Notes on Specific Paintings…



July 6, 2010


Circle like leaf frames
Rich red blossom’s promise of
Heart healing beauty



June 18, 2010

The Real Price of Oil

The oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico becomes a larger and larger catastrophe day by day.  The effect of the oil spreading through the water touches so many lives on so many levels that it is hard to fathom.  In spite of all the work now being done by so many and all the good intentions it is impossible to know how all of this will turn out.

Which started me thinking:  What is the true price of oil?

And this is the picture that came to mind.

The Price of Oil

The Price of Oil

June 10, 2010

A Prayer for Jamaica

Some weeks ago, violence flared in Kingston, Jamaica – again.  The causes were both new and old – a present day attempt to arrest a don in a place where the fates of dons, politicians and ordinary people have become tangled together, and money and guns buy people’s lives and loyalties.  The result was that once again people were dying, and lives were being put in jeopardy.

It is my deepest wish that Jamaica, though her people, find a way to rise above such difficulties.  No single image can carry the weight of all my thoughts, but this one expresses some of what I feel.  Darkness lit with hope, a green island offering shelter, a message of hope, the glimpse of a rosier future.

Prayer For Jamaica

May 25, 2010

A Response to What the Senator Said

This image is a response to the senator who told NGOs concerned about the Canadian federal government’s stand on what constituted best practices for the support of maternal health in poor countries (to wit, initially no support for contraception, no support for abortion under any circumstances) that they should “Shut the f*** up.”

The advice was well-meaning, improbable though that may seem at first glance.  The suggestion seemed to be that opposing the stand taken by the federal government might put the groups’ own funding in jeopardy.  If true, it shows how much funding has become a means of control rather than an expression of support.

Beyond this, however, it raises yet another question.  We will not always agree with the policies developed by our government.  Sometimes that agreement will be based on good and solid grounds.  Are we also to stay quiet, lest we run afoul of the government?  Is it not the responsibility and right of any citizen in a democracy to ask questions of their government?  Or are we now expected to accept blindly what we are told, or given?

Should we see ourselves as helpless?

CBC tells the story here.

And here is my response:

A Response to What the Senator Said

May 18, 2010

Rebuilding Hope

Rebuilding Hope (Reflections on Haiti)

My thoughts often return to Haiti, and the struggle to rebuild. Haitian artists are reflecting the tragedy and the struggle; my own images can only be a pale reflection.  “Rebuilding Hope” was born when I was thinking about the complexities of rebuilding both structures and lives, and the way that the structures that surround us both reflect and affect who we are and what we are able to do.  Time and again, it seems to me, structures are created that do not reflect the lives most people around them live. Here is hope being rebuilt in the image of a woman, because in places like Haiti women’s care of families and communities is the base on which they mend and grow.  She is being rebuilt strong to resist those who, by attacking her, seek to destroy or control the communities she belongs to.

May 7, 2010

Pause and Flow

When ideas are flowing it seems hard to take the time to think them through from concept to image.  Yet I know that the time taken is amply repaid – the finished work has more of a sense of completeness when I am done.  I wonder sometimes if it is like the sculptor working with wood or stone, who must take time to consider the inner qualities of the material they are about to work with even before they begin to shape it to their own vision.  A meeting of inner qualities, something only partially seen and understood by those who look on and yet so important to the whole.  Perhaps that period of thought and contemplation is essential to the successful marriage of tools and ideas.

April 12, 2010


Using symbols in art is fraught with the danger of misunderstanding, so I thought hard before I created the painting I call Love/Hate.  But the image is a response to the burning of a cross, with all that that act implied.  The very act relied on the use of the cross to create a sense of fear – ironic, when it should be the symbol of love, faith and compassion.

In Love/Hate, a cross cuts the picture in four; a cross with a blood-red, fire-red, hot-anger red centre.  The faces that surround it are murky, angry and distorted.  They are like the feeling roused by the act of taking a symbol of love and destroying it, in the name of – what?

Mar 25, 2010

Life as Growth

I am going through one of those phases where there is much going on internally, some of which will be shared in due time but little of which is ready to be exposed to others’ eyes and thoughts yet.  I am thinking, absorbing, reading, painting – working away and playing with textures, yet feeling as if I were on the edge of something new, about to take another step (or steps?) forward.  I just don’t yet know exactly where.  The process is both intriguing and disconcerting, and I’ve been wondering how to describe it.

Then I came across this in the 1972 introduction to Emily Carr’s ‘Fresh Seeing’.  Describing the addresses reprinted in the book, Doris Shadbolt wrote of Emily Carr:

One suspects that she was also making the kind of generalized statement which artists do make at certain in-between times in their own creative cycle – the time of cocoon-building, so to  speak – of slow in-weaving of images, words, ideas, impression out of which a new phase of creation will eventually emerge.

A perfect description.  I’m still in the cocoon, growing…


Images of a few of the paintings I have been working on recently.

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November 30, 2009

My life this week.

I am beginning to work (in a way, I’ve actually been thinking about it for a long time) on the Glimpses series.  Sketches and ideas are being developed; and I’ve begun working on some paintings.  Not all the paintings will be in the final series – I already know I will decide that some are not good enough, and that others do not fit with the way I want the series to flow together.  But in the meantime, it feels good just to be painting.

Glimpses:  the original idea developed around images that show bits and pieces and parts of people and things, seen through windows and trees and gaps.  Then came the thought that those things should be evocative, should give the viewer the freedom to interpret them according to their own ideas and feelings.  There is more thinking still to be done as I work, but I am at a stage where the doing and the thinking flow together.

At the same time another set of ideas is beginning to develop, somewhere just below the level of consciously working them out.  I am trying to decide on my own ideas on how to create art that invites people to touch, walk around, talk, share, take part.  The thoughts are born of appreciating the concept behind Bob Gregson’s art (and those of other artists who take their work out into the public realm, or invite the viewer into their installations).  Art is very individual – I want to create with the same intent but not using the same methods.

Everything is grist for the mill.


The World is so Full of a Number of Things…

The world is full of things that need thinking about.  Our world never stays the same – if it seems so, it is probably because we are not looking closely enough.  The time we have spent out on the sea has taught me that from moment to moment light and surfaces change, and that every cloud in the sky, every sunrise and sunset is different.  Also that a life, including my life, is a fluid, changing thing.  As an artist, I  search for a way to record that fluidity and to speak of the changes around us and in us.

Solitude is very necessary to my creative process.  I need time without distractions, or rather in the company of only my ideas and thoughts and images.  And yet I also need connection, and enough knowledge to understand what I see around me.  I need to read, to listen to words on the radio, or to music.   Exploration and learning and seeing the world around me and how we live in it are all sources of provocation and inspiration.

And I need to share.  This blog is a place to share bits and pieces of the journey with you, and some of the things that interest me…


A Slideshow: Images From Here and There

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Bird of War (sold)

War is not Black and White

It is blood red for pain, death and memory; deepest blue for sorrow; and shaded with the browns of earth and bodies.
Fly, Fly Away, 14 by 11
We Are Islands?

George Carlin has a very memorable way of putting things. So when he told his audience that we were not trying to “save the planet”, which would continue just fine without us, we were trying to save a place for ourselves on it – that resonated.

We are embedded in “nature” – it is not just around us, it is us and we are it. We are completely dependent on the natural world for all the food and water and materials we need to live. When we do things well, we prosper; when we do them badly, we damage the world we live in and hurt ourselves.

Of course, we have learned a lot over the centuries – and sometimes we have learned that what we thought was right was wrong. No doubt we will continue to find that some of the things we do are wrong.

Yet, right or wrong, we feel the need to impose our own ideas on the natural world. We erect barriers and create structures – walls to protect us, roofs to shelter us from rain and sun, roads to travel on, bridges to take us across rivers and channels. We build large farms, carve out fields, pull water from the earth. We dam and channel. We fish and hunt. We become more and more “efficient”. We are endlessly, creatively, busy.

Doing all this makes it easier to convince ourselves we will always have the tools to “conquer” nature, even though that idea is challenged every time we are faced with the uncontrollable power of great storms and earthquakes and volcanic explosions and tsunamis.

A day spent on a stormy sea, hours passed in the teeth of a hurricane, the feel of the earth moving under our feet – these have given me an abiding respect for nature’s power. Afterwards the world returns to normal, the wind and waves die down, the hurricane passes, the fires cool, the water retreat. The survivors struggle on. The world comes to feel more kind.

And we forget that we are nature, and nature is us. A thought that haunts me. This is why I keep returning to the theme of our embeddedness in nature, and used it to create the work for my “We Are Islands” series of paintings and poems.

From Words to Image

“Painting is poetry which is seen and not heard, and poetry is a painting which is heard but not seen.”

Leonardo da Vinci

For Poetry You Need Wings
For Poetry You Need Wings

One day, driving to a meeting and half-listening to the radio, I heard an interview on CBC. An author was talking about her work, which included fiction, memoir and commentary. The interviewer was curious about why she had never published any poetry. Her answer caught my attention: “For poetry, you need wings.”

I let the idea simmer in my imagination, tasted the words and tested visual images that fit. Over the next few days I began to sketch wings. And I thought about poetry and the way it lifted the imagination, both spare and inspiring, giving us wings to fly over the the landscape of our lives.

When I finally began to paint this picture I wanted to create an image to show the wing in flight over and through the light and the darkness and the space. I sketched in the wing and the mountains, my starting points. The rest evolved as I worked.

When I found da Vinci’s quote I felt that the circle, for me, was complete.

Golden Boy Crop
Volcano Paintings
Earth Flows
Earth Flows

Among the sights which have most impressed me are the volcanic mountains of the Atlantic islands. They rise up strong and hard, and lie bare in places like the skeletons of lands to be, lands still without their skin of earth and plants. The colours of these mountains under the moving sunlight are rich and varied and constantly changing, their contours strong.

Each person’s reaction to these mountains is affected by where and how they live. Each person sees them differently and responds in their own way, emotionally, intellectually and imaginatively. For me, these mountains seemed full of possibilities, built out of violence and destruction and yet sources of life, the roots on which people build and rebuild their lives.

My responses are partly the result of of my time spent living in a boat on the ocean. Living this way means living in nature quite differently from those who live in landbound buildings. There are no unmoving walls to shelter me from all weather, no still roof to keep me dry, no large windows to glance out of nor doors to hide behind. Our abode is so much smaller and more vulnerable to nature’s moods, so much closer to the world of wind and water and the passing of day and night. We have to live in constant awareness of nature’s moods, sunlit and calm or windy and stormy. We need to be aware of the constant shifting of the weather to be able to keep ourselves safe.

This has made us very aware of how artificial the separation is between man and nature, how hard we work to maintain it and how flimsy our creations are in the face of its power. From this combination of images, ideas and thoughts the three pictures here – and others – were born.

Sleeping Giants 2
Sleeping Giants 2

Margaret Mair, website:

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