Thursday 7 February 2019


     This Blog is being published by me, Barbara J. Bucknall, to advertise the art show that Lynne Mawson and I will be putting on in the Community Room of the Mahtay Cafe  to celebrate International Women's Day which will be taking place on March 8, 2019.  The show will run from March 8 to March 15  and will be sponsored by Bethlehem Housing and Support Services and its Housing Hero Fundraising Initiative.  Two of my original framed paintings will be raffled at the Bethlehem Fundraising "Empty Bowls" dinner on March 6, 2019 and two of Lynne's will be raffled on the last night of our art show.  Both raffles will be fundraisers for Bethlehem Housing.

     Lynne and I are putting on this show together because we share an interest in portraying female figures, whether human or divine. Our dedication to art is deep and sincere, playful and joyful, serious and humorous and might even be called religious in its total commitment.  Not that you need to genuflect when entering our show, but we have both portrayed some women who stand well above the ordinary human level.  Lynne will be putting some actual goddesses on show but not putting them up for sale because they are too precious to her.  My own divinities are much more accessible.  While including some pagan goddesses, I also bear witness to a devotion to the Virgin Mary which is quite unusual in a Quaker.   We also paint plenty of human women and Lynne's are quite humorous.  Mine tend to be more serious.  It was in fact Lynne's sense of humor that endeared her art to me.

     About her goddess pictures, she says: "The goddess image comes to me from time to time.  This is art I cannot force.  I lay down three colours, close my eyes and move my brush around the canvas. Then I walk away.  Once dry, the canvas is observed from many angles.  It is then left on my art table. Walking by from time to time, I give the canvas a quick glance.  At some point, but not always, an image begins to appear.  At that point, I drop what I am doing and put chalk to canvas.  She is revealed!  The goddess pictures are very special to me.  I am delighted that her images cannot be forced.  They form such a personal and powerful connection.  People have commissioned goddesses. Never have they been satisfactory in my eyes."

     Most of Lynne's pictures are very human portrayals of plump Bathing Belles.  They are saved from being repetitious by the intense joy she takes in varying colour, contrasting foreground and background and varying the patterns she uses on their swimsuits.  She tends to go in for circles and spirals.  She says the way she feels about spirals is quite visceral.  Of these bathers she says: "Having had body  issues for my entire life, I strive to present the zaftig human female form in a positive and powerful, yet playful  way.  Working on these images helps me overcome the shame I have felt on inhabiting this body, by making the rounded form vital, strong and beautiful. While working through my own issues, I hope my work brings joy to those who view it.  Most of the images are cropped: perhaps a good shrink could explain that, but for now just know that these cropped images are aesthetically pleasing to the artist.   Perhaps there are issues that are not yet ready to be revealed in my art."

     Lynne and I both paint from our deepest feelings and the inspiration for my own paintings is just as random and comes from just as deep and hidden a place as Lynne's goddesses.  I have been painting since I was introduced to art in grade school at the age of six.   My teacher, unlike Lynne's, gave me great encouragement.  My younger brother Malcolm did the same thing and our mother encouraged us by setting us to work painting Christmas cards.  My art class was the happiest part of the school week for me all the way through high school.  But when the time came for me to enter university and I won a place at Oxford, I was strongly discouraged from doing anything so unintellectual.   Embarking on an academic career, I still loved to view and collect art, but I treated my own art as a mere hobby.

     As we were growing  up, my siblings and I  all paid regular visits to the Museum and Art Gallery in our home town of Birmingham, England.   Our grandfather was something of an artist since he was a silversmith, painted as a hobby and bought original art.  Our father had a knack for drawing but treated it merely as a hobby, as he wished his children to do.  As a child I loved the illustrations in my children's books so much that  I wanted to become a book illustrator myself, but my father denied me the opportunity.  Nothing, however, could stop my brother Malcolm from becoming a full time artist, although our father tried to divert him into becoming an architect and ended up calling him a fool.  But Malcolm's artistic career has proved a tremendous success, little as our father liked  his art and tried  to persuade him to take up writing instead if he was going to be creative.  As it happened, all of us turned  out creative.  Our sister Ann had quite a gift for poetry, which I have worked on together with her, and our brother Bill took his own path, plunging into music and medicine.  Our father even managed as a scientist himself to disapprove of that, telling him that medicine was not an exact science.  Perhaps our mother was the really creative parent, although it was our father who taught us to debate when we were quite young.  She was an excellent letter writer and story teller, having emerged from the strong Celtic oral tradition of the ceilidh or folk festivity.

     I received a strong impulse towards what was later to become in retirement my full time dedication to art when  I was teaching at the University of Illinois  in the 1960's.  I had already discovered the great novel of Marcel Proust when I was a graduate student at the University of  Illinois and had been deeply impressed by what struck me as his truly religious approach to the various arts, especially since I had already picked up a similar attitude from the PreRaphaelites in the Birmingham Art Gallery.  I ended up writing my doctoral thesis for Northwestern University on this topic.  As another religious interest I started attending the local Quaker Meeting which appealed to me by its emphasis on contemplation and meditation and almost complete lack of dogma.  Although I also attend High Anglican services, I have stayed with the Quakers ever since.  Another benefit I got from them was that they afforded me access to the Art and Music Departments.  I actually sold one picture, a fantasy oil painting based on an actual dream, to the Head of the Art Department.  In the Music Department I met Ben Johnston who was a personal friend of John Cage and introduced me to him.  I also took art lessons from Ben's wife Betty.  John Cage came to have a very strong influence on me eventually, although to begin with I was quite shocked by his insistence on the path to musical composition being the creation of random noise.  His final effect on me was to get me to abandon any planning and preparation in my painting  and just paint by inspiration as the spirit moved me.  Of course this is also a very Quakerly thing to do.  What I chiefly got from John Cage was his insistence on what is random.

     Nowadays I work mainly with markers on paper, since I like to draw rather than paint.  Mainly I use Winsor and Newton watercolour markers, but sometimes I use Prismacolour or coloured ink brushes.  I make random strokes with various markers until finally a recognizable picture emerges. This picture frequently takes me by surprise by its faithfulness to my own feelings.  Then I contemplate it, looking for a meaning in it and give it a title.  This seems to me very close to the way Lynne creates her goddess paintings although I had not heard of them until quite recently.  But of course in my own case any subject can emerge. 

     In spite of this similarity we came to art in very different ways.  Let us listen to what Lynne says: "I have been making art since I was a child in Kindergarten, when my teacher informed me that I was not colouring "the right way."  The task was to colour a picture of Santa Claus.  Having been to see the man, I was well aware that his suit had a textured quality.  Happily I set to the task, making tiny, tiny circles that left bits of wax on the paper, creating the texture I wanted.  The teacher, seeing this, took my paper to present it to the class.  I was so proud...until she informed the class that this was the way NOT to colour: we should follow instructions.
     Grade 9 art: we were to use plaster to make a textured painting.  Again, I happily created texture on the board and painted a landscape.  Nope.  The texture was to have the scene within it.
     In university, taking a teachers's college training course on how to teach art.  The instructor was most arrogant and unpleasant.  We were to create a plaster wrapped wire sculpture.  My mistake was titling the piece "So you think you are an art critic."  C minus.  I have been colouring my own way ever since.
     Most of my recent work is oil pastel over  an acrylic paint base.  I've found that good quality oil pastels spread like butter.  I enjoy the tactile experience as much as the end product.  While having had no formal training  (not much luck with instructors) I've picked up many a fine technique from the pages of Pinterest.
     Much of my inspiration was found when teaching art at the primary and junior levels.   During my last two years of teaching not much attention was paid to curriculum.  Having had minimal interest or success with formal techniques, I was not much inclined to go past the basics.  It was more helpful to teach these things as they cropped up or were important to the student.  Spontaneous expression seemed more important.  This was grade 4.  They had years to learn the technical stuff.
     I ran into a student when he was in grade 7. He said art wasn't as much fun any more and had I ever heard of this thing called "perspective"?  I laughed and apologized.  I explained that I was at the end of my career and wasn't much worried about administrative repercussions.  My program consisted of teaching famous artists and creating works based on or inspired by their styles.  The Georgia O'Keeffe lessons?  They were just flowers!
     The enthusiasm and excitement when it came time to create their own pieces was marvelous.  I can still see their faces when they came in from lunch to find that their art paper was taped to the underside  of their desks.  Michelangelo would have been proud.  If he could paint on his back for ten years they could survive eighty minutes.  There is much to appreciate and try to emulate in the work of children: exuberant and unselfconscious self-expression!'

     There is much that Lynne expresses here that is true for all artists.  Of course we all have to learn from great art and I have been fortunate enough to spend a sabbatical year in Paris surrounded by museums and art galleries.  Every Sunday afternoon I spent in the Louvre and I also received personal help and encouragement from a gifted professional artist, Basil  Ivan Rakoczi, who enrolled me in his life drawing group.   But I am sure Lynne learned as much from her students as I did from him.  My brother Malcolm once said, "When you see what a little boy of ten can do, it just makes you sick.  The only thing that consoles you is knowing that he won't be able to do it in a few years."  He himself makes a practice of telling his admirers that he is able to paint as he does because he is in touch with the spirit of his childhood.  As the great French poet Baudelaire once said, "Genius is childhood recovered at will" and Marcel Proust begins his great novel with his narrator's involuntary memory of childhood.

     My sister Annabel has observed that her grandchildren create much more freely than her adult students, who are seriously hampered by fear of not doing "the right thing" and making mistakes.  I feel that I have been liberated from this fear by allowing myself to be completely free and random.  Not everything I paint is all that great, but this knowledge does not inhibit me and I feel that I too may be able one day to recover my childhood.  I have spent many years of my life studying Marcel Proust but the  time has now come to treat him as a source of inspiration. 

     Lynne and I hope you will enjoy our show.  Neither of us has exhibited a great deal.  I have had three shows and have shown in the Pumphouse gallery.  Lynne has shown in church arts and craft shows and in the Pumphouse gallery and also has a Facebook page, titled "Baubles and Babes."   I am not as good at handling technology as she is and I am indebted to her and Natasha at N.A.C. for their technical help. We are looking forward to meeting a wider audience.

1 comment:

  1. Can hardly wait! Knowing you both as I do, I expect a fun filled gala.