Allen Sapp, one of Canada’s most collected aboriginal painters, was given encouragement and support in his youth by a young doctor who believed in him. He was supplied with burnt sienna, ultramarine blue, yellow ochre, black and white. Allen worked with this palette for some time before he found there were others available. Today, forty years later, his color range is still modest, but his imagination is great. I think that the remarkable strength of his painting is at least partly due to the self training that took place under this early limitation.
I’m in the easel-station of Alexander Mackenzie trying to get the most out of a simple palette. It’s not out of privation — we have on board virtually every pigment that one manufacturer makes. I’m consciously trying to pull paintings together with body color of Jenkins Green and Burnt Sienna. I’m mostly glazing with Quinacridone Gold and Phthalo Blue. There’s none of what psychologists call “analysis paralysis” here. Both Sara and I have noted they’re flowing like hot-cross buns.
The predominant shifts are mainly determined by the time of day, the interaction of the sky and the water, the mother-color of the dominant elements. Over the days of this journey a kind of energetic serenity has set in. Something happens with the mixture of space and time. I feel a sense of story. Others have told me you can feel it in your brush, and I do now. A family of mergansers swims close by — the young are almost ready to fly south. Perhaps you have felt it too — it has something to do with purity.
PS: “I can’t tell a story in the white man’s language, so I say what I want to say with my paintings.” (Allen Sapp)
Esoterica: In Cree philosophy, of which Allen is a proponent, they often refer to their god as “The Owner.” This spirit is the source of the land, its fruits and all its beings. The job of humans, apart from the requirement of getting along with each other, is to honor and respect his efforts. Here, in this remote corner of the owner’s garden there’s not a plastic bag or a tin can. I have a distinct feeling of guilt when I release the last of my paint-water into the pristine stream.
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.
Be concerned and paint
Contributed by Victor Morgan, Caerleon, Gwent, Great Britain
“In the late 16th century the brothers Carracci established the academies and the apprentices spent many years learning the ‘rules’ of the Arts. It was only the very few indeed that ever recovered sufficiently from this experience to become great painters. It’s interesting to note that the Academies were established in Italy in the 16th century and from that time Italy lost its position as the ‘Power-house’ of the Arts, which it had held since the 13th century. If the learning process destroys the excitement, the involvement, the ability to respond, then we lose by that learning. This does not mean that the painter must work with no rules, but rather from historical example and his own concerns. Many a student, in his excitement and innocence, has broken almost all the rules and as a result has produced important work. The one rule that was not broken was that he was concerned. The only rule which I would write for the would-be painter is: ‘Be concerned and paint.’ ” (Gordon J Wootton, ARCA)
I’m surprised that you would feature Allen Sapp. Without the active guidance of his dealers who tell him what to paint and title his paintings for him, set him up with the Order of Canada etc., Sapp would still be an unknown back on the reserve. It’s a good example of cashing in on an innocent native by keeping him on track.
by Per Davidson
Sapp’s work, while essentially unschooled, is indeed remarkable in its simplicity and honesty, and makes a bridge between Western Art and the naïve and spiritual art of the plains Indians. His work is academically sound though in no way sophisticated, his technique remains consistent, and this together with the memories of his life on the reserve which he makes real for us, lifts his work to a level of charm and memorability.
(RG note) Allen Sapp’s work can be seen at www.assiniboia.com
by William Watt, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
There is more to painting in the out-of-doors than first meets the eye. When someone goes to great effort to be where others have not been — and sits at the very foot of Nature and struggles with Her moods and details — no matter how jaded or commercial his or her motives might be — there is a communion to be had that cannot be at all an unrewarding or bad pursuit for the likes of mankind.
by I. Jean Pastula Ph.D.
As an older Artist, I began wearing glasses. My paintings became very sharp, scientific, boring and too perfect looking (very photo-realistic) Realizing that Artists work with the right side of the brain, and with color receptors in the eyes, I took off the glasses.
Glasses were for the black and white receptors of the eye, weak because I am a colorist. One doctor explained that an Artist, working in color, develops those sections, already strong, related to the reception of light fractions, and the Color Cones become the dominant gland in the eyes… thus, glasses, focusing with the weak black and white areas, blur and distort my natural color ability. In other words, an Artist’s (colorist’s) eyes are the exact opposite of ‘Color Blindness’ A true colorist is black and white blind!
I now wear glasses to read your letters, but keep my colors real and natural without them. So now you know my secret, I paint with my God given gift of color reception, no glasses. My paintings are glowing with the skill hidden, before, by the lens!
(RG note) A book about artists’ sight — with valuable historical references: The World Through Blunted Sight by Patrick Trevor-Roper.
by Leni Friedland, Mt. Sinai, NY, USA
I wrote a curriculum and taught children’s multi-media workshop this summer for two weeks. I limited them to primary colors — cool in both transparent watercolor and opaque acrylic. Ages 6 1/2 to 12. You should have seen the myriad of mixes for greens and violets and oranges. Great learning experience that all adult painters should definitely try.
by Bonita Silver
Being a self taught artist, I began my artistry with black ink on paper. I continued to use only ink because I needed to express the basic contrast of black versus white. I did all design works like this for at least 20 years. It wasn’t until I wanted to show my works that I moved very slowly into painting with oil and acrylics. The colours first used were gold and gray in combination with black and white. I felt that the colour distracted from the work, so it was introduced very slowly.
With the execution of my 5′ x 5′ piece called “Timeless,” which is a story line of Hollywood for the 20th century, I played with colour extensively and found that working with many colours was difficult. I still prefer today to work only with a minimum amount of colours. I presently use a limited array of iridescent colours as they were the most predominant colours during the Art Deco period.
Colour has a great deal of impact with what you are trying to get across to the public. Being a new age Art Deco artist who eats, sleeps and thinks in Deco, the iridescent are reminisent of the artistry which was first introduced in the 1920s and ’30s. By affiliating the colours to the work and unifying the past to the present, the old becomes new. As a point of interest to all who read this, during the 1920s, King Tut’s tomb was found and the colours which came from this discovery assisted in bringing the iridescent into the world of Art Deco. I maintain this in my work so the past is not forgotten.
To some, I would be considered a purest artisan because I maintain a reason why specific colours are used, thereby maintaining the story of the past and keeping the true essence of this artistry alive for the future.
A large array of colour is only necessary as you see it, and for some artists, least is best.
by Judy Lalingo, Ontario, Canada
I’ve found that I can achieve practically any colour with white, yellow ochre, burnt sienna, ultramarine blue and burnt umber… I keep tubes of cadmium red and yellow, as well as cerulean and cobalt blues for some variance when needed. But for me, understanding the nature of a limited palette brings the freedom of knowing exactly what that hue will do in any given circumstance. Frees me up to get to the “real” work, if you will… I am a realist, and perhaps my objective is more about “what” I’m saying, rather than “how” I say it.
Don’t fix it
by Gerard Pas
I selfishly locked my studio door and have been painting these last weeks, oblivious to the world and my other responsibilities. Those of you who are busy know how much time gets eaten out of just getting to work on the art. So I feel no remorse, at least none that my therapist can’t fix for a few hundred dollars. I only regret that I may have failed you in taking the time to make my own art. I promise I’ll make it up to you. I always do in spades and through years of counseling it works out.
by J Coulombe, Lyons, France
Some people are so analysis prone that they make themselves into lousy artists. Creativity involves jumping in and letting the intuition take over. This may of course be tempered with a lifetime of practice and experimentation — but the important thing is still commitment before the paralysis shows up.
You may be interested to know that artists from 70 countries have visited these sites since March 30, 2000.
That includes Christos B Minot of Boulder, Colorado who advises all of us to prepare our questions rather than our answers, and Bridget, somewhere in southwest England who says, “My ideas outstrip my time for painting. My brain is a logjam of work not realized.”
And L.W. Hall of Wimbledon, UK, who says that the “letters and their responses are the best art thing on the Internet. They’re not time consuming.”