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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
Parrsboro, NS, is working its way into being a regional arts center.
Breaking Dawn, by Carol L. Douglas. Second runner up at Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival.
This weekend there were lots of well-known faces at the Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival. Organizers snagged Richard Sneary to judge, and there were high-profile painters in the mix. It was a festival of luminaries, and the painting was first-rate. I’m hoping that translates into Parrsboro becoming an arts destination for tourists and city-slickers.
It’s not an impossible dream. Five miles down the road from my home is Rockland, ME. It started as a shipbuilding and fishing town, expanding to include canneries, grain mills, foundries, lumber mills, cooperies, tanneries, quarries, and other miscellany of coastal living. By the mid-twentieth century, its historic industries were moribund.
The Age of Sail workshop aboard American Eagle was scheduled to coincide with a gam, a rafting up of the historic vessels on Penobscot Bay.
Enter the Farnsworth Art Museum, established by Lucy Farnsworth in 1948. It’s now the nucleus of a gallery scene that now rivals any art scene anywhere, both in volume and in quality. Roughly 36.7 million tourists visited Maine in 2017, and we’re on track to break 40 million this year or next. Art is a big part of that tourism, and an important part of Maine’s image. I wish that for Parrsboro. If anyone can do it, the folks at Parrsboro Creative can. They’re smart, focused people.
One of the nicest things about traveling is meeting new people who tell me, “I read your blog.” This weekend, many added that they subscribe to two art things, my blog and Poppy Balser’s newsletter. We’re both daughters of the Great White North and we both love boats. Poppy is a terrifically nice person, so I don’t mind at all being lumped in with her.
Hard at work about American Eagle, photo courtesy Ellen Trayer.
My blog is an example of that old maxim about genius being 99% perspiration. It works because I get up early every morning to write it, Monday to Friday. Other than holidays, the only time I don’t write is when I’m out of network range, which was the case during last week’s Age of Sailworkshop.
It’s such a pity that I couldn’t share it with you because it was downright magical. American Eagle should really be called the Kindness, because the crew is so good-hearted. Any doubts as to whether a painting workshop on a boat could work were laid to rest. All participants enthusiastically said they’d do it again next year.
Ellen demonstrates a paint-throwing technique to Lynn. We waited until we were off the boat before we did this.
Michael Fuller isn’t a plein air artist but he gamely tried the Quick Draw at Parrsboro anyway. “It makes you notice the transient things,” he told me. I think that’s what the boat workshop did as well. In a sketchbook done on the move, one takes away impressions, not finished pieces. The discipline will make you put away your cell phone and change how you work.
The discipline of getting up early is equally hard to break. I found myself restively trying to ‘sleep in’ on Saturday, so at 4:30 AM (Atlantic time) I quietly dressed and headed from my host billet near Fox River to the beach below Ottawa House. I stopped for coffee and a bagel at Tim Hortons and figured I was too late for the sunrise. I was wrong; the subtle pyrotechnics went on for some time.
This piece was the second runner-up, or third prize winner. I figured Richard Sneary gave it to me as a reward for being the only person nuts enough to get up that early.
Neither Parrsboro Creative nor American Eagle have set their calendar for next year, but I have every intention of doing both again. It was a wonderful week. I’m just sorry that you couldn’t be there with me.