Monday, 22 May 2023

Man on a Boat


"You may think that the equation is 'boat and water.' It's not. It's 'money and boat.' The water is not really necessary. That's why you see so many boats in backyards."

E.Annie Proux - The Shipping News 

                                        Man on a Boat, oil on masonite, 26.5" x 17", Steven Rhude

My first memory of being on a boat was as a four year old. My aunt and uncle were on their way to view a cottage on an island in the Kawartha Lakes in Ontario. The day was cold and overcast as I hid under the bow of a open cedar strip smacking along choppy waters. I didn't escape my wooden prison until we pulled into a boathouse smelling of engine fuel and moldy jackets. The cottage was acquired and later in the summer my image of the boat changed after being woken from my bunk at midnight to a full moon, and then to be blanketed and paddled around a lake as smooth as glass in order to take in the haunting moaning of a Loon.

Now my memory of the boat is of a floating community, a monolith travelling to Argentia with a city's contents of product, commerce, tourists, and locals returning to their heartland. It has a fog horn that wakes me through the night, a soothing, comforting sound to me that is nonetheless mechanical; an unsatisfactory replacement of an urban kid in a canoe discovering the mystic call of a Loon.

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS         


Saturday, 20 May 2023

Great Auk - Henry Drummond's Vision

The Great Auk's ghost rose on one leg, 

Sighed thrice and three times winkt,

 And turned and poached a phantom egg

 And muttered, 

"I'm extinct."

Ralph Hodgson 1871 - 1962

                       Great Auk (Henry Drummond's Vision), oil on masonite, 20" x 20", Steven Rhude

Colonel H. M. Drummond was a highly respected Ornathologist. In December 1852, eight years after the Great Auk was supposedly extinct, Henry was sailing home for Christmas. Good old Henry spotted what he thought was a Great Auk off the coast of Newfoundland. The following year a dead bird was allegedly found washed up on the shores of Trinity Bay on the eastern side of Newfoundland. This account is from Eric Fuller's book The Great Auk.

Science has little patience for ghosts, and Henry had no camera or an eye witness to back up his claim - only his word and his vision. I on the other hand, had a great specimen skeleton from the Rooms in St. John's Newfoundland to work from as I made a painting with these thoughts in mind. It's strange contemplating the rames of such a tragic tale. What exactly was Henry really looking at - the last Auk? 

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS    


Wednesday, 3 May 2023

From Red Head Cove


                                                     From Red Head Cove, oil on canvas, 30" x 64", Steven Rhude

He was born in the Cove. They said he was tough as boiled owl. They were right, but from my own perspective, I saw a different individual. Admittedly, more than one brawl provided a brick or two to his reputation as a solid wall of community respect - but he was young back then. He did a number of things to earn his keep and he was feared no matter what the job was. Once he went shrimping to Greenland and  told a crew member who was praying on his knees in the wheel house during a life or death storm, to "get back to your post." If you crossed him it was wise to leave town, if you were his friend you could sleep at night knowing your traps were safe.

 As a young man he divided his time between the boat and the fish plant up the shore - this is where he learned his real skills. When he matured he met a nurse. Where was she from? ... Ontario I think, they married and had two girls - red heads of course. 

Naturally the girls were a handful, and in blossom were like magnets to the boys up and down the shore. But they had to go through him, and that was more than a Shakespearean hurdle. 

Today, his daughters live in St. John's, but they bring their own kids home to the cove to torment Gramps - he's still tough as boiled owl.

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS    

Monday, 17 April 2023

Black Dog

 Black Dog in Spring Field, oil on masonite, 12" x 14"

Wikipedia (folklore) suggests that a black dog is a supernatural, spectral, or demonic entity originating in English folklore covering Europe and the Americas. They have been regarded as sinister and malevolent, connected with the devil - an omen of death, and the incarnation of the hellhound.

The above painting is a bit of an oxymoron since the subject "Hagrid" is not in the spring of her life, but rather the autumn. She was acquired by me about fifteen years ago as a gift for my son; a transaction made outside the confines of collective domestic acceptance. However, it all worked out in the end. I never found her malevolent or demonic. She always greeted people with a bark, an energetic wag of the tale, and a humble countenance. It was only on a few rare occasions that she expressed caution or even raised the alarm with an individual. Ironically those individuals were dressed in long black coats out on the Wolfville dykelands.

I always see her as a guiding agent and studio companion. I once portrayed her in a poor farm painting I did - a mad anarchist rumbling through a foreground of harmlessly insane inmates and a field of Queen Anne's lace.

Hagrid's endurance for long valley walks and adventures with my family is all but over; her rythm has altered that objective to other ideals around the yard and house hold. 

Black dogs are generally thought to be shapeshifters. If Hagrid is, I'll not let you know.

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS      


Tuesday, 21 March 2023

The Ballad (Curse) of Betsy Publicover


 Years ago, or in one of those 'time out of mind' nights, on the furthest most easterly point of mainland Nova Scotia , Canso poet and dear friend, June N. Jarvis, told me of a tragic, painful, and sad poem she wrote. It's a poem with vengeance and a curse that starts when a young woman is as they say - led astray by a young man. It's about the days of yore, the sea and all the allegory it represents. It's about a woman's decent into supernatural darkness and the August gales that accompanied her.

 This is a familiar story in the sense that it is tied to the very nature of folklore, yet like all memorable folklore, it still has a powerful resonance to contemporary times. It entails, a young woman and sex, the passage of time, fishing commerce, a Canso ship in distress, the loss of Betsy's seventeen year old daughter to the sea, and the inability to console, where reparations are like gulls uselessly screeching in a tempest. It is a tale that is dark and only gets darker as Betsy Publicover reacts to the hopelessness of the situation and the man that brought it all down on her.

   Portraiture has been said to provide the viewer with an encounter - not just a record of human features. Portraits feed our insatiable need for narrative and our experiences, however light or dark the story may be. In this series of paintings I introduce the two main characters. There is a portrait of the protagonist Betsy  Publicover pregnant, seventeen years before the August gales. And another of (Proud) Whitman, a member of the Whitman merchant class that resided in the once great sea port of Canso, Nova Scotia. Who were they really? What did they look like? What were their circumstances? How was Betsy led astray by (Proud) Whitman? The beauty of the poem is in the way it conjures up such questions for the reader as it effortlessly rolls us through the darkness of the tale. It's what June leaves out as much as what she puts in that engages us. It suggests and infers using a traditional poetic approach of rhyme with fourteen stanzas each comprised with four line quatrains throughout the entire poem. There is a haunting witchery to stanza nine where the curse takes us into uncharted psychological waters and we question the transformation of reality through this tragic event.

 There's no doubt this poem and the accompanying paintings are rooted in the historical tradition of Romanticism.* However, June's poem asserts that even though something took place in the distant past, it remains to be about, and of the world today.

 I am most grateful that June has inspired me with her poem and allowed me to reproduce it here for you dear reader.

 - Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS  


*Simone Labuschagne, my wife, graciously modeled and assumed a studio persona of Betsy Publicover as we discussed which elements of June's poem to focus on in order to create a compatible visual portrait of her ballad. Archival photos from our youth thirty five years ago also assisted me with the portraits of Betsy Publicover and (Proud) Whitman. 



The Ballad of Betsy Publicover

       (The Whitman Curse)

Along a curving gravel - bar

Bellow a lofty hill,

The Publicover wharves and sheds

Stood high, and dark, and still.

But as the tide and tempest rose

They soon were all alight;

And filled with fearful Canso folk,

Who waited there all night.


                              Betsy Publicover (The Wait), oil on masonite, Dyptich, 24" x 50", Steven Rhude


Of all who vainly waited there

Throughout the August gale

None suffered more than Betsy did;

And this is her sad tale.


From blushing youth and innocence

She had been led astray,

And borne a bonnie daughter -

who was seventeen that day.


                             Betsy Publicover Pregnant, oil on masonite, 24" x 30", Steven Rhude


And Whitman's ship, from Halifax

That girl, returning home,

Was, with her shipmates, one and all,

To perish in the foam.


                               (Proud) Whitman, oil on masonite, 24" x 30", Steven Rhude


Before the early dawn arose

Those waiting on the shore

Had watched the fruitless flares go up

Until there rose no more.


                                               Tempest, oil on masonite, 24" x 18", Steven Rhude


Proud Whitman spoke to Betsy then;

and her response was wild:

"How dare you try to comfort me?

You, father of my child,

My blessed only daughter

who is in the ocean now:"

He blanched, as with mild laughter

She spoke this awful vow:


                                   Betsy Publicover (The Loss), oil on masonite, 24" x 18", Steven Rhude


"I swear that every Whitman child

Shall die while in its youth!

Your seed shall vanish from the earth."

Her fey voice rang with truth.


                                        Betsy Publicover (The Curse), oil on masonite, 24" x 48", Steven Rhude



Now, you who listen to my tale

May laugh, but as you do,

Be well assured, whatever the cause-

Poor Betsy's words came true.

The Whitman line of men and ships

And commerce died away;

The broken lines of earth and stone

Scarce mark their place today.

On any night of wind and storm

That may in august blow,

Beware of what you may behold

If to that place you go:

                                    Betsy Publicover, (Vain Vigil), oil on masonite, 24" x 40", Steven Rhude

For some have seen her pacing there

Her dark hair tumbled free;

And streaming out behind her 

As she gazes out to sea.

Along a curving gravel - bar

Below a lofty hill,

Betsy keeps vain vigil there...

And curses the Whitmans' still.

June N. Jarvis, copyright 2023


                                                                                         June N. Jarvis, Canso, Nova Scotia










Saturday, 18 March 2023

Recent Flower Still Lifes - Crossroads

  Crossroads have always intrigued me, both literally and figuratively. If I were to follow the idea that I’m living in a strange twilight between the tangible world I belong to and the painted world I create, I could metaphorically refer to this as some sort of "crossroads". I don't meditate, probably should, but I still on occasion murmer a prayer. However while doing these flower still life paintings I believe the elements that comprise them - light, the sea, atmosphere, wood, lead, cloth, plant and petals - are in their own way meditations on some of the things I find mysterious and yet calming, beautiful but indifferent.

Steven Rhude, Wolfville 


                                Orchid with Three Buoys, oil on canvas, 40" x 30", Steven Rhude



Iris and Adam, oil on canvas, 28" x 38", Steven Rhude 

Magnolia (Trio at Dusk), oil on canvas, 19" x 19", Steven Rhude


                                            Yellow Roses, Quartet, oil on canvas, 19" x 19", Steven Rhude

Saturday, 31 December 2022

Thoughts on Happiness from the Newfoundland Quarterly

Water Taxi, oil on masonite, 24" x 24", Emma Butler Gallery

 What makes me happy? Well it’s typical of me to look up the etymology of the word “Happy” first. What I found was the old English approach - lucky, favoured by fortune, greatly pleased and content. Happy medium, happy ending, oh happy days…one of my favourites is “happy hour”. I’ve always believed that a painter operates at a particular crossroads. It’s a problematic location, but assuming that I’m living in that strange twilight between the tangible world I belong to and the painted world I create, well that is one aspect of living that makes me happy. 

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS