Back in Toronto following two weeks in the Queen Charlotte islands...
Among the various letters that arrived during my time away, was a sturdy cardboard mailing tube. The label attached was that of a design firm for whom I'd recently worked. I immediately tore open one end and slid the contents out onto my desk. The glossy stock, which had been carefully rolled to fit, unraveled as I removed the rubber band. I ran my hands across the coated side of the paper to flattening it and turned on the lamp. Straight from the press, cropped, but not yet run through the folding machine, was a dust jacket from my most recent illustration project: Hells Angels: Taking care of business. I studied it carefully under the light, then opened the Archive drawer of my plan file and dropped it in.
Print proofs of all the projects I'd undertaken this year had pride of place in the top drawer, although they had not yet been organized or placed into individual portfolio sleeves. Earlier pieces - Old Wars, Green Future, Tears of the Moon and others - were loosely scattered about. It had been a busy year.
In reality, it had not yet been a year. Illustrating book covers, the latest in a series of occupations, had seemed one of the more promising career prospects to come along – and seeing my three latest projects at the airport bookstore, in one visit, did rather reinforce this feeling. Somehow though, I knew the venture had run its course.
However much I had enjoyed painting these images, they held no personal meaning. In any case, they would be forever associated with the author's name, and not my own. My work over this past year, which was solely a means of promoting the thoughts and ideas of others, would represent just the faintest of blips on the radar of popular culture. But I was not the least concerned, the wilderness had a hold on me now, timeless and sublime. All I could think of was capturing the Queen Charlotte Islands in paintings of my own.
Painting the things I wanted to paint, for a living, was perhaps not all that farfetched – as scary as this idea had first seemed. In many respects, painting was an occupation as old as the world I wanted to capture, and this had a very definite appeal. Back in the mists of time, people had rendered images on the walls of caves, and tens of thousands of years later, painters were still creating images to hang on walls. Next to hunting and gathering, this might well be the oldest profession in the world – other claims to that title not withstanding.
Whatever spirit had possessed the artists of the Pleistocene to enter the cool, dark depths of the underworld – to recreate the world they had known – was still at work. Perhaps it spoke to them in this same strangely familiar, yet almost unintelligible language? Or maybe, living much closer to natural world, they understood clearly what had been asked of them? I was a product of the modern world however, and all I understood was that the wilderness was calling, and that I needed to share this wild and beautiful corner of the world.
It was well into September now and the northern coast of British Columbia is no place to spend the winter, though a conversation I'd had earlier in the year suddenly came back to me. A friend had talked about taking a break following university to spend a season in the mountains skiing, and, if need be, working as a lift operator or waitress to cover the expenses. I'd jokingly suggested that I'd move there too (if she needed help with the rent) and set up a little studio to do my own work. I'd not taken this seriously at all at the time at the time, but now, it seemed like the perfect solution.
Sadly, when I called to see how the plan had progressed, it hadn't. Instead, she had decided to carry on with her studies, and was already back at university. Renting a place on my own would have been more costly than I expected, and I wasn't entirely convinced that sharing accommodation was a good idea either. I had met a few “Liftys” in the past. An atmosphere of quiet contemplation and high culture was not one I immediately associated with this experience. Artistic pursuit amidst piles of ski equipment, sweat socks and empty beer cans was pretty much a nonstarter, and I knew my own weaknesses too; the lure of the slopes, for one, would have been irresistible – I'd probably have never spent a moment at my easel. So a winter at Whistler was not in the cards – yet that image of snow covered mountains still had a hold on me.
During the early part of the summer – around the same time that this skiing excursion had come to light – I'd happened across of brightly colored Mexican travel guide in a local book shop, and was captivated by one of the images it contained: A snow-covered peak thrusting high into the clouds, surrounded at its base by lush green fields and forests. It was a landscape that wouldn't have looked out of place in Switzerland, and this image had played on my mind ever since. As I wouldn't be heading to Whistler, it occurred to me that Mexico might just fit the bill.
Having decided to become a painter (in the more artistic sense of the word), I would certainly need a place to escape the distractions and – at that time – easy money of commercial art. The phone wasn't going to ring with another tantalizing job proposal, if I lost myself in the wilds of Mexico Although this beautiful country has a rich cultural heritage, particularly in the twentieth century (with respect to muralists, painters and photographers) there was absolutely nothing in the guidebooks about the town of Orizaba. Jalapa, however, the capital city of Veracruz state, was just eighty-some miles away. A summer retreat for the Spanish when they had first arrived in Mexico, it was now a major a university town. The country's second most important archeological museum was situated here, most famously though, Jalapa was home of the Jalapeño pepper and the giant stone heads of the Olmec; now that was culture. I had a little homework to do, but Veracruz sounded like just the place.
The Next update will follow in late May - early June. Please fill out the Mailing list form to receive an email notice and access to the password area of this site.
Further reading, and referrence from the latest essay: Art: The Dark Side
|Design and Crime
|The 12 Million Dollar Shark:
||The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art – Don Thompson
|Seven Days in the Art World
|Amusing ourselves to Death
|Death of the Liberal Class
||Chris Hedges – Chapter IV Politics of Spectacle
|A Brave New World
|Empire of Illusion