MIND RIOT… A ROCK GOD FALLS SILENT: MY DARK KNIGHT IS GONE

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I heard the news a week ago, listening to Q on CBC. On Wednesday night, Soundgarden played Rock City, and two hours later, Chris Cornell was dead. Suicide. I was floored. Couldn’t breathe. I felt sick. Gutted.

Why?

I didn’t know the man. I wasn’t a fan girl. I loved a lot of his music, but I followed his career casually at best, and I’m not even sure I’d have recognized him on the street. And now I can’t stop googling him.

I’ve sat down at least 5 times over the past few days to post pics of my new paintings and write about some legit awesome news, but I just can’t.

Instead, the last seven days have seen me spend hours at my computer looking at pictures and watching videos, reading countless articles and tributes. This is strange behaviour for me, especially right now as I’m hustling to make new work for some shows this summer. Instead of hitting the easel, I’ve been rocking out to mind-blowing live footage and old videos, listening to interviews, tearing up to acoustic ballads. When I leave the house, I drive around way too fast blasting Temple of the Dog, Soundgarden, Audioslave out the sunroof, my foot heavy on the pedal, screaming lyrics that I didn’t even know I knew. I notice that I’m not alone… I’ve heard the same tunes blasting from a few other cars driven by fortysomethings… we catch each other’s eye, nod at each other with sad smiles and drive on.

My Chris Cornell fascination has surprised me, quickly becoming a morbid obsession that’s I know is going to hold my attention for a while yet. I’ve been trying to figure out why his death has affected me so deeply. Like many GenXers, grunge was the soundtrack to my twenties and thirties: Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Alice in Chains… but Cornell’s passing touches a hidden nerve, something much deeper than having to face the fact that those days have become part of the long ago. And it’s clear from the number of articles, posts and tributes all over the internet that I’m not alone in how I feel about him, about his music and about how profoundly his death has shaken me.

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A lot of what I’ve been reading follows the trend of people asking, “Where would my life be without his music?”

After a few days thinking about it, I’ve come to realize that it’s a lot more than the whole cliché thing about his music as the soundtrack to my life and my generation: for over 25 years now, Cornell’s voice has with me almost daily. Without exaggerating, I can say that not a week has gone by since the early 90s without my hearing his voice several times, and I’ve listened to my favourites thousands of times on repeat. My most listened-to playlists feature at least one of his songs. I turn to his music and words so often because I totally get everything he’s saying, and his music, from every style and genre, reflects who I am and what my experience has been in this life, in some way.

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And of course, I have tremendous admiration and respect for his unparalleled talent as a singer, musician and writer. The man had deep, deep soul (check out this performance of When I’m Down). For me, his voice is “THE” voice, and I’ll always be in awe of his incredibly powerful four-octave range, which has been described as “volcanic… a dark, enormous voice”. His lyrics are the poetry I still turn to on ordinary days as well as the black ones: part of his genius was to be able to pen words that succeeded in being both personal and universal. He wrote love songs, breakup songs, angry songs, darkly nihilistic songs… his themes were often insightful barbed comments about society’s ills, often speaking about trying to be a better person. About what it’s like trying to live in this fucked up world. A true virtuoso, he wrote and performed music in just about every genre, spanning the gamut between perfect harmony and demonic dissonance. And of course he looked the part of the rock god: I had to laugh reading somewhere that he seemed genetically engineered to be a rock star (sorry to the author, I can’t remember where I read it). He was beautiful, for sure.

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Craig Jenkins wrote about how Cornell’s voice transcended generations in an eloquent analysis of his life’s work:

“…he was a master of his craft who made vital, inspirational art. He helped his audience make sense of loneliness and depression… 

Anthony Toto from The Pop Break sums up Cornell’s genius best:

“His catalog is immense and highlighted with some of the most gorgeous displays of songwriting over the last thirty-years… Even beyond Soundgarden: Temple of the Dog, Audioslave, and his solo catalog opened my eyes to the possibilities of capturing elegance in the darkest territories; heartfelt honestly that emotionally broke barriers, innovated new tunings and rhythms, and forever changed the landscape of rock music. I see a lot of friends and strangers posting the lyrics to “Black Hole Sun” as a tribute but I challenge you to listen beyond the hits: his catalog is immense and highlighted with some of the most gorgeous displays of songwriting over the last thirty-years. Songs like “Call Me A Dog,” “Pushin’ Forward Back,” “Limo Wreck,” and “Let Your Eyes Wander” – this man could thrive in any genre or setting whether it was a heartfelt piano ballad like “When I’m Down” or dowtuned uptempo groove metal such as “Birth Ritual.”

          Think about it – Soundgarden formed in 1984 and released their first LP Ultramega OK in 1988. Chris Cornell proceeded to create a timeless catalog that is unmatched in terms of its unorthodox artistry and musical consistency. I want unfamiliar readers to grasp the enormity and difficulty of this achievement. Only a few weeks ago, Cornell performed his new single “The Promise” on The Tonight Show. This man was DaVinci esque with his ability to sing with such relentless range and his innocence played a huge role in unleashing the full potential of his songwriting.”

Elegance in the darkest territories… exactly. I can’t think of another voice I’d rather listen to at any time, no matter what vibe I’m up for. The opening chords of Hunger Strike still give me chills, even 25 years on. Sunshower is the song that’s got me through the darkest days of my life. Say Hello 2 HeavenLike a Stone, Cochise and I am the Highway will always be top of list on my road trip jams and my painting playlists. His acoustic solo songs are in heavy rotation when I need to chill out.

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Beyond taking the time to listen anew to the music I love and reflecting on how important Cornell’s work has been to me, I’ve been wondering… what the fuck happened? He’d spoken out in several interviews over the years about addiction and depression, talking openly about his existential crises, self-destructive behaviour, the deaths of friends who’d died from drug overdoses, and his eventual choice to walk away from that lifestyle. He’d been off the booze, the oxy and the other stuff for years, but he was still battling anxiety and depression.

I think most of us Gen-Xers can relate to Cornell’s struggles to some degree. Whitewash grunge and Gen-X all you want, but booze, heroin (and/or other assorted drugs and addictive substances) and the darkness of depression are to some extent and in some form or combination, a fundamental part of the zeitgeist of our generation, no matter how far you were from the scene. Writer Rich Larson describes depression as Gen-X’s legacy: 

“It’s possible that, along with grunge, Generation X’s other great gift to society is depression. I mean, of course it was here long before the Baby Boomers started re-producing, but we talk about it more than those who came before us. We talk about it as a demon or a monster. It’s a dark shadow that shows itself at any point in time without warning. It surrounds us, isolates us, and quiets us. Depression likes to blame things. We feel like shit because of mistakes we have made in life or because of the state of the world or because we aren’t perfect. Without a lot of help and a lot of work, it’s impossible to know that it really is a chemical imbalance in our brains. After twenty-plus years of trying to de-stigmatize depression, some of us still have a hard time recognizing it for what it is. And even then, it doesn’t always matter.

      You might think grunge is about anger, but that’s not completely true. Yes, it can sound that way, but it’s really about depression and cynicism. Those two go hand-in-hand, along with their nasty little sister, anxiety. When the three of them get going, they just eat hope as quickly as it can be summoned. That leaves despair and despair is exhausting, not just for those who experience it, but for the people around it as well. So we keep it to ourselves because we don’t want to be a burden. And then it gets to be too much. Doesn’t matter if you’re a student, a mom, an accountant or a rock star. It doesn’t matter if you’ve written about it your entire life as a means of keeping it at bay. It doesn’t matter if the music you made about it brought in fame, respect and millions of dollars. It doesn’t matter if your entire generation has suffered from it. Depression makes you feel totally alone. You hit the breaking point, and then, like Chris Cornell, you die alone in the bathroom.

      This was a well-respected member of his community; a beloved musical hero who seemed to have it all together. This could have been any of us.”

But still… what the fuck??? By all accounts, things seemed to be going well for him. He’d been free from the booze and the drugs for years. He seemed happy, with a wife and children whom he clearly loved and who loved him back. He had a family to keep him grounded in reality. He was at the height of his creative powers, with a thriving career and a lifestyle that anyone would envy He was a philanthropist who spent millions to help children. He was respected and loved by his peers. Watching recent interviews and performances, he seems lucid and in control of himself, a man confident in who he’d become in his prolific middle years. He didn’t seem like a guy on the verge of offing himself.

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So it makes no sense that he’d hang himself in a hotel bathroom shortly after playing a show.

Of course you can’t know what’s going on in a person’s life by looking at the internet, but his wife’s refusal to accept the simple explanation of suicide due to depression is telling. They seemed close, so I would guess that she’d know that something doesn’t jive. It also seems unlikely that a guy whose entire life was about expressing his feelings wouldn’t have written a note. And then there’s the footage from his last show: there are moments when it’s clear that something’s wrong, that he’s struggling. His energy seems off, his movements look heavy with some kind of exhaustion even though he’s still performing. He walks off the stage holding his head. It came out yesterday that the sound engineer is saying that Cornell was somehow fucked up during the show, that he seemed “high”, that he was not depressed.

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I’m not alone in speculating… did he fall off the wagon? Prescription drug side-effect? Migraine? Was he having a stroke? A psychotic break? Was the cost of keeping his depression at bay and hidden from everyone around him finally just too much? Any or all of the above combined with reaching the limit of what he could stand to suffer from the darkness that must have overwhelmed him that night?

It kills me that there will now be silence where there was once such brilliance, and the thing that’s been bothering me so much is that this man who gave so much to so many died alone, in agony. And no one can ever really know what happened.

Rock and roll is a vicious game.

New Work In Progress

I’ve been spending a lot of time in my studio lately, working on a new series. I’m not ready to show any completed paintings yet, but I thought I’d share a few little sneak peeks!

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The Artist Project

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If you’re in Toronto this weekend, you have to drop by The Artist Project: over 250 of the world’s top contemporary artists are showing all in one place. I am totally disappointed that work is keeping me close to home right now, because I would love to hit tonight’s opening party! And on top of all that art, there are seminars, art walks and a bunch of other fun art-related stuff going on. My favourite thing is the Art Battle, in which 16 artists have 20 minutes in which to create a masterpiece and the public decides who comes out on top. One of my favourite artists, Claire Desjardins, will competing tomorrow night, so best of luck to her.

One of the main attractions is this incredible 100-foot-long watercolour mural by L.A.-based artist Tracy Hiner:

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I can only imagine what it would be like to see it up close!

There will be a bit of everything, from collage to sculpture, printmaking, installation, glass, textile, photography and regular old painting, so if you’re in the market for something new to spice up your decor or you just want to hang out somewhere super cool and see some amazing art, it’s the place to be this weekend. Gaaaaah I want to go, but there’s just no way I can make it!!!

Okay, no more whining… I’ll leave you with some previews of the booths I wish I could check out. And full disclosure: I’ve set a goal to exhibit there next year, so wish me luck that I may be part of the fun in 2018!

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Carrie Chisholm: Phantom Blanch (mixed media) Installation Zone, Booth I-12
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Darlene Monroe: And Then She Sang! (Textiles and acrylic) Booth 341
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Ed Colberg: Cellular Memory (Blown Glass) Booth 719
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Nicole Moss: Road Trip (Handmade collage on wooden panel) Booth 313
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Holly Friesen: Infinite Possibilities (Acrylic on canvas) Booth 922
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Heather Cook, Predator (Acrylic on wood panel) Booth U-17

Colour Therapy

EEEP… how can it already be mid-February!

Despite being a big fan of winter’s delights, when the white stuff starts to pile up above the height of the window ledge in my kitchen,my eyes start craving green and my thoughts begin to turn towards the joys of gardening. Yesterday I caught myself driving way out of my usual route to lurk in front of our local plant nursery, looking in vain for signs of life in the greenhouse. I’ve been catching myself lingering in front of grocery store displays of bright tulips and hyacinths, and haunting the sparse selection of yellowing plants left over from last year and the holidays in the big box stores. My seed packet collection has gotten dusted off, fondled and drooled over as though it were a chest filled with gold.

So you can understand that it’s no stretch for me to be super excited about Pantone’s colour of the year for 2017: Pantone Greenery, PMS 15-0343. Like really excited, people. Like me squeeing in front of my tablet when I first saw it, which is beyond being out of character for me.

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Pantone describes Greenery perfectly: “a refreshing and revitalizing shade, symbolic of new beginnings”. Just the thing I’ve been craving, and exactly what we all need right now to help us get through yet another cold and grey wintry day, right?

Leatrice Eisemen, Executive Director of the Pantone Colour Institute has this to say about their choice:

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It’s not a colour that I’ve used all that much in my work up until now, but I’m finding myself reaching for my tubes and sticks of green more and more often. I don’t know if it’s the result of the plant addiction that’s come over me in the last few years, or the fact that it’s everywhere right now… it certainly doesn’t hurt that anything fresh and green is right on trend!

Here are a few of my paintings that feature green, available right now in my Etsy shop.

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Jaunt (top) and Charlestown (bottom), 16″ x 12″, mixed media on canvas

Jaunt and Charlestown (above) are a couple of fun little sketchy studies that I did quite awhile back mixing acrylic washes with ink and pastel drawings over top. Swim Out Past The Breakers (below) is a more recent piece featuring a moodier shade of green:

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Swim Out Past The Breakers, 16″ x 16″, acrylic on 1.5″ gallery wrap canvas

Greenery is such a vibrant hit of vitality, perfect for brightening up your home or wardrobe. A quick Google search yields tons of inspiration, like this yummy looking moodboard from ItalianBark (if you love all things deco, you have to check out their site!!):

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Now tell me that this does not make you want to run off to Italy and gorge on pesto, or at least fill your grocery cart with fresh herbs and bury your nose in them (italianbark.com)

Heather from Setting For Four has some great ideas on how to decorate using Greenery:

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Repainting the whole room might be too much for you, but adding a few light touches with plants and textiles can easily revitalize your space (settingforfour.com)

I just love colour. It has so much power to lift your mood and enrich your everyday life. Last year I built my body of work around my enchantment with the blues of flowing water, and this year, I’m feeling drawn to the fresh hues of new sprouts and the rich, lush tones of thriving plant life. So I’m off to the flower shop to pick up some inspiration, and then I’ll be heading into the studio for a little exploration of my new fetish for Greenery!

Sooo… 2016 Happened.

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2016… Ugh.

It seems like 2016 was a difficult year for a lot of people this year. Too many of our cultural icons have died, the whole Trump thing has been awful, wars, terrorism, general strife, thievery and violence, and it goes on and on. In my own little world, it was a difficult year that brought me some devastating personal losses, and quite a few problems. I see exhaustion on just about everyone’s face as I look around me this week. It’s going to feel good to turn the page on 2016, and let it all go.

Not much went on in my studio in the past month. I’m a ski patroller, so December means back to work for me. Besides that, I like to spend some time reflecting on the year I’ve had, and looking at how my goals and intentions panned out (or didn’t, as the case may be). Listing everything I’ve accomplished over the past twelve months always reminds me that despite the rough times, I also have much to be grateful for. The highlight for me this year was being able to make time for myself to do the things that are important to me, like painting and adventuring with my great dane Jasmine. There were periods throughout the year during which other obligations kept me away from the important stuff, but in general, I was able to keep a good balance between things I had to do and things I love to do. And there were some incredibly wonderful things that happened too: I have a new little cousin who came into the world, I met some incredibly inspiring people, and I sold several paintings (a BIG, BIG THANK YOU to all who supported my work this year).

There were a lot of things I’d intended to do this year that just didn’t work out for me. Uncomfortable though it may be, examining the reasons why things did or did not happen is always interesting, if not illuminating. The value of the exercise is that I often discover how I’ve changed over time, especially concerning goals that I’ve been putting off for years. I can see that at least a third of the things I’d planned to do this year were not really that important after all (things like meditating daily, learning brush calligraphy, buying some new furniture…). Other things that didn’t get done are still relevant, but I can see that they fell by the wayside because I just wasn’t being mindful or disciplined enough (visiting Dog Mountain in Vermont with my dogs, working diligently to make online art sales…). And some things, like my pipe dream of spending a month in the south of France, are just a bit too ambitious for now. So regardless of how much or how little was accomplished, mulling it all over creates the fodder for making big plans for 2017.

While I was looking back and trying to see the positive in a difficult year, I started to realize how many fabulous artists inspired me this year to dig deeper into my creative work, to try new things and to get my work out into the world. So for my last blog post of the year, I’d love to introduce you to the people who were my creative heroes in 2016:

Lisa Congdon:

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Holly Friesen:

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Monicka Clio Sakki:

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Katherine Dunn:

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Danny Gregory:

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Fah who foraze! Dah who doraze!

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I feel a greater connection to the Solstice than to Christmas itself, but there are some things about Christmas that I really love: the music, the tinsel, the baubles, the lights. I’m a total sucker for claymation animation, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and The Sound of Music.

Here are a few more of my favourite things…

One of my very favourite things is to look at vintage Christmas cards. Confession time: I’m a total image hoarder. I’ve got ginormous inspiration files on all my devices and my secret Pinterest boards are a little bit out of control. So here are a few from my collection:

You’ve gotta love Santa on a magic carpet, right? And then, there are the weird ones. The approvals at the card companies must have been happening right after the Christmas parties…

Next time unexpected guests drop in, remember that it could be worse:

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Christmas Sausage anyone?

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Ouch, but I really would love to get my hands on some of those. The cards, not the sausage! AnyWho, Cindy Lou, before this gets any crazier, I’d like to wish you Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night.

What’s Been Going On In the Enchanted Forest

Winter is here. It’s freezing rain today here in the enchanted forest, and the golden days of autumn already seem like a long time ago. Okay, the forest isn’t really enchanted, but there were days this fall when everything did look beautiful and enchanted. It’s been a busy season for me. It always seems like there’s so much I want to get done that just doesn’t happen. I did get into the studio, though not as often as I’d planned. I hate to admit it but I let the balmy weather and spectacular foliage lure me outside more often than not. There were lots of inspiring walks with this girl:
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After the bugs died off in September, I spent an insane amount of time and effort cutting, splitting and stacking firewood. It’s crazy expensive to buy, so I got myself a little chainsaw and borrowed a splitter, and off into the woods I went. It was exhausting, brutal but ultimately satisfying and I am able to say proudly that I have a stockpile that should see me through the winter.
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I started lots of new paintings including some large ones, but I’m having trouble finishing them. I guess that’s my process: unlike so many artists, I love the blank canvas. Then comes the slog through many many many layers, until eventually things start to make sense visually. This is where I often bog down, out of fear of wrecking things. So there’s a huge pile of unfinished work on the shelf.
I’ve been exploring some new ideas that incorporate collage and illustration elements into my usual abstract work. I’m not showing these yet because they’re still all experimental (read uuuuggggglyyyy) but I’m pretty excited about this new turn because I can see some interesting things emerging.
In the meantime, here are a couple of recent things that are on my worktable now. When you compare them to the work I produced when all I could think about was jumping into the lake this summer, you can tell that the spectacular autumn foliage and recent winter landscape have been influencing my choice of colours. (Sorry for the awful photo quality: my camera is kaput and my phone does not do indoor shots very well.)
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I’m calling these two works-in-progress for now. They’re close to done but not quite there yet. They’re in the fear-of-fucking-shit-up phase. At some point this winter I’ll have a couple of glasses of wine and put on the finishing touches that will resolve the little things that are bugging me about them.
I’ve spent a lot of time reading lately. There’s just something about a crackling fire in the wood stove on a blustery night that makes me want to cuddle up on the sofa a mug of chocolate almond tea and dive into a great story. I was blown away by Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life. I don’t want to give away the story, so all I’ll say is that it starts off rather innocuously with the four main characters going about their lives in NYC, and then the emotional stakes ratchet up until you find yourself heavily invested in their lives. It’s a stunning book, brilliant. Best novel I’ve read in a long time.
When I’m not reading in the evening, I sometimes give in to my guilty pleasure of watching old shows on TV, like M*A*S*H and The Andy Griffith Show, while doodling in a journal. I picked up this little craft paper gem last week at the local garden centre and embellished the covers last night. It’s perfect for working out some of my new ideas before bringing them up in scale canvas.
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Well, that’s all for now, so take care until we meet again. I’m off to put away all my Black Friday week indulgences!

Shop Launch and Website Update

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LITTLE LIGHTS SHINE III • 6″ x 6″ • Acrylic on Gallery Wrapped Canvas • $60

A couple of announcements – I’ve been busy busy busy getting things organized…

My website has been updated with all my recent work, and my Etsy shop is finally open! There are only a few small paintings listed in the shop, but I’ll be adding lots more soon. If there’s anything you see on my website that’s not in the shop, contact me and I’ll make the necessary arrangements.

Thanks for looking!

Recent Work on Display

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EASTERN GLOW  •  16″ x 16″  •  Acrylic on gallery-wrapped canvas

Friends, I’m so happy to announce that several of my smaller paintings from this past summer are on display right now in a group show at the Galerie d’art Montfort (160 route Principale, Wentworth-Nord). I’ll be at the gallery today from noon to 4 p.m. if you’d like to drop by for a visit. I’ll be there next Sunday too, same hours. The show continues until October 9th, every Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.

The show showcases twenty local artists that are really worth checking out. A wide variety of styles and subject matter are on display, so whether you love landscape, still life or abstract work, you’ll find something to please you. There are also a few sculptures, works on paper, painted barn wood pieces… it’s an impressive cornucopia of local talent.

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Montfort, fall foliage as seen from the pavillion

In addition to all the fabulous art on display, the location is spectacular. The art gallery is located in a little pavillion on the shores of Lac Saint-François-Xavier that also serves as a church and a hub for outdoor activities (hiking, kayaking/canoeing, snowshoeing, cycling). It’s an incredibly beautiful location that’s probably one of the Laurentians best-kept secrets.

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INTO THE MYSTIC  •  10″ x 10″  •  Acrylic on gallery-wrapped canvas

I’ve spent a lot of time in and around this little spot over the past twenty years. It’s one of my favourite places to go to get outside, so it feels especially rewarding for me to be showing my work there. A lot of my inspiration has come from time spent here snowshoeing with my dogs, long paddles across the lake, cycling on the bike path, just hanging out in a quiet spot on the shores of the lake to ponder the incredible beauty of the landscape. I’ve spent an embarrassingly large number of hours doing nothing sitting by this lake, just staring, fascinated by the movement of the water, by the herons and loons, and by all the little things you never notice unless you sit still and pay attention to what’s around you.

I really hope to see you there!