The perfect village

16

Dear Artist,

A letter came about a small painting done by my dad when he was 27:

Robert-Genn_Near-Lund_1964

“Near Lund” 1964
oil painting by
Robert Genn (1936-2014)

“My mum bought it from the Art Emporium in Vancouver in 1964. It fascinated me when I was a kid. There is a red object/figure on a rocky island. Is it a person or a building? …And at the right there is an aircraft flying away. It might be a Canso but I’m not sure. I haven’t seen it for many years and just came across it helping my mum (age 93) clean up her basement. She gave the painting to me because she is blind and said, ‘Well I can’t see it anyway, you may as well have it,’ (Bless her heart.) I still really like it and am still puzzling over it’s story, if there is one.”

She included a couple of snapshots, including of the back of the painting, which had been affixed with my Dad’s bio, circa 1964, detailing his young art life up until that point. At the end, it said he had pulled strength from his travels to return to British Columbia to find and paint the perfect village.

Robert_Genn_Silent_Village_and_a_Tribute_to_Daniel

“Silent Village and a Tribute to Daniel”
acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20 inches
by Robert Genn

I studied the painting and felt the continuity of themes I had watched my dad explore until his final work: Roschach-like foreground reflections, solitude in the wilderness, active weather, rocky forms, peacefulness, the nobility of trees. The painting’s lonely islet, real or imagined, sheltered a tiny, abstracted figure in a red jacket facing the horizon, perhaps holding a fishing pole. In the distance, a few strokes suggested a floatplane, taking off into an inclement dusk. “There is a great good in returning to a landscape that has had extraordinary meaning in one’s life,” wrote Kiowa Plains Native American poet and novelist N. Scott Momaday. “It happens that we return to such places in our minds irresistibly.” Over time, Dad’s perfect village grew strength as he painted it — a symbol of both solo respite and global connection. As artists understand, the village painted has a chance to expand and link a community of fellow travellers. Thank you for being in touch.

Robert-Genn_Village-Spring

“Village Spring”
painting by Robert Genn

Sincerely,

Sara

PS: “You need a village, if only for the pleasure of leaving it. A village means that you are not alone, knowing that in the people, the trees, the earth, there is something that belongs to you, waiting for you when you are not there.” (Cesare Parvese)

“It takes a whole village to raise a child.” (African proverb)

Esoterica: “There are certain villages and towns, mountains and plains that, having seen them walked in them, lived in them even for a day, we keep forever in the mind’s eye,” wrote N. Scott, who, at age 84, continues to teach as a visiting professor at the University of New Mexico. “They become indispensable to our well-being; they define us, and we say, I am who I am because I have been there.”

robert-genn-roquefort-en-terre,-brittany

The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are now available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“We are what we imagine. Our very existence consists in our imagination of ourselves. Our best destiny is to imagine, at least, completely, who and what, and that we are. The greatest tragedy that can befall us is to go unimagined.” (N. Scott Momaday)

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16 Comments

  1. I keep hearing an admonishment from my guides…bloom where you are planted. Travel where you must, but paint the beautiful in the things close to you and share those from your heart. It is in an artist giving their best throughout their lifetime that their story is being written with every stroke. Robert knew what he had to paint and did it so well.

  2. I like this letter on a few levels. The trees are so….your dad! I recently visited my village in Scotland, where my life started and I had that feeling you speak of. It was waiting for me. How lovely you have found the painting again. Xo

    • I long to return to Scotland, to the birthplace of my grandparents, or to Canada, the birthplace of my other grandparents. I am writing and set the stories in a small town, as close to a village as can be found in the USA. I am lucky to be where I am, here, but I write of an even better place.

  3. I am painting a village in words. It is a village filled with kindness and compassion. When I type the words, the houses and people are stiff and formal; when I write with pen they are yielding, softened and humane. Do you find the same?

    • Yes, the typed word takes your energy out of the word, the written word puts your energy into it. So I find. Your impulses must be beautiful.

      That is one of the beauties and geniuses of painting isn’t it? It is all ‘hand-written’.

  4. Thank you, Sara, for once again allowing us a glimpse into your father’s soul and also to let us view a long-completed painting from his youth. I am grateful that God gave him a kindred spirit like you for a daughter to keep the work going for all of us who are blessed and encouraged by what you both have done.

    • Thanks Sara for sharing, once again, your dad’s wonderful paintings. The few times I met Robert, here in White Rock, he was always so warm and giving. How we all miss him.
      I was wondering if the picture you mentioned in your introduction, and remarked is it a building or a figure, it does seem to be a person sitting painting. (I dug out my faithful, very old, magnifying glass.) Maybe the red is a box or seat or even a jacket swung over something. – ? The plane I must leave to you ! Thanks again Sara ! You are very generous with your sharing.

  5. This brilliant letter prompts deep felt emotion for a place in my heart that gives me such a strong sense of place… British Columbia and Washington state. I feel far away here in Ohio and daily the memories of being there touch my heart…
    Thank for sharing Sara

  6. I think it’s a figure …. someone who has arrived at that rocky place with great difficulty, using a walking stick. Perhaps you resonate with this painting because you, like your dad and all other artists, are a seeker, on a quest, to see. to look. to learn.

  7. Not that it matters, being but a minute part of this marvelous”Near Lund” painting, but I think you will find that the aircraft in the painting is a single engine amphibious aircraft Republic RC-3 Seabee with an aft facing propeller. It was the first aircraft in which at the age of five, I was introduced to the wonders of flying and the later possession of a pilot’s license for the past fifty years.

  8. In Greece, even the most sophisticated lifelong urbanites have a ‘village’. It’s a key part of their identity. Loved seeing this early work and hearing its history.

  9. Sheri-Lee Langlois on

    Hi Sara
    Is the last painting in this article of a street scene in Brittany? If not, can you tell me the location? Thank you

  10. Anitta Trotter on

    In my tenth year of life my family emigrated to Canada. That was over 56 years ago. My home town still draws me and I look forward to a fifth trip back later this year, when it is dark and dank but not as dark as it will be. Until the light returns. (4 hours 40 minutes from sunrise to sunset on Dec 22)

    Perhaps new images will form as a result. Perhaps the only benefits will be holding the hands of several aunts and uncles who are closer to the end than the beginning. Still the journey will be made.

    Thanks, Sara. The responses are not as multitudinous as earlier ones, but this is invaluable to me, at least.
    Blessings
    Anitta

  11. I love this article, Sara- the touching story of found art, your father’s wonderful villages and the Scott Momaday quotes you have brought to it all. I paint imagined villages, and on days when I’m reflecting and asking myself what the heck I’m doing, I’ll revisit this letter and be inspired all over again. This came at a good time! Thank you.

    Karen Gillis Taylor

  12. Desiree Heston on

    In the 1970s, I discovered the Kootenays in British Columbia. More specifically, we acquired a little cedar house designed by Quaker architect Elmo Wolfe on the mountain-side in the |Purcell mountains, from
    where we could overlook Kootenay lake with the ferry going to and fro. It was to there that my heart and mind returned during the long prairie winters, for refreshment, before we went to live there more long-term. It was truly soul-restoring. Thank you for this reminder of the power of place, Sara.

  13. Robin Woodworth on

    Villages of the heart, landscapes that resonate within our memories – distilled into iconic images, they deepen the experience of art in painting or writing or….

    Thank you, Sara, for writing about this inner well so effectively and sharing more of your father’s paintings.

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I am very happy to be teaching two workshops at Casa Buena Art Retreat Center again next year.  Register for one or stay for both.

THE FIGURE – Feb 20 – 27, ’19. Enjoy working with a live model using dry media. We will deal with proportion, measurement and likeness.

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My art represents an artistic journey that has been on-going for more than thirty-five years with help and guidance from many wonderful artists. Now, with years of plein-air painting experience, study and solo exhibitions, I believe that my current work has reached its highest level, reflecting the depth of my absorption in the wonder and beauty of the world around me.  I have learned that, as an artist, I will never stop looking for better ways to express my feelings in art and that struggling to more fully understand myself is integral to my painting; a philosophy that was part of every workshop I taught. Still is.
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