the art of memory

Memory is such a tricky thing. Take a place, for example. I moved from Red Deer to Edmonton back in 2009. The Red Deer I remember growing up and living in is very different from the Red Deer that it is now. Its grown and changed and so have I. If I were to compare my memory of Red Deer with, say, someone who was born in the 50's and grew up there, it would be different again. Maybe they had a good or bad experience living there. Maybe it was a transition period in their lives, so they feel kind of neutral about it. I went to high school with loads of people who couldn't wait to get the heck out of town and live somewhere more interesting, only to move back years later because they decided it was a nice place to raise a family, or it was familiar to them after being away in foreign places for so long, or a variety of other reasons. They've remembered it differently or reconciled their feelings about it to their memories or made the decision to move back based on external factors like a job or family.

Memory fluctuates. It isn't static. It can be selective either by choice or conditioning of some sort. You can lose memories or regain them. Sometimes they creep up on us in our sleep or when we are going about daily tasks. Every once in a while in a grocery store I get a waft of a certain candy, I'm not sure which and for a brief moment I'm transported back to this very distinct memory I have as a small child and a hallway apartment and my Knight Rider car that I could sit in and move about our space with my feet. Certain songs can come on if I have my Itunes library on shuffle and suddenly I am lying in bed in the middle of a thunderstorm at a drama camp, chatting with my roommate and watching the storm from our bedroom window.

Most of my work is about memories. I take a lot of photos when I am out and about, conscious that these are things I may paint or draw one day. All of my photos and paintings from Japan are now memories. The BD bought some incense sticks at one of the many shrines we visited there, and when I sit on the couch in the morning with my dogs, wrapped up in the beautiful red silk kimono I purchased on that trip, I can see with my mind's eye the large brass basin filled with sand with tiny tendrils of smoke curling from it from all the incense offerings that visitors made.

Then there are the commissions I get. The request to paint other people's memories. Sometimes the photos I receive when I take on a commission are accompanied with a long back story, to help give me context for the painting I'm creating. Sometimes there is little explanation. I'm good with either. At the end of the day, I rely on the visual reference provided for me. I wasn't there. I didn't know that dog, or visit that country, or know that person. Even if I had been there, I might have remembered it differently. It's such a tricky thing, memory.

I try not to get too stuck on these kinds of questions or the backstories. I try to let my focus be more immediate, more physical. How that line intersects with this line, getting the lighting right, or maybe making the colors a bit more interesting for the painting. This is not to say I don't appreciate the thought and emotion put into the explanations that come with some of the photos, but at the end of the day, memory is kind of like water: it fills the space in the shape and size provided for it, can easily change shape and color depending on the mood of the 'viewer' and is never looked upon in the same way by one person, let alone an audience comprised of multiple witnesses.

Even so, beautiful images can still be cultivated if you try. I made these watercolor illustrations back in May based off the childhood photos that the client sent me. I was flooded with all sorts of similar memories of my own as I worked on these; autumns spent playing in the leaves with my cousins in the front yard of my Grandma's house, or summer days on a blanket, lying on my stomach reading a book for most of the day, or the footprints I left in the cement pad right in front of the back steps of my grandparents house when we helped build their brick patio! Me in pigtails and little shorts operating (or trying to!) a rake that was twice my height at the time.

  untitled,  mixed media on cold pressed paper, 9x12(in),  2018

untitled, mixed media on cold pressed paper, 9x12(in), 2018

  untitled,  mixed media on cold pressed paper, 9x12(in),  2018

untitled, mixed media on cold pressed paper, 9x12(in), 2018

There are some stories you don't need to be privy to in order to have the joy and lightness of certain memories shine through your work, whether they are your memories or not. That's what I love about these two illustrations. You can feel the warmth, joy and nostalgia radiating through. Like it did. As it should.