About these journals
This journal is about documenting a personal history and a process. As an artist, at this time in my life, I want to try and get this down and perhaps get some insight into what it all means to me and why it is a driving force in my creative life. It may be of interest to others, maybe not. In any case, I shall scribble out my words and images and see what happens.
Prologue – In the beginning
I first encountered the badlands in Alberta, Canada, in 1983, during a road trip from Ontario back to my hometown of Squamish in British Columbia. As a young art student, I was naïve and hadn’t been out of the country or knew much about my own country here in Canada. At this time, Drumheller was very different, there were no ropes around the hoodoos, and there was very little in the way of development. The Royal Tyrell Museum was relatively new. I was thrilled to be in this part of the country. Memory is a fragile thing, as we all know, so I am guessing at these dates.
Little did I know that this would become a life-long obsession and a source of creative imagery that I would return to again and again.
I was in my second year at university taking the 3rd-year printmaking with Jean Maddison when the images from Drumheller erupted in my work. I had already been to the Toronto School of Art for two years before going to York University, but studying at art school was very technical, with a focus on method and form versus vision or content. I learned valuable skills but had little in the way of content; at least I wasn’t aware of my content in that sense. Besides which, I was young and vacant in some ways (but full of myself) – not sure what being an artist was supposed to be and conflicted most of the time.
During this printmaking course, however, I began to sketch in my notebook in a freer manner than before, unconcerned with perspective or realism – it just came out. I began to recognize the forms as figural metaphors, unexpressed and unequal to anything I had created up until now. I started studying my hands and seeing correlations between my flesh and the rills of the hoodoos.
The development of the forms and some happy accidents in the print studio (like leaving some of my copper etching plates in the nitric acid bath overnight and losing all the edges), pushed the boundaries of my art process and techniques leading me into new areas and thoughts about art and artists.
Our print monitor gave me a bunch of lino pieces to work on, and I started cutting hoodoos out of them, working the lines with the carving tools – no idea what I was doing or how to plan these prints at all. I used shapes like puzzle pieces and made large scale prints in this way. I was essentially working the same forms, just in different media – they were taking on a life of their own. I started to learn that you could make your own rules. I also learned that sometimes you have to adapt and accommodate your short-comings. One of the other things was that I couldn’t cut a straight line or draw one for the life of me. It turns out I have a type of astigmatism in my eye that is like a shadow or double vision, so making things accurate or square is frustrating. I eventually gave up on straight edges, and my work was better for it.
I read somewhere that Picasso had a notion about Matisse – who would return to the source of his inspiration and keep doing it over and over – that he somehow betrayed his first artistic impulse in the repetition of it – looking at Matisse I could not agree and was relieved because I had the opposite notion – that artists had to keep creating something brand new all the time. So much pressure when all I wanted to do was focus on these hoodoo formations with their sensuous emerging body parts animal forms, bones, and mesmerizing grotesqueries.
David Hockney also has this practice – repeatedly looking at the same thing and painting, drawing (in any form, even the iPad), photographing, and filming. I have been reading “A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney by Martin Gayford” and recommend it to anyone, especially artists flagellating themselves over stupid notions about what you should and shouldn’t do. Hockney is a great example to all of us struggling out there to get on with it. The harder you look, the more you will see. On the other hand, Michaelangelo burned many of his sketches and journals because he didn’t want anyone to see his struggle. Well, I will be sharing my my struggle happily. It is real!
I went back to the badlands several times and learned that the epicentre is at Dinosaur Provincial Park, over 100 kms from Drumheller. The following journals are about two weeks I spent there in 2017, so stay tuned for Day 1 and thanks for hanging in so long!