Alex Janvier continues his hold on me. A month ago I posted in this space about his career retrospective at the National Gallery of Canada (see Feb. 1, Day 32, “Crying in the Gallery). His mostly abstract work is so emotionally charged and impressive, and his story of enduring residential schools so heart-wrenching, it was impossible to not be moved by his show. Through his art his love of beauty and nature, his exorcising of the demons of his past experiences, and his pride in being a First Nations artist come through so powerfully. It didn’t take me long to learn to love the man and his work.
This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend an event that featured a conversation with Janvier. It was a chance to hear him tell his story and to give a painting display live and in person to the few hundred people gathered there that day. It was a rapt crowd hanging on the words of this sweet, funny octogenarian. We were also swept up in the moment of watching him create before our eyes. Here are some photos I took at the event:
I found myself so taken with Janvier and his art that I came into work on Monday and decided to paint on circles. Now, understand, Janvier does not paint exclusively on circles but it is the format that stands out about his work. Despite the fact that gallery curators like to talk about the circle as representing “aboriginal cosmology” and such, Janvier himself said he paints on circles because the company in Montreal that he gets his paper from sends it to him in big circles!
So when I came to work the day after the Janvier event I made a circle template and hand-cut 29 circles out of some leftover copy paper (why 29? For a very deep reason: I thought I had 30 but I was off by one!) Then I grabbed some old paints; a limited selection of colors but it helped me keep things simple. I wanted to work as instinctively and as intuitively as I had witnessed Janvier paint. I wanted to be spontaneous and use the exercise to escape for awhile from the representational style that is the bulk of my own artwork. I believe the circle format helped in this regard: I have almost always used the square or rectangle so typical of so much visual art.
Abstract work demands an artistic leap of faith. It means a letting go of a lot of things that you don’t even realize you are holding on to so tightly. It proved to be a lot of fun and to open up some new ideas for me. Below are the 29 artsy circles I cranked out in a few minutes time at my workplace art studio:
Here they are all together, taped up on the wall in my work space:
A couple of these sketches I really liked. I decided to create my own big circle, like Janvier, and recreate one of the ideas to see what it would look like. Here it is, I’m calling it “Ezekiel’s Wheel”(with credit to my co-worker who labelled that upon seeing it for the first time and was trying to figure out what it was supposed to be!):
The added benefit of this fun exercise in abstraction and spontaneity? It inspired a couple of artists who attend the day program where I work. The artists there are adults with developmental disabilities. I was struck by the fact that I was inspired by watching Alex Janvier paint and then they were inspired by watching me paint. That is the story of art in a nutshell. So beautiful. When I am able, I will post photos of the circles they have done and are continuing to create, I promise. Maybe their art circles will inspire you to make circles of your own. And on and on that wheel will keep turning…