‘WOOD, WATER, STONE AND BONE’, Recent Work by Bruce Dolsen, September 4 – 25

'Burrill Road. September' by Bruce Dolsen

“Burrill Road, September” by Bruce Dolsen

The crook of an elbow, the branch of a tree, the pattern on a dragonfly’s wing;
The elegant curve of a deer’s rib bone, the arching arbutus tree;
Rivulets of a receding tide, the slow course of cedar root through rock and earth;
The dome of a skull, a cumulous cloud;
The pitch of a roof, a limpet shell, the angle of the shadow at noon;
Light slanting through trees at 4 o’clock in February;
Light on the table at noon, light on the water of the bay,
Light refracting in a raindrop, a spider’s fine delineation of space;
The laughter of children, the kingfisher’s call, the raven’s talk,
The bumblebee at work;
The smell of coffee in the morning, of the road after rain,
Of leaves mouldering, of the sea, of the sea, of the sea;
Wisteria in clusters, curling smoke from the fire, the progress of
A pen across a page, of a brush following shape after shape;
Conglomerate rock–ancient stories fused together–
Now mountains, now pebbles, now grains of sand;
Boulders setting off on long, slow journeys to the sea;
Logs on a beach, a tangle of limbs, a drawer full of socks;
The geography of form, the taxonomy of self, the space of being
At the edge of light where in the dark invisible lines connect
Distant stars with names and stories we give them: what we see
And do not see; what we know and cannot know;
What we are given, and cannot have;
What we are, this momentary being,
This single note, this symphony of senses–
What fine music its turning makes.

'Still Life with Oranges' by Bruce Dolsen

‘Still Life with Oranges’ by Bruce Dolsen

When I think and write about what I do as an artist, I think in images, in sense impressions, and sometimes words seem a long way off. Sometimes it is only after I have finished a painting that I really begin to see it, or to see into it, and more often than not, I find the painting tells a story of its own, and that I have been the instrument of its telling–not so much the creator as the medium. The amazing correspondences of form in nature present themselves to us endlessly, and we take so much for granted about what constitutes beauty, what appeals to the eye, the senses–and why. Sometimes we see but do not see.

Why is a gladiolus like an oyster shell? This question may be of the order that plagued Alice in her hellish wonderland, where sense was made nonsense, where there was no intended answer as to why a raven is like a writing desk. But the ruffled flutes of the oyster’s hard shells, so beautifully matched all ‘round the edge, are echoed in the frilly edges of the flower’s delicate form which unfolded but once in impossible complexity and for no purpose other than to reproduce itself. What delights us is the recognition of form: something is beautiful because….because….because….? Because it is like something else we know, because it is both novel and familiar, and because we have been led to see the familiar in a new way. As an artist, I call this experience “Looking to learn and learning to look”, my own way of making sense of why I am so compelled to do what I do.

I have given the title “Water, Wood, Stone and Bone” to this show’s work, representing more than a year’s painting in watercolour and acrylic, mostly on or about Galiano. As well as the paintings, I’ve included a number of “assemblages” (or whatever they should be called!) which evolved over the winter and spring from the objets trouves–bits and pieces and dead insects I tend to accumulate all the time. The small paintings attached to the these pieces are intended to reflect in some sense the form or essence of what’s in the box; as in viewing a constellation where we imagine we see forms in what are really disparate, unconnected dots of light, the connections are there to be made by individual viewers.

'White Shell Beach, Montague' by Bruce Dolsen

‘White Shell Beach, Montague’ by Bruce Dolsen

When I first started painting on Galiano I was intrigued by the animal trails in the forest, and by human trails, some of which have been trodden for hundreds of years. And then by the roads: they twist around shorelines, disappearing around corners and over hill tops, bracketed by walls of green and gold, through which we glimpse the sea, the changing light. The roads have served as conduits for our industry, and I find on the acre or so where we live the remains of this activity from fifty years before: clumps of glass bottles, rusted out oil cans, car parts, bed springs, all covering over in moss and new growth. And while I may despair in this culturally modified forest and the story it tells, I am in awe of the middens that ring this island, and the story they tell of many hundreds of years of habitation.

Yet they have a certain beauty, these cast-offs: they tell us a familiar story, one of process and change and renewal, these roads that disappear around corners, these bones that once walked where we walk, these stones. The artist is sometimes the one to tell the story–the medium with the message–and the story is often as simple as a fleeting impression of light on a form, a once-upon-a-time in the blink of an eye when the moment is connected to something beyond immediate experience, something startlingly beautiful in the way a crow walks, a cloud moves, a leaf falls. As I say in the poem, what fine music it makes.

I’m still looking to learn from all this.

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