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- MUSINGS ON ART AND LIFE - a weekly blog -
from the Studio of Gary Haggquist (deep in the temperate rainforest surrounding Cultus Lake, B.C. Canada)
Studio Blog (now suspended) - written between Feb. and Oct. 2011. Posts are in cronological order - oldest to newest.
Blog Post no. 1 Sunday February 6th, 2011
A New Beginning, Again
There have often been times in my life when I felt that I had come to a point of change, where there was a sense of a new beginning. I believe I have reached that point once again. As I settle in to the daily rhythms of my new studio, I am filled with the giddy sense of setting out on a new adventure - down a road that reveals no end, with a script yet written. After completing the first painting in the new space yesterday I'm excited to see what paintings will be born of this new beginning. Once again anything is possible.
It has occurred to me that perhaps this returning sense of "starting anew" is just a way of dealing with a pervading sense of failure, a failure to achieve more as an artist ; the undeniable masterpiece, the European gallery connections, that solo show in New York or indeed a solo show in the city of my birth (Vancouver) for that matter. "Oh yes, It's alright, I'm just getting going, I'll get there, just you wait and see". Then I remind myself that NO you're not a failure, you're still creating aren't you, and did you ever really want any of those things after all (well maybe that solo show in Vancouver, but "I'll get there"). In the end, none of those things really matter much to me.
Of course I know what's really important in life. Above all else lies the love shared between family and friends. Below that somewhere, is pursuing your career dreams - what you will do with your life. I believe one must continually strive to put oneself in position for their dreams to be realized. Of course, one cannot rewrite the past but only carry the unwritten script forward. That means never giving up, learning from mistakes, and working hard at whatever you do to be the best you can be, so that when opportunities surface you're ready to make the most of them. For me that means tapping as close as possible into what inspired me in the beginning - the child like wonder of pure expression, not caring what anyone thinks of your creation but always feeling like anything is possible, that you are just getting started.
Blog Post no. 2 Tuesday February 15th, 2011
The Painting Season
For many of us the seemingly endless dark and sodden days of a typical West Coast winter can weigh heavy. We pine for the long warm and "dry" days to return. Indeed, many of us fly off with other "snow birds" to warmer destinations to avoid as much of it as possible. Though I too look forward to the return of the sun after what can seem like a month of solid rain, I have also long felt an inner contentment with the experience that is winter here on the west coast of Canada.
Besides the recognition that this wonderfully wet weather has helped foster the amazing landscape of this part of the world, I have also long realized that the daily rhythms of wet weather living have had a major influence on my artistic practice. Perhaps in many ways these seasonal rhythms have remained the same since childhood. As a young person summers always tugged me outside, to enjoy the long, warm days. Consequently, as an artist I have always found it hard to put in long hours painting in the summer. There is a strong desire to be outside, to experience nature and rejuvenate the inspiration bank.
When the warm season wanes, the leaves change color and the rains return, there is a sense of anticipation. The familiar back to school excitement has returned - that sense of a new season being upon us again. I feel that same excitement every fall with my return to the studio. The sense of being full of life, of being fully charged to make the most of the coming painting season. Somehow I am ready for the endless days of rain, in fact look forward to them and even embrace them. When they come I don't feel the tug to go outside or the distraction of the sun. I am content to spend endless hours working in front of a painting with my lights on and the sound of driving rain on the roof.
Blog Post no.3 Tuesday February 22nd, 2011
We can all remember those teachers we've had, who made a difference in our lives. Maybe it was a grade school, college or university teacher or perhaps it was a family member, friend or some other mentor. These were people whose influence on us helped in varying degrees to shape who we are and what we aspire to be. Sometimes that influence can even seem negative at first but with the passage of time can ultimately be seen as positive - the school of "tough love." More often, the teachers who have the most lasting influence on us are the ones who possess the right combination of patience, kindness and encouragement. Somehow they make learning fun. They inspire us to want to be the best we can be.
Perhaps the teaching of art is an even more delicate endeavor than most. Art-making is ultimately a baring of ones soul and the wrong kind of criticism or a callous approach can be devastating for the student and a real killer of creativity. I remember one particular day in university when my second year painting instructor walked into class and announced to stunned students, "You know, none of you are ever going to make a living at this!" Perhaps he was employing the tough love approach or maybe he was just having a bad day. I remember thinking at the time (and to this day), "no way, you're not talking about me pal, I'm going places." In some way, it might have been the biggest motivation I ever received from a teacher. In the end his prediction, however uncaring, was probably largely accurate for most of us. Making a living as an artist can be quite difficult.
Jack Shadbolt, well known Canadian painter and longtime teacher, (now deceased) was one of those individuals who made a difference in my life. Although I never had him as an instructor, I did have him pick two of my works (when I was a university student) for a regional art show in the Kootenay area of B.C. At that time, I had a meeting with him where we discussed my work and its strong and weak points. I have also kept to this day a written and signed critique by him, of those student pieces. It wasn't all positive but I came away with a deeper understanding of my work and motivation to go forward with. He was also a very inspirational speaker and I had the privilege of hearing a few of his presentations. He became one of my art heroes. Here was someone who was not only thriving as an artist but also inspiring others to do the same. He made me proud to be an artist. Over the years, whenever I become disillusioned with the state of my art career, I often read passages from one of his lectures - he's still inspiring me to this day.
This past weekend I attended a memorial celebration of the life of another one of my art heroes - my high school art teacher John Barwis. I was profoundly fortunate as a young student to benefit from his kindness, creativity and encouragement. He came into my life when I was at a very impressionable age and made a difference. He never criticized my work but constantly inspired me. He was also the one who showed me that a life in the arts was possible. When I told him of my plan to go on and study art at the David Thompson Univ. Centre in Nelson B.C. he was thrilled and also put me in contact with his stepmother who lived there on the shore of Kootenay Lake. I ended up boarding with her my first semester, in her lovely old cottage. At the celebration of John's life, as those who knew him spoke of how he had touched their lives, I was struck by how wide his influence was and how fortunate we all were to have known him. Thank you John, you were the best teacher I ever had.
Blog Post no.4 Tuesday March 1st, 2011
There is nothing quite like a looming deadline to get my creative engine firing on all cylinders. Without time restrictions, I can often take forever to complete a painting. Sometimes this is just fine and is exactly what some pieces call for. Often however, without the pressure of a deadline, I can find myself spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about a painting rather than painting a painting. This can lead to a real stagnation of my work time and a sputtering of the creative flow. There is something almost transcendent about allowing the creative juices to flow unimpeded - to give my intuition free reign. These are the times when painting can feel like magic.
As I now enter my fourth decade as a painter and have many thousands of hours painting behind me it becomes easier to allow my intuition more freedom. I know now how I want to paint. When I was younger, perhaps that wasn't so clear. I know what it's like to have paint seemingly flow off the end of my hand and I want that feeling to hopefully return for every painting. Of course as one ages, there also comes the realization that there are only so many paintings left before time runs out - the "big Deadline." There is no time to waste, no time for thinking too much about painting and deadlines are a clear reminder of this fact.
With the knowledge that I often need deadlines to spur me on, I will seek them out, relish them when they come and even arbitrarily impose them on myself. I have been known to spend very long hours and even pull "all nighters" when working under the pressure of a deadline. Though this can be stressful and take a toll on the body, there can also be a very exciting component to working this way - the moment when I walk into the studio to behold the results, when I look at what I've created and know that I have pushed my comfort zone past a point I didn't know I could, where I surprise even myself and exclaim - "Wow, did I do that?"
Blog Post no.5 Wednesday March 9th, 2011
Painting and Music
These two artistic pursuits have long played a role in my life. Painting is the one that I have devoted the most time to, by far. I love to express myself with paint. I definitely have a fascination for the visual arts and enjoy very much the experience that a good painting (or other form) can offer. But there is no denying the power of music to stir one's soul to the core. Perhaps it is the most potent art form of all. As an artist I can't help being drawn to it. Though I returned to it later in life and don't consider myself a highly skilled musician, playing music is always a tremendous joy. That joy inspires me to want to learn more. As an artist it's an exciting realm to explore and shares many aspects with visual expression.
The extent of my formal musical training was playing the snare drum in my grade seven band. At age seventeen I bought a drum kit, played for a couple of years and got a taste of the fun of "rockin out" with a couple friends in my family garage. We were legends in our own minds and probably drove my family crazy but as I say - it was fun. I sold the drum kit (along with my car and motorcycle) to go to art school - painting was to be the priority. Music was later to return when I received a guitar for my 28th birthday. I fell in love with music again. Eventually, I returned to my first instrument and purchased another drum kit. Now, I enjoy collecting various instruments and trying to learn them. I have enjoyed playing for fun with friends, as often as I can. The goal is to try to keep improving my skills. Playing music has become somewhat of a guilty pleasure however, as it is just for fun. If I overdo it - it's going to cost me a few paintings.
As a fan of music in general, I also really enjoy listening to music when I paint, it seems to help me focus on my work. By creating an inspiring atmosphere the act of painting is enhanced. Increasingly I am even listening to some of my own recordings. I have a small digital recording unit and I'm having fun mixing these recordings with the Garage Band program on my computer. More and more I have come to see this process as painting with sound or painting a song. It is proving to be a very interesting creative endeavor and has inspired me to explore more.
It is becoming clear that my painting and music are starting to intertwine. I have even recently come to view my hybrid painting style in musical terms. By doing so I was able to look at my desire to express myself using seemingly disparate subject matter, in a different way and it made sense to me. Sometimes I want to paint a ballad - something that is beautiful and that evokes sweet feelings. Other times I want to paint more of a rocker - something that has a little more of an "edge" to it - that provokes.
As my painting and music continue to grow together I'm excited to explore the uncharted territory that lies ahead. Now, in my new studio I am able to combine the two pursuits together in ways I never could before. For now they remain somewhat parallel. In the future they may combine more - we'll see.
Blog Post no.6 Wednesday March 16th, 2011
Painting, Freedom and the Solitary Profession
The act of painting for me, is ultimately a solitary event. Even when I was a first year university student painting in a room of 39 others, it all came down to the canvas and me - it was to be whatever I could make of it, no one else was going to help me. And that was exactly why I was there. I chose this profession not only because I love to paint but also because being an artist is the closest thing I know to absolute freedom. I'm my own boss. Whatever else is happening in my life, during the time I am painting I am free. But that freedom can come with a cost - the many hours spent alone.
Not that I'm complaining about being alone. That alone time is the solid base of artistic expression and I am quite content to spend most of the day in my studio by myself. I also know that it is important for me to balance that alone time by spending quality time with family and friends. It's important to get out of the studio into the real world. That outside experience is what ultimately feeds the time alone and the creative juices. Not enough of this "outside the studio" time can lead to a stagnation of inspiration for me. When I've gotten enough outside time I am excited to get back to work - inspired to once again be on my own.
Perhaps in many ways my desire to express myself as an artist, to be free to set out everyday on my own to explore the realm of art, is just a way to recapture the freedom of youth and the magical time spent alone as a child exploring the wonders of nature. They were my first experiences with a state of rapture. I remember those seemingly endless days where you were free to be, with the greatest fondness. Now when I am alone, deep inside a painting, when I have lost all sense of time and when the paint is flowing, I am not unlike the young boy that I once was, who wandered free out the back door of his grandmothers farmhouse with a bow and arrow in my hands, heading out across rolling prairie hills of tall grass, cactus and grasshoppers, skirting the edges of salt lakes to stumble in amazement upon the large rock circle of a long ago teepee.
Blog Post no. 7 Wednesday March 23rd, 2011
I love painting water. There is something about it that keeps me coming back again and again. Water is literally the essence of life itself. As such it is not only vital and beautiful but also a powerful metaphor for all things living. As a fluid element, it's constant state of flux is endlessly fascinating and its abilities to refract and reflect light are simply sublime. These qualities give water it's amazing allusiveness and are what challenge the artist who tries to capture it. Perhaps it is the impossibility of the task which continues to bring me back.
As an artist who relishes painting water, I am well situated. We live in the land of water here in British Columbia. There are so many captivating rivers, lakes, ponds and streams beckoning out to be painted and it is such a thrill to go out and explore these water systems with my camera and sketch book. Over the years I have amassed a large archive of photos, sketches and notes that I continue to use as source material. I also don't have to travel far to find water, as there are beaver ponds and streams on the land here where I live - a waterfall and the lake are only a short walk away.
Over the years I have created many paintings that have included water and once again I have returned to it with my latest series - the "Waterway Series." In this series I am attempting to capture the untamed spirit of a wild mountain cascade with its frothing and falling trail of massed bubbles (or white water), and the calmer and clearer pools that occur along the way. So far the first three paintings have also included a figure - a lone human presence along the waterway (or life line.) It is my hope that these paintings capture the profound sense of awe that I have for water and its ability to inspire, inform and sustain my life. Once again I am trying to achieve the impossible - that perfect image of water - life itself in paint.
Blog Post no. 8 Wednesday March 30th, 2011
The Death of Painting?
The first time I heard this notion was as a young art student, from my instructors. Needless to say as someone who had a burning desire to be a painter it was akin to having the rug pulled out from under me. "What do you mean it's dead as an art form - I'm here to paint and your telling me it's finished." It became a dark cloud that hung over all our ambitions as students, this notion of working in a medium that was in it's death throes. In the end we did our best to do what generations of painters before us had done - pour our hearts and souls onto canvas.
Predicting the demise of painting has been going on for a while now. It started with the advent of photography in the early 1800's and gained momentum later in that century and the next, as art began to split into it's many "isms". For some, painting began to lose its relevance as first photography then performance, installation and now new media continue to see wider practice and acceptance. For many in the "art world" the time honored tradition of the hand made art object is now a thing of the past, given less and less importance. Technology now plays a bigger role in art-making as it does in most other aspects of society. Increasingly our cultural experiences come through computers and the internet. Despite all these changes however and the predictions of it's end, painting continues to be the medium of choice for many artists - young and old. Attendance figures at public and private galleries where paintings are shown are strong and auction results for contemporary as well as historical painters continue to break records.
Clearly painting is not dead. It will never die. Art lovers still have an appetite for painting and the experience that only it seemingly, can offer. Painters the world over are continuing to deny the theory that it's all been done before - determined to make painting relevant by pushing it's boundaries in both subject matter and materials. As perhaps the most accessible of all art forms, painting also continues to play an important role providing those without access to technology with an affordable way to create. In that sense it really is the peoples medium. As an ancient art form it also gives artists a connection to a long, rich and potent well of insight into the human condition. At a time when our increasingly mass produced world continues to rely more and more on technology to sustain itself, painting and the hand made art object can provide society with an important and powerful antidote to dehumanization. It helps to remind us what it is to be human - lest we forget.
Blog Post no. 9 Thursday April 7th, 2011
The Sunnyside Series
When I completed the first painting in this series in June of 2009 I titled it #1 thinking that I would like to explore the subject a little more. I really had no idea how many more there would be. I'm somewhat surprised therefore to find myself now working on #20. This series, in terms of sales, has proven to be my most successful to date. That success has inspired and challenged me to investigate the subject of this series (the Sunnyside shore of Cultus Lake) more thoroughly than I have any specific area in the past. Along the way I have come to value highly the focus and experience the series has given me. I've also been pleasantly surprised and intrigued to find out just how rich a vein of nostalgia I was tapping into.
Cultus lake has long been a favourite summer destination for many. (I came here myself for the first time, as a ten year old cub scout in the late 1960's.) A small number of summer cabins that first appeared in the 1930's and 40's has now grown into a larger community of full time residents. Over the years visitors and residents alike have come to know and love this lake - many have fond memories of their time spent here. This, I began to realize was part of the appeal of the series. For many, my paintings of Sunnyside were capturing a time and place that they felt a strong connection to.
The south west facing shore of Cultus Lake known as "Sunnyside" has a wonderful afternoon light that reflects off the water and into the trees and homes at twice the intensity. Like many others, I love to walk or ride my bike along the path that runs the length of the beach. There is a magical quality to the lighting along this beautiful trail. It also seems to encompass all that makes living in British Columbia such a wonderful experience - water, beach, forest and mountains. As an artist living on the west coast of Canada, this is the landscape that has long inspired me.
Now into my 20th painting in the series, I am perhaps surprisingly not running out of ideas for new pieces. On the contrary I am still finding myself inspired to further investigate this wonderful shoreline. Conveniently, it is only a short distance from my home. I enjoy the challenge of looking for new views and new compositions and feel that Sunnyside hasn't given up all its secrets yet. There will be some exciting new pieces coming up in the series this year - stay tuned.
Blog Post no. 10 Thursday April 14th, 2011
On Being An Artist
As a child, drawing and painting were things that I enjoyed and seemed to have some talent for, not much different from collecting sports cards or playing road hockey. It wasn't until the age of 19, that I made the decision to study art and become an artist. Once I set out on that path however, I realized that it was the only career I ever really wanted. Though I had no idea at the time, where that path would take me and how hard it would be to make a living as an artist, there was no turning back for me. That fateful decision was made 33 years ago and though there were times when I wondered about the wisdom of that decision, ultimately it was one of the best I ever made.
It has not been the easiest of paths and there have been forks along the way where my plans could have easily changed. I have only been able to be a full time artist for the past 10 years. Before that, as many creative people of had to do, I worked at many different jobs to make a living. Among those were - delivering the prizes for the "Let's Make a Deal" TV show (everyone loved to see us), installing tires and batteries at Sears, tree-planting, geophysics (mineral exploration) and finally as a carpenter. In many of these jobs I had opportunities to advance and turn them into long term careers. This was never an option for me. I turned down all these opportunities because there was only one true path for me, I never lost sight of that. I only worked at these other jobs to make enough money to allow me to keep making art and though there were times where I didn't get much painting done, I never stopped completely.
So here I am 33 years later, now able to sustain myself through painting sales and feeling that my career has turned a corner. I feel inspired and blessed to be an artist - to be living my dream. My days are free to make what I want of them and there is not a day that goes by where I don't feel like the luckiest person on earth. Everyday I am excited to enter my studio and work on my latest painting. At the same time I am always looking to see what lies ahead, always thinking that "my next painting is my best painting." I never have to worry about what I will do with myself when I "retire," because I will never retire - there are too many paintings yet to complete. I'll be working until the show is over.