Painting: How The Light Gets In, a landscape from my mind.
I was thinking of Leonard Cohen's Anthem when I finished it:
"forget your perfect offering/ there is a crack in everything/ that's how the light gets in."
Sometimes the magic of making art leaps across my times, emerging like recognition crossing favorite metaphors.
When I was young I admired the art of my father, so I attempted to become proficient in all the traditional media that he used, like charcoal, conte crayon, pastels, gouache, watercolour and oil paints. Later we added acrylic paints to the list. This painting is in acrylic.
I still go to traditional mediums as my comfort food, though I experimented with other mediums that intrigued me. Whatever Medium I used, mostly I followed a yearning that I literally felt somewhere above my stomach.
I no longer think literally nor technically when painting. Such concerns have become second nature to me over the years, like writing. Sometimes I have a vision of what I want, but it is a rough idea like a half remembered dream that intrigues me. I do not always know what will happen. I came to realize that it is the journey itself that is most important to me, and that I enjoy travelling to its outcome.
People who have owned my art for a while have often told me that the journey becomes more apparent to them with time, saying things like, "I now see so many things in your work that I didn't notice before." I find this very encouraging.
-- A. Van Mil, 2017
What’s With all the Pedestals?
The medium is the message, the metaphor, and the archetype, but why the conceit?
Media conceits are any things so universally used by a medium, that many media composers hardly still recognize they are re-using cliches, often to great effect. Media conceits are essentially the most well-used metaphors of that medium, as re-usable roles from the past. These media metaphors become conceits because they are so commonly used as vocabulary that they have become that media’s stereotypes, or better still, archetypes.
— “The mother archetype is actualized in the mind of the child by the evoking of innate anticipations of the maternal archetype when the child is in the proximity of a maternal figure who corresponds closely enough to its archetypal template. This mother archetype is built into the personal unconscious of the child as a mother complex. Complexes are functional units of the personal unconscious, in the same way that archetypes are units for the collective unconscious.” — Wikipedia - Jungian Archetypes
Hereby, archetypes can be understood as sets of well-worn metaphors. We use archetypes as templates that fit on parts of our culture as roles to play. Any media that is well-used is inevitably full of archetypes. We ourselves may be full of archetypes.
— “Stevens suggests that DNA itself can be inspected for the location and transmission of archetypes. As they are coterminous with natural life they should be expected wherever life is found. He suggests that DNA is the replicable archetype of the species… Stein points out that all the various terms used to delineate the messengers – 'templates, genes, enzymes, hormones, catalysts, pheromones, social hormones' – are concepts similar to archetypes. He mentions archetypal figures which represent messengers such as Hermes, Prometheus or Christ.” — Andrew Samuels - …the Post-Jungians
I believe that artists are in the business of reconstructing archetypes in order to better survive contemporary life. To accomplish this, artists must rise above solely drinking from established media archetypes eclectically, as from a holy grail, and rather nurture a constantly renewed relationship with media as a means to self-realization, and consequently cultural realization, today. The visual artist must stand back from media in order to observe life, but does so through the following realization: that any chosen medium is just another malleable conduit, a route to a new understanding of ever-changing culture, with roles to play as metaphors crossing survival.
As an artist, for me the important idea is that archetypes themselves are malleable roles adopted to help us survive, otherwise what hope is there for humanity to adapt to constant re-situation? Herby, my modus operandi is that archetypes are more about adaptive role-play than evolutionary progress, idealistic goal-setting, Platonic emulations of theory, or heavenly forms and norms.
If we aim only to become what is ideal, then are we inevitably doomed by the inflexible stereotypes we will make of ourselves? If we aim to advance solely as written words, presumably evolving across endless pages, then must we ourselves inevitably become anachronisms drowning in our own trivia? The idea of the evolution of media itself has perhaps become so imbedded in our culture’s psyche that its all-pervasive use may well make us mere hedonistic media conceits, if it can become any more gratuitous. What must we do?
— “In marketing, an archetype is a genre to a brand, based upon symbolism. The idea behind using brand archetypes in marketing is to anchor the brand against an icon already embedded within the conscience and subconscious of humanity. In the minds of both the brand owner and the public, aligning with a brand archetype makes the brand easier to identify. Twelve archetypes have been proposed for use with branding: Sage, Innocent, Explorer, Ruler, Creator, Caregiver, Magician, Hero, Outlaw, Lover, Jester, and Regular Guy/Girl.” — Mark, M., & Pearson, C. S. (2001)
Are we developing a contemporary media complex, or are our relationships with media becoming dysfunctional? No media should be considered sacrosanct or infallible. However, we must somehow manage to adapt our archetypes to current media without throwing out our babies with our bathwater, to use another well-worn metaphor.
I do not dismiss media; it may have become the DNA of our culture, but it is not quite our religion yet. In order to avoid such media conceits, when working with media I try to work in the present, because the media is only the message after all. Thereby observing my medium for what it realistically can do as my tool, I allow it to draw itself out experientially. Only then do I ask myself what media metaphors are circling my reality in order to better point out the proverbial bluebird of happiness.
This process of improvisation, or curated play, hopefully bypasses many of my medium’s nostalgic philosophies, and entertains me enough to persuade everyone to open their minds to this new experience of the world, whether progressive, profitable, or not. In these ways media can adapt to new situations by keeping itself down to earth, based on the real deal, and nothing more, again for survival’s sake. I embrace art as media in the ways it can embrace nature, and try to nurture renewed relationships.
I wouldn’t mind dismissing media’s pedestals, but then who would pay attention, and attention is love after all… or is it just ‘like’? Perhaps ‘likes’ on social-media pedestals can become survival for some, but after all is said, something must actually be done to deserve every kind of like. On or off media’s pedestal, everyone I notice becomes a part of my world. Liking can be a two way street. I sincerely want to like you all.
Al Van Mil, December 2017
( See me: page 12 of this month’s Zoomer Magazine.)
Creative Play (with a bonus!)
Become a professional artist in three easy steps:
1. Take any real world object and put it on a podium. Permanently attach it in any way to a solid appropriately sized block of heavy material like stone, wood or metal, with nuts and bolts, glues and screws, welding, or whatever it takes to make the start of what can become a sculpture on a base.
2. Act out your feelings all over it on purpose. Take paints and collage materials of all sorts, mediums, gels, glues, sand, stones, buttons, fabrics, papers, strings, broken crockery, anything. With all these as a medium emote purposefully all over your object in paint and collage. Dollop mixed materials on comically, trickling sand and sticking in buttons. Fearfully stick in broken glass. Be very careful. Try every emotional expression you want on it, even deadpan methodical madness. Be naive, or a virtuoso. Caress some parts with colours blending lovingly, then throw paint at other parts in anger, or not. Hit it! Cut it... Truly express your emotional reactions with full acceptance of them. At some point you will get an idea of how this artwork can inspire others. Perfect that! When you are finished, sign it.
3. Learn to like it. Increase its value with some self esteem by considering editing it until you really do like it. Reduce it to its essence. Keep it for a few years to think about it if you must, or not. Edit it if you want, or don’t. When you like it, send it out into the world by selling it. Then you can officially call yourself a professional artist.
Bonus: you can make your next piece of art totally different.
Warning: once you make the next one the same, it is no longer art; it's work, and we all know what a repetitious experience work can be. Make a variation if you must, but be an artist in everything that you do.
A. Van Mil, 2017
Thank you all for enabling my life in art. As an artist the actual process of creating art is the realization of living relationships, of all sorts, rather than conscious contributions to artistic markets, or to academic nostalgia. In hindsight I have come to understand that I make visual art of viewpoint relations, the real deal, the best of my life living among others, all reduced to its essence. My art is the mediation of such magic moments. As I present these to you, it is my fondest hope that they will also contribute some well-being to your life's relationships.
- A. M. Van Mil, 2017
A Summarized Biography
In 1950 I was born in Holland. My family immigrated to Canada in 1952. I was originally taught classic painting technique by my father, a High School art teacher. I further studied art at the University of Guelph and the Ontario College of Art and Design. Graduating during the 1970s, I first concentrated on Conceptual Art. Among other private art galleries, some of these artworks were shown at the National Gallery of Canada and The Art Gallery of Ontario.
In 1980, I co-founded a commercial art company, which I named Architectural Dimensions, that was written up by New York magazine in 1986 as one of the top three architectural model making firms in the world.
Selling my subsequent architectural technology companies in 1990, I again began making art full-time, painting in an eclectic style. Some of these works have been shown in private and public galleries, as well as at the Musee Des Beaux-Arts, Montreal. During this time I also illustrated a children's book, called The Tiny Kite of Eddie Wing, authored by Maxine Trottier, and originally published by Kids Can Press, which won many story and illustration awards. I was also chosen by General Mills to do portraits of the Most Valuable Players, in action, of the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team when they won the pennant for two consecutive years.
After 1998, for seven years I occasionally painted artworks on stage, as a Performance Artist for an mixed-genre art group called Collaborations, in many live-theatre venues across Toronto, with many artists from other genres like the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada. Later, I co-designed sets for three Canadian opera productions: Die Fledermaus in 2009, La Boheme in 2010, and Falstaff in 2011.
A variety of galleries presently exhibit my artworks in Canada, the United States, Europe and Asia.
My adventures in art tend to be centred on the mediation of personal and cultural meanings.