It’s Victoria Day long weekend. Fireworks are exploding in my neighbourhood as I type this. It’s not fair to call it the Canadian equivalent to the 4th of July, as there’s no particular patriotism, no national myth underlying the date, unless you mean the relationship Canadians have with Britain and royalty. To most of us the holiday means cottagers making their first visit of the season, examining the winter’s damage. We’re on the cusp of summer, even though there may still be a residual chill in the air, and even a mass of ice still floating on the lake (but that depends on how far north you get).
I went to visit my friend Brian Wyers, a painter I’ve written about a few times. I’ve been fortunate to visit him at home where I can see works in progress. I think we’re kindred spirits in a number of ways:
- Arthritis: which means we both deal with pain
- We both have a stiff-necked way of standing & walking
- We both work very quickly. Currently that’s the blog, although I could speak of plays & music compositions that I’ve pumped out very quickly; in his case it’s paintings normally done in a few days, or in the case of one he showed me today, a single day(!).
And I wonder if our pace is related to pain & arthritis..? Do we work quickly to avoid pain? Or are we in pain because of what we do?
Brian talked to me about his artistic journey and the directions he’s been going. The paintings & the environment –particularly the skylit room where Brian works—led to various questions about art and the meaning of life. Brian is gradually learning to live again since losing his wife to cancer. His creative pathways seem to be a kind of mourning, and evidence of his gradual recovery & return to life.
Last fall I’d already commented on his enormous florals celebrating his love, and the first tentative paintings of bodies.
Brian explained that the florals have been a very congenial pathway, allowing the paintings to be done very quickly. By a happy coincidence, they’re in demand. In his self-deprecatory way, he called them “decorative”, recognizing that market forces don’t necessarily reflect the preferences of the art critic.
But he has ventured out of that lucrative comfort zone. Sometimes it’s in the most indirect and subtle manner, taking the floral subject into new, more abstract territory.
This unfinished painting works from a photograph that Brian is using as his departure point. The work already diverges from the “source”, but employs a kind of ambiguity, in using an image that isn’t immediately recognizable as floral. The flood of white invading a dark field plus the tiniest bit of colour adds up to the usual Brian Wyers subject (likely as marketable as ever), but at the boundary of the representational.
There’s also “Peek-a-boo”, a tromp l’oeil game playing with the viewer, placing something suitably floral into a vase that’s deliberately out of focus (don’t blame the photographer).
And then there’s a new work that’s much less representational even if the source is concrete. “Foil” re-creates the sensuous magic of –you guessed it—a piece of foil. In this case, the details required Brian to slow down a bit, requiring a third day of painting.
As I was leaving the painter admitted that while he’s still in mourning, it’s not the agony he felt before. He keeps painting.
Life goes on.