Artists Hide intentional and unintentional meaning in their art. Hidden messages in oil paintings. Semi-autobiographical portraits of a moment in time for the artist. Easter eggs. I do it regularly in subtle ways.
Recently I submitted a piece to the 29th Annual Juried Members Art Exhibition at Station Gallery in Whitby Ontario. The theme for 2021 was “There’s a little of every artist in their work”.
Themes are funny things. Sometimes you make art to suit a theme, other times you have a piece that resonates with it. Themes can be so open ended that an artist could draw a line on a piece of paper and connect the dots without much effort. In my case, I had several paintings in my studio that could directly speak to this theme. Instead, I chose to submit a painting that may instead leave an art jury to scratch their heads.
“Why would he submit this piece?”
If the viewer knows a little bit about my body of artwork, they could draw some quick and accurate conclusions. Knowing me personally, they could dive deep into some of the nuanced personal connections I have with themes in art (beyond gallery exhibitions) and place. Considering current events can go along way in further solving mysteries. The mystery being “why submit a painting of a used car lot called ‘used cars’ to a juried art exhibition with the theme ‘There’s a little of every artist in their work’?”
Here’s the connection between theme and my oil painting of a used car lot titled ‘Used Cars’:
First, ‘used cars’ is a painting of a used car lot. This is pretty literal stuff. Look at the painting, and that is what you see – a used car lot. However, there are no cars in the painting.
Second, the used car lot is located next to (the incredible) Butchie’s Restaurant in Whitby. You don’t see this in the painting. you need to either recognize the locale, or have this information provided to you. However, this is of no real relevance until you ask the question as to how this used car lot, beside Butchie’s Restaurant is connected to the artist who has painted it. This is an unseen significance – the restaurant. An empty used car lot and a restaurant.
Third, ‘When Are We?’ is an important consideration when it comes to understanding the significance of anything. Paintings, photographs, fashion. The timeframe can have important consequences to meaning. In terms of the year that the painting was completed, it’s 2021. Twenty years from now, there will be a few years that stand out in our global history. These are the pandemic years. Collectively, we have all been touched by the pandemic on many levels. There is nothing particularly personal about the pandemic in the broader sense – however, we each have unique experiences that have reshaped how we behave and experience our lives. Now – we have an oil painting of an empty used car lot, beside an unseen restaurant, completed during one of the pandemic years.
Fourth, personal history. This is the ‘who is the artist as a person’ and ‘how does this connect to everything else?’. This is the more difficult question to answer. It requires either knowing me (the artist) personally, or having followed my work and words for enough time to see a pattern in personal behaviour. This goes for art as well as my personal life. It’s almost the piece of the puzzle that is lost under the couch. We’re looking for it, we can see a little bit about it, but without it there is no full picture. Well here it is. We have a painting of a used car lot next to an unseen restaurant, by an artist, painted during the pandemic. Nearly all of this can be understood by just looking at the painting – with the exception of the restaurant (as previously noted).
Who am I and what have a I done? Well now. Let’s break some of this down.
- I have a fondness for diners. I love breakfast. I love meeting friends at a restaurant for conversation and food.
- The pandemic has almost destroyed my love for dining out. Our family locked down hard, followed the guidelines. Masked up. Stay distant. We were lucky in many ways, while others were not. We could handle not going out for Saturday morning breakfast, or dropping into a favourite restaurant for lunch. We dug in. We got by. People got sick, a lot of people lost loved ones. We were incredibly lucky. I say lucky – because the virus doesn’t give a shit about how hard we worked to stay safe and avoid getting sick. The virus is patient. One slip up (and there were some) and we could have been directly affected by Covid-19.
- I paint urban landscapes (ie: empty used car lots) and sometimes paint vintage automobiles. That’s a hint.
- The first restaurant we went to after locking down, after restrictions eased a little to allow for outdoor, open air patio dining, was Butchie’s. We’d been nervous about doing this – but Butchie’s seemed to have flexed their processes into a pretty solid cadence. They has super distance and regulated takeout. They had an outdoor area that was large enough to accommodate over 10 feet between tables. We felt safe. We sanitized. Wore masks when staff would come by the table. This is a thinly veiled shout out to Butchie’…
The more I think about this, the more strangeness emerges in my mind. There are always so many angles, so many considerations. Fittingly, at a time of pandemic living, I still keep my eye out for interesting subject to paint like classic cars. Here is an empty lot with none.