The dancers of the National Ballet of Canada joyfully defy gravity, if only for a brief moment in practice. The athleticism and discipline required of them is as great, if not more so than the greatest athletes. Musicality, artistry, and acting are also required of them. I have depicted the dancer in the foreground, beads of sweat forming on her back, as like Degas, I am more interested in the process and studio practice, than the final performance of Ballet.
This painting, entitled Every Morning - I did in 1995, was of my son Kai playing with duplo (large lego). At the time, I was painting portraits and parenting full-time. The painting in the background was entitled, Sunday Morning, and was done by an amazing Canadian painter by the name of Jack Chambers (I don't own the original). Jack Chambers would have produced many master works had he not died young of leukemia. This piece is an homage painting to him, as I am fairly certain he was in the same kind of domestic routine and mindset as I was when he did his painting. The City of Calgary purchased this painting many years ago, and I just learned this week that it will be featured on Bus shelters with other artist's work around Calgary in the next couple of years.
I remember sitting watching the credits in a movie theatre at the end of the movie 'Field of Dreams.' Emotionally, I recall my throat constrict with emotion during the final scene when Ray Kinsella asks to have a catch with his dad. I was angry that my emotions had been accessed and temporarily hijacked by Hollywood - but also was compelled to meet the creative force behind the story. As I was doing a lot of figurative painting, I contacted W.P. Kinsella, and told him that I needed to meet and paint him. He said that he would be happy to meet with me, and shortly after, my wife and I drove to White Rock B.C., where he was living in an apartment that overlooked the ocean. Our meeting with him played out pretty closely to the movie, as my wife stood at his apartment intercom, and he asked me who the hell I was (just like the character Thomas Mann), and what I wanted. Eventually I talked my way in, and he opened the door and let us in. It helped when I mentioned that he had taught writing at the University of Calgary with my mom, and he said ... "Ah, Beverly ....she was O.K. He revealed that he was diabetic and needed something to eat pretty quickly. Now we call someone in this cantankerous state of imbalanced blood sugar as 'hangry.' I did this painting of him from our visit, and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts bought it. Bill told me recently that he regretted not buying it. Field of Dreams is my favourite movie - and will likely remain so. Thank you for manipulating my emotions, Bill - the closing scene does it every time.
A couple of summers ago, I was able to make an artist's dream trip to Europe with my wife and sons. I had always wanted to see the Sistine Chapel, and the Piéta in Rome. A friend of ours worked at the Vatican, and she insisted that she book us a tour of the tombs below the Vatican. As we toured each Mausoleum that the Vatican is built upon, it was explained to us that the tombs were Pagan, and were built for wealthy families. Then we got to the first Christian tomb,which is very close to where the bones of St. Peter have been discovered. Being a fisherman -my second passion to making art, there was a mosaic of a fisherman in the first wealthy family Christian tomb. All I could think of is - why have I never seen this in a Art history book?
The idea has been percolating for awhile with me now to do a painting inspired by this piece. I just completed it early this morning. It is of two of my friends fishing for pike on the fly at a local man-made reservoir. It is at dusk, and there is a hazy beautiful sunset, unfortunately created by the Fort MacMurray forest fires blazing up North, which were at their peak that evening. I was painting watercolours from the shore, and my friends were pulling up to shore to pick me up.
I recently held a contest on Facebook to name this painting, and a person by the name of Rea Tarvydas submitted one that my fishing friends chose called, "No Clear Line," based on this quote by author and fly-fisherman, Norman MacLean. I feel that the title and the quote it is derived from best sums up the whole process of this painting.
“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in Western Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others. He told us about Christ's disciples being fishermen, and we were left to assume, as my brother and I did, that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen and that John, the favorite, was a dry-fly fisherman.”
-Norman Maclean, "A River Runs Through It."
And thanks Barbara - for insisting that I venture below the Vatican.
Having a young aspiring portrait photographer take my photo last night got me to thinking of one great artist, who was in fact the greatest portrait photographer who ever lived, who influenced me in how he approached his art. He was the Forest Gump of photography, seemingly able to photograph every influential human of the 20th Century. Karsh said simply of his art, " My chief joy is to photograph the great in heart, in mind, and in spirit, whether they be famous or humble."
As a young, aspiring painter in 1990, I sought out to meet paint portraits of artists who inspired me. One of them was Yousuf Karsh. I wrote him a letter, and was very surprised that he wrote me back, let alone considered my young, idealistic request. Mr. Karsh was truly generous in all three of the qualities that he looked for in his subjects.
Taking a page from the New Yorker cartoon caption contest, which I love to enter weekly - I would like you to come up with a name for my latest painting. If it helps, the painting is of two friends of mine in a boat after a day of pike fishing on the fly. The painting was inspired by a mosaic that I saw in a tomb underneath the Vatican just feet away from the bones of St. Peter. The painting is also inspired by painter Tom Thompson's 'Northern River,' and technically by Salvador Dali.
Just write your name idea (as many as you like) in my Paul Rasporich, Artist Facebook comment box
If I choose your name for the painting, you will receive by mail, an original watercolour I did on the very same fishing trip! The deadline for the name is July 15th, and the lucky winner will be announced on July 16th.
In the Spring of 1931, the Lakota Holy man Nicholas Black Elk had finished recounting his vision and life story to poet John G. Neihardt, whom he said he had been waiting for to help and save his vision for mankind. After he had recounted his vision and life to John, Black Elk said that he would soon be under the grass and before he died he wanted to go again to the center of the earth (Harney Peak) where he had been taken in his vision. On the morning of May 30th, Black Elk, Ben Black Elk (son), John Neihardt and his daughters Hilda and Enid set out to hike to the top of Harney Peak to fulfill Black Elk’s wish. On the long hike to the summit, Black Elk remarked to his son Ben that if had any power left in him that there should be a little lightning, thunder, and rain up on that mountaintop, which seemed odd as there were no clouds in the sky. This is how John Neihardt’s daughter Hilda ( then 15 years old) recounted the day in her book Black Elk and Flaming Rainbow,
“Black Elk had carefully planned what would happen on the peak. Before leaving Manderson, he had purchased a pair of red flannel underwear. In his vision his whole body had been painted red, and to reenact the scene on this day, he really should have been naked, his body painted red, only wearing a breechclout. But Enid (sister) and I were there and he did not wish to embarrass us. Thus the red underwear.”
When they reached the summit, those present stood behind Black Elk as he stood on the mountaintop, offering and holding his pipe with its buffalo-hide-covered mouthpiece toward the sky, reaching out with his other hand, praying.
As Hilda Neihardt recalls some of Black Elk’s words,
“Tunkashila, Wakan Tanka [Grandfather, Great Mysterious], you have been always, and before you nothing has been…. There is nothing to pray to but you, You, yourself, everything that you see, everything has been made by you. The four quarters of the earth you have finished; the day, and in that day, everything you have finished. Grandfather, lean close to the earth, that you may hear the voice I send. Grandfather, Great Mysterious, all over the world the faces of living things are alike. In tenderness, they have come up out of the ground. Look upon your children, with their children in their arms, that they may face the winds, and walk the good road to the day of quiet. In sending up my voice I pray that you may cause the tree to bloom again so that my people may see happy days. My grandfathers, you have sent me to the center of the earth and showed me the good things that were to be. Here me now, that my people may live.”
As Hilda Neihardt observed,
“As Black Elk prayed, a little black cloud had come overhead, and a scant, cool rain began to fall. As the drops of rain mingled with the tears running down his face, the holy man cried out, “Oh, make my people live!”
The little black cloud went back the way it had come, and the rain stopped.
I'm still pinching myself from an incredible day of painting yesterday. I called Ian Tyson a couple of weeks ago, and told him that I had been thinking for a long time about painting the skull of his beloved Texas Longhorn, Billy that sits among some large rocks outside of his stonehouse studio. He said that I should do just that, as Billy needed to be memorialized. Yesterday was an unbelievably warm March day in Alberta (a Chinook, Leonardo) - so I made the trek to the T-Y Ranch. As I walked up to his studio, I could hear him practicing his guitar, and trademark ropey riffs that sound very much like the guitar players I heard in Grenada, Spain a couple of summers ago - where the Cowboy came from. I didn't bother Ian, even though his door was open, and I set up my easel to do some watercolour sketches of his beloved Billy, in preparation for a bigger painting down the road. Ian came out of his studio, healthy, happy, and grateful that Billy was going to be immortalized. The best part of the afternoon, however, was spent painting in the sunshine, drinking coffee, and listening to the legend Ian Tyson sing and play many of his greatest songs, from his open studio right behind me, on the otherwise silent high prairie. It just doesn't get any better than that.
I love Norman Rockwell's work. He was a natural storyteller, thus, his work was narrative, and always figurative. He had incredible technique, a serious work ethic, and a cinematic eye to boot. He could have easily been a film-maker and director. His messages when he did serious themes were also spot on. In an age of discord on social media regarding belief, I think this is still one of my favourite pieces by him. Should maybe just be changed to 'their conscience.'
Four Freedoms, The Freedom to Worship, Norman Rockwell
Paul's recent drawings were featured art work for Ian Tyson's latest album, Carnero Vaquero,
About Carnero Vaquero, Paul says,
"Ian wanted something like a colourful photo like other artists that might sell well at Wal-Mart, and I fought him on that. I said that it needed to look like an old Will James book. I had no idea that at the time he was planning to redo his song Will James for this album. I did a lot of drawings of random things at his ranch. The ones he liked best were the ram skull, a horseshoe, and one of him riding his horse Bud, which we end up putting on the back cover. Neither Ian or I could come up with a name. I suggested that he have a contest on his Facebook site, to which he said - "That ain't never gonna work, Rasper." Well, I convinced him to post the artwork the next day, and ask for submissions from facebook and his Fan Club, and we had over 600 names in just two days! Ian liked the name Carnero Vaquero submitted by a lady in Missouri named Cindy Ford best, which means Ram/Cowboy in Spanish. What was very eerie about the whole process, was that when I was driving over to Ian's to show him the finished artwork, over the radio came the news that the World's largest Ram had just been announced to be one that was found struck by a car, not five miles away from Ian's ranch."