Saturday, March 21, 2015

"I am a Writer" The Story of the Painting

One of my artistic goals is to do a collection of portraits of local homeless people.  I want to show others how those individuals who may be spotted on our downtown streets can have such interesting stories.  They deserve more attention and respect than they usually receive.

It was July of 2013.  I was taking a week of independent painting with instructor George Glen at the Prince Albert Art Centre.  It was a great opportunity to use this location to find models for portraits by looking out the second floor window at the downtown park below.  I spotted an older man sitting on one of the benches.  Quickly I gathered my notebook, camera, and a prepared model release form and went outside to meet him.

I introduced myself and offered to pay five dollars for a few photos and a little information.  The man immediately agreed.  I had him sign my model release form, getting his name and his signed permission for me to use his image for a potential painting for which I retained copyright.  Legalities out of the way I told him to tell me a bit about himself while I took some impromptu photos.

Augie’s first statement about himself was this: “I am a Writer.”  He went on to tell me that he was writing stories about himself for a book.  That was not an unusual thing to hear – even from someone who declared himself to be relatively homeless.  It was his subsequent descriptions of his life that had me thinking, “Okay, this man is obviously a story teller, and a good one.”  Some of his experiences, such becoming a star boxer and meeting Sugar Ray fit in with my understanding of story tellers, for whom accuracy of fact takes a back seat to fictional embellishment. 

I enjoyed listening to him talk as I photographed and sketched him.  As he described his experiences of residential school I consciously kept my mouth shut, for that is an area I deal with in my work life as a mental health therapist.  Here I was just being an artist.  I already had a notion of just how the experience of separation from family and community and language would have affected the child that he was.  He went on to describe his adult life as a northern guide and naturalist.  He said “The things I know about survival in the bush – those are things that will be important to many other people very soon.  I am writing about that too. The world needs that knowledge.”

Very satisfied with the time spent with Augie, I returned to the studio in the Art Centre and commenced the under-painting for the portrait of this interesting man; his full name, Joseph Augustus Merasty.  Later in the year the painting was enhanced by applying a final layer of paint with a dropper, rather than a brush. 

On its first public display the portrait of Augie was purchased by the Mann Art Gallery for its permanent collection.  Subsequently it was displayed in Saskatoon as a part of a show curated by Michel Boutin.  It was at that show that someone relayed the information about it to the University of Regina publishing company – the one that was in the process of publishing a book of memoirs of Augie Merasty!

I found that out when I got an email from the publisher, Bruce Walsh.  He received a photo of my painting and wanted to know if it could be used in the book and if it was, indeed, Augie Merasty.  I was grateful that I did have the foresight to have had Augie sign the model release, although I was teased a little in the class for being so business-like with street people. Sending him a copy of the document was an easy confirmation.

Perhaps that is the lesson behind this painting.  People that we may see (and most want to avoid) on the streets – particularly those that appear a little shabbier, may contain the most valuable stories for all of us.  We would not know that unless we treat them as rightful citizens and take the time to listen.

The Book  The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir has now been published and available through the University of Regina Press. The link brings another story about the man and his book.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

My Studio

My studio is housed in a backyard building separate from my house.  In the winter it is heated by a wood stove, lending a deliciously inviting peacefulness.  Its my space - the place where I go to paint, to write, to dance, to sing, to pray.  Full of everything available to create, its my big playroom that keeps me balanced.

Here is a glimpse into this wonderful space.

Scroll down for an older, slightly related poem.



Pastel Pictures

Can’t you see that life is too precious
for bland, pastel pictures
faded and dulled to complacency?
Do they really capture your spirit
make it laugh or cry or sing?

I could not declare my life to be truth
if I gazed on a sweep of mountains
splashed with morning light
and did not feel the ache to share their beauty;
witness the gifts of life
without the urge to gift them again.

If I walked, as many would have it, through my days containing
all the melodies of my love
the drumbeats of my anger
the sharps and flats of my grief
I could not speak with those deep reds of passion
Shimmering blues of insight
excited oranges of curiosity
ballooning yellows of joy
or the erratic splashes of glee

If I lived with grey walls and moats and armoured heart
I would live a picture with no spirit
to be glimpsed at, then forgotten.

Copyright Kathie Bird, 1984

Monday, March 9, 2015

Urban Gaea

Urban Gaea
Acrylic dropper  36 x 24"
March 3, 2015

Copyright Katherine Bird

Urban Gaea
September 16, 2014

Her child against her breast like a second skin
Her countenance serene
As her energy vies for power with the sun

Disguising her gift ‘neath casual cast
From Gaea her spirit feeds 
She blesses the bus with her voluptuous light

"Gaea, or Mother Earth, was the great goddess of the early Greeks.  She represented the Earth and was worshipped as the universal mother.  In Greek mythology, she created the Universe and gave birth to both the first race of gods and the first humans."


Acrylic dropper, February 28/15
24 x 30"

It was an outdoor lunch in Italy - sunlight flooding the tabletop, bouncing off of glass, reflecting on the faces of people deep in happy conversation.

Some photos of the creation of Storytime (courtesy Shirley Barg, photographer, Edmonton, Alta)

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Wash Day

A poem penned in 1984 while sitting in a laundromat

Wash day

He remembers wash day as a child
When everyone would gather at the river with their bundles
The women - laughing over private jokes
Worked diligently with their family clothing
Tender hands on precious cloth

Water and stones and trees and fires

And the men, hunkered in circles
Exchanged stories and news
While the children tended the horses
And shrieked in tumbling play
It was a sharing day - a happy day

Not much time has passed
Since we began to use these places
Where we haul our baskets and plastic baggage
Shove coins into machines
That slurp and roar

Metal and motors and florescent lights

We bring our wash once a week
To idly stand and watch it all slog clean on its own
Too noisy for words
We keep to ourselves and avert our eyes
And think our own thoughts

The children, regarded as nuisance
Are made to hush in their play

It’s a tedious day - a lonely day