Robert Achtemichuk

What I see becomes a sort of visual illumination, like a match struck unexpectedly in the dark, a gift, lighting my path into wonder.

Artist Statement

for Outskirts

At the heart of Achtemichuk’s artistic practice is repetition: the same back alley, or city street, or roofscape, in succeeding seasons, in all kinds of weather, at different times of day becomes a study of light in its many manifestations. “My backyard stoop offers a place where I sometimes experience deep emotion,” says Robert Achtemichuk. “What I see becomes a sort of visual illumination, like a match struck unexpectedly in the dark, a gift, lighting my path into wonder. The reflection of a moment becomes paint and process.” In painting his own neighbourhood, Achtemichuk has succeeded in finding a subject and making it fully his.

for In Homer Watson’s Footsteps

 

This project is an attempt to follow in Homer Watson’s steps, and locate the sites from which he made his many paintings of landscapes around Doon. In my research I collected images of successive seasons in the woods near the house in which Homer Watson was born, just down the road from the Homer Watson House & Gallery; the marsh area where the Speed River and the Grand River meet; and down the Grand River into Cambridge and Paris. Homer Watson could walk from field to field across private property looking for painting subjects. He painted woods, trails, farm buildings, cows, streams and rivers.

 

I found images like his – riverside views, trails in the woods, individual trees, stands of trees. The paintings I made were done on the spot, following Watson’s method of “plein air” painting, a method that he himself borrowed from the painters he admired, precursors of the Impressionist movement such as Constable, Corot, and the painters of the Barbizon School (to whom he paid such affectionate homage in the ceiling frieze of his studio). Yet unlike them I used watercolour and gouache in my explorations, looking to record the fleeting light, clouds and movement in the spontaneous gestures of a fluid and quick drying medium.

 

Following in Homer Watson’s steps encouraged my love of old trees and showed me their cramped and dwindling environment. Gone are the huge old-growth trees of his time. What we now have, especially in Cressman Woods, are trees that were seedlings in Homer Watson’s lifetime. New private property signs multiply with the urban sprawl – no trespassing – emphatic frontiers limiting public access to woods, trail and river. I documented what I found, but I did not include new buildings or commercial developments.

 

Homer Watson saw the beginning of the city’s assault on the countryside and the natural environment, and the danger urban encroachment posed to the groves of old trees. His concern for his local landscape went beyond painting: it took him 25 years of work and lobbying to garner support from municipal councillors and business people to establishing Cressman Woods as a publicly accessible nature reserve, now part of Homer Watson Park.

 

Like Homer Watson, I want my paintings to raise our awareness that we all need these natural wooded areas, these landscapes and these points of view to be preserved for our collective health and spiritual wellbeing.

 

Robert Achtemichuk

Spring, 2015

 

for The Cantelon Trail – Norfolk Arts Centre November 17, 2017

“Algunos dicen: Nunca segundas partes fueron buenas.”

Don Quixote 11.4

Quoted in The School Days of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee

Edgar Cantelon documented places and people and his meticulous paintings give us a detailed visual history of the Norfolk County. I find an affinity with Cantelon’s paintings of the roadside houses and mills with trees. I like his picket fences.

Cantelon painted only a few tree groups. One of the paintings is of a large oak in the middle of it all, like what I hear was once at St. John’s corner. Wouldn’t it be great to see a large oak there now, so that we had to drive around it?

This project gave me the opportunity to visit the famed Carolinian forests of Norfolk. I experienced the reforestation started by Zavitz in the last century. Trees were given to anyone who would plant and care for them. I was fortunate to drive around the county with Adam Biddle, Norfolk County Superintendent of Forestry and together we created a list of older indigenous trees from our wanderings, trees that where special to this region – for him an inventory, an update to the county’s holdings; for me an exciting moment of orienteering. I painted a few of these older survivors as tree portraits, as individuals, and as groups, documenting the passage of time.

My work is about evoking the presence of trees – the light, the time of day; the wind, the weather, the season – what am I experiencing at the moment of painting. This is what the pre-Impressionists referred to as plein air painting. As artist I discovered that the spontaneity of first impressions is better than second tries. In my previous project on night time urban landscape painting I painted mostly from memory.

Whenever memory plays a large part, as in this case, great care must be exercised because if things go wrong and events are placed in a wrong sequence, then there is no correction possible except to tear up all the papers written on and begin again. And I want to avoid such a course – a real danger – because seconds are never as good as firsts.

Camilo Jose Cela,

The Family of Emil Durate

Recently I heard a quote on Sheila Roger’s The Next Chapter: “The hardest journey is from the head to the heart,” said the Ojbwe elder James Dumont. Working with memory or in plein air has brought me a poetic understanding of the painting experience. We all have memories of common experiences, and I try to use these memories to make my paintings.

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