Blog entries from the road painting series,
scroll down for older entries.
May 19, 2011
Just back to my Mom's house in Peterborough from the
Toronto to Coldwater section of the trip.
Last week I painted Peterborough to Sudbury.
I figured out that my starting points in each city need
to be places that have been home to me. So for
Peterborough, I painted from right outside the gallery
where I renovated and painted in my own studio
upstairs when I left BierkArt. In Toronto I painted Bloor
Street in the Annex, where I used to live and where I
continue to visit friends regularly. In Montreal I'm
wondering if I can park somewhere with a good view of
the Vendome metro station.
Talking to friendly business people in Barrie as they
went into the Business After Hours event I realized I
needed to create this blog. For them, and for other
people interested in following this project. Hopefully I'll
have some more stories and images for you soon.
A slotted box full of oil paintings, to protect them while
they're wet in the back of the truck. This is from last
summer, but I've painted twelve so far, so one box full
and then a bit. Twelve down, 80 or so to go.
May 23, 2011. Dean's birthday. It's hard to be away from
home for so long. Still over a month till I'm home.
Tomorrow I'll go to Montreal to start the long series,
Montreal to Edmonton. Today I'll do some more organizing
and packing to get ready.
Some ideas - this series will quickly become historical.
Places where the highway had finally turned back to two
lanes of opposing traffic were already parallelled by
construction. Progress says make the roads bigger so you
can go faster more safely! if you've got the population to
support it. And yet, once you're committed to that kind of
highway, it's much harder to find a safe place to stop
where you can look at it. Speed comes at the expense of a
place to reflect on it.
The other interesting place it may hold in history has to do
with the use of gasoline powered personal vehicles. I
wonder how all that will change in the coming years. Will
gas quickly become prohibitively expensive? When or how
quickly will this change?
Peterborough to Sudbury #2,
50 km towards the 400 to
Peterborough to Sudbuy #1,
from just outside the Cannery,
168 Hunter St. where my old
studio used to be.
Stay tuned for Bloor St.
May 23 - another thing about The Cannery as a starting point - google
directions for anywhere from "Peterborough, ON", and the starting point it
uses is pretty much The Cannery - check out here for example...
May 24. Drove to Montreal, found spot to paint from after a lot of looking around. Gods,
you could easily just paint Montreal for lifetimes...but there's this awesome vantage point
on the highway from above it. Don't often get a bridge over the road to paint it. The
weather should be good tomorrow so I can be out of the truck, painting with the board
taped to the guardrail above the highway. I'll do it to the side so if it falls it doesn't land
on some poor driver's windshield. I'll put a few more images of paintings in here too:
to Sudbury 04 - where
the two sequences
Just before the highway turns at
May 26, Ottawa Jail Hostel, 10 pm
They were calling for thunderstorms tonight. And I thought about how seldom I get the
chance to visit the National Gallery. So I'm in Ottawa tonight, sleeping indoors.
Rats, I forgot my camera outside. Ah well, photos will come in the next few days.
In the end, in Montreal, I was able to sit on my blue foam pad on the ground and paint
the expressway. Lots of people seemed to enjoy having me paint there and what I was
painting. It makes people happy when you paint a bit of their day to day world. It seems
to me it makes them feel loved or at least paid attention to.
Today was lonelier, and rainy. Yep, this is a long, lonely thing I've set myself out to do.
And once you get to Ontario on the 417 it's posted that you can't park beside the 2 lane
highway except in case of emergency. So finding vantage points to paint the road from
today was darn near impossible. At one point I was reduced to painting the on ramp onto
the highway. I guess that all becomes part of the artwork. These obstacles reveal things
about the world.
I was thinking about what David Skelton said about this project, and also my 100
Dresses. They're extended acts of observation. An act of observation. I like that. And
how the observer changes the thing observed. How am I changing the road? And how the
thing observed changes the observer. How is the road, and painting it, changing me? And
how I wouldn't be making these observations without the act of driving from place to
place and searching for a spot to paint from.
I remember being annoyed with David Bierk's landscapes. Oh, they were lush and
sometimes lovely little (or big) pieces of paint. But he never looked at a landscape to
paint them. So they were all kind of the same landscape. People loved the confidence of
his brushstrokes but to me they were kind of empty. But the discipline of observation
isn't for everyone I guess.
Turning title ideas over in my mind....The Middle of Nowhere. Pulling over. The texture of
distance. None of these are right, but they're all kind of important. Stop. Maybe it should
be called Stop. Or Stopping....that gives a sense of duration to the pause. That's
important. Photos would be much easier. That human time it takes to paint a painting
really shapes this body of work.
Me in my anti-mosquito scarf
Set up and ready to paint
the Decarie Expressway
Truck in painting position by the 17
29 May - camped just south of Sudbury. I'll have to double back about 30 km to paint tomorrow morning but there were
just no campgrounds...Considering "Further Home" as title. Though "the texture of distance" still has some merit.
This is an Odyssey, and Dean is my Penelope. Poor Dean. I've always thought Penelope was a lousy role. Saw a young
black bear today. Standing at the back of the truck, using the rear gate as a kind of counter, works well in good
weather. Wind is certainly my friend against the black flies.
30 May - in haste, hi from Waterfall lodge, expensive camping but the black flies are free. Click here to read some
1 June - it's a cold blustery day but I'm cozily ensconced with my friends Robin and Enn in Goulais River. If you're
ever needing a B&B near the Sault, they've got a gorgeous one - Bellevue Valley Lodge. Yesterday I painted four
paintings. Today I'm taking a day off. Hoping to do some laundry and other bits and pieces. I also made something
for you blog readers that I hope you'll enjoy: Click here to see a painting in 8 stages of completion. You can also
click here to see some of last summer's images of the process of road painting.
This picture from the picnic area just north of Neys provincial
park. The rail line curves right around the steep coastline by
Lake Superior. I'm seeing right curves in all kinds of places
now, like I see dresses when I'm painting those.
Another David Skelton idea - I've been taking refuge in his
notion that with any art project you're bound to get to
points in the process when you lose faith in what you're
doing. That it's normal, and the only solution is to persist
and keep exploring.... I'm paraphrasing here. Maybe I'd
better send David a link to this blog as I've quoted him
twice so far...
Titles...long way home? Long way? David Neufeld
suggested, Watching the Road?
Painting to the right - Lake Superior fog, alternating
with sun that day. Last Saturday.
I think today's June 8. I painted one painting today, just
east of Thunder Bay. That gets me to 34. So just 41 to
go to get to Edmonton.
To be honest, its been hard to keep the troops' morale
up. Or the troop. Can one person be a troop? Ha - this
crack force of lonely painter(s). It's quite cold and rainy.
I'm very grateful to be staying with Rodney and Sandi
Brown in Thunder Bay tonight (and last night). Rodney
Brown is a well known singer/songwriter: click here to
get to his website. And tomorrow's forecast much nicer
weather. And Rodney's making a stew for dinner. So I
really have very little to complain about... I talked to
Dave White on CBC North earlier this week but I fear I
lacked some verve and enthusiasm. Click here and scroll
down to get to that interview. Maybe tonight's rest and
tomorrow's sun will bring that back.
June 9. Inwood campground, near Upsala. $12 camping, unheard of in Ontario. And an internet
connection from the Motel across the way, an unexpected bonus.
Three paintings today. Wonderful weather. No bugs at all for the first painting. I'm going to go to bed
early and try to head out early to see if I can beat the little vermin - with any luck it will cool down
enough tonight to cramp their style a bit.
Thanks Artsnetters reading the blog. Your cheering comments have been lovely. Along with the good
rest in Thunder Bay with fine folks, and the sunny weather, I feel downright chipper right now. I even
know it's Thursday. I bet you're impressed.
The presence of trains is big here along the TransCanada. You forget about them a bit living in the
Yukon. I had a moment of utter panic a couple of days ago pulled over painting hearing a train blow its
whistle at length. Somehow I was convinced a truck was coming at me off the road and unable to stop,
and me stuck in the back of the truck. Even after I figured out what was going on my little fingers were
shaking for awhile, making it harder to get the paint in the right places.
Also, road noise. It's really noisy. Maybe a recording of road noise should/could be part of the
installation? Multiple recordings and speakers like 50 part motet except not so beautiful? I dunno, I'm no
sound recorder or tech to wire lots of speakers. And it will depend what that would do to the other show
in the Main Gallery at the same time.
Oh wow - I saw the loons floating silently on the lake earlier, but now they're singing. I'm writing this
from inside my tent. What a treat. I hope they wake me up in the morning.
Quick fact: in 2009,
government spending just on
the National Highway System
infrastructure cost 3.3 billion
dollars. This doesn't count
policing. I wonder if it counts
snow clearing. And think of
all the other roads and what
they cost to build and
maintain. We put a lot into
This little maniac was very interested in my lunch
June 11. Camping in a trailer park in Kenora. Beautiful night. Getting chilly though.
I think today I figured out that what I'm creating is a kind of a document. I'm documenting the roads as they are right
now. Other things too, or why do it in paint, but the word document seemed useful.
Leading up to TB I was getting lots of attention from OPP. Actually the first day out from TB too. What I'm doing isn't
normal use of the road but it's not illegal. The freedom to do what I'm doing, to stop for a couple of hours, is
something we seldom use. It seems like it's a good idea to use freedoms to as to keep them. Part of me thinks I must
be doing something right if I'm getting this much attention from the police.
In Dryden, Wesley Webb came by to see what I was
doing. He asked if I painted animals. Only ravens, I
said. He asked if I could paint his dogs. I said I wasn't
an expert on that kind of painting. He said he had a
whole house full of things done not by experts. He said
he was going to lose one of his dogs soon, and he'd
like a painting. My heart broke a little and if we can
come to terms on the commission I'll likely paint his
dogs. Wesley also told me that Dryden is dying, it's a
dying town, the folks that work over there under that
smoke stack, there used to be 1100 of us but now
there's only 375. So all the young folks and artists, all
the old folks, they're all leaving. So there's nobody local
to paint his dog.
I should note, I'm always happy to talk with people. If
you see me, pull over safely, and come for a visit.
Click here to see some of the paintings between Ottawa and Sudbury.
Click here to see a painting in 8 stages.
Click here to read some road musings.
Click here to read a story about a kind Manitoba road worker.
Winnipeg. I love painting prairie skies. I don't love pulling wood ticks off me so much.
Arg arg arg I just found another one. Where did it come from?
Sometimes the wind pushes against me so hard it jostles the brush. I have to hold
myself still against the wind. Tall passing trucks are the worst.
Staying with some lovely musician friends, John K Samson and Christine Fellows. Click
on their names for links to their websites.
Tomorrow's painting works out to be from within Winnipeg - I clocked it on the way in.
So tomorrow I'll do just one painting. It will be complicated with all the city stuff, so it
will take awhile. Laundry's washing as I type. I saw a bunch of these ladies' slippers
by the road after I finished one of the paintings.
Click here to see on-location painting pictures taken by Miranda Bouchard, curator of the Art Gallery of Algoma.
June 14. Camped at the Lion's Club campground in Neepawa MB. It was buggy and rainy, so I'm camping in
the truck cab tonight. So far though, no wild storms like they were warning about, which is nice. The White
Mud River here is really high. Most of the campground is flooded. 52 paintings down, 23 to go. About 8 painting
days to Edmonton, if all goes well. Click here to read a story about a fabulous Manitoba road worker.
June 18? Really? How did the time go so fast? I haven't had internet connection in awhile, except really fleetingly in the
I'm taking my friend Brett Dillingham's advice and staying in a motel tonight. Nothing like staying in a motel for clearing
up the weather. To be honest, although camping in the cab of the truck is comfy enough, the time before and after
sleep, traversing wet or even flooded ground to get to the bathroom, well, that was getting a little old. The world
hasn't been dry enough to put up the tent since Ontario. Here are some shots of the truck cab as boudoir. Note the
mosquito net, which allows the windows to be cracked open for ventilation, and affords a little privacy. I must give
credit to Bernie Bauberger, my Mom, for being so sure she could be comfy sleeping in the cab of the truck, or I wouldn't
have tried it and made it work, and to my sister, Amanda Lerner, who had the idea about the mosquito net.
Okay. 66 down. 9 to
go, if I've counted
right. My game plan:
paint 4 tomorrow,
gods willing. Camp.
Paint 3 on the 20th,
drive into Edmonton,
stay the night with
Dean's folks. 21st,
head out and paint
the last 2. 22nd,
Edmonton biz, maybe
some laundry, visit a
friend. 23rd, leave
early, drive up to
Dawson Creek and
paint the beginning of
the Alaska highway. (I
painted the rest of it
last summer and just
want to beginning to
complete that set.)
24th, drive to the
Liard Hot Springs.
25th, drive home.
Tomorrow is Father's Day. For those of you who don't know, my beloved Dad died this
winter. He made the boxes for me, the ones I'm storing the wet paintings in. I wear his
shirts most of the time. I'm using some of his brushes and pencils in this series.
My Dad was a model railroader. I painted a railroad bridge today. I think of him a lot,
especially when I paint level crossings and little signs.
Also, and differently, when the road disappears over a dip or around a corner. In every
painting it kind of vanishes like that. In a painting, it's just that moment's, that particular
place's perspective. I just drive on and the rest of the road unfurls, but it doesn't work that
way with people who die, or does it somehow? In any case there's a vanishing, at least
from this perspective. Though an ongoing presence, too.
It's a tricky balance because I have the freedom to get really sad alone without having to
worry about disturbing anyone else. And I do have grieving to do. But if I spend too much
time there the painting becomes too hard.
June 19. Camping in Lloydminster. Weather actually seems to be clearing, at least at the moment. 4 painted today.
What the world presented me at km 50 was often very minimalist, cool compositions but less time consuming, so it
wasn't too hard to do 4 today. Here's hoping the parking is as easier for tomorrow's 3 paintings. Imagine. I left 25
paintings in the Sault, and I now have 45 paintings in my truck. 5 more to go for this sequence.
June 21. Happy solstice. Happy aboriginal day. 75 done. Whew. I'm a little bit tired.
June 24. In a kind of side project, I painted the beginning of the Alaska Highway yesterday. I painted the end last
summer, and can put that together with last summer's work to offer a document of the whole Alaska highway to
venues that might be interested in that. There was hail and some pretty intense lightning. I almost lost nerve but got
back to work. Now bootin' it for home - stay tuned for images of the whole series where you can choose your starting
point and click to see the images in sequence. It was cool driving this road north and recognizing the places I've
painted. Maybe I should sell CD's with those images to travellers so they can find the places they were painted. So
many possibilities - but for now I just gotta get home. 6:15, tea is made, time to go.