pressed to her lips, then open palms towards winters lake.

He’s been gone too long…

Frozen Lake and Dock