2008/08/09

Sunny Madeira and the Wolf Spider Man

Many moons ago, or we should say summers ago (1972), we were living on an estate (Quinta) on beautiful Madeira. We hadn’t planned to go there; we were in Morocco. It was memorable but the Sahara winds brought too much sand and interfered with my painting. Since the technique was pointillism (dot by dot), all those little grains (more dots!) were interfering.
I remembered Portuguese Madeira was not too far off. We rented a cottage/studio at a Quinta up in the hills of Santo Antonio. (Our abode now is right at the seashore. Here there are no flies at all. And that is why I am sharing this story.) Off Madeira lie some islands: Porto Santo, and the barren Islas Desertas, home to the Wolf Spider.
Each morning I worked on “Organiverse”. One afternoon we met a long-bearded Austrian who looked like a monk from Mt. Athos. He told us about the wolf spiders of Islas Desertas, because, you see, he would go there and bring some of those hairy 8-legged critters back to his home.
He invited us for lunch one day and picked us up in his sportscar. He was the worst driver, completely reckless. We met his beautiful French wife and three lovely children. The spiders were kept in glass cases. With a long narrow stick he started to poke them. One stood up on its ‘hind legs’, fangs came out, showing angry glowing eyes. “You try it”, he told Natasha.No thanks”, said she.They’re angry enough as it is”. But with a grin he laughed and cackled away.

These spider cases were all kept in their bedroom. “To keep Mrs on her toes.” However she told us if he lifts the lids of the cases, “I’m leaving”. I asked the children what they thought of the spiders. Not much, it turned out. Because every morning before school, and every afternoon, the children had to go out and catch flies for the wolf spiders! Each day, at least 100 of them.
A few years later we returned to Madeira, this time to house-sit the Quinta. We asked about our spider-collector (we called him “Spider-meyer”). He’d crashed his red sports car and died in flames. (Revenge of the wolf spiders?) His wife sold their home and left with the children back to France. Where we hope they’d never again have to catch flies! Bom dia!

2008/08/08

Of far away stars - and Astronauts

Once in awhile on the seawalk in front of our building we meet passengers from the visiting ships which dock nearby, Alaska bound. Holland America Line’s ‘ms Amsterdam’ was in the other day. She ‘lifts anchor’ at midnight.

One balmy and clear starry night, we met an older couple from Hawaii. They were passengers aboard the Amsterdam, which was all lit up like a fairy-tale vessel. We said “Hello”, they replied “Aloha”, and joined us for a chat on a bench. He was talking about the Mauna Kea Observatories on the Big Island. Sometimes the skies over Hawaii are so clear, you can ‘pluck the stars’. We mentioned that we know an astronaut, Commander Chris Hadfield, who was the first Canadian to operate Canadarm in orbit. That got their full attention. They asked us how we met him?
Our circumnavigations by ship in the early ‘70s led to membership in Circumnavigators Club, a unique gathering of individuals who have circumnavigated the globe. To be a member you must cross every meridian longitude in one direction.
With chapters all over the world, the Club has a positive feeling of fellowship. At any given time there can never be more than 1,000 members. Amongst others, there have been many illustrious “Circums” such as Houdini, Sir Edmund Hillary, Jacques Cousteau, Thor Hyderdahl, Buffalo Bill Cody, as well as a number of American astronauts. They certainly qualify, some orbit the Earth a couple of hundred times on one mission. 

A few years ago we had the idea of inviting Chris Hadfield to Vancouver, where we lived, to give a presentation. We approached the international CircumClub president, Al Morasso, who agreed it would be a great idea. Part of the Canadian Space Agency’s policy is to have astronauts give public talks. We filled out the forms and were pleased to receive word that Chris would indeed come to Vancouver.
As head of the fledgling B.C. chapter of the Circumnavigators Club, I thought it would be good to give Chris some kind of momento.  

We asked a jewelry-maker and goldsmith friend of ours (Andrew Costen, of Costen Catbalue in Vancouver) if he would be interested in creating a special pin for Chris Hadfield, using a meteorite. Andy created a one-of-a-kind design.
Mr. (and Mrs.) Al Morasso, President of the Circumnavigators Club, flew in for the occasion. On November 1, 2003 we presented the pin to Chris, along with an Honorary Membership in the Circumnavigators Club. There was a great turnout at the Vancouver Planetarium. Chris Hadfield’s talk was electrifying. He was surprised and delighted with the custom-made meteorite pin. You can see a picture of it here.
So that’s how we met a real astronaut. 

2008/08/07

Answering a question from P.E.I.

At times the blog ‘writes itself’ when questions come our way. A friendly person from Prince Edward Island asks, “How come you changed so much from those earlier pictures on your website? I don’t understand. Our daughter is interested in art. She draws a bit and likes modern.
These posts are not meant to give art lessons as such, but if she’s serious, then the best advice is practice, practice and more practice. Nothing can surpass experience. Foundation is important. Art is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.
Also a good teacher would be beneficial. But keep in mind the old saying from the Orient,
"All instruction is but a finger pointing to the moon; and those whose gaze is fixed upon the pointer will never see beyond."
Returning to the PEI question about changing styles in my work, with the summer Olympics only one day away, some of my techniques could be compared to Track and Field.
The 100-metre dash are the free-flowing acrylics applied with water on canvas or paper.  
The Marathon is my “Organiverse” series, done in pointillism, (dot by dot), and requiring endurance, focus, lots of time, a steady hand and sharp eye. (Above is one sphere from the series of 100 spheres.)
Then there are the watercolours, “Spatial Rhythms”. Or what in China is referred to as "Everything done successfully, in place, with one stroke.”  These also belong in the 100-metre dash category, except done in one day, not a few minutes. (Each stroke is a 100-metre ‘dash’.)
When it comes to change itself, does not everything change? From spring to winter, from small to big? “The only permanence is impermanence”.

For the record, I never changed for the sake of change, my work evolved naturally over several years. In a sense, change is also growth.

Imagination and intuition
also play an important role for any artist, not just technique or talent.
When someone asks me, “How long did it take you to do that painting?” My reply is, “Thirty to forty years.” That’s how long it may take to master some techniques, for example
the “Spatial Rhythms” watercolours.
However, I don’t want to discourage anyone from taking up the brush. Each one of us is unique and has something to give. An artist evolves through practice, skill, experience, questioning and trusting the inner voice. This way you avoid becoming stale or static and change and growth, “evolution”, is visible in the work.I hope this answers the question from PEI. From the Pacific here in Victoria, to the Atlantic. 

2008/08/05

Stopping Kinetic Art Show, by IMP-ulse

In 1955 I was released from the TB sanatorium. Although cured, the doctors told me to look after myself. ‘No bars, no smoking, no gallivanting or bohemian life; moderate intake of spirits; a well-balanced diet, and lots of fruit and vegetables”.
However, during my three years of illness, I’d read and studied a great deal about the ‘French School’ and now I wanted to return to Paris and visit its famous streets where the great masters had roamed.
I had embarked unknowingly on what would be the start of a career in art. I spent three months in the Ville Lumiere and worked en plein air.
Lapin Agile is a legendary landmark in Montmartre, the place where artists and bohemians gathered, exchanged philosophies and views. Today it’s a “must” on the tourist track.
Ten years later in May, 1966 I found myself back in Paris, for my solo exhibition at Galerie Cazanave on rue de Boetie, just off Champs-Elysees. The exhibition was opened by Jules Leger, then Canada’s Ambassador to France and later Governor General of Canada.
That month I visited several museums including the Jeu de Paume and the Musee d’art moderne, which featured a Kinetic Art show. 
A couple of Alexander Calder’s mobiles swayed up high, while a few other works standing on the floor were also designed for perpetual movement.  But most of the other works only ‘moved’ because they were plugged in. Completely dependent on electric energy. On some ‘imp-ulse’, I pulled the plugs! All those works came to an abrupt halt.
The guard came running over muttering something about calling the police and immediately put the plugs back in. It was some commotion, ‘en francais’, and theatrics.
(Of course it was not very sporty of me, to do this to my fellow artists.) Luckily I had an invitation with me to my own exhibition. The guard studied it carefully, and realized I was an artist (and from Canada). He mellowed a bit.Ha! Un blague, hein?” (“A joke, eh?”) However, he did go and check the newspaper to verify if the advertisement that I’d told him about for my show was in it. Thus confirmed, he smiled and said, “Ah, les bohemians, les artistes sont droles!” Ouff, I was lucky he didn’t call the police.

2008/08/04

Beginnings

Someone asked, “Did you already have a vivid imagination when you were a youngster?” and “When did you start to paint?
Already as a young lad in the Lowlands, I observed the various cloud formations, imagining faces and creatures. Also I was intrigued by the spectrum-coloured patterns from gasoline oil in rain puddles. The designs “Father Frost” made on windowpanes boggled my imagination. (See my children’s story on our website.) And what about the patterns on cows?
But it was a lengthy illness that revealed the presence of ‘talent’. One November a neglected cold morphed into pneumonia, then pleurisy, soon developing into TB on both lungs and all five lobes. I was seriously ill.
This was 1952, in Holland, just before streptomycin. Surgery was not possible since both lungs were affected. 

I was taken to Zonnestraal Sanatorium (Zonnestraal means “Sunbeam”), located in an oak and pine forest. It was vital to have something to do, and also not to worry. (TB used to be called “consumption”.)  The above photograph shows what it looked like many years later, when it had been abandoned. Worry has the opposite effect for healing. We did handicrafts including covers for photo albums from X-rays of deceased patients.
TB is a strange illness. You feel “okey”, but you can’t get out of bed. Our individual rooms had no windows, but a deck. The nurse would wheel our beds outside for the fresh pine air.
I asked the nurse if she could put a string across the foot of my bed. We strung peanuts along it and soon I had feathered visitors just three feet away, delicately pecking the nuts and leaving some of the shells hanging on the string! Just imagine.
Rabbits, birds, clouds, trees --- all day long I’d quietly observe and notice. One day an artist from the nearby town suggested we should try painting. I was keen. And thus it began. This kept us from worrying and have something to do. Nowadays it’s “Art Therapy”. Then it was “be occupied or you’ll wither away”.
I made sketches and worked in chalk pastel. Oil pastels weren’t available yet, but interestingly upon my release from the Sanatorium 3 years later, oil pastels came onto the market. 
But chalk pastels make a mess in the bed. The nurses were not amused. This was different from the bird visits.
Then I switched to watercolours and oil.
Turpentine and linseed-oil smells were not a bother since we had the deck. At first I copied works by van Gogh and Gauguin from postcards. Then I painted realistic still lifes, objects and subjects.
Much later, the doctor confided to my father I’d taken years off the illness because of my positive nature and the joy discovered in painting.
So, to answer that question, this is how my career in art began. And that’s where today’s blog post ends.

2008/08/03

Rancho Grande 'Boda' and the Lone Gringo (Part Two)

We left you yesterday with Part One of the wedding ceremony, “I do”, Mexican-style. The bride was one of the daughters of Pedro, my amigo who owned La Cucaracha Bar in San Miguel de Allende.
Thus far, the groom hadn’t done much to contribute to the alegria occasion after falling off his horse into the ‘cow souvenir’.

Following exchanges of rings and besos, the fiesta started in earnest.
The hired musicians were a Mariachi group (by the way Mariachi comes from ‘mariage’, back in the nineteenth century when Maximilian was Emperor of Mexico.)
By now all the rancheros, senoritas, and families of bride and groom mingled and danced. The groom, now in fresh attire, was still unsteady on his feet. From the kitchen came an endless parade of traditional Mexican dishes. Picture “Babette’s Feast” and “Con Agua y Chocolate” all in one and you get the picture.
One dish for me outshone the others, it was the classic Pollo Mole (chicken with spicy chocolate sauce), originally Mayan.
Speaking of Mayan, to my great surprise Pedro then brought out a special bottle bearing a label “Xtabentum”, an ancient Mayan drink. 

[Pedro knew my name, but had never before mentioned nor shown me this delicious liqueur at his Cucaracha Bar.] I was fascinated to learn Xtabentum is made from special honey made by bees from nectar of the white Xtabentum flower (Rivea corymbosa, the morning glory family). These vines only grow in the Yucatan, and Xtabentum translated means “vines growing on stone”.
Whatever the connection with my name, to see it on a Mayan liqueur bottle was very intriguing.
Back to the wedding fiesta, Cervesa was flowing plus Tequila, rum, whiskey, and Kahlua.
The dancing and atmosphere of the fiesta became merrier and merrier.

Next thing I knew, the rancheros had their rifles out and began target shooting empty cans and bottles.
Curious as always, I walked over to watch. Suddenly, one of them, a bit unsteady on his feet, slowly turned around and began eyeing me as his next target!
Taking no chances, I speedily ran back to the kitchen and dove under that sturdy wooden table.
Really, now I was the target?!? Indeed, I was the only Gringo, the only person with blue eyes.
Pedro had seen me running into the kitchen and came to my rescue.
In a booming voice he shouted: “Henrique es mi amigo!” and fired salvos into the air with his pistol. Suddenly all was quiet. The coast was clear, so I crawled out from my hiding place. I re-joined the banquet festivities.
For me (a budding artist) this colourful experience was certainly gist for the mill, which all happened 45 years ago, in ‘good old Mexico’.