Robert is gone. I thought I’d post the letter I, and thousands of other artists received, since it so beautifully conveys the generosity with which Robert graced the world. I never knew him personally, but his being in the world made a big difference to my life. This letter is from his daughter, Sara:
May 30, 2014
Dear Sarah,
On Tuesday morning, at 10:20am, Dad passed away. He was at home, surrounded by his family. My brother Dave’s Airedale, Stanley, lay on the floor nearby. This day was also my, and my twin brother James’s, birthday.
A few evenings earlier, Dad and I were sitting up together, discussing a favourite piece of music. “Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana has the ability to take you from placidity to power in one sonic breath. It is music of dignity and strength, with primitive, energetic passages, evoking absolute beauty from the simplest of phrases. It brings up something that has everything to do with significance — squeezing joy and motif that you just can’t drop — it stays with you.”
I tapped along on his laptop as he riffed a stream of consciousness, his sense of wonder twinkling, then sparkling, his voice growing ever softer, his hand squeezing mine when we paused. “The thing about art is that life is in no danger of being meaningless,” he whispered. I remembered, again, the wonder of nearing the summit plateau at Lake McArthur, rounding a corner to the West Coast Trail’s packed, silvery strand and, moment by moment, the unveiling of the magic hour on the Bois d’Amour in Pont Aven, Brittany. A few more steps, a couple of breaths to our destination: a silent sharing in the marvel.
I thanked him for the millionth time. We all thanked him as he slipped away. “Thank-you, Daddy, thank-you.”
And what about your twice-weekly letters? This ardent epistolary friendship, this living commitment, a connection and conviction to the imagination and creative heartbeat, and to lifemanship? Dad wrote to you last October, after receiving his diagnosis, and since then we’ve solidified our intention. He wrote:
“From the get-go we have been aware of the value of these twice-weekly letters to artists and others. Sara has helped me with many of them. We’ve shared our artistic journey together and have often talked about this day. One of the ideas we’re tossing around is that she start off by writing once a week. The other letter would be a favourite previous one of mine. If we ran all my previous letters once a week, they would last for 27 years! Finding ourselves at new chapters in our adventure, we sincerely hope we can continue to be of service to you.”
And so, I’ll write to you. And you’ll get Dad’s letters, too. It will be my honour to do so, and will continue to be with the deepest gratitude to you, his friend in art.
PS: “Over the days of this journey, a kind of energetic serenity has set in. Something happens with the mixture of space and time. I feel a sense of story. Others have told me you can feel it in your brush, and I do now. A family of mergansers swims close by — the young are almost ready to fly south. Perhaps you have felt it too — it has something to do with purity.” (Robert Genn, on the Mackenzie River, 2000)
Esoterica: Dad’s dream has been to reach artists of all stripes — individuals with a common joy, journeying in this life-enhancing, inexplicable affair of the heart. He wrote, “We have no other motivation than to give creative people an opportunity to share ideas and possibly broaden their capabilities — to get more joy and understanding from their own unique processes.” With this dream in mind, please forward this letter, or letter of your choice, to someone you think might find it of value. If one, or many, chooses to subscribe, we will exponentially widen — as a diverse and generous community of worldwide artists. “To float like a cloud you have to go to the trouble of becoming one.” (Robert Genn)
“Art is something else. Art is fluid, transmutable, open-ended, never complete, and never perfect. Art is an event.” (Robert Genn)

“We live our short spans in the vortex of a miracle, and while we may not be the center of that vortex, it is magic to be anywhere in there.” (Robert Genn)

“Love me truly!
Remember my constancy.
With all my heart
and all my mind
I am with you
even when far away.” (Anonymous text, Carmina Burana)

Subscribe, for free, to the Robert & Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letter.

37 minute painting

September 5, 2013

Tanny's fruit bowl  Oil on canvas board

Tanny’s fruit bowl Oil on canvas board

This piece was done today in 37 minutes, inspired by Robert Genn’s ’37 club’.  It is 30 x 40 cm (about 12″ x 16″).

I’ve been receiving Robert Genn’s wonderful artist’s newsletter, ‘Painter’s keys’ for several years now. Even when I was convinced I wouldn’t ever get back to painting seriously, I always read each letter. Robert always addresses central issues to creating art, everything from why inspiration hits some times and not others, and what to do about it to getting a good gallery, to self evaluating your work.

I am sure the support it gives and the community around it have helped pave the way to finding my way back to oil painting.

The 37 club stems from a painting workshop exercise that Robert and his daughter Sara give to their participants. You have to finish a piece in 37  minutes (which just happens to be the time span of their hourglass).  This technique breaks you out of getting fixated on details, and the results certainly surprised me. I didn’t have any idea how I would get all that fruit, the bowl and the cloth even sketched, in that amount of time. But I worked fast and directly with thicker paint than I usually use. The result is another step in the direction I’m moving, which is more painterly, less precise. Like one of those mysterious canvasses which look abstract up close,

Detail from Canadian painter exhibition

Detail from Canadian painter exhibition

and then resolve into a beautiful realistic scene when you move back.

Canadian painter, 20th century

Canadian painter, 20th century

These were taken awhile back at the Groninger Museum, sorry I can’t remember the name of the specific painter, the show was called The Canadian 7, I believe, and showed wonderful outdoor art done by a group of men in working en plein air in the Canadian wilderness.

As to the 37  minutes, before I put the timer on, I did make a pencil sketch to analyse the oval and the negative shapes. I put down an acrylic under-painting in raw sienna and cadmium medium which is why it looks sunny where that shines through the hastily applied paint. And I painted in the contours of the bowl, fruit and cloth roughly in acrylic. I squeezed out my paints, put on the timer and painted like mad, even finishing 5 minutes before time.  I was tempted to do a little touching up, but the whole point of the exercise is to just leave it, for goodness sake!!  So I am.

(From a photo by the way).