Friday, 21 December 2012

Boy With Fossil

Boy With Fossil, oil on panel, 24"x 48", Steven Rhude, private collection

Probably the largest jigsaw puzzle he could think of. At least it looked that way from a distance. Two families with heads bowed solemnly, like an Edvard Munch image - treading along a stretch of coast line called Blue Beach. They walked like this, apparently not because of some serious ritual, or to check their footing, but to scan the stones, for that important piece of the puzzle. Hopefully one containing a mystery millions of years old.

'Check it out.'

 It was a micro chip, in the truest sense. A innocuous piece of slate derived from larger pieces, and larger stones, and a large land mass, and an even larger coastline - and of course the big blue sea. Embedded in the stone a blackish impression. Reminiscent of flakes of material he once put in some paper he made years ago. Like a mold, it was safely secured by the stone's solidity.

 He asked the boy what it was he had found, but the boy didn't know. He'd never seen one like this before. He took it back home and put it in his room with his other treasures. Later, while working on the boy's portrait, the boy told him he went back out, this time to the near by museum. He found out it was a skull fragment of a Tetra Pod, also known as Four Feet.

He would go back next year to find more pieces of the puzzle.

Steven Rhude, Wolfville


Friday, 14 December 2012

End of Time - Above the Avalon

Dory on the Avalon, oil on canvas, 45.5"x 65.5", Steven Rhude, private collection

Above the Avalon it's the end of time.
  You can see the soaring preachers,
and hear their endless whine.

It's the year of the end of cities; since the month and day make twelve,  
    great excuse to escape the text; or even let go of the plow.
The prodigal son returned home in rags,
   all his plan's had to be shelved.
His father welcomed him back, then the predictionist took a bow.  

It's the month of the end of community; since the day and the hour make twelve,
  we stumbled upon a Nail House in a road,
resisting us once
                          three times,
                                              Just the bones left,
 of a once humble abode.

Above the Avalon it's the end of time.
  You can see the marching preachers,
in an endless line.

It's the day of the end of landscape; since the hour and the minute make twelve,
  shards of memory are but counterfeit warmth,
for the painter, with brush, and rag, and cold.
  Then the post modernist's son returned home - his plans too were shelved.
See, his Daddy didn't care for protocol,
  so, like Kyoto, those plans did fold.

It's the hour of the end of perspective; since the minute and the second make twelve,
  come election time, the bag is full,
up on Capital Project Hill.
  No one noticed the accountant's son return,  for to the books he delved.
Oblique projections factored in,
   he knew his own children would get the bill.

Above the Avalon it's the end of time.
You can see the circling preachers,
in their robes so fine. 

It's the minute of the end of light; since a second and a breath make twelve,
   Knowledge, Truth, and Wisdom were then purchased from a vending machine.
While the sun set without a trace.
   Memory's son returned home alone - in his head his dreams rang like bells.
Floods, tsunami, and pestilence,
   over shadowed moments of grace.

It's the last second of the end of time, hold your breath and count to twelve,
   the Mayans are on deck for the twenty first,
 no resistance can stop the lifting of the veil.
   So the end returns again, in the form of a snake the Times did tell,
ration now before it's to late, 
   there's little time to fail.

Above the Avalon the end of time has passed again.
   You can still see the soaring black backed gulls,
and hear their endless whine.

Steven Rhude, Wolfville





Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The Painter's View - School Boards; The New Syndics of Education

Every portrait painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter... it is the painter, who on the colourless canvas reveals himself.
Oscar Wilde

A Meeting of the School Trustees, Robert Harris, 1885, National Gallery of Canada 

“In and for each Province the legislature may exclusively make law as in relation to education.” 
Constitution Act 1867

Raising two children who attend public school is in itself a joy and a challenge. Each day brings with it small victories, and at times concerns for the big picture. The Welsh born Canadian painter Robert Harris must of had some concerns too. What would he have thought of the problems looming over one of our most important democratic rights today? That is, the role of the Public School Trustee and Local School Board Democracy. In Nova Scotia, where I live, much has changed with that basic right. School board members are still elected, but that may be where the process and involvement ends for students, parents, and taxpayers.

 It may also be that Robert Harris pondered similar inequalities when he painted his now famous genre scene of a meeting of the trustees back in 1885. But one thing stands out for certain. His central character, a school teacher known as Kate Henderson, is engaged in debate with the trustees on an issue unknown to us, yet vitally important enough to provoke differing emotions on the faces of the trustees - her employers. Was she successful in convincing the trustees of her argument? Better yet, how did the trustees determine to deal with the teachers opinion? Was there an open discussion and assessment of the facts prior to a vote - if it even got to that point? Did they side with the teacher or did status quo prevail? We may never know because the point of the narrative is not the answer to these questions, but rather the exercise of democracy.

In Harris' time, the challenges were somewhat different. These were the days of the country school house and the slate. It is a back settlement school in Canada, with a school teacher 'talking them over' (a phrase  part of the original title).   Note the trustees are all men. Local guys with a roost to rule. The man in the back left is a farmer and uncle to the painter. The model for the teacher is Harris' wife. They are a cast of farmers and trades people in a very young country. There was no teachers union, and no cybrebullying. There were no long school bus rides to thirty million dollar facilities requiring passwords to navigate the school. The big issue of the time was probably literacy. So what possessed Harris to paint this picture? A portrait of two worlds - the educator on one hand, and  the anatomy of a school board on the other. Without a doubt, it is a political picture - and a poignant one at that; packing a  punch that today sheds light on the crisis facing local democracy in contemporary public education in Nova Scotia.

The philosophy of school board governance is that government is most effective when it is close to the people being governed.

Alberta School Board Association Trustee Handbook 

The painting is a homage to the educator. The figure of Kate Henderson reveals both the composure of reason and the passion for knowledge. Check out her left hand. It's not the hand of a supplicant, it is gesturing the opinion of openness and democracy at its most basic level. Now check out the hand of the trustee next to Kate's hand. It's located at the axis of the picture and is clenched and protective. Unwilling to open up, even more so, it may be the hand of power, hiding its true intention - the solidification of control over the democratic process. In this case, the engagement of the teacher's vision and its potential impact on board policies. Kate's right hand is significant also. It leads us to a pot of ink, a slate, and a weathered note book, possibly symbolic of the three R's. Harris deploys the hand as an educator of human emotion and intellect, a messenger for human discourse - and he does it beautifully.

 Harris was no stranger to these artistic concepts. During his tour of Europe he would undoubtedly have encountered the work of Rembrandt. But it is the painting called The Syndics, that Dutch version of our modern day corporate business agent, which may have influenced Harris, and handed him a concept he could apply to local life and his motive for A Meeting of School Trustees.

Rembrandt, The Syndics of the Cloth Guild, 1662, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

No trustee can act alone – the school board is a corporate entity. The school board is a corporation. If the school board chooses, it may delegate a trustee to perform specific duties as an individual; but only as an agent of the board and only as prescribed by the board, by board motion. In other words, the school board is ultimately responsible for the individual’s action. With this exception, a trustee acting on his or her
own has only the authority and privileges of an ordinary citizen.

The Alberta School Board Association Trustee Handbook

No doubt Harris would have been some what acquainted with the history of Guilds in Holland. In the Syndics of the Cloth Guild, the individuals of which are known from contemporary documents, were board appointees by the Mayor of Amsterdam - a kind of quality control board for cloth sold in the city. Their purpose was to regulate an important trade, in effect a public service.  There is still much debate as to who the phantom guest is that enters the room of the Syndics of the Cloth Guild, encouraging one of them to rise from his seat. Historian Henri van de Waal, argued that the draper's guild never met in front of public audiences. Unlike Harris' painting, the opulence of this room is much more in keeping with administrative meeting rooms of our contemporary public education system.

Times have changed since Harris created his master work. Nowadays, school boards are made up of both women and men. In Nova Scotia, they have a Minister, a Department of Education, a Superintendent, and an army of administrators above them. There is a teachers union and a plethora of associations advocating for the sustainability of the corporate model. Although they are democratically elected, trustees are predominately kept in check by policy governance similar to the contemporary corporation; policies that are highly centralised and restrictive to community interests and strategic planning. School closure policies for example, have probably exacerbated rural decline as much if not more than declining enrolment, and the school board Syndics have more or less been restricted to oppose this trend even if they wished to. As citizens and taxpayers, we now  have the lessening of  School Board effectiveness to contend with. Boards seem to be charged with simply rubber stamping Department initiatives. They, like Rembrandt's Cloth Guild Board, have their master to answer to. This may very well be the phantom guest entering Rembrandt's meeting of the Syndics.

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Opinions, Opinions... - An Interview by Simone Labuschagne

Shed and Water, oil on board, 20"x 24" Steven Rhude, Gallery 78

I thought I'd have a little bit of fun and interview Steven since he's so opinionated anyways. We are always discussing art together, so we went about it like this. In this post, I would write a question down and Steven would respond that same day. After a few weeks, the following interview is the result.
                                                                                                 Simone Labuschagne

SL: So you call yourself a Realist - what is Realism to you?

SR: It's complicated. But I used to think a long time ago that Realism was just this thing where you held a mirror up to nature and copied it. I still here that definition used in public gallery talks now and then. But we're all children when we start, and the mirror is a convenient reason, but limited in scope. Later, I then realised that nature had depth, a greater kind of depth than just perspective. So that in painting a landscape for example, I moved through it and it moved through me via the mind and the senses - just like going out for a walk in a field. Then it became a frame of reference to assist me in grappling with existence, society and purpose. It could be dissembled and encoded.  And I realised I was not alone. Painters who are friends, and other painters past and present have, and are contributing their own unique chapter to this idea of depth, and so slowly realism starts to flow as an experience for me, one worthy of sustained attention through the expression of painting.
 So the template we have used to define Realism is constantly changing. Painters today are aware of this. Maybe the term "Realism" is just becoming thread worn. I couldn't say for sure. High, magic, photo, mystical, poetic, and social Realism - the list is substantial. We have this history of pictorial representation. It's a long one in the west. All our screens and  monitors today are derived from the same frame of reference; the same one that inspired the use of the wall or canvas for the painting of images centuries ago. Some call it memory.         

SL: Like who?

SR: Well, Molinari for one.

SL :Why bring him up, wasn't he an abstract painter?

SR: He was. But that didn't stop his pursuit of depth through the exploration of colour. Rothko had a similar objective. Said he wanted to create a "place". That says a lot about the landscape of the mind to me. Which entails depth and was his personal internal geography. Maybe the two forms of expression, you know - realism and abstraction, relate more than we think.

SL: What do you mean Landscape of the mind?

SR: It's an interior space with depth. For Rothko it was eventually compressed into those fuzzy rectangular shapes - placed one over another. Elemental and reminiscent of land/sea and sky.They're used as a starting point for the viewer. We all have that space. We all need to eventually externalise our thought some how. Words or images, doesn't really matter. But visual language is symbolic and can lead us back  into the archaeology of memory. 

SL: OK, speaking of places, so then, why Nova Scotia and why do you paint? I mean it may seem like a rhetorical question but I’m still curious to see how you would answer it.

SR: I paint because it is a vehicle of expression with purpose. Plain and simple. I think purpose is important. This idea that one is born to paint or simply can't exist without painting doesn't resonate with me. I don't paint because I wish to be a professional thought provoker, like many postmodernist practitioners. It is hard for artists let alone the public to take the time to weed through this kind of art.
 I'm not interested in the ready made junkyard or an esoteric discourse only a few will ever experience. Art is pluralistic and this stuff will always be around and mutating. But there's so much variety out there now that art movements have fractured into unrecognisability.
 However, painting has only survived this long because it has purpose and there are many who do it well. Sometimes when a region or particular form of expression is ignored, it rises up and produces significant work. I'm not just defending unfashionable realism. The Plasticiens, the Painters Eleven, the Beaver Hall Group etc, are all testimony to this assertion. They over came their obstacles and Canadian art as a whole is the better for it.

SL: So what's your purpose then?

SR: Place, and everything it means to me, to us. Not just the external place, the one with geographical boundaries, but the memory of place as well. Like the idea of a 'local' geography, and how people so familiar with place develop paths and routes of their own, say across fields or to a beach for example. They rely on memory. They have inscribed their own relationship into place over time. The type of thing not found on any standard map. It stands to reason that as a place becomes less populated and less unique in its identity, then these things become more ephemeral.  

SL: What about the IT generation, will they discover place through painting?

 SR: Probably not. Theirs is a virtual place - there's a difference. It's changed how they experience and see space. But that's no reason to stop painting. Their children might. They may get tiered of the toys and monitor goo, and eventually return to craft and thought - maybe see that painting still conducts power for the exchange of ideas and emotion - or that the idea of a static image has a capacity to stimulate a relived experience. Painting doesn't come to us. We have to go to it. We'll see.  

SL: I read where Hopper said if you could say it in words why paint it. Or something like that. You write a lot about art  - regionalism. Do you think painting is painting and language is language and the two shouldn't mix?

SR: Hopper was a sharp puritan. He knew to write about his art was to sweat blood. He didn't like doing it. Yet, his thoughts on art ... those artistic statements of his are amazing and so insightful I couldn't imagine understanding his art without them. We're to far gone now. We can't go back to Plato's Republic  and shut out the artist politically like he wanted. Didn't work. Artists write and speak out about art. Interpret art. Picasso did it in a big way. He read a newspaper account of the Guernica massacre and the rest is visual history. If you love painting and study art history - at least western art,  you know there is a curtain in front of the painted image. The artists experience has been encoded and sometimes words are part of the equation. They don't have to be, but language and metaphor are inseparable just like visual expression and metaphor are. With Rembrandt, one lead to the other. You know, text to painting. That was just part of his code, his  memory, and collectively our relived experience. 

Battery Shed on a Road, oil on canvas, 32"x42", Steven Rhude, Emma Butler Gallery

SL: You don’t use the city as a subject much. I mean you have on occasion but what I see is mostly rural imagery over the twenty two years we’ve lived in the Maritimes. So in your painting I see a pattern of roads and blockage... objects that impede the viewers progress. I know where you find the material because I’m usually with you on our road trips, but these real life situations just end up being made up on your canvas, and seem so different from the reality of what we experienced. Why do you do this?

SR: Well, for the love and passion for the painted landscape and that whole tradition. All landscape is a fabrication of some sort or another, with mans influence over it playing a vital role. The very word landscape is a construction. I intentionally work within that tradition. However, I admit there is something askew about my subjects. People may think I'm joking. But perhaps I'm not. I always get a sense when driving through Nova Scotia that there is a secret on the edge of disclosure. Hidden inside coastal houses, or like when you approach a group of strangers and they clam up. You sense they're keeping something from you. Protecting something. That's what I love about the Maritimes. It's like reading Robert Penn Warren. You just know the stories go deeper than clapboard. Politics, community, and money - it always seems culture comes up last in life's lessons. So I always had this desire of taking that which we consider  familiar or banal, and then reinscribing it with something else... like an impediment to standard progress. The road is the most tangible metaphor I can think of for this. You know we have rules in society, rules of the road so to speak. Traffic lights, passing lanes and so on. Between the rules there are no directions for us, other than to keep moving. We just exist. So when an object like a house or a boat suddenly appears in our way, we feel impeded for no sensible reason. it's a way of staging a disorientating encounter. We may even want to smash our way through it rather than stop and consider why it is there, or why it exists, or why it is still important.   

SL: As artists’ have in past centuries, you use objects as icons.  To the viewer these objects could seem like trite tourist symbols, or working class symbols: bouys, roads, fish boxes, sheds, dories.
Why do you keep repeating these icons in your paintings?

I've learned over the years not to be spoon fed. Strip away the superficial associations that cling to certain objects like a weathered fishing shack or a fish box, and new worlds appear. Objects have always embodied certain qualities for me. Morandi's bottles are not just bottles. So why should a fishing buoy just be a fishing buoy? There is whole world of icons outside our traditional Judeo - Christian appreciation. Call em secular icons, or whatever. But they exist and have etched their way into our culture as Maritimers. And they will go on existing in our lexicon of symbols no matter how they may be branded by marketeers. What may be seen as repetition could also be seen as diversity - yet subtle with respect to a salient range of objects depicted. To put it simply, the table top in still life painting is a stage, the objects are actors, and the composition conveys performance. Objects in a landscape can be seen the same way if so desired. I didn't write the play. I'm just a witness to it. If the story repeats itself, perhaps it is because I haven't understood it completely or it doesn't have an ending I'm content with - if there even is one. So I keep going back to the scene of the crime so to speak.    

SL: Your palette, in general is inclusive of primary colours.  How have you developed your palette and why are these colour schemes so important to your work? 

The landscape is cluttered with material and colours that are discordant. When we look at a landscape we generally see organic shapes interacting as a result of the effects of nature and light. The shape of a house... say it's rectangular, is man made and intervenes with the surrounding environs. It is discordant by its very shape and presence in a world where natural shape is more organic and elusive. This is why we love trees around our houses. Not just for shade or a wind break - but because we love the interaction of shapes. We are aesthetic by nature. 
 Colours, especially the pure primaries execute a similar effect. I recall driving by a  farmer's field outside of Truro with a billboard in it, with the primaries on it. It seemed perfectly placed to me in a modernist sense. Growing up in Scarborough all I remember is concrete grey and the variations of reflective glass. Shopping malls and small manufacturing complexes that are as common now in Burnside as they are outside of Paris. So, for me, with colour, you just go back to basics and blow the lid off the subject with it. 

Last Dogs Hung, oil on canvas, 36"x48" Steven Rhude, TD Canada Trust Collection

SL: I have heard it said that some people just ‘get’ your work and it leaves others cold.  To those it may leave cold give me a reason that they should engage with your work and think about the message that you are conveying through your images?

SR: I've seen people stand in front of Rembrandt's Bathsheba and move on in two seconds. I'm not sure what they were thinking at the time, or if they ever considered how transcendent this work is. So if people have trouble engaging with say a 17th century Dutch master piece, I'm not sure what to do about getting them to understand my own imagery. If you get my paintings great. It just so happens many of those people are Maritimers or people who have visited this region of the country. However, if they don't get them, perhaps the first thing they might need is a chair. Looking at a painting requires time, openness, and study. So if they're  going to get my work, the identity (content) of small communities should enter into their consciousness, just as the aesthetics of the work should.    
Today people often need to live in more than one place in a life time, work at more than one career in a life time. Growing up in one place and remaining 'local' is becoming less and less a reality. So the idea of community is changing and the traditional forms of sustainability have changed with it. With some people, there is a last one out turn off the light attitude regarding rural life. They would probably never connect with my imagery. In most small Nova Scotia communities, learning to leave - to quote Michael Corbett, has been a big factor. We educate people to leave, not stay. That says a lot about the road we're on.  

SL: What do you think is the most challenging part of being a Canadian Social Realist?  I am using this term loosely to give you work historical boundaries.  Would you give it another label or would you prefer no label at all?

SR: Not my job to create the label. But if the long term context of my work is probing the regional conditions of ... say Nova Scotia, and using Realism to do it, then I'm OK with the social part too. I know painters who disdain any kind of reference to social conditions or politics in painting. That's fine, but it's too limiting for me.  And anyway, historically speaking, Canada has a fine history of Social Realism. For example I love the depression era drawings of Louis Muhlstock, as well as the drawings of Jack Nichols. Eric Freifeld's humanism, John Alfsen's circus imagery, and Christine Plug's isolationism are still compelling for me. It doesn't get any stronger than that. But it's not the kind of art that  makes people go out and march in the streets, so, more often than not the message can be most subtle. But you know we spent twelve years near Canso and witnessed that town struggle to rebuild itself after the fall. It was hard to ignore it. So, I had to find a way to stage my feelings about the isolation of this and other communities. Most of the time I chose to use objects and landscape instead of people. This experience has had a lasting impression on me. You to for that matter. We've had many talks about it and how to incorporate regionalism into art in a contemporary way, using painting, using Realism. I suppose that's the most challenging part for me.         

SL: I'm thinking about this years Sobey's Award. Do you think contemporary curators in general care about painting or for that matter has it just fallen off the radar screen with the establishment?

SR: Painting has become very specialised today. For years the question was -  is painting dead? Since it won't die, now it is - does anyone care about painting? I think it's great if there is money out there supporting the visual arts ... especially for younger artists whose work distinguishes their region in Canada, but I've found in general, I don't relate all that much to what is being profiled. I'm probably showing my age, but there is to much hype and back patting. So when I do see something I like, it is usually by chance.  The question is what are the curators and adjudicators looking  for out there? Painting doesn't seem to have much credence with this endeavour  - who really knows. There is so much other material to consider. The pendulum swung towards installation, performance art, video (talking heads), and the use of fabrication or ready mades, a long time ago. When ever I sit down with a group of artists and this award comes up in conversation, we consider  how predictable the type of art may be that is profiled. That probably says more about the establishment than the artists. If you want to see what's new with painting perhaps the RBC painting award would be more appropriate. 

Buoy and Manhole, oil on panel, 20"x 24", Steven Rhude, private collection

SL: So in a world of flash images and five second sound bites how is realism and painting in general still relevant to the modern viewer?

SR: Well... flash images and five second sound bites are about it for now. I mean they represent to me, like a lot of post modernism, the depreciation of reality. Art hitting the wall so to speak.  Screaming ones brains out in the void doesn't cut it any more. Installations with cigarette butts, or cows in formaldehyde are not just ugly, they are an unhealthy ugly. Reflective of a rudderless vision. No, more a rudderless nightmare.  So it stands to reason that the the modern viewer out there should be looking for the opposite - like art with depth of meaning. This doesn't mean a painter should avoid tragedy as a subject, but the painter should be as faithful as possible to its meaning. And then transcribe it. I recently saw the Robert Pope show at the AGNS. Beautiful drawings and paintings encompassing the difficult subject of cancer, his cancer. Here's an artist who appreciated reality. To me his drawings and paintings are most relevant today. He did it all, incorporating myth, tragedy, conceptualism, and a simplification of form that resonates aesthetically for the viewer. The work is encoded with symbols. Art like this can't be captured in a sound bite.      

SL: We are told that the urban existence is really the only one and that most of our population will be living in large city centres in the future.  Apart from the logistical and practical problems that this creates like who will grow food and how to deal with urban overcrowding, how is rural Canada still relevant to the 21st century art scene?

SR: Let's go back to where we started ... with the landscape. So then the players caught up in the tension that exists with the decline of the rural community come into play. Just as we can't  fish and ignore the erosion of nature, we can't make art and ignore the subject of rural Canada. Regional artists mirror this fact through their work, but then, well you see some even attempt to fabricate its destruction in a weird, post apocalyptic way.
 Other artists document the landscape faithfully in paint, and others still yet, tap into the whole precariousness of it all, responsibly, and with new media. Art scenes come and go, but the landscape... that is our generally changing concept of it remains .. for what it is and in all its elusiveness. That should make rural Canada relevant to artists, at least to me it does.  

SL: Thanks, now it's your turn to do the dishes.
Simone Labuschagne, Wolfville, NS  

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Cantwell's Fence - Cape Spear Romantic

"No escape is possible for the non-figurative artist; he must march towards the consequence of his art."

Piet Mondrian

"Art is essentially about the memory and that is necessarily something which deals with how we encode experience and how that experience can be relived."
                                                                                                   Guido Molinari

Cantwell's Fence, Cape Spear Primary, oil on canvas, 38"x59", Steven Rhude

One would expect to find a fence demarcating  the most easterly point of North America. It has taken on some reincarnations owing to rot and deterioration, restoration, and eventually a replica of the one present when Cape Spear was a working lighthouse and home to the light keepers family. It is currently being repaired as a result of damage incurred from a hurricane.

Realistically, the fence is pristine white, with the unseen light house providing the traditional red colour for contrast. However, a fence is an ideal surface to mimic the hard edge  abstraction of the likes of Guido Molinari and his peers. It can bring life to the wooden surface and evoke emotions suggesting the roots of modernism and utilitarianism.

 Where once the fence may have been devised to protect the light keeper's children while playing, or animals from falling over the cliff, it is now a barrier for tourists who make the long trek up the hill to this magnificent point of land and to the oldest surviving lighthouse in Newfoundland.

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS

Friday, 26 October 2012

A Racetrack, a Pale Horse, and the Hotel Albert

The Racetrack, oil, 1890s, Albert Pinkham Ryder, Cleveland Museum of Art

May 14th, 1888

As a reporter, one of his skills was to eavesdrop. Alone and listening in on the conversation between the scruffy recluse and the waiter, eating his meal quietly while feigning to read the paper, no one would suspect anything. If they glanced over they would probably take him for a travelling salesman, not a reporter baiting the hook. The long bearded guy had to be the artist who often dined alone, an eccentric according to art dealers and the few patrons, that helped prep him ... for what? An article about a slob who already, in his estimation, was an incurable romantic, a reputed mystic; one whose paintings looked like they were created using as much tobacco juice as he did oil paint.  He really didn't know. All he knew was that he seemed to be going backwards into a romantic pool of... of... What kind of headline could he use?

literature Inspires Painting 

How boring could that be, like Shakespeare, who he disdained  - too old fashioned. he wanted to write about today - like this modernist thing he was interested in and everyone had an opinion on, something tilting on the edge of an experimental convulsion. New York, his New York, was about to take the painting mantle from Europe. He could feel it in his bones. So why Ryder? And oh, why now?

So, as he listened to the conversation between the painter and the fidgety waiter, while dining at  the Hotel Albert, East 11th Street, he wondered who else would want an assignment like this. Someone he could pass it off to. Rumour had it the guys place was a pig sty. Could hardly even get around his apartment, debris piled high bracketing a well worn path leading to two places - the bedroom and the easel. But still they talked about him with a sort of child like reverence. Almost like he was a simpleton genius. But for now, he was wary, noting that there were others like this Ryder guy in his past, not so simple in the end really. He would reserve judgement for now. Too much ground to cover yet. He didn't like messes, and wished if he had to meet him, well, maybe he could meet this pack rat on neutral ground - perhaps at this very hotel, over a nice meal like he was enjoying now. But today wasn't the time - he just wanted to listen and observe the American romantic. Get the painter's brother William, the manager, to arrange it. That's what he would do.

 But then that tingle thing happened... that sensation that starts around the back of the neck and migrates up the head to the top of the scalp. Something about a race, Hanover being a sure thing, and so much was on the line. Five Hundred bucks to be exact, a lot for a waiter. Hmm...  Oh, he was a betting man himself and always pondered his options in terms of luck and prophesy, not logic - that bane of all bets gone awry. But this time his bet was on a story, not a race. He would arrange to meet Ryder. Of that he was now sure. But first, the Brooklyn Handicap and the Dwyer brothers and Mr. Cassat's pride and pet.

May 15th, 1888

He read the article in the paper the next day, May 15th, 1888. The Bard, recovered from a life threatening illness was favoured,  but most thought Hanover a strong competitor especially owing to a "heavy and cuppy track", an inelegant term for a slow track with no rain to make it sloppy. The New York Times predicted as follows:

  1st The Bard, 2nd Oriflamme, and 3rd Hanover.

May 16th, 1888
The next morning he sipped his tea and queried about that fidgety waiter. He was told he should be in but has not shown up for his shift yet. The excuse wasn't convincing so he lingered to... well maybe in the hopes of interviewing the poor sot. Aware now that Hanover came in second, and happy he only put down a meagre bet himself, he wanted to see what a man really looked like who just lost five hundred bucks, and waited on tables for a living. The poor dupe. That's when the Concierge was approached by a detective who informed him of what? A suicide? In the hotel... no someone from the hotel. Someone working at this hotel. Someone who was a waiter at this hotel. Someone who was fidgety.

Ryder dropped by to see his friend the waiter too. Maybe to console him or maybe because the outcome of the race impressed him enough to return to the hotel. It was death by gun shot the evening before, so he heard Ryder mutter to himself as he passed by him, and out the door on route to East 11th Street.

The Armory Show, 1913

 Fifteen years later, the excitement he felt at the Armory show was palpable. His prophesy regarding modernism was manifest. His editor leading him toward assignments he could identify with. He never did interview Ryder, preferring to not initiate an article owing to a pang of conscience - perhaps because of the waiter's suicide, but also to just leave the recluse to his pile of debris, sagging/sliding paintings (owing to the use of candle wax as a medium), and encrusted unfinished works. Besides, why initiate a potential pilgrimage of worshippers to the recluse's garret. It really wasn't fair to the old codger, who as he was set straight by Earnest Lawson, really did believe the artist needed to be left in simplicity and peace.

However, the Armory catalogue did not lie to him. There it was, gallery P - Albert Pinkham Ryder, American. So, he went over to see the mostly moonlit jewels, witnessed by several people more in a state of rapt meditation, than the impatience that sometimes is experienced when  viewing paintings in a crowd. One person stood out though. He wore a well tailored brown suit and told him his name was A.T. Sanden - what the initials stood for he never discovered. He did find out with some seasoned prying that the man was a collector, that he currently owned a painting of Ryder's he had never heard of. "What's it called?" he said.  A.T. Sanden said the title was The Racetrack but he preferred to call it Death on a Pale Horse. "Can I see it some time?"

The Hotel Albert

He's much older now. Modernism has seen the likes of Duchamp, Picasso and Matisse. But as time works on the best of his memory, he still returns vividly to that day when Sanden showed him the visionary results of Ryder's cloud that he could not throw off. Later, he remembered chatting with a Cottier Gallery employee who observed some notes by the artist on the painting so haunting to him now as he sat in the Hotel Albert. "The presiding genius in it all is Death, Death to the finer instincts. Death wins the race, always." 

He stirred his tea and thought about the painting, how the Horse and Death are galloping in a direction counter to traditional American horse racing. He thought about the waiter and his self inflicted and countered change of fortune. Thought about the day of the race and how the weather was cold and grey. He wondered why he could not come to determine whether the painting depicted day or night. Or, if in the end this really mattered to Ryder at all. Since he never interviewed him, he would never find out.

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS.  


Sunday, 21 October 2012

Painting Place

Our Canadian pioneer of modernism, David Milne, had the idea, and actually did a painting of one of his favorite places with his painting gear in the fore ground. It is a theme that has been continued and appreciated especially for those artists where 'place' resonates with both aesthetic and social meaning.

Buoys on the Edge of Burnt Point, oil on canvas, 38"x 50", Steven Rhude

Although this painting excludes my painting gear, and introduces the buoys instead (a figurative object I have come to strongly identify with), it is none the less a painting place I hope to return to more than once or twice in the future. It is a great spot to go and be suspended in time, and find union with the ocean, tides, horizon and of course - the sky.

Steven Rhude Wolfville, NS

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Day of the Jackal

On a summers day in late July of 1983, long before people logged on to read the news, many Canadians flipped through the Saturday Globe and Mail with their morning coffee at their side. In the entertainment section, an article heading was sure to catch the eye of most readers familiar with the name of Alex Colville.

Target Pistol and Man, 1980

         Colville's importance exaggerated

It was a blunt message to not only Canadians who identified, or at least respected the popular artist, but also to a wing of the art establishment in Canada that supported contemporary realist practices. It came from the Globe's then art critic in residence John Bentley Mays, who, not by chance was also an establishment player respected for positing the importance of postmodern art to Canadians. In art critic parlance this type of article is known as an hit and run review, usually gauged to quickly dismiss the work and relevance of an artist, execution style and then escape the scene of the crime. As reviews go it is extremely short (a half page and two and a half columns) with the first column devoted to achievements - a reviewer's way of metaphorically setting up the subject for the kill. However, this one was different in that it also held in its cross hairs the shows curator David Burnett, and catalogue contributor Marilyn Schiff.

'The exhibition of paintings, drawings, and prints is travelling not merely coast to coast in Canada, but will be displayed as well in two German museums. All of which adds up to a drastic miscalculation on behalf of the fabricators of this exhibition.' [1]

I suspect Mays deliberately used the term 'fabricators' to suggest some level of deception on behalf of the curator and indeed the entire scope of the exhibition. For years I have followed the work of John Bentley Mays and usually his writing is well researched and articulate, with an understanding of artistic movements and how their various practitioners earmarked for review, fit within the history of their respective field of expression. So, as I read his review twenty nine years ago, I wondered at the barely suppressed caustic disdain Mays exemplified for a type of painting so obviously engaging to the general viewer, and reflective of not only regionalism, but like it or not - the modernist narrative.

Today, I realize what Mays didn't do for the reader, was provide his own understanding of Realism, especially within the Canadian context, and then go on to explain why Colville's importance is exaggerated.

'Whatever interesting things can be said of the eccentric, garrulous artist himself, the art he has made is of virtually no creative consequence within the history of Canadian painting and graphic design. Except, perhaps, as a foot note to the paragraph of the magazine-illustration style of the 1930s'.

No mention of the relationship of Realism to Canadian painting. The reader is supposed to understand it exists and Colville does not qualify for the club. We are to take Mays at his word. No framework to assess how graphics fit into Canadian Realism, or as an alternative to the practice of painting. Just a terse reminder of 1930s magazine illustration and style. When Mays does get to the Realist tradition he cites four names.

'Nor is it even of much importance within its own tradition of modern illustrative realism, a tradition which has been continued and variously enriched by such painters as Alex Katz, Phillip Pearlstien, David Hockney, and Christopher Pratt'. 

Aside from Pratt, the other examples are American and British. No mention of other Canadians such as  Christine Pflug or Jack Chambers thereby attempting to reference a Canadian approach to the urban and regional Realist tradition - and so justifying through comparison his claim that Colville's work is of no importance. The question might be why, but nevertheless here is where I believe Mays starts to squeeze the regional trigger.

'Its widespread potential as a crowd-pleaser apart, Colville's art is worthy of a small, didactic group show of realists from Canada's Atlantic region; nothing more.' 

The tower of Canadian art, at the time Mays wrote this statement, was Toronto centered. Much of the resurgence of painting revolved around Neo-ExpressionismSoon the Art Gallery of Ontario would show Toronto Painting 84 and showcase a return to easel painting and the figure (did it ever leave?) with painters such as Rae Johnson and Brian Burnett leading the charge. In other shows, the rawness of the German Neo Expressionist painter George Basalitz  graced the walls of the AGO corroborating the movements international base for the Toronto art establishment. All was well in Toronto and Atlantic Realism was a distant memory.

Little wonder Mays' article suggest little respect for the small town painter from Wolfville, NS, who as he said, could be taken for the 'village lawyer perhaps, or the doctor'. Many of Toronto's Neo-Expressionists lived and painted in downtown industrial lofts, consumed lots of beer, and wore paint spattered clothes.
 Colville's life style was far removed from the Bohemia of Toronto loft living. Also, his calculating and precisionist methodology held little interest for Mays and so the bullet was released.

'A big house of interpretation can be built on the sand of Colville's paintings, as David Burnett has done. The slight puzzles built into these pictures invite many fantasies and prohibit none, so art historical fantasies become as plausible as any other sort.'

Does Mays here fall prey to the formalist criticisms still lingering on from the 1960s. A baseball is not a baseball; it is a sphere, nothing more or less. Contrary to this, Colville's paintings do not eschew narrative. As part of the realist tradition they invite it and are linked to the existentialist component of modernism. Hardly a historic fantasy. The rest of the review defaces aspects of Colville's symbolism, composition, the use of the nude, and the nature of painterly craft with the vigor of an  iconoclast.

'A few paintings of something more than momentary interest, and hundreds of thousands of meticulous brushstrokes adding up to not much, certainly not enough to justify the attention being lavished on the art of Alex Colville by the Art Gallery of Ontario.'

 In an biographical article based on a one on one interview with Colville in the same 1983 Globe edition, Mays states:

'How then has it happened until this summer Alex Colville has been denied the comprehensive critical attention routinely lavished on artists far younger and more obscure?'

Surely a question Mays and the critical Canadian establishment should have been asking themselves. But given the interests of the Canadian postmodernist camp, there was little desire to augment their perspective with Realism. Back then painting was just getting off life support and Realism was considered a step back by many a curator. Hence the general desire to exclude realist painting from its discourse. The question was moot, even back in 1983.

Strange though how things sometimes work out. It would be safe to say, given the benefit of hindsight, that Colville dodged the Jackal's bullet, the dissident wing of the post modern establishment, and that infamous review of 1983. Like his art or not, Colville has secured his place in the pantheon of Canadian painting. There are as many critical supporters of his work today, as there are detractors of what Mays disparagingly coined Modern Illustrative Realism. Hopefully Colville's chapter is something artists and critics alike can learn from, as regionalism takes on a more critical role in the variety of artistic outcomes inherent in Canadian expression.

[1] Review - Colville's importance exagerated, John Bentley Mays, Globe and Mail, Entertainment section, July 23, 1983

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS





Wednesday, 3 October 2012


For an uncertain period of time, we humans walk through life in a suit of skin.  However, our existance is also comprised of an inner life as well. Much time and thought has been spent determining just what that is. The form of expression called Realism allows for me an elastic means to explore this equation.

Whatever this inner life is to us, the ability to transcribe it outwardly through representational painting, has preoccupied western man within a spiritual, psychological, social, political, and aesthetic framework. The mature principles of Realism have endured and expanded over the last five hundred years because the artists practicing them have been able to find the necessary metaphors through which the world - externally, could be made comprehensible; resulting in a personal vision of a constantly changing global culture and society, of which we are all influenced greatly.

In my opinion, post modernism, through numerous mutations, has lost the ability to do this effectively. This may also account for a sustaining interest in Realism today.

The following works are on display at the Chase Exhibition Room, Public Archives Halifax, NS

Steven Rhude Wolfville, NS

The Beekeper, oil on canvas, 62"x 40", Steven Rhude

Study for Beekeeper, graphite on paper, 14"x13", Steven Rhude

The Museum Today, oil on canvas, 36"x 60", Steven Rhude

Rescue, Hound of the Cavale, oil on canvas, 40"x 90", Steven Rhude

1992 - Night Before a Hurricane, oil on board, 22"x 38", Steven Rhude

Portrait of Lucy Publicover, graphite on paper, 9.75" x 14", Steven rhude

Boy and Hay Bale - Learning to Leave, oil on canvas, 27"x 37", Steven Rhude

Falling Boat, oil on canvas, 54"x  14", Steven Rhude

Soup, graphite on paper, 14"x 21", Steven Rhude

The Huguenot, graphite on paper, 10.5"x 14", Steven Rhude

Boy with Buoy, oil on canvas, 44"x 40", Steven Rhude

Pig, - The Civilizer, graphite on paper, 7"x 10.5", Steven Rhude

Devil's Island Light in the Rothko Chapel, oil on canvas, 24"x  30", Steven Rhude

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Emma Butler Gallery

I'm pleased to announce my new representation in St. John's Newfoundland with the Emma Butler Gallery.
Please check out the gallery on line.

Battery Shed on a Road,  oil on canvas, 32"x 42", Emma Butler Gallery

Red Boat, Ochre Pit Cove, oil on canvas, 29.5"x38", Emma Butler Gallery

Buoys on the Edge of Burnt Point, oil on canvas, 38"x50", Steven Rhude

Cantwell's Fence, Cape Spear Primary, oil on canvas, 38"x59", Steven Rhude

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Last Dogs Hung, oil on canvas, 34"x48", Steven Rhude

Argyle Fine Art, Halifax, September 14th to October 2nd

Opening: Friday, September 14th - 7pm. 
1559 Barrington Street, Halifax. tel. 902.425.9456 

Resistance - Last Dogs Hung

Contemporary Realist Painting continues to evolve largely outside of the mainstream establishment. Although championed by independent artists and galleries, a new generation of Realist painters have been largely ignored by an artistic management intent on blurring the
boundary between art and life - what T.S. Elliot referred to as “the dissociation of sensibility”. Today (with a few exceptions), humanism and emotion combined with the innovation required to carry out the creation of a Realist painting, have generally been overlooked. Possibly because of an art establishment more concerned with their own shifting hagiography and the elevation of spectacle.

As a painter, I have noted in the past that concerns exist in today's post art culture, and that globally, museum elites have established a gulf between the patron and the art exhibited. The patron becoming a disinterested third party, understandably fatigued with essential reading before approaching a work of establishment art. In this world, Realist painters can only sow the seeds. How well they grow depends on the environment and receptivity of the ground available.

Notwithstanding this, Realism continues to purvey qualities of beauty, skill, concept, emotion, and place, that are directly engaging and relevant for the viewer in a post art world. In general, the mature principles of Realist painting have endured for over six hundred years while other movements mutate for survival. If one were to assess the larger historical picture to date, Realist painters would easily be considered one of the ‘last dogs hung.’

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS.

To inquire about work contact: or 902.425.9456

Buoy at Italy Cross, oil on canvas, 19"x22", Steven Rhude

Heaven's Gate Road, oil on canvas, 30"x40", Steven Rhude

Buoy at Dublin Shore, oil on canvas, 20"x16", Steven Rhude

Boy and Hay Bale, oil on canvas, 27"x37", Steven Rhude

Stairway, Cape Spear, oil on board, 24"x20", Steven Rhude

Buoy at Indian Path Road, oil on canvas, 20"x16", Steven Rhude

Apparition, oil on canvas, 36"x48", Steven Rhude

Finding Arcadia - Whitehead, oil on canvas, 60"x90", Steven Rhude

Road to Lunenburg, oil on board, 20"x24", Steven Rhude

Road to Yankee Harbour, oil on board, 20"x24", Steven Rhude

Red Boat, Road to Kissing Bridge, oil on canvas, 32"x50", Steven Rhude

Road to Half Island Cove, oil on board, 18"x24", Steven Rhude

Fish Fluke, oil on canvas, 40"x72", Steven Rhude

Spring, Isle Madame, oil on canvas, 40"x60", Steven Rhude 

Buoys and Apples - After Kingsburg, oil on canvas, 20"x30", Steven Rhude

Buoy at Black Point Road, oil on  board, 18"x24", Steven Rhude

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Learning to leave

Boy with Hay Bale, oil on canvas, 27"x37", Steven Rhude

The search for community is a creative process of constructing what Castells calls 'resistance identities' which oppose the 'legitimized identities' constructed for us in the context of civil society and its state apparatuses.'  

Michael Corbett - Learning to Leave, The Irony of Schooling in a Coastal Community, Fernwood Publishing 

The guest analyst referred to the region as 'a resource based, industrial life style driven into the ground.' A world of clear cuts and Monsanto. But the boy recalled his Dad saying otherwise. Something like a tangled and interwoven world of layers stood out in his memory.

Starting from scratch - wind, seed, and all compressed into an image of iconic growth.

That romantic folk legend said something about how he 'gave it up and went to town'. But that wasn't on his mind as a child. In fact learning to leave was furthest from his mind. 

He loved to hear them referred to as Tootsie Rolls in a Field. Delighted in the fact he conjured a metaphor expressing the sweetness of shape and design - something to be consumed. But really it was just hay - or long rows of sun and community, baled into a shape universal. Unfettered like a sewer lid incongruent - yet fitting and essential to any city street.

However, boys dream and drift. So he thought of Andrew Wyeth - temperas made of eggs, earth, ochre and umber. How could anything be more rural or exacting?

The boy thought of isolation and that string bean called Hopper. Comfortable being alone in the woods; confronted suddenly with the image of urban anxiety. For the boy, the field was his Office in a Small City. His ground of being.

That compression thing again. Like making a snow ball packed tightly.

More plant closures - Bowater Mersey, transition teams, and foreign buyers in the wings...

Time to cut the bales open and unravel their humanity and contents. Lay it out like a carpet of revitalization for them.

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS

Friday, 15 June 2012

The Bee Keeper

Bee Keeper, oil on canvas, 62"x44", Steven Rhude

Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will be in the next moment.

Vicktor Frankl

Domesticating honeybees has turned out to be a fragile and complicated part of contemporary post modern life. Without a doubt, the death of honeybees has accelerated in the last decade; just as the rural out migration of humanity has also accelerated to the urban jungle, leaving most people alienated from the importance of bees until the honey supply in the pantry runs low.

Bee Keeper, (detail)

 Honeybees have always had enemies, even before we domesticated them. But a list of current threats to their existence would include moths, mites, viruses, bacteria, the heat of summer and the cold of winter. Particularly disturbing is the pesticides we put on plants they pollinate and ironically, also the pesticides used to protect bees from other insects. By helping them we are also killing them. There's California and the almond crop, and the widespread disease which results from such intense and colossal pollination. An act of sharing which has come to threaten the existence of bees as our modern age of industrial farming becomes more corporatist in practice. Topping the list of threats is CCD or Colony Collapse Disorder. In 2007 this ailment reduced 1/3 of American beehives to empty boxes. Not a rosy picture and current data in Canada is just as bleak.

Bee Keeper, (detail of a smoker)

I don't pretend to understand bees or the mystery of their purpose and beauty, but I do hang out with a bee keeper friend of mine. This portrait is another in a long line of images that have come to reflect and record a rural life in Nova Scotia I consider to be profoundly rewarding in so many ways; yet at the same time, experiencing a serious challenge to its future. I wondered for years why someone would want to spend time with insects that sting and generally intimidate most people when they approach a hive (me included). But Bee Keepers are a rare breed that more than ever bring us into a world of a sophisticated democracy we could learn much from.

Bee Keeper, (detail of hand)
The future of the honeybee is crucial to all of us, and makes rural life all the more important to understand, especially in terms of food security and food strategies.  They are the contemporary canary in the mine shaft. Like an old testament prophet, the bee keeper reminds us of this and the larger picture we are all willing participants in.    

As for rural life, the below video is a superb commentary by Kate Oland on the relevance of contemporary rural society in Nova Scotia. If you have some time, I highly recommend watching it.

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS.