The Art of Ones Who Love This World
In the late 80’s we moved to King City into a charming little house of mixed heritage. Pine plank floors upstairs and flagstone in the dining room. It was on six acres, overlooked a pond and had an adorable coach house. Its claim to fame was the tiny gothic barn that had once been the church in Temperanceville at the corner of King and Bathurst.
We had horses and George would ride out with our little boy in the saddle in front of him and by the time he returned from the trails across the road and onto the moraine, he would ease a sleeping child into my arms for the rest of his nap. Not long afterward that little one would be on a horse of his own – tiny boots, tiny black velvet helmet and big confidence. He would follow his dad out for the ‘jumps’ – while his little brother rode snug in the safety of strong arms, rocking in the saddle.
George would bring the horses into the yard where they would graze while being saddled. The apple blossoms from the small ancient orchard would blow in the spring breeze. Fiddleheads and Forget-me-nots grew in the nooks under the stand of mulberries. We had a tire on a rope – oh yeah – and a proper swing in one of the ancient trees by the small playhouse.
It was a magical time and, as I write, that time is captured in a oil painting beside my desk. Our sons – older in this painting – are perhaps three and six, one on the swing and one watching, hanging onto a wagon. Our Golden, Case E, long since gone, is prancing and in the background a horse grazes. This in itself is funny because the horse is grazing in the yard – not the paddock. We used to let the horses in to keep the grass shorn as mowing was as much of a priority to George as vacuuming was for me!
I have buckets of photos that are from that time – they are in boxes, albums, envelopes, stashed in drawers, elegant in silver, simple – stuck in a mirror. But a photo is not a painting. The painting is large and textured and rich with colour, sentiment, memory and love. The young man I commissioned to paint this, Ron Bayens, was just a student at OCA when we met. I had gone to find someone to paint a portrait of my darling husband’s horse for his 50th birthday.
I interviewed several young painters and chose Ron because he captured the Constable style of elegant landscape, meaningful sky, and majestic animal. The painting is beautiful and I love it still. The funny part – and life always has a funny part, doesn’t it – was that ‘Smokey’ the mare ,black and majestic – and loved in all her idiosyncrasies – was not the specimen that the true horsey set might revere for posterity in oil on canvas. But there you are – Smokey – questionable withers, sloping croup and weak haunch – ours and elegant nonetheless.
Art – the expression of emotion or memory or catharsis or transcendency has always been a part of my life. From the time I was four or five – before my active memory – I painted – fingers and otherwise. Once I brought home a painting from nursery school and when asked to describe it, told the story of five outhouses! I’m sure there was a plot and some characters, but the retelling by my family always stopped with: “ Well Daddy, those are five outhouses.” It seems that no one inquired further to the meaning.
Indian Summer – Helen Lucas
When I moved to King, I was delighted to discover that there was a bone fide art gallery on the four corners. Across from Hogan’s Inn was the Whitten Gallery – soft dentine pink brick. I thought I was in heaven – an art gallery in my own town! One day I climbed the stairs up from the street, and walked in the front door. In my recollection, my first vision was a poster facing me at the end of a hall. It was, the now famous, Helen Lucas, Sunflower. I could only imagine this elegant woman, whose name appeared in such regal lettering and whose eye and hand captured the sunshine and radiance of a flower that is at once muscular in its stature and surrendering in its daily abeyance to the sun.
Years later between Nobleton and Bolton a farmer planted about thirty acres in sunflowers. Each time we passed the whole field would be turning in unison to the trajectory of the sun. It was a stunning sight and a humbling experience for mere humans who put so much stock in technology. The power and communication between plant and sun was palpable.
I imagined Helen Lucas living a serendipitous life. Thriving artist, beautiful woman. Resident of King. I wanted to know her. Part of me wanted to be her. Creating such magnificent canvases of colour and beauty and form and texture. What a life! – What worries?
I did come to know Helen – many years after. Helen is a vital and heart full member of our community. She wasn’t the least bit austere or uber-sophisticated as I might have imagined. What she was when I finally attended her annual studio open house, was warm and welcoming and humble in the best possible way. Humble in being the bearer of a great natural gift and aware that that very gift of painting immediately blesses the space where it hangs and all who will appreciate it.
Helen’s paintings are joy on a canvas. Anyone will agree. Her monochrome drawings, now in the archives of York University depict both a pathos and a humour that chronicles a life drama that is now resolved and shared in glorious canvases of flowers in striking richness of colour or in abundant exhilaration of blossom and hue.
An artist like Helen and a lover of art – like me – have one thing in common. A love of life in all its nuance of memory, joy, sadness, tone, texture and subtlety. Helen has painted hundreds of canvases of flowers – singles, doubles, in bud, in decay. Each beautiful in colour, composition, line, detail and, most of all, feeling. Life is, at once, awesome and awe full. To look at Helen’s paintings is to imagine a serene and beatific existence.
To know Helen, as I have had the privilege of doing, is to know that the ethereal beauty of her painting is infused by the love and the loss, the sorrow, and the joy, the grief and the ascendance that mere humans might endure. All of her experience informs each canvas. Not just her experience as an artist – not as illustration – although that is formidable – but her experience as a compassionate human being willing to lay down on canvas colour and form that might uplift another – even for a moment.
It is a courageous soul who lays their heart out for the world to view. That sounds pretentious even to me – but there is no other way of me to describe it. An artist gathers up an experience and no matter what medium, no matter what subject, no matter what style, if they are an artist – and not a mere chronicler of our times – they will infuse their painting, collage, pottery, photography, dance or poem with every fibre of their being at that moment of creation.
Life has broken my heart and mended it. The dad who took his babes on horseback rides in the woods has died. I am human. I grieve still, I love again. I rejoice in the snowy morning, the return of the geese. Life is emotion. Life is creation. Life is love. At the end of the day – that is all that counts.
Art like music or the gentle touch of one who loves me is all I require to be right with my world. My world is like everyone else’s. Bills, mortgages, lines of credit, groceries, meals, dishes, children, tuition, details, details, details.
A piece of art is a dynamic relationship. It is you or me standing before a canvas holding in our hearts our whole life of love and loss and desires and regrets. Our eyes intuitively take in the elements of colour, texture, composition and subject as they are uniquely blended to express the heart of the artist. In a glance there might be a knowing – an understanding – an exchange. And in that exchange the artist and viewer find rapport in one another. If you are fortunate, the painting that lifts and engages you will hang in your own home.
At the end of my hall, on its own expanse of butter yellow wall is an amazing sunflower – brilliant golden yellow, deep shades of yellow green and blue green leaves and stem on a stunning deep ultramarine blue background. My every day is more magnificent for its presence. On the day that I lay my head down for the last time, I pray there is music, the laughter of ones I love, the beauty of the natural world – and the art of ones who loved this world as I do.