Friday, November 26, 2010

Ash by the Wetland (oil on canvas 5 x 7 in.) SOLD!

25 November brings us news of the death of my teacher Doris McCarthy at the ripe old age of 100. Her passing was announced on CBC Radio's national news, a fitting tribute to her place and influence in Canadian Art. Miss McCartthy, my painting teacher at Toronto's Central Technical School, taught me how to see colour in the world around me, and how to paint light, shadow, and reflected light.  This painting is done with her voice in my head - her advice on colour and composition....

Yesterday we stopped at a bridge on County Road 20 northeast of Bishops Mills Ontario at an Ash tree, lichened and twisted, deformed by the ice storm of 1997. Beyond it is a view of the wetland to the south, where the South Branch of the Rideau River joins Kemptville Creek. Sunset was fast approaching, so I took a photo as the last ruddy beams of the setting sun painted the distant swamp maples and highlighted patches of yellow lichen on the Ash's dark trunk.

A phalanx of Pigeons distracted me into turning and taking notes instead of beginning a painting on the spot.  They flew in a compact flock for several minutes above the creek downstream of the bridge - a sunset skydance, in formation like fighter jets practicing. Now closing up so there's only one Pigeon space between them, and now turning so that each becomes a narrow line, flikering at each end, and now spreading into a band of broad winged birds - then wheeling all at once, rejoicing in that mysterious reflex that flocks of birds share with schools of fish.

The tree that I chose to paint today from my photos of yesterday, is the largest of a row of Ashes along the bridge embankment, the only one that has not been seriously compromised by Beavers. The others could be considered sculptures, if Beavers ever intend to create art! They have been chewed down into tufts of stems, leaving one successful shoot of 6 cm diameter in each of the clumps to grow up as a tree. The resulting shapes are gnarled and bristly - more installation art than subject for painting!


  1. It seems Miss McCarthy led a long and productive life, and was one of our national treasures. I'm glad you told us about her.
    Whatever she taught you, Aleta, it worked. I love your oils and your watercolours, just from seeing them here.
    -- K
    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

  2. Your words are appreciated, Kay! Memories of Miss McCarthy as my teacher are precious! My last year of the three-year Special Arts course was also her last year of teaching. I remember her making preparations for doing oils in the field the first time she was to go to the Canadian Arctic - she brought a wooden box with partitions for wet oil paintings to show the class. I was envious!

    Now I make preparations of the same sort - but for smaller canvases - and not yet for painting in the Arctic. The 30 Years Later Expedition has much territory to cover and many places to revisit before I expect to ever see icebergs like Doris McCarthy painted!

  3. It's interesting that the Ash trees here are so battered by the Beavers. There has never been a Beaver dam within sight from the bridge here, but they're obviously the dominant influence on the vegetation. Red-osier Dogwood is repeatedly bitten back, there are no Willows, and even a Red Maple has its base gnawed. On the other hand, a sprawling Frangulus Buckthorn, Rhamnus frangula, on a low rise in the Cattail marsh is untouched by Beavers, though they seem to have trampled the space under its branches, and a Cathartic Buckthorn, Rh. cathartica, on the bank among the deformed Ashes, is also untouched.


What do you think of this painting, and what do you know about the subject that I have painted?