Painting with Tom, Emily and David

Michael Dobson and David Dawson

June 11 - July 16, 2005

Emily Carr wrote as well as any artist about her painting, her struggle to create in charcoal and oils something that revealed a truth, an essence. An image that captured her own intensely spiritual response to the land around her.

Tom canoed on the lakes of Algonquin and searched for something honest and real, something that could be painted onto a small wooden panel and still reveal the grandeur and power of the Canadian wilderness.

Milne was more sublime. A few simple lines, patches of colour, a modest palette. He asked how much can be left out, without losing the meaning. In fact, by leaving much out he heightened the rest. Even more than Tom and Emily, his paintings are of himself in the landscape - austere, direct, articulate.

Michael and I are part of a generation that has seen painting evolve into energetic randomness, to flat squares and lines of colour, to emulations of pop culture, to fluorescent comedy, and declarations of its death. Then a new generation of painters, encouraged by their teachers, tried to revive painting around contemporary concepts and moral statements, using, well, anything that could be stuck on a surface. The painting as an essay. But let's face it: today we have far more powerful and effective ways of communicating our stance on moral and social issues than through painting.

So we return to what Turner and Monet and Whistler and Emily and David and Tom knew. It's a private thing, painting. Just the painter and his subject and his canvas and brushes and all his feelings about the world. It may never mean anything to anyone else, but possibly, just possibly, the viewer might be moved as we are moved by the shadows, and forms, the living, breathing landscape.

There is a difference between a studio painting and a painting en plein aire. Sometimes in the studio the wind is lost.

Painting en plein aire we don't have to remember the cold, the black rusty water, the momentary splash of colour, the depth and size of what we see and how it makes us feel. We don't have to remember how we can almost caress the rolling hills; how the rock face looms like a giant intrusion; how ominous are the clouds; how small and temporary we feel. It is right there, and maybe some of it will find its way onto the canvas.

But it is impossible to go out into the Canadian woods to paint without taking Emily and Tom and David along. And sometimes Mr. Casson, Mr. Lismer and Mr. Roberts as well. "There's a Thomson sky," we say. The edge of that barn, those shadowed fences, that's David's. That west wind stirring up the surf, bending the broom off Dallas road, that's Emily's. In truth of course, God made it first. But Emily, Tom, and David helped us see it, and feel it.

Maybe, as the obit writers of painting might say, "What on earth could Dawson and Dobson add to what David, and Emily, and Tom have already shown us?"

Maybe nothing. Or maybe a glimpse of something here and there, as seen with new eyes. We know one thing, as painters: there is no better way of experiencing the land than standing in it and painting it.

--David Laing Dawson, September 2004

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