Saturday, June 26, 2010

Roughing it in the Ravine

 I don't copy it. I talk about it.

Doris McCarthy used to say this a lot when discussing her paintings. In her prolific career as a landscape painter, Doris captured the essence of her subject matter, whether it was an iceberg, a meadow, a rock or a lake. During last week's workshop at the Doris McCarthy gallery at University of Toronto's Scarborough campus, I had ample time to drink in the deceptively simple beauty of her hard-edged abstract landscape paintings from the 1960s. With forms like a rock refined to their most elemental shapes, the strength of her composition and her masterful use of colour became evident when I attempted to copy one of the works as a learning exercise.

I find it hard to properly express the utter joy I felt while sitting on a riverbank sketching the rocks and while looking up at a towering cedar tree attempting to capture the rhythms and essence of the forms. With all the recent tumult in my life, I drank in the beauty and majesty in nature like a thirsty wanderer.  Doris McCarthy once described the process of drawing as "you are actually constructing...not what your eyes saw, but what your head understood about what your eyes saw" (Art Impressions, Winter 1993).

Workshop instructor Barbara Sutherland told us many stories and anecdotes from her 20 plus years of  friendship with Doris McCarthy. The one that really made me chuckle occurred when Barbara and Doris were on a painting trip together on the east coast of Canada. Barbara began the story by saying that Doris rarely stopped for a break during a day of painting. But one day, Barbara came back to the cabin around 1130 am and found Doris resting on the couch reading the book "Conversations with God". Barbara asked Doris what was wrong and Doris pointed to her painting from that morning and said something like "If I can't be a good painter, I may as well be a good Christian". Thankfully Doris put that painting aside and continued to work. For her, mistakes were an inevitable part of life and a reason to laugh. (This means I  should be laughing on a regular basis!!!)

On July 7, 2010, Doris McCarthy turns 100 and on that day, Mountain Galleries invites artists from across Canada to "go outside and paint a panel to celebrate McCarthy's 100th birthday with us." They will have an on-line exhibition of the results and are hoping to have over 200 participants. From the entries, twenty works will be chosen for a gallery exhibition this coming September and one participant will be invited to join the galleries stable of artists. For more information visit the Mountain Gallery website.