Our time on the river is now up but we have not yet come to the end of the river. We make the decision to store the boat in Norman Wells for the winter with the idea that we will return again next summer to continue.
It’s amazing how quickly one finds friends in a town of 700 persons. Ann-Marie is the deputy mayor and editor of the local newspaper — The Mackenzie Valley Viewer. She lines up Derwin with a flat-bed and Dave with a “picker” to pull Alexander Mackenzie out. Next thing we know our Alex is on blocks in Ann-Marie and her husband Ron’s yard. We clean her, put the boat batteries and acrylic paints into warm storage, and tuck her in with bungees and tarps.
Boating and camping have privileged us in this seldom traveled place. We have seen and learned much. The daily business of striking camp, feeding ourselves, keeping warm and dry, to say nothing of navigating an unknown river has been both pleasure and challenge. Next year more time must be allotted for painting.
We charter a Cessna 220 back to the motor-home which waits where we launched in Fort Providence. My dog Emily sits optimistically beside me in the back seat — Sara is up front with Fraser, our twenty-something pilot. For three-and-a-half hours we retrace from the sky our river magic — and discover vast territories and a million lakes and waterways scattered like silver coins in all directions. As the landscape scrolls below I remind myself that when I’m in the studio I often hunger for the road. And when away, I long for the efficiency of the studio. The way it stands right now I’m almost desperate to see if I can make anything out of these river efforts that have contributed to our overload and are now up in the air with us.
PS: “There are so many dreams beyond our nights, and so much sunshine beyond our gray walls. But we can’t see it when we stay at home. There is so much sky above our roof. Is the door so old that it won’t open, or are we at home because we’re afraid of catching a chill?” (Francoise Hardy)
Esoterica: Paul Gauguin was a successful Paris banker who started painting on Sundays in 1874. When the bug got him he was soon travelling — first to Provence and Brittany, then Martinique, and then in the Pacific. His last major work, painted at Atuona in the Marquesas, was called Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?
The following are selected correspondence relating to the above letter. If you find value in any of this please feel free to copy to a friend or fellow artist. We have no other motivation than to give creative people an opportunity to share ideas and possibly broaden their capabilities. Thank you for writing.
Nervous system painting
by Titus Hoskins
No, No, No — Mr. Genn and Mr. Carroll — there is freedom in the paint but you must go beyond the paint or all is lost! As Francis Bacon said, “We only have our nervous system to paint.” Regardless of subject matter, style, or medium we are using — the only thing that is painted is our own nervous system. In my humble opinion very few artists go beyond the paint — Bacon was there on brush stroke one. Van Gogh, Munch are a few other artists on that short list. Paint with your gut not with your eye. Don’t get hung up on the paint — in this case the medium is not the message — I don’t care what that other guy says!
P.S. “In one’s own mind there are millions upon millions of streams and rivers to paint.”
Meet me at the river
by Tony O’Regan, Vancouver, BC, Canada
It was quite a coincidence that you were doing a Mackenzie River trip. I did a Fraser River painting expedition with a group of students this summer (which I advertised as “RiverBoating”). I am putting together a show of work based on this trip which will also be entitled “RiverBoating.”
I’m going to be spending time painting in the boonies next week. I love Philip Carroll’s concept that “one must become the paint”. But how do you get into that mind-space when you haven’t had days of floating along in a boat? I have a problem with making my outdoor sketches too literal (which is not at all my thing) and then chucking them because somehow the essence has escaped me. This doesn’t happen when I work from ideas generated in other ways.
(RG note) Try a few minutes of meditation before you pick up the brush. Just sit for a while, calm down, breathe deeply, be thankful for life and that you have the faculty to do what you are about to do. Then, like a gentle or a forceful wind, let it flow.
by Sandy Sandy
Last week I flew to Maine for a week long plein air watercolor workshop and it was definitely a stretch. Doing things in a new way, in a new environment, with new people was really a challenge, The wind blowing over my easel and sun drying my colors almost instantly and burning my skin to a crisp is something I rarely deal with. Ah, but the rewards of being outdoors! I’m sure you’ll agree, FAR outweighs the inconveniences! Nature is a wonderful teacher.
“People only see what they are prepared to see.” It’s also true that they only experience what they are prepared to experience. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
by Willy Nye, Philadelphia, USA
Gauguin traveled and carried his own personal view of art wherever he went. In the words of Maurice Denis: “We learned from Gauguin that every work of art is a transposition, a caricature, a passionate equivalent of a sensation which has been experienced. He freed us from all restraints which the idea of copying naturally placed on our painter’s instincts. All artists are now free to express their own personality.” Gauguin is a central character in the progress of art.
The Moon and 6M
by C S Lawrence, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
A lot of artists these days seem to be floating through life, happily producing and successful, perhaps a bit complacent—and you are one of these, Robert. Gauguin said, “I am a great artist and I know it. The reason I am great is because of all the suffering I have done.” He was desperately poor, estranged from his family, suicidal, bereaved of his daughter, and forced to use sub-standard materials. The reason he traveled to the Pacific Islands was because he thought it would be cheap.
by Brian Bledsoe, UK
The restlessness of Paul Gauguin and his perpetual moving on was as much a function of escaping his family responsibilities as the desire for new subject matter. Many of these artists which you use as examples were as primitive at using the brush as they were at handling their affairs. Gauguin was incompetent. He is famous only inasmuch as he is one of the earlier incompetents. Things would have been better had he stayed with the bank.
Art of pilgrimage
Contributed by Arla J Swift, Harrison Lake, BC, Canada
“The challenge is to learn how to carry over the quality of the journey into your everyday life. The art of pilgrimage is the craft of taking time seriously, elegantly. What every traveler confronts sooner or later is that the way we spend each day of our travel… is the way we spend our lives. Inspired by our journey, perhaps we can learn the “true life” we were searching for is here, where our travels and our home life overlap.” From The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seekers Guide to Making Travel Sacred by Phil Cousineau.
We shall not cease from exploration
And in the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time. (T. S. Eliot)
You may be interested to know that artists from 70 countries have visited these sites since March 30, 2000.
That includes Susan Holland who says she never never deletes Robert Genn or his correspondents — and wishes that all of us may “never come to the end of our rivers.”
And Ginny Brink of the UK, formerly of Africa, who says she “misses those wild spaces terribly,” and Charles Madill of Washington who says it’s all poetry anyway.