Motorcycles and Mama

26 03 2019

I don’t know how all you mothers out there would react if your 21 yr. old son came home from university and announced that he has purchased a KTM motorcycle. Mine did. Something inside me flipped out. All kinds of alarm bells went off in my head.

Now, I’m old hat at these things. My daughter did the same thing to me 5 years ago when she drove home in a bright red Ninja 250. My neighbour sold his old KTM racing dirt bike (with a wickedly shrill engine) to my other son. But, I shut up about that, as I did with the others. I congratulated my son and said,  ”How exciting!” and that I would love to come with him and his dad to pick it up. We can all go out for lunch.

Talk about a motorcycle Mecca! There were rows and rows of sleek Ducatis, crouched Ninjas, hard-core Harleys, and KTM’s in road-crew orange. My head was bobbing all around taking in the winking sea of smarty-coloured motorcyles.

I didn’t see the concrete step at the front door. And just like that, I was sprawled out like a starfish right at the front door. My husband came running. My son had that “Why did I bring her?” look on his face. I jumped up, brushing my stinging palms against my jeans and, gathering up any scrap of dignity that remained, walked in the store.

“You okay, Ma’am?” the men at the front desk inquired. “You really flipped out there.”   “Yeah, I replied, “ And I wasn’t even on a motorcycle!” They didn’t laugh.

After the bike, there was the jacket, then the gloves, and, what about a helmet? It took such a long time. The store was filling up. I watched a beautiful Indian woman slip on a flashy white helmet and bat her eyes flirtatiously at her boyfriend through the upturned visor. They laughed. My son pointed out a neon green helmet designed to look like the head of a monster. The wearer’s face appears to be inside its jaws. “Shall I buy this one, Mom?” A short, stocky, tattooed man was waiting his turn with the sales clerk. He chose a helmet that looked like it was used in World War 1. It didn’t look very safe and I volunteered my opinion. He explained that the helmet had to go with his Harley. Beside him was a tiny feminine woman who also was also trying on dangerous-looking helmets. “Do you ride on the back of his Harley?” “No, she replied with disdain…. “I have my own motorcyle.”  I went up to the desk and asked the clerks just what percentage of women buy motorcyles. I bet it’s under 10%. No, Ma’am. It’s 30%!

In all that motorcycle candy, my two men just vanished. I couldn’t even find them in the Ducati section. In my search, I guess I went a step too close to something sacred, for the alarms and sirens started shrieking.   I darted back like a singed cat. The men at the desk looked up from their computers with as much emotion as a herd of cows along a fence line. “Oh, just you again?“ “Yes, I replied, “I seem to be making quite a sensation in your shop. So sorry.”

The bike’s in the shed now, waiting for the snow to melt. I know it was tough for him to leave it behind and return to school without even a test drive. So, I have a few worry-free weeks yet, so I thought.

As we were getting ready for bed, my husband confessed that he’d really like to buy a bike, too. “Let me guess, I said,  “A Ducati? In that case, I’ll take a Tesla.”

 

 

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Musings at Breakfast

15 01 2019

This morning at breakfast, my husband put on a Santana CD that we discovered in a box. With a whoosh, the music from the 60’s carried me back to my primary grade school and to the sleep-overs at my best friend’s house. Her name was Cotton.

Now there was an artsy family! Mrs. S and Cotton and her 2 sisters were all artists. They were always making stuff: drawings, paintings, jewelry, paper mache, macramé. They wore fashionable mini skirts, and big earrings, bikinis and low-slung blue jeans.  Mrs. S always had a book and a sketchbook by her side.   She would sit for hours at the table, smoking, sipping wine, talking about colour and travel and dreaming out the window. Rock and roll music throbbed out of the stereo. (Was it Santana?) More than once, I caught Mrs. S dancing with her boyfriend J in the smoky haze that hung in the air. The house was shabby chic, and so were their friends who dropped in. On weekends, they’d go to the drive-in movies. I admired them and their worldly life deeply. When I was 10, Cotton moved away and I lost contact with her and her family.

Nobody in my family smoked and my parents didn’t dance. My two sisters and I wore long, handmade dresses that partially covered the knee, and no jewelry. Sure, we made stuff, too. We learned to sew, garden, and cook. Our meager record collection consisted of hymns by George Beverly Shay and Schumann’s piano concerto in A-major (a favourite to this day.) My mother rarely sat down to rest. We didn’t own a TV and on weekends, we went to church. My family hung out with hard-working, practical, (still very fun and loving) Mennonites. There just was no hope for me as a visual artist.

At first, I missed Cotton. Drawing helped me to feel a connection with her and her family, but I thought less and less about them as time passed.

Forty years later, I visited a relative in Florida. One small painting on her wall was signed Carol S. That was Cotton’s oldest sister!   My hostess had taken a painting course from her in a neighbouring town in Florida. She taught on Thursday mornings.

That Thursday, I was there early and watched Carol set up her class (Was that middle-aged woman really Carol?) before I had the nerve to interrupt her and introduce myself. There was a pause as I watched her reach far back into her memory. “Yes! You were Cotton’s friend. Of course, I remember you!”   We arranged to meet at a café the next day to talk. Cotton and her family had moved to Florida in the early 70’s. Cotton married young, but, soon after her marriage, she was coming home from working late at a restaurant and was hit by a truck and was instantly killed.  Mrs S. was also dead.

We forgot to talk about art.

It’s ironic that I end up being the artist and Cotton of the talented, stereotypically artsy family never got the chance. The injustice and mystery of it hit me anew as I listened to Santana. (What the heck does Santana have to do with reopening these memories?) To what degree did Cotton and her family nudge me into an art career? I will never know. I can just bow my head in reverence to those who cross our paths in life and silently and mysteriously change the direction of our lives or maybe they don’t.

Despite our UNartsy upbringing, three of us four siblings ended up in a career in the fine arts. Who’s to say what the artistic temperament is?

I really must get back to work in the studio.

 

 

 

 





Paintings or Pizza?

10 01 2019

Earlier this week, I popped into Partner’s Hall in Huntsville just to check on my solo art show Windows on the World and, fingers crossed, to see if, just maybe, there was another sale.

When I slipped into the exhibition hall, there was an elderly couple on the far side of room, carefully examining my large oil painting of Rooftops in St. John’s, NFLD.   As all the lighting is turned on the paintings, it’s hard to see anything or anyone else clearly. The two silhouettes were deep in a low-voiced discussion that I longed to overhear, but couldn’t.   I banged around self-consciously at the display table that holds my business cards and bio,  trying to look important.

It worked. The couple stopped talking, and said hello, then remarked that I looked like someone who was in charge of the show. Perfect! “Well, actually, (I hesitated modestly for a second to increase the drama), I am the artist. “


 

The effect it produced was very heady stuff: much praise, many compliments, lots of superlatives.  “Where are you from?” they enquired.   “Dorset,” I replied. “Do you know Dorset?” Yes, they had visited Dorset several years ago.   “There was a wonderful wood-fired pizzeria on highway #35 that we went to. Is it still there?” “Yes!”, I answered,  “In fact (dramatic pause again), I own that pizzeria.”

 

The leap from professional painter to owner of a pizza joint was too big a stretch to believe. I could see it in their eyes.   Had I lied to them about being the artist or about owning a pizzeria, or maybe both?  While they were sizing me up, I launched in to defend my outrageous claims. “No, really, I do own Pizza on Earth and run it with my children in the summer. It’s just a seasonal business. I paint the rest of the year. ”    Of course, I added many more details to authenticate myself as both.

That, too, worked and they promised to come to Dorset in the summer to visit the pizzeria. Or, was it a gallery?  It’s both   – your one-stop shopping!  Food for your soul and food for your body.  Is it really that strange a connection?

https://www.forbes.com/sites/ruchikatulshyan/2016/03/31/how-to-have-two-successful-careers-at-the-same-time/#b6d9225382d6

 

 





Why I Sell Only Original Paintings

31 12 2018
IMG_E1203.JPG

Roses in My Studio, oil, 8″ x 11″, unframed, $160 + taxes

Some clients who come through my studio or the small gallery at Pizza on Earth ask if I sell reproductions of my paintings.  The answer is a resounding “NO!”

Why do I do this when I could make so much more money, reach so many more people with my art and save time by selling cheaper reproductions of my paintings?   The new capabilities of advanced scanners can even reproduce accurately the texture of smears, globs and splats of paint so it looks exactly like the original.  But I, or any serious collector, know it is not the real thing.  However amazing the technology, in the end, a reproduction is still made by a machine and not by me.

What worries me is what making reproductions can undo; what it takes away.  I can just imagine what it would be like to have a stack of prints of a painting that I loved in previous years, but, this year, I have moved on to something new and they are still hanging around. For we painters are constantly reevaluating our world and our culture, reinventing ourselves, manipulating old symbols in a new way, every day.    We don’t want to be constrained or demotivated by an old style or a subject that we have mass-produced  through popular demand.  What we sell must be fresh, meaningful and true to where we are intellectually and creatively at the time.

In my previous blog called Wall Art vs.Walmart I have already written about the delightful relationship that develops between the artist and the client when the latter visits a studio to buy an original..  For, when you buy an original painting, you are buying a little piece of the artist’s soul, too.  You are influenced by her personality, by her lifestyle, by her vision which comes through in all those little notes of colour that were placed on the canvas by her very own hands.  And that costs you about as much as a cart of groceries from Fresh Co.  Owning an original piece or art is not the exclusive privilege of the rich that most people assume it is.

Let’s face it.  Original painters like me are fighting for their lives because of cheap reproductions.  I am not about to join the very practice that is destroying my own ancient craft.   Neither am I willing to substitute that which is true and genuine with a machine-made copy in order to make a buck.

I remain resolute.  I still write hand-written Christmas cards.  I cook my meals from scratch. Every Elizabeth Johnson painting that you buy is an original, carefully and lovingly painted by these small, nervous, paint-encrusted, vein-embossed hands, especially for you.

 





Camping In January in Algonquin Park

21 01 2014

This weekend, I felt like I had fallen into a Group of Seven painting, not unlike the way C.S. Lewis’ and Madeleine L’Engle’s characters get to jump around into past and future eras. When I placed the heavy leather tumpline of a loaded toboggan across my chest, and leaned into the blowing snow, I got sucked into another era, one long before the combustion engine, tourists and Mountain Equipment Coop.

Leaning into the past

Leaning into the past

I’m just warning you, in case you decide to go winter camping with Craig and Doris MacDonald in Algonquin Park in the middle of January. No slick synthetics, and no  lightweight titanium snowshoes or tents on this trip. Nope. Lash on the old-fashioned babiche and wooden snowshoes with a few feet of lamp wick and follow the ancient trail that the first white man recorded in 1827 near the park’s East Gate, beyond the gargantuan virgin pines. It leads to Sunday Lake where you’ll find Craig, master winter camper and expert on Algonquin Park and on the old ways of the Natives and the traders. He comes from generations of northern postal carriers that were more comfortable in snowshoes battling a blizzard than you and I are in our slippers sitting by a fireplace sipping a latte.

We are eight people camping together in the snow. No slackers allowed. It’s a race against a setting sun. A rough, six foot chisel and two metal pails are handed to my son who heads for the lake. “Don’t forget to pile snow on the top of the filled pails so the water won’t slosh all over your legs. And don’t lose the chisel in the lake!” Doris yells out. Someone searches for firewood and bark. My husband and other son stagger out of the forest and into the campsite after retrieving caber-size poles that Craig lashes together to make a structure to which we tie the locally made Egyptian cotton tent. Before my dazzled eyes, the exact shape of the tent in Tom Thomson’s painting The Tent begins to take shape. It’s cream coloured, spacious and gracefully proportioned.

Setting up the tent Doris is showing us how to weave a soft fragrant carpet of balsam boughs, the way the Native people do. Craig and Wayne, who still wears the traditional voyageur garb, hook up the stove whose skinny chimney pipe angles up through a metal square in the gable end of the tent. Wayne, the "voyageur"A fire is crackling and, in no time, the tent is heating up. A toboggan, placed in the centre of the tent, becomes our table. Wooden stakes that hold candles are driven into the ground. Soon, we are sitting in our T-shirts, eating home baked bread and chili and swapping stories of adventure and travel, especially tales of Craig’s interactions with the Natives in years gone by. Before I climb into my sleeping bag, I slip outside. The tent is glowing like an old-fashioned Aladdin lantern turned down low. The snow is hard and crisp and the temperature is dropping as the night darkens. It is dead silent and perfectly still.

So, this is how those Canadian painters did it a hundred years ago. Well, Tom Thomson, there’s still one painter who is thrilled to be camping,  your style, in 2014.





A Good Cure for Restlessness

13 01 2014

It always happens every year, that irksome restlessness that comes after a period of too much stimulation. It seems to take me forever to calm down after all the excitement of Christmas when the house bulged with guests and rocked with music and merriment, and our bellies protruded with too much gourmet food.

The inner turmoil goes something like this.  “I really need to thoroughly clean the house now that everyone has left.  I’ve got to get working on my spring show of 101 small watercolours.  Maybe I should participate in the summer Muskoka Arts and Crafts show with my cards, after all.  That means painting at least six cards a days.  I’d like to start blogging again.  And, oh, Sarah left her cello here.  Should I take cello lessons?”

So, I end up doing nothing.  I am suspended like a hummingbird before a feeder, wildly whirling my wings but going nowhere, then, erratically sipping at this feeder and dashing off to that flower.  No matter how many firm talks I give myself about focus and self-discipline, and no matter how many noble quotes I read about success, I just can’t seem to get very far on any project.

Matters came to a climax this afternoon when I found myself rarely alone for a few hours on a Sunday. It was the perfect time to start blogging again.  A full pot of hot rooibos tea before me, and a blank Microsoft page open, I waited eagerly for the gates to creativity to swing open.   But, they didn’t.   I hadn’t a clue what to write about, just like I haven’t had a clue, since Christmas, what to paint on the enormous stack of blank canvasses in the corner of my studio.  With each passing minute, the anxiety increased.   It was time to take a walk.

My quiet country road weaves through the forest and traces the rugged contours of the Algonquin Highlands.   I couldn’t help noticing that a raccoon, a grouse, a mouse and a fox had, each, gone for a walk not long before me. Why, even a car had made a new tread pattern in the snow part way up the road before the driver lost his nerve and turned around. The top, wispy branches of the naked maples were gently sweeping the clouds to the side so I could enjoy glimpses of the startling blue sky.   A playful breeze pinched my cheeks and rattled the dry beech leaves clustered tenuously on saplings.  Nervous nuthatches fluttered noiselessly in the branches while a hairy woodpecker hammered relentlessly at a tree trunk until it offered up a bug.

I noticed, when I sat down again to my cold tea and computer, that the gates to creativity had mysteriously opened in my absence.  Ideas and words flowed easily and I was able to write.

For me, a brisk walk in nature is the best cure for just about anything.





Let it Snow!

14 12 2012

The world outside my studio today is a grey, cast-iron caldron of popping popcorn and I am peeking over the rim watching the fluffy stuff jump, swirl and pile up and up.

I wish those white blobs were edible. My lunch date at my friend’s house was cancelled due to this big snowfall and I’m starving. Like her, most of us in Muskoka live isolated at the end of windy, hilly, back roads that are not plowed very often. When it snows like this, we just learn to change plans quickly and sit tight until we can budge.

Thankfully, I don’t have to budge for another hour. Tom Allan is playing Vivaldi and I am reminded just how well Vivaldi and snowy days go together. The two seem to be mimicking each other with their pristine, joyful dances.

It is a great joy just to see the snow finally return to Dorset. It certainly took its time this year and I was beginning to worry that global warming was going to deprive me of one of my favourite painting subjects. I love it when the winter snow dresses the trees like royalty in stately mantles of ermine and lays down a thick spongy carpet over the impassible, debris-strewn forest floor. Snow transforms it into a smooth, white desert that I can stride easily across on racket-shaped snowshoes into the remotest of places.

Winter Garb

Winter Garb  by Elizabeth Johnson  24×20″ acrylic on canvas

As I watch the first big snow come down in Dorset, I think of A. Y. Jackson’s First Snow Algoma, of A. J. Casson’s big blobs in First Snow, Grenadier Pond  and of Kathleen Moir Morris’ snow-laden Montreal scenes. Many Canadian painters have even managed to sneak those beautiful snow shapes into their spring and summer paintings. Whether they were put there subconsciously or intentionally, they are there.  Just have a look at Lauren Harris’ clouds and Arthur Lismer’s blossoms in Georgian Bay, Spring. What about Tom Thompson’s Lily Pads? I bet those painters were longing for the snow to come back soon after the spring melt.

A gallery owner once advised me not to paint winter scenes. “They don’t sell,”  he said.  He might have just as well told me not to be Canadian. Snow is the trademark of so many Canadian painters.

My hour is up. I must go out into the popping, dancing whiteness and find my son for his violin lesson. He will be playing a Vivaldi concerto for his teacher this afternoon.