Ted Harrison is well known for his colourful and childlike paintings of the Yukon. Coming from a background in teaching and academic painting he started painting afresh in mid life. Purple skies, red dogs, yellow snow and blue moose inhabit his unique world. Ted likes to tell the story of a customer who complained that two men in one of his paintings were carrying a dead moose. “Any fool knows that two men can’t carry a dead moose,” protested the customer. “Correct,” said Ted, “but two men can carry a blue moose.”
John Keats noted, “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter.” Here are a few methods to use in your search for the unheard melodies:
Books, magazines, media give the “mix and match” advantage.
If you are invited to tell lies, save them for paintings.
Work in places such as the gondolas of hot-air balloons.
Don’t always try to get it right. Try to get it wrong.
Fall gently in love with the world of your imagination.
Listen to music. It’s abstract. Anything can happen.
Practice “syntagma” — things that suggest other things.
Watch children at play: acting, watching, morphing.
Take off your clothes and roll around in the snow.
Pause often and fire up the “what could be” mode.
Consider doing one or two works with your foot.
Understand the terms “Metaphor” and “Simile.”
Never underestimate the value of alcohol.
Use your funny bone — incongruity rules.
Try to learn something new every day.
Don’t keep doing the same old stuff.
Don’t take yourself too seriously.
Don’t worry, be silly.
PS: “If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.” (Katharine Hepburn) “Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.” (Miles Davis) “The universe is real but you can’t see it. You have to imagine it. Once you imagine it, you can be realistic about reproducing it.” (Alexander Calder)
Esoterica: We have a lovely Ted Harrison in our dining room. It shows a nude woman (blue), a raven, a moose (blue), a totem pole, and two cats. Don’t ask me. “Blue moose, you’ve got me crying for you?”
The following are selected correspondence arising from the above and other letters. Thanks for writing.
Family of blue giraffes
by Margot Hattingh, South Africa
Picasso said, “It takes a very long time to become young.” To look at the world and recreate it with an innocent eye is a challenge for any artist, bombarded as we are with image overload. What is it about blue animals? For the last year or so I’ve been painting a series of blue giraffes — very unlike the rest of my work — and having an enormous amount of fun with them. A couple have met, flirted, and have now had a baby. They were my entree into a world of delighted enchantment and are busy leading me down the garden path to other animals and situations. All I can say is that it’s never too late to have a happy childhood!
Having fun and being silly
by Vivian Kuhn, Kelowna, B.C. Canada
Ted Harrison… I have always loved his work. You must know that I enjoy being silly and having fun with my art. There are the realists out there who cannot understand nor appreciate it. Every once in awhile I get another jog to remind me that it’s just fine to be an individual… me… and find the playfulness of being an artist.
What’s stopping me?
by Larry Moore, Orlando, FL, USA
It’s funny this struggle to create. The initial stage of learning how to apply paint is a battle in and of itself but the what and why part of it is even more difficult. As an illustrator I’m always conjuring up (I hope) creative, imaginary and nonexistent scenes that tell stories to the viewer. However, as a plein air painter I find myself engrossed in the task of just recording what I see. The two processes, for me, could not be any different. But frequently I ask myself, “Why should they be different?” I get into the studio to do larger works from my sketches and that’s what I end up with. For some reason I’m afraid to apply the process I use in illustration to my landscapes and I wish I knew why. Or what’s stopping me from trying something different.
by Joye Moon, Wisconsin, USA
I was 34 at the time when I was finally graduating from college. I was on the 16-year plan being a mom of 2 kids with a husband who couldn’t understand why I wanted to go back to college! But I was so thankful to be back at school, soaking up everything like a sponge and cherishing every moment! My figure drawing teacher was one of these struggling artists who could bring the entire class down to his miserable level just by walking into the room. Tension! It was awful and I did not enjoy that class at all because of his misery. In later years, my family was on vacation to the East Coast and we got together with him one evening at his summer house. It was a lovely evening! We discussed our art philosophies and I was very honest with mine. I explained how art for me comes from joy and love and a celebration of life. He looked at me quite puzzled but said that he was happy that I could express myself without being schmaltzy with it. And we let things go at that.
Recently, the faculty had an exhibit that I attended and this instructor’s work just blew me away! It was colorful, cheery, uplifting and fun! How could this be after so many years of gray, dark, lifeless landscapes? He made a special effort to search me out in the crowd to tell me that he finally got it! He actually told me that he thought he had spent enough of his life pretending to be miserable and felt it was high time to enjoy life and his art! He has a new marriage, which was probably the key element to his turn-about. It did my heart good to see this transformation! I am so happy for him and he is now happy and his work is a true barometer as proof! I just wanted to share how our life can impact us all differently. I was struggling, but with joy, he was struggling, but with pain. And it showed in both our works.
by Olinda Everett, Sao Paulo, Brazil
In the shower, on waking up, while shopping for groceries in the mall, after a night out (don’t underestimate the power of alcohol) one has wonderful ideas for exuberant and spontaneous creation. With your tool in your hand, you address the dream. Your hand falls only too easily into that groove that has been carved inside you by time and custom. It is the hardest thing, to break that rut, even a little bit.
by Barbara Elizabeth Mercer, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
My view in looking back over a lifetime of painting, sculpting, composing music, writing poetry is that I have found my passion in every love affair, the beginning, middle and end. I work in series until I have placed it in perspective. As in a mandala, working around the edges exploring every facet, every angle until I reach the centre and face some truth including celibacy. I can count my love experiences through each series, these being the tensions, beauty, fulfillment, joy, and the spiritual realm. At this point I am a happy artist, even though my work has been given recognition and does not sell well. The next love affair will produce a new series, and become another verse in the poem of my life. At the center is passionate love.
Address problem at the core
by Cassandra James, Austin, Texas, USA
The idea is to accept tension as a semi-natural state, recognizing that it’s a rich source and knowing where it comes from so you can tap into it. At the same time I watch students struggle with all sorts of problems that they think keep them from doing their work. My best work is done after hanging a good show and looking at it for a month, or working toward a deadline (there’s a certain edginess in the adrenaline rush). It’s a good idea to address some problem at the core (contrasting elements, manifestation of the nightmare, celebration of the ordinary).
Make a delivery
Heightened sexuality takes place for me as soon as I have made a delivery. This is also true for my lady (who is also an artist). We feel “permitted” at this point and our activity is considered part of the reward. Lovemaking during and around the actual production of art tends to take the edge off the work. It is easy to become relaxed and lazy with the sense of well-being that occurs afterwards. Having said that, she is faster at getting back to work than I am. But we feel we have fine-tuned our loving and it has enriched and made more sacred all of our worlds including the artistic one.
Balancing sex and art
Your discussion about sexual tension has caused quite a bit of talk in our women’s art group. We were amazed to find the variety of experiences. I’m sure you are going to hear from some of us with different points of view. I was one who came out in favor of regular sex as a stimulus to the creative mode. (Another woman and myself are the most successful of our group) I drew attention to the balancing that sexuality brings to a creative person. Some may be surprised that part of this balancing, in my situation, is that art is something I do to a canvas. While there is sharing of course, sex is something that is done to me. That’s what I like about it and my partner does too. Art and sex are three-letter words. One takes me completely away from the other. When he wants me it is a welcome distraction. The other (successful) woman maintained that sex is of little interest and a nuisance during her long periods of heightened excitement with painting. Interesting.
Concentration is better
Name withheld by request
I, like ten percent of the female population, am non-orgasmic. At the present time I have neither the opportunity nor the inclination. I feel I am able to concentrate on my art. This does not bother me in the slightest and in a way I think my work and I am better for it. My emotions are uncluttered. Like Picasso, I put my orgasms on canvas.
The following are a few more of the 400 or so entries that have come in since the contest was announced. They are not necessarily finalists in the “Free Painting Workshop in Brittany with Robert Genn” contest. The contest is open until June 15, 2002.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 100 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2002.