As a West Indian, the link between peacock feathers and Carnival is an obvious one to me. In fact, the 2015 St. Lucia Carnival parade was just a few days ago, and some people joke that the costumes these days are just feathers held together with string!
For both natives and visitors, Carnival is a big celebration, and some revelers see it as an opportunity to show off their hot bodies, especially if they have worked all year to achieve the look.
Others think of it as a time to put on fancy dress and go shake their tail feathers, to dance and sweat off the worries of the world. For a few rum-filled days they get to escape reality and get on bad with any and everyone. And regardless of what body type they are, those feathers are their passport to this fantasy.
This triptych is about that bacchanal, it is reminiscent of all the glitz & glamour of feathers, beads, rhinestones, body paint and just general decoration. And of course the movement, the rhythmic swaying, gyrating and grinding, that is integral to Carnival.
It has been a long time since I have posted a new painting, but I do have a bunch to share with you, it’s just going to take a little while to get to them all.
This painting was inspired by a photo shoot I did in my late grandfather’s garden. The tree with the ladder was actually in the overgrown lot next to his. I love the contrast of the man-made object with the wildness of the foliage. An attempt was obviously made to tame it at some point, but Nature always wins, because time is on her side.
I enjoyed painting this, and the more I look at it, the more layers of meaning I discover. The beauty of art is often in what is implied.
I welcome your comments. This painting is currently in my studio & so available directly through me. If it speaks to you, drop me a line … I offer very flexible payment terms, so that you can get the art you want.
Recently, I have been taking a look back at some of the work I did in my early 20’s. I am closing in on my 40th birthday, so I thought it would be fun to do a countdown, I’ve been posting a painting a day on my Facebook page, as the cover image.
The paintings featured in this blog post are from the series I did in my last year of my BA in Art at McMaster University in Hamilton. When I exhibited the series at Gallery on the 4th, Hamilton Public Library, I named it “Caribbean Imagery”. It was my first solo exhibition in Canada.
Nicole was a Trinidadian girl I met in Psychology 101 at McMaster, she was one of my bridesmaids. I actually had her put on my blue wrap & took reference photos of her against the white door of my room in the student house I was living in. Then I just made up the background.
Not long after I did this painting, the shoreline was wiped out by a hurricane, and some of the residents had to be relocated. Many people commented to me that I had recorded a piece of history, and this painting was one of my most popular of the series.
The collector who bought it had a large collection, but said that this one always drew comments from visitors, and when he relocated to the United States, he took it with him. We happened to meet a couple years ago & he showed me a photo of it hanging over his fireplace, next to it was a painting by my high school art teacher, Sir Dunstan St. Omer.
This painting was included in our graduating exhibition at McMaster Museum of Art in Hamilton in 1997. It was placed on a feature wall which was painted the same yellow as the buildings in painting.
This was the first painting of the series, one of my favourites, so I’ve held on to it.
I apologize for the quality of the images, I did get professional slides made of the series, but I still haven’t scanned those slides in directly, so I’m not sure but these could be scans of photos of the slides, or worse yet scans of photos I took myself. Regardless, they are darker than the original paintings.
I knew when I was painting “Coalpot” that I’d made a breakthrough in my work. This series is why I graduated from my program with Honours. Up until that time I was just full-filling requirements on my assignments, trying to get good marks. This series was more personal.
Also, up until this series I worked in a variety of media, but I only did one oil painting that year, I realized that acrylics suited me best. I could get brighter colours, which suited my tropical subject better, and I could work 12-16 hours straight on the same painting because I didn’t have to wait for it to dry. Then the next day I would do writing assignments, classes & household stuff … basically everything except paint. So that by the time I got back to my painting I was refreshed. I have always worked best this way. But I’ve never had as perfect a set-up as that last year of school where I shared a large studio on campus with a handful of other students, and had no other responsibilities but to do my best work.
This painting was bought by someone working in the St. Lucia Consulate in Toronto, and the Prime Minister of St. Lucia saw it hanging there & asked for me to contact him about , etc. etc. I am not sure who owns it right now … but I believe it was resold in St. Lucia.
The men are playing dominos on their lunch break. The man with the hat has passed away, but he was the father of the man in the painting further down in this post, called “Friends”.
When I was choosing what I would paint for the year, it occurred to me that I may be marrying my boyfriend, and that would mean I’d have to stay in Canada. This series was me exploring the question of what St. Lucia meant to me. I worked on 2 paintings at a time, one figurative and one landscape, and by the end of the year one of the things I’d learned was that I was happiest paintings landscape, especially foliage. You can see in Vivian I was experimenting with how abstract I could paint foliage & have the painting still read as realistic. This was the basis of my next series, Jungle Rhythms.
Her dress was always my favourite part of this painting, but when I painted the flowering bush I really tasted the freedom possible when painting foliage. Up close it’s dabs of colour, but further back they come together to form an image.
These were people I worked with in the summer, they weren’t a couple – he walked by when I was taking the photo of her & just made himself at home. I thought it made for a great composition though. It also says so much about how laid back West Indians can be, even at work.
Each work of art, even if I’ve just had it for a short time, has a story … or a history, made up of several little interesting stories. One story that sticks with this painting for me, is its “adoption” story. I took it in to Arts Etc. Gallery Shop & Art Rental, in the Burlington Art Center (now the Art Gallery of Burlington), and someone rented it for 3 months, then another 3 months before returning it.
At some point I brought it back to my studio, where it sat while I travelled in Europe. Six months later, I got a call from the gallery – the man who had rented it for his office (a city planner) wanted to know if it was still available to buy. At that point I was either in my last trimester or had a newborn, regardless, the painting was still sitting in the studio.
I read years later that the man had taken a position in Thunder Bay, and I always thought that was a curious thing … a Carnival painting in a very northern part of Canada. Then again, I never met the collector, maybe that painting was a way for him to stay connected to/express his roots. That’s just a part of the story that will remain a mystery to me. I might create the paintings, but when I let them go, they take on lives of their own.
It is so strange for me to look at this painting, and realize that the little boy in it is probably about 20yrs old himself now! I actually photographed the two of them at a beach party, watching as our friends played an informal game of cricket, and the background is a view of Pigeon Island causeway in St. Lucia.
This is a large painting, and there is quite the story that goes along with the tear on the bottom right corner (not seen here). However, I’ll save that story for when you visit my home studio & see it in person!
Meanwhile, please follow my countdown retrospective on Facebook, until my birthday on July 8th.
Although I was just doing this for my own amusement – and hopefully yours- I actually did hear from someone who wants to add one of these paintings to her collection. A few of them hang in my house, and a few in my parents’ house in St. Lucia. They are signed with my maiden name, Donna Gomez, and a couple as Donna G. because I thought I was being clever. There were a couple other paintings in the series, but they aren’t available anyway. If you see something you want, let me know.
It seems that whenever I let my heart take the lead, instead of my head, I do my best work. I have said for years that what I love to paint the most is foliage, and my artist statement always mentions organic shapes & patterns, and mood created with dramatic lighting and vivid colour, but not all of my paintings hit the nail on the head the way this one does.
Painting technique can be learned, but finding one’s own unique artistic voice/style has no predictable timeline, no guarantee. Some artists are lucky to discover it right away, but I personally think that that is the case when they already have strong opinions, and a clear idea of who they are – OR, they have someone nurturing and mentoring their progress.
Some artists, especially those working on commission, may never discover their own voice, because they are essentially allowing themselves to be a channel for their client’s voice. I am not saying that there is a right & a wrong, or even a finality about this decision. Making a living as an artist takes as much creativity as the artwork itself.
It is possible however to do good paintings, that do nothing to move you down your own artistic path. I suppose I am talking here not of art as a commodity, but as a spiritual practice or art therapy. A creative process like painting can be a vehicle for personal growth, if the artist is mindful. Like writing “morning pages” (google Julia Cameron’s The Artists Way if you don’t know what I’m talking about), the painter can sometimes gain clarity & insight by being in the moment.
Painting pushes everyday worries out of my head because it is like slipping into a stream of constant decision making. When I stop, it is a struggle to keep my head above water, which is why I try to have a couple paintings on the go at any one time.
Canvases as mental life-rafts, I might be pushing the metaphor a little. Then again, I have heard authors say that writing a certain book saved their life, either due to the toxicity they were able to release, or to the positive energy it brought into their lives.
The arts are how we connect to the rest of humanity, even our most desperate times. And it isn’t just a benefit for those of us creating. The general public may not be able to relate to my story of being moved to tears as I stood in front of a gigantic Sorolla painting in the D’Orsay Museum in Paris, but we have all laughed and cried because of a movie, we have all felt the grip on our hearts as music dragged us up and down through an emotional roller coaster.
In fact, the chances of a viewer being deeply moved by a painting is partly dependent on personal taste, partly due to the sum of their life experience – the more experiences the more points of reference they have to connect with the work – and above all it has to do with how truly open they are to being in the moment, to contemplate, to feel, to trust in their honest reaction to the work. Appreciation for the arts is a gift we give ourselves, and others. It is a portal to receiving and sharing joy, peace, truth and a sense of belonging.
The plaid design in this painting is not arbitrary, in the sense that any St. Lucian will read it as Madras, a component of the National Dress of St. Lucia. October is Creole Heritage month, and many patriots like to dress up in Madras (from the traditional full outfits to the more modern use of the fabric in accessories like ties, belts, earrings or handbags) for the Jounen Kwéyol celebrations. Especially in the last decade, the fabric has become a symbol of National pride.
In 2000, I did a few paintings which I refer to collectively as my Madras series, however they were created one by one in between my other projects as I tried out different concepts incorporating the pattern. My favourite of these experiments is the heliconia on the top right of the image below. I liked the semi-abstract effect of the broad bands of colour against the tropical vegetation, and always intended to return to this theme one day.
Then recently someone challenged me to do a new version of Madras Banana (first image in the collage below). She liked the way I painted the Madras border around the banana tree with some of the leaves overlapping, but was also a fan of the raindrops in my hibiscus painting, “Precious gems”.
I started with a simple pencil thumbnail sketch, then primed the canvas with golden ochre acrylic paint. Next I took a look at a swatch of Madras fabric that I purchased in St. Lucia many years ago, to choose the colours for the border.
Over the last 2 decades I’ve taken many photos of tropical vegetation, so it took a while to search through my digital files for reference photos, but I settled on the one in the photo collage above. Then I proceeded to lay in the general composition based on a combination of my thumbnail & the photo. Once I blocked in the general areas of colour, the image started taking shape. Unlike the original painting, which was a more distant view, in this painting I placed a banana leaf in the foreground, so that I could add the raindrops.
The painting evolved slowly, I would think I was done, but then something would not feel quite right, so I would come back & work some more on it. That’s how it goes sometimes, painting is a dialogue … you may think you need to make just one little change, but when you step back to look at what you’ve done – that little change may affect the way you see other parts of the painting – and now you may discover you have a few MORE little changes to make!
This painting is currently available for International Shipping – in a mailing tube – from my studio in Burlington, Canada. Or for local pick-up or delivery. E-mail email@example.com if interested.
The woman ahead of me in the line at the grocery store bought three potted Easter lilies. She had to send her son to grab another one for a price check, “$3.99” the cashier confirmed. The pots were covered with layers of pink, and white polka dotted wrapping paper, ready for Easter gift-giving, except it was now after Easter, so they were on sale. On impulse I sent my son to pick one up as well, because it would be worth it even if I only got one painting done before killing it with my non-green thumb. This is the story of how I get all my houseplants… they have to appeal to me first as a painter.
I placed the plant on the table next to my easel, with the track light shining down on it to create some interesting lighting effects. Instead of photographing the Easter lilies to build up my digital image reference file, I jumped right into painting them from life.
I vaguely intended to do a fast, alla prima, plein air type painting, but due to the larger size of the canvas & the fact that my usual artistic practice consists of studio paintings developed over multiple sessions, I got carried away creating a more complex image.
I primed the canvas yellow-orange & then mixed a darker colour to draw in the basic structure with a bristle brush. I should have spent a little more time at that stage laying in all the leaves, but as often happens, I was impatient to start blocking in areas of colour. I payed for my impatience when I had to spend a second marathon day editing the composition, reworking the shape & direction of the leaves.
Gradually the painting progressed as I built up the illusion of depth and balanced the composition. I’m not sure how many days I spent on this painting- because I was going back & forth between it & another, but I think it was over the course of a week. I add this because people always want to know.
Late one night I decided to darken the edges, it added to the overall effect and pulled everything together.
Mar ’15 Edit – This painting has been in storage in my studio for some time, the orange and pink combination was bothering me, so I decided to play with the background. Here is the updated painting:
Mar 30 ’15 update – the brown was a nice colour, but still didn’t quite work for me, so eventually I landed on this lilac colour, and although it’s more girly than any other painting I’ve done (says the person who has painted flowers for years) … I’m quite happy with this version!
Some of you will no doubt prefer one of the previous versions, as we each have our own colour preferences, but for me this one works to unify all elements of the painting the best. The background colour is whimsical, like the wrapping paper, and this is the softest, most alluring iteration.
There’s a pineapple in my studio, starting to smell yummy. In an attempt to start shedding the winter pounds, I bought a high-end blender that will break leafy greens down so well you won’t see a single chunk. Actually, I don’t have a problem with chunky green smoothies, but if I’d like to improve my kids’ vegetable intake as well, then consistency is second only to taste.
It has been fun trying new things in the blender, and when I brought this pineapple home, I decided to let it ripen in my studio so that I would have something beautiful to look at, and eventually smell. A low-cost version of a bouquet of flowers I guess.
I’ve never painted a pineapple before, but like anything else that occurs in nature, it has some wonderful patterns. I painted this one from life, but I also took some photos – the great thing about photos is that you can blow up a section to paint from, and you will see all sorts of details that you never noticed before. You also have more time to study and play with those details, you don’t have to worry about rotting fruit or changing light. There is so much to be learned from each approach.
The other element of this painting is the background pattern. I have always liked playing up the naturally-occurring patterns when painting foliage, visual rhythm adds to the illusion of movement and life in a work of art. However, my interest has grown, and like a woman who has just found out she is pregnant, and now find she sees pregnant women everywhere – I find myself drawn to examples of pattern in art.
Art Nouveau has always been a favourite and I was so lucky to see first hand examples in Paris, Brussels and Barcelona. I mean, talk about cultural tourism, I’m sure I’m not the only person who went to Barcelona just to see Gaudi’s buildings. When I was an art student I gravitated towards Impressionism and Post-impressionism, and I thought that the gold in Klimt’s paintings was just too gaudy (see what I did there?). Now though, I have a deeper appreciation for his work and the way he blended whimsical pattern with sensitive figure drawing and painting, to create art that has both visual appeal and emotional depth.
Now that I am on the lookout for it, pattern is everywhere … my next commissioned painting includes a textile pattern that I’ve used before, and in a recent post I mentioned Zentangle. Also, my prized possession from the trip to Paris in December was a Desigual handbag. Click the link, you’re going to thank me.
Anyway, this little painting is just one more step to finding a fun way not just to highlight pattern inherent in my subject, but to actively introduce it into my work.
If you have any favourite artists/art featuring pattern, please share in the comments below, I’m always open to new inspiration!
On the calender at least, it is Spring … outside, not so much (piles of snow & leaf-less trees). Still, I realize now I have been preparing for the change, when we shake off the snow & salt and make a fresh start, unencumbered by heavy winter coats and boots.
Truly, I have been going full steam ahead for so long that no sooner do I get through one deadline, do I set another because the feeling of racing even an impossible deadline is so much more comfortable than the overwhelm that envelopes me when there isn’t something taking obvious precedence over everything else.
In our digitally connected world, and with the “supermom” expectations of our culture – not to mention my own perfectionist tendencies – I am often driven by the need to always be doing something productive. Do not get me wrong … I am not above occasionally spending the entire Saturday watching Netflicks in my PJ’s and only getting up to feed our family of plugged in Zombies every couple of hours. However, this is usually the day after a big event, when I’m completely wiped out.
When the guilt has built up to a breaking point – usually it’s my youngest jumping into our bed to ask for food AGAIN, or showing us some great craft or experiment he did (often inspired by a youtube video) – I finally drag myself out. Typically I make a meal for all of us, clean the kitchen, throw some laundry in, delegate a few chores, and try to tame the growing pile of paperwork that has hitched a ride in by way of the kids’ schoolbags. After this whirlwind of domestic bliss, we sometimes fall back into our beds, and plug ourselves into the grid again.
The next morning though, I wake up with resolve, I make plans, pull focus, go out to do errands, get stuff done, maybe start a painting. It’s business as usual.
And that’s what Spring is like.
March break was perfect this year. I needed it desperately, I was burning the candle at both ends. So I announced on Facebook that I was taking a week-long hiatus from social media, and for the most part I pulled it off. I did not stop working, but I took off entire days to go on day trips with my family. I lived in the moment. And I found out that “quality time” 24-7 is exhausting for kids too, so while they did their own thing, I got some work in. Of course I didn’t get to do everything I wanted to do that week, but I did gain some valuable insight.
In fact, none of it is completely new, but I had lost sight of some of these truths – like how much we can learn looking through the eyes of a child, or how much positive energy can come from having a great conversation, spending the day with a friend, or an outing in a new environment. Trying something new.
I had forgotten that BUZZ of inspiration, which is not always there even when you engaged in creative work. And I had not realized how that feeling, that high of happiness and possibility can open you up to a flood of creative ideas. AND it translates into all parts of your life. Wow.
I have already been having a great year, since I shook off an old mindset and accompanying beliefs that were holding me back. But now, I feel energized – not every minute of the day – but in general, my optimism has returned.
So as I look forward, I see a handful of paths I can take, and instead of worrying that I might take the wrong one, I realize I have the desire and the energy to do them all.
I will try not to give you whiplash, but this is fair warning, as we move forward into a new season – I am going to be a busy bee. My path may seem a little erratic – but hopefully it will result in a great big pot of honey!
Then again, first I have to do my taxes …!!!
Oh, and I don’t know how long this link will be active, but Thanks to the St. Lucia Consulate in Toronto for re-posting my last blog post!
So, I’m feeling kind of rebellious lately. It might be the February blues – I don’t know how much more of this d$#% snow and bitterly cold wind I can stand. I’ve already started an informal petition on Facebook to move Canada to somewhere warmer …. but the winter sports enthusiasts & kids are jamming up the works!
Or it could be because this week I had to turn down an opportunity for my art to be included in a book of 50 Canadian painters who paint flowers, because it would cost as much as a non-discounted flight to St. Lucia! A little less than I made in art sales while painting my heart out last month during the 30 in 30 challenge.
It probably does have something to do with hitting a milestone birthday in a few months.
Anyway, the painting I was working on earlier this week turned out to be a very dark landscape, a gloomy reflection of my mood. Technically it has potential, but it just doesn’t feel like me. So last night I took it off the easel. Then at 11pm, when the last kid was asleep, I pulled out a fresh canvas.
While I was reading to my kids, several old themes had mingled with influences from the week, coming together as an image in my mind. Then the image permutated into a possible series. I felt more excitement than I’d felt in weeks, so instead of heading to bed, I returned to the easel. The last time I glanced at the clock it was 3am, and I woke up this morning in my clothes from yesterday – not for the first time this year.
From my bed, I could hear the reaction to the painting … “it’s a fish”, “Mom let her mind go wild last night”. Harrumph! Not what I was going for. Though, when I took another look, there was no denying it looked like a fish, underwater. I was about to make a slight change that would have made it less fish-like, when I realized I liked that added dimension to the painting – the multiplicity of meaning. In fact, for now at least, I’m not even going to go into my own interpretation. I think as I do a few more of these, it’ll become obvious.
Traditionally, an artist goes through the process of developing a series in the safety of their studio, occasionally seeking feedback from those whose opinions they trust. Then when the work is done, they edit out the dead-ends or out-right failures, select the best work to document and then promote through exhibitions or portfolio websites. A blog is a whole other beast.
There is a beauty, and a danger, to making this creative process visible to anyone who chances on to your blog. Ultimately though, I think the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
As promised, my first weekly “painting in a day”. This one is based on a path at Pigeon Island National Park, in St. Lucia. Not far from the site I painted in “Nature Walk, during the 30 in 30 Challenge last month.
The flowers of the Flamboyant (Royal Poinciana) trees fall along the path, the red a temporary contrast to all the green. I’ve made it wider here though, it’s really just a simple trail, where the grass has been trampled down in time by people taking a shortcut up and down the slope.
As is often the case with a path you’ve never taken before, only the next few steps are visible – you can’t see what awaits you at the top. It is an uphill climb, so it will take some effort, but with the right attitude, it could also be a lot of fun!
BLUE ROOTS ART STUDIO – acrylic paintings of Caribbean & Canadian landscape, flowers & foliage. Burlington, ON, Canada. 905-639-3419