Kenneth J. Gordon
Every painting is unique in its own way, but it is that which represents nothing from this world that invention is free to run its wildest. A piece of your subconscious illustrated for all to see and interpret.
Kenneth Gordon has the ability to replicate what he sees with precision yet he shies away from realism and concentrates on the non-representational, finding a stronger creative charge.
Gordon has several pieces that stand out in his portfolio however there is one in particular that had gotten several reactions from me.
When it came to the non-representational piece "Equinox" I passed right by it. It seemed simple at first, but then I paid more and more attention to it as it stuck out in a strange way.
The contrast of the slight dulling in the top right corner chipped away the first piece of my skepticism as it appealed to me the third or fourth time I viewed it.
The edges then took my attention and drew my eyes towards centre and there it was. The piece the way it was meant to be seen.
The subtleties of the yellow shine its calmed brightness onto the greens but without stealing the gaze, instead, the yellows lead your attention throughout the entire painting like the poet Virgil guiding Dante.
There is turbulence in the clash of colour yet a safe feeling amongst the blue.
I underestimated it plain and simple and it has grown to be one of my favourite pieces from Gordon.
I recently connected with Kenneth and asked him a few questions about his process.
When did you decide to concentrate on the abstract instead of realism? Was the change immediate or too gradual to notice?
While I was at the University of Manitoba, School of Art in the '70's, I explored all types of styles: realism, impressionism, surrealism, abstraction, even some conceptualism, but I always felt my most personal and best work came from Non-Representational pieces.
Do you have a picture in your head of what you will paint when you begin?
Most of the time I have a rough idea of where the piece should be going, in terms of the composition; the elements and principles of design. Often the live edge wood pieces have an inner pattern that I try to enhance and work with, but ultimately I make decisions and changes as I go that I feel will create the best and final composition.
When a new idea comes into your head while painting do you go with it or stick to the original vision?
I like to think that the pieces have a "life" of their own that I try to let come through. Adapting to changes and evolving the work is an exciting part of creating any kind of art, as well as a constant struggle. I try to be open to changes but ultimately I still try to be in control of how the work is developing.
Where do you get your ideas?
My wood pieces are inspired by the original, individual piece's shape, texture, patterns, colours, etc... My other works of realism or abstraction are usually based on photographs or sometimes other artist's works that have inspired me. I try to stay current with what artwork is being made throughout the world (artists that are in the news, gallery shows, social media forums, competitions like RBC and Sobey's, etc...) and find inspiration from ideas that are being put forth by other artists. I believe it is extremely important to stay current with styles and ideas in the academic art world in order to develop my own art work to the next level.
Have you ever painted drunk?
Once, many many years ago. At the time, I remember, I thought I was making something amazing and then realized the next day it was crap! Haven't tried it since.
Do you have a favourite time of day to paint?
I find it often depends on the time of year, whether the piece is for a show or commission, what else is happening in my daily life, etc... I believe I prefer to carve in the afternoon and paint at night. I've also noticed that once I start working I lose track of the time, missing meals and often working well into the night.
What's your favourite medium?
Having been a Visual Arts high school teacher for 30 years I have used many different mediums. While instructing my students I had to develop an appreciation and understanding of everything from acrylics, oils, pastels, ink, printmaking to clay to computers. I presently use Acrylic paint with my wood pieces and on my abstract canvas paintings. But I also enjoy working with watercolours in a more realistic style, portraying animals, landscapes, buildings, people, etc... I find watercolour the most technically challenging.
How do you determine the monetary value of a piece?
Determining the price for your artwork is a very personal aspect of being a professional artist. I don't believe that there is a magic formula that can apply to everyone. I will consider the price of my materials and the time spent on the work, but I have created some really great pieces quickly, so it's not just about time put into the piece, that reminds me of James Whistler saying to John Ruskin that his work may have taken only two hours to produce but a lifetime to learn how.
Ultimately my work is priced by what I think my audience will pay for it, what someone has paid for previous works' and how much I personally value it and see it as an important piece.
Water, sky or people, what is harder to paint?
All about the same for me because I don't paint one of these things all the time. I find realism more "technically" challenging so capturing a likeness of someone can be difficult, but getting a sky or an area of water just right can also be just as challenging. The more of one thing you paint the easier it will become.
Why do you paint?
That's a really difficult question to answer. I have always created artwork as far back as I can remember. I find if I don't paint or create I become very agitated. I feel at peace when I am creating and like meditating it becomes something I just have to do. It is who I am.
Have you let the expectations of others affect a piece?
Never with my own personal artwork. I have done commissions and some graphic artwork that required me to meet the "clients" expectations, but I see that similar to a musician writing a jingle for a product not writing their own personal song.
On average how many mistakes do you make with each piece?
"There are no mistakes, only happy accidents" - Bob Ross.
Seriously, any mistakes I make I usually find I can either work with, change and/or correct. If I can't the piece is discarded.
How do you choose a piece of wood to paint?
It first must meet the criteria of being kiln dried so it will not crack when I add paint and as it ages over time. Thickness (weight) and type of wood (will it be easy or hard to carve) are also considerations in choosing the piece. It must, above all, have an overall interesting shape, wood grain pattern(s), knots and/or bark to make me select it. I also try to look at the "inner feel" of the patterns and overall shape to get an idea what I will need to carve and paint to enhance that unique quality.
You say that you feel "the act of creating something that doesn't exist in any other form is the most exciting and challenging" in that you find painting non-representational to be more rewarding. Do you still paint realism?
Yes, I often paint realistic images as well. I find painting a landscape or animal keeps my technical eye-hand coordination skills honed. I also will make realistic paintings for friends and family, as I know they enjoy seeing those images. Painting objects that already exist in nature is a completely different challenge from painting a non-representational work. My personal philosophical belief is that an artwork that pushes towards being new, unique and original, as much as that may be impossible, follows in the tradition of mankind's evolution with art and himself. Anything else is really just decoration.
Do you ever censor your work and hold back out of fear of how the public may think?
No, I can't see how I can be true to my work and self if I am worried about a censor. Luckily I don't have to rely on selling my work to live. Obviously, that could influence an artist to create work that they know will sell but is not true to their ideals. Unfortunately, the term "starving artist" applies to those individuals who have often stuck to their values. and not "sold out."
Who is your favourite painter not known to the masses?
Ali Banisadr, whose amazing work is characterized by dream-like, hallucinatory and often chaotic, abstract landscapes. Also, Marchal Mithouard, better known as Shaka, who is a graffiti artist known for his distinctive street art pieces as well as canvases on which he shows the absurdity of human behaviour.
There is a strong sense of Canadiana in a lot of your pieces, is this something that you practiced implementing?
I believe my work has a distinctive Canadian quality to it, perceived in the medium of the materials and the hieroglyphic designs and colours; an organic quality that is connected to the wood's natural forms. This connection to a Canadian or northern quality happened unintentionally, but I feel it is appropriate to the ideas within the work.
What inspires you the most?
I have always felt a connection to nature. I am drawn to the patterns in plants, rocks, wood and all organic materials. The idea of carving into the wood is so that I can release and reveal the interior of the material, in a sense, exposing the wood's soul. I feel this communicates a spiritual revelation and varnishing these areas with high gloss accentuates the connection to a glass quality that is associated with the spiritual effect of a stained glass church window.
How would you describe your overall style?
Post-Modern Organic Non-Representational.
Is the ability to draw helpful with abstract work or does it not matter?
I believe it definitely does. I don't know of any great abstract artist (from Picasso to Pollock) who couldn't draw before they painted abstractly. The best art work of any type will arise from a disciplined, studied commitment to a technically trained background, which also includes drawing and understanding the elements and principles of design; and of course a known understanding of art history.
What advice can you give to the artist who has a unique talent but is unsure of how to make a career out of art?
As a retired high school art teacher, I have been asked that question many times by students and parents. Talent in art can be transferred into many careers. The Graphic Arts like commercial, advertising, computer, theatre, animation, etc... are areas that may lead to a paying career. The idea of making a living from your own paintings, drawings, sculptures, etc... is another question altogether. Today there are so many great artists making their own work that it is similar to breaking into a major sports league. Think of all the great basketball players that never get drafted...there are only so many openings and so few teams. Making it into the Fine art world as a career will not only take knowledge, skill, originality and salesmanship but also a tremendous amount of luck. Being in the right place at the right time with the right type of art seems obvious, but being recognized by someone of influence, whether that be a critic, gallery owner or collector, is definitely needed. Of course, there is always teaching.
Does family affect your work?
In my experience it does. Being a father and husband comes with responsibilities that can influence your time and commitment to your artwork. Like all the arts the more you do the better you will become. Now that I am retired I have found my work is perhaps more focused and I have the opportunity to be more productive.
How do you channel your emotions into your craft?
I'm not one to use my emotions in my artwork. If anything I find making artwork meditative and peaceful. I approach my work very methodically and try to maintain an intellectual approach to the piece. I'm not interested in making artwork that is created using emotions.
What piece of yours moves you the most or has the most significance?
That's perhaps the hardest question you have asked me.
Every piece is my child and I can't say I like one more than the other. But if I had to choose..."Rainy Night in Spello, Italy" means a lot to me because it brings back great memories. The most significant pieces are the ones that create a new direction in your work. "Carnival" was my first painted wood piece, so I suppose that piece is the most significant. Same question but from a different artist's collection? So many...Rothko's and Rembrandt's artwork moves me the most. Both have an inner spirit that transcends the flat canvas, that to see in person is magical and breathtaking. As for the most significant I think Kandinsky's "Untitled,"(first abstract watercolour) and Duchamp's "Fountain '' have changed the way the world looks at art. One was the birth of Modern art and the other the precursor to our Postmodern world- two very significant moments.
There is an irresistible allure to the inventiveness of Gordon's work.
Each piece is a time bomb that erupts and splashes its colour and temperament on you at precisely the right moment and when that moment happens it is as if a thousand crescendos of a thousand symphonies collide and converge into one magnificent spectacle that showers its message from high without holding back.