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Saturday, October 2, 2010

An Artist's Life

As I take these notes I am sitting in a chair watching Bruce Campbell
and Alan Syliboy create a new work of art; acrylic on canvas. There are not many other people in the room and it is as if I was their patron, scrutinizing the work in progress as it develops at my feet. Or it would be like that if I was not in awe of this collaborative painting process.

I first met Alan Syliboy's work when I was in University, the early years. I attended a talk he gave at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax and was smitten by his understated manner.

This evening was no different.

He was pleasant, unassuming and chatty. During a coffee break he sat beside me and discussed his work and reminisced about the talk he had given at the Art Gallery that I had attended so many years ago.

Bagpipes and fiddles came floating in through the open window where the blue base on the canvas stood drying before the next layer was applied. Beyond this room commenced the maiden voyage of the Arts event aptly named Antigonight.

This room, on the third floor of an empty downtown building, was the site for one of two painting exhibits in the show. The red and white diamond tiled linoleum was covered by a large drop sheet. Big jars of blue and yellow paint were open on the floor. The canvas, now standing, had been laid on the floor for the application of the blue base layer.

I talked with Alan about working in a new space and with an audience- he didn't mind. It was a new experience and he welcomed those.
In his studio he might work on the floor, a table, on an easel. He had no set parameters.

As he finished his coffee and got ready to paint some more he said, "Caffeine driven painting is always interesting."

Discussing paint and techniques, he said all his paint was bought on sale and as for technique, he used whatever was at hand including his own, to mix paint. Hands, fingernails, and plastic knives were a good means to create texture.

The blue background was still tacky but dry enough to add another layer and the two artist set to work once again. They smeared their hands with red paint and filled the sky with their imprints.

Next, Bruce suggested, they do a frieze of feet on the bottom, all pointing in one direction with one golden foot amidst a path of brilliant pink footprints.

Alan asked, "Why a gold foot?"

Bruce, alluding to a quirk in one of Alan's other paintings said, "It's like a caribou going backward".

The two painters sat and chatted about feet, positioning, colour etc. Then it was time to refuel: pizza.

Bruce kept looking at the painting and every few moments would interject into the conversation, " We've got to get the ground down. We've got to get the ground down." The painting, I will mention here, had a guiding theme of environmentalism and man's impact on the earth. Finally, I could stand to stay silent no more and said to Bruce, "Yes, but I heard that may take 6 days."

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