Recently, I filmed an entire day of my painting process, my ‘Performance Ritual’. It was an exhausting day. I had a long list of shots I needed to illustrate the typical day in my studio beginning with the first few moments after waking at seven to the final marking of my time sheet and extinguishing of my lamp at five.
Much of what I wanted to record was the cycle of activity outside the walls of my condo-studio. In my isolated art-bubble, the daily routines of the mechanics, the body shop, the commuter train, the school bus depot, embrace me as part of the larger world of work. In our previous neighbourhood, a family filled street of brick duplexes and triplexes whose facades ran unbroken from one end of the block to the other, the daily exodus for work or school left the neighbourhood eerily quiet, the conventional nature of life there only accentuating the isolation that an artist can sometimes feel.
I’ve connected ‘work’ with my art since I quit my job to explore the possibility of painting full time in 1983. A combination of guilt and an overblown presbyterian work ethic ensures that my practice is a sober one. I’ve never owned an easel or a palette or worked with more than one brush although I will admit to wearing a beret in snowstorms in the eighties.
My improbable choice of working surface, a metal, sixties office desk and my lifelong fascination for offices and office supplies and equipment no doubt stems from my Father’s long held job at an insurance company whose offices were a repository of oddballs and cranks that I mostly feared and my Mother’s job in the sixties, cleaning offices from which she’d return, late at night, with the discards of Union Carbide: outdated stationery, Eveready Battery signs, battery testers and odd product labels on sheets.
As a child I endured one or two Christmas parties at my Father’s workplace and one staff picnic of which my only memory is getting lost and tearfully searching for my Father among the drunken adults. While the office discards of reams of paper and other supplies kept me busy as a kid, my Father mostly kept this part of his life separate from his family and bred in me a resentment for this other ‘family’.
I’m always fascinated by how well buried are the roots of our present day actions. My intuitive desire to film a day of work juxtaposed with the routines of the workers outside my studio brought home to me, yet again, the connections between our childhood experiences and the sometimes puzzling choices we make as adults.
December 15th, 2010