Two contemporary artists to study

When I’m traveling, people often suggest that I look at the work of an artist I don’t know. Here are two I met this summer.
The Dinner Hour, 2006, egg tempera, Tom Forrestall, courtesy Mira Godard Gallery, Toronto 

Tom Forrestallis a magical realist, a term coined in the 1920s by art critic Franz Roh. He meant visual art that explores the inner mystery of our apparently mundane lives. That was in contrast to surrealism, which imposes magic on everyday life.

“[Magic realism] employs various techniques that endow all things with a deeper meaning and reveal mysteries that always threaten the secure tranquility of simple and ingenuous things…. it is a question of representing before our eyes, in an intuitive way, the fact, the interior figure, of the exterior world,” wrote Roh.
In my opinion, Andrew Wyeth is a magical realist, because his narratives transcend mere realism. Forrestall is often called the “Canadian Wyeth” because of his similarity to Wyeth, both in content and because of his meticulous application of egg tempera.
Moon, egg tempera, c. 1971, Tom Forrestall, courtesy Atlantic Fine Art
Forrestall rejects the notion that paintings should always be rectangular, and makes them in fanciful shapes. The Dinner Hour, at top, is an homage to his late wife, Natalie. Forrestall wrote on the back: “Natalie’s little cross over her kitchen door she hung there many years ago — true to her Acadian roots, it shall hang there while I’m still around.” He and Natalie married in 1958, and she ran his art business and household. “She managed things extremely well and it never rattled her with all these six kids,” Forrestall said.
Forrestall came from Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley. He attended Saturday morning art classes at the Nova Scotia College of Art in Halifax. He was awarded a scholarship to the Fine Arts department at Mount Allison University, where he studied with Canadian greats Lawren Harris and Alex Colville. He received one of the first Canada Council grants for independent study, which allowed him to travel throughout Europe. He has been a freelance artist since 1960. He was introduced to me by Nova Scotian artists Michael Fullerand Krista Wells.
Water Filled Quarry, oil on linen, Joellyn Duesberry, courtesy Joellyn Duesberry 
Last weekend at Rye Painters on Location, an auction-goer told me that my work reminded her of the late Joellyn Toler Duesberry. Duesberry once said of her art, “I am not interested in a realist painting, I am not interested in an abstract painting. I am interested in the tension.” That’s a sentiment that rings true to me, although I don’t really see too much similarity in our work.
Duesberry was raised in rural Virginia, and had a deep connection to landscape. “All my life I think I’ve unconsciously tried to re-create the place where bliss or terror first came to me,” she said. “Both emotions seemed so strong that I had to locate them outside of myself, in the land.”
She received a BA with Distinction in art history and painting from Smith College and was awarded a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. She then earned her master’s degree at New York University Institute of Fine Arts.
Rainy Morning in Maine II, 2009, monotype, Joellyn Duesberry, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art
She moved to Denver in 1985, saying that the clearer air revealed more of the sharp bones of the landscape. But she also spent 40 years painting on the Maine coast. She cited John Marin and Milton Avery as the greatest influences in her art.
In 1986 she was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant. This enabled her to work with Richard Diebenkorn. He encouraged her to try monotype printing, and she began actively producing and exhibiting her monotypes along with her plein-air paintings.

The Big Empty

To survive in an uninhabited land, you need community. The next crisis may be yours.

New Puppy, by Carol L. Douglas, 8×10, oil on canvas.

There’s a vixen that sits on the shoulder of a road here, glorying in the sun. When I first saw her, I thought about calling animal control, because that’s unusual behavior for a fox. I’ve since learned that she took a wire to the muzzle. It became infected and a Good Samaritan fed her antibiotic-laced meat to save her life. Now, she’s a local pet of sorts. A certain person (whose name I won’t mention) gives her dog biscuits. Others feed her Timbits. Still others despair that she’s running with a bad crowd, and her new friends will rob her of the ability to live a normal fox life.

It’s no surprise that people feed her. She’s cute.

I’ve lived in my small town in Maine for four years, and I don’t know this much about anything that happens there. And I’m, as they say, plugged in.

Rural Canadians can talk a hind leg off a donkey (I like that). They’re outgoing compared to their New England cousins. It’s not just Nova Scotians, either. On Monday an Edmonton, Alberta man chatted with me as I loaded my car. I now know more about him than I do about either of my neighbors back in Maine.
If I took up all the invitations I’ve received, I’d never get home. A man showed me photos of his spectacular view. He’d moved here from Hamilton, Ontario. “That’s a six-million-dollar view back home,” I said. He nodded enthusiastically. He really wants artists to come paint it.
Pink sand, by Carol L. Douglas, 8×10, oil on canvas.
Almost one in four Canadians live in the so-called Golden Horseshoe that wraps around Toronto (which includes Hamilton). Four of five Canadians live in cities. The rest of Canada is essentially empty. Rural Canadians can’t afford to be stand-offish. To survive in what is essentially a wilderness, you need to cultivate community. The next disaster or crisis may be yours.
Parrsboro, with a population of 1,205, is a regional hub in Cumberland County. It has a small co-op and a Pharmasave, along with a smattering of other businesses. The town is a third the size it was a century ago, but that doesn’t mean it’s going “gentle into that good night.”
I disturbed Krista Wells at her workspace in Artlab yesterday. She was reading a consultant’s report for a proposed civic project. Her partner, Michael Fuller, wasn’t around, but I’d seen him earlier at a meeting about another project. This community built the Ship’s Company Theatre and the Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival. For them, nothing is impossible.
The Black House, by Carol L. Douglas. This was my attempt at chiller-thriller, but my boy model was so busy pounding his friend I never asked him if he found the black house scary.
On Monday I drove to Lunenburg, which is south of Halifax on Nova Scotia’s South Shore. This is the home of the Smith & Rhuland Shipyard, where Bluenose was built. My father had a pleasure craft built in Nova Scotia to a Roué design, so it was a pilgrimage for me. It’s also the home port for Bluenose II and Picton Castle, although both boats were, perversely, in Buffalo at the time.
It’s a lovely little town, with opportunities for great painting, but it reminded me powerfully of Camden. In other words, there are too many tourists milling around. I’ll be back during the shoulder season, but for now I prefer the ranginess of Parrsboro.
I’m not alone. On Saturday, I met an artist from Halifax, in Parrsboro for a workshop. “I love it here,” she said wistfully. “I could live here.” Perhaps someday, she will.