Home sweet home - J.S. Gordon (John Sloan Gordon) O.S.A., R.C.A.- (1886 - 1940) - 1904 - 1907 oil painting on canvas of a Lone rider
The significance of the end product in art
March 22, 2010 at 10:58pm
Before we see this, ‘the significance of the end product in the arts’, we need to first look at some teachings from the past to get some sort of a big picture, so we can get to see the place of the artist and his work in the universe.
There seems to be an obstacle to satisfaction in the process of making art. The difference between the mystic and the artist is that the mystic is quite happy to be standing still. For him, ‘stillness speaks’, but for the artist he has to keep feeling his way through his art until he realizes it is not going to come to an end. The process drives the artist through all the crevices and you come up with mainly dead ends. The manifestation of this process is the art work. The end product is only part of the process. The art work throws light on that journey. It shows the viewer, through its excavations, its mistakes, through the coming together of form, through the history of the works, something of the ‘Intelligence in nature.’
‘….Earth in its entirety is indeed a living, breathing organism with an intelligently (albeit instinctively) coordinated sense of its own existence and purpose.’ (J.S Gordon, ‘The rise and Fall of Atlantis.’)
The process of making art is but a mini replication of the greater. There is something of the way a work of art falls into place when it is completed that is similar to the way the universe has fallen into place amid the chaos into order. Only an artist struggling with form to make art can truly feel this when it happens. You know it by doing. And it is repeated with each work. He/she starts to feel a coming together and senses that ‘intelligence in nature’ at work. After a while you take the invisible forces at work for granted and make it part of the process. It becomes a way you finish off a work of art. You know it will naturally bring itself to completion. And you will instinctively know when it is not there yet.
Art is a valuable database for the natural Truths and the structure behind the intelligence. It comes through the personality of the artist and through the flavour of his own form in his mind.
Today, even the scientists are confused about what they know of the structure of the universe. So let us look at some ancient literature as to what they say about the invisible forces of the universe. This is relevant to the artist as he is working up against this in his process of the work that he is trying to manifest. The idea of his work comes of the form that is in his mind and his mind, whether he likes it or not, is connected to the structure of the intelligent universe, both visible and invisible.
‘In 1988, Professor James Lovelock, a fellow of Britain’s prestigious Royal Society, put forward the then apparently revolutionary idea that every part of the Earth, including its rocks, oceans and atmosphere, as well as all organic entities, was a part of one great living and intelligent organism.’ (‘The Rise and Fall of Atlantis.’)
If you open up the Sikh holy book, these are the first few lines you will read.
The one God
Whose name is Truth.
Who is present in all Creation
Who fears none.
Who hates none.
An immortal being beyond time.
attainable only through divine grace.
True in the Beginning.
True throughout the Ages.
True even Now.
says Nanak (Sikh Guru),Truth will always be here.
The truth comes from everywhere, so at times it is OK to just look over the edge of contemporary thinking, over the pages of cool contemporary magazines and art books, to see where the process is coming from. You must remember cool is yesterday and today, time rolls back to the days of Kandinsky at the turn of the last century. It was a time of the NEW in art with the advent of abstraction. Like Kandinsky did in his time: he looked at the Kalevala: Finish mythology, and he was fascinated by the life of the Shaman: a person who has been to the brink of death and then back again, now all knowing. He carried the book ‘Thought Forms’ from the Theosophical society with him at times. Then came, ‘Concerning the Spiritual in Art’, by Kandinsky. In today’s contemporary art schools: spirituality is not a valid reason for subject matter for the work. But as science and mysticism comes together we start to very rapidly see what our limitations are and what the work is all about and that the final product of the creative process is only part of a bigger happening. The Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, reminds us in the very first few lines, just how vast the process of the creative wave really is. It gives you an idea of an underlying intelligence that permeates all and will always be true.
The spark in ones own mind can come from many different places. This is also a component of how the Whole perhaps works. I was at a talk by J.S Gordon on his new book, ‘The Rise and Fall of Atlantis’, but more on some of the reasons for climate change by looking at the history of the formation of the universe, from chaos to order, and an underlying order that is cyclical, yet very precise. This explained the cataclysm that ended Atlantis. And it is here again today. It was by looking at this structure of the universe and its possibilities that the point was made, that perhaps within our galaxy, we live within a sphere of consciousness that is contained, because of the forces that hold the different parts of the universe together (see diagram below).
These forces interact, but can remain distinct. And this can also be reflected by our own group spheres we live by and hence the limitation. We cannot perceive outside this bubble. More importantly we have to create this circle of limitation for us to generate an idea, to think coherently. This is where the flavour in our work comes from. The personality that is created in this sphere comes through in the work. It was the fact that the conscious whole had to be capped for the mind to create, to work, was what fascinated me. Remember that the artist works within the limits created by his own mind and also within the limits of his medium: the painter limited by a flat two dimensional space and its edges. He first looks from outside the canvas, from the vast universe and all it holds, both the tangible and the intangible and then filters it down into the image that he creates. It implodes through the artist into his work. The vast forces of the universe was also organized in this way. From big to small. As above so is below. Our minds are limited to function. ‘That is why with each work of art, the process always leaves the artist with a taste of dissatisfaction in his mind.’ I am trying to recall what was said. That is perhaps why the looking never ends. But then if you see it as it is, then you have it. The transformation comes from accepting this fact: that we operate within limits and we will never see all. The process will allow you to see this.
‘Man was seen as being unable to make his escape from one cycle of existence (or state of being) to another – except subjectively and at the critical points of transition between one celestial cycle (or state of being) and another…..’ and also ‘ It was for this reason also that each new cycle was seen as producing its own ‘zeitgeist’……..We use the expression ‘zeitgeist’ to mean the influential ‘Spirit of the Age’, from its literal meaning in German, although the modern interpretation of that expression gives it the flavour of no more than some sort of unspoken communal human perception of, or instinctive urge towards, cultural change.’ (J.S Gordon, ‘The rise and Fall of Atlantis’)
And also there is ‘zeitgeist’ and there is ‘zeitgeist’. To the ancients, the ‘Spirit of the Age’ was an ‘avatar’. With us, what you see now is of the last 100 years. The ‘zeitgeist’ is what you are living in today: the flavour of the century. And I think today, it is now in transition again, with the recent banking failures, the population sees how vulnerable the man-made system is, and its group consciousness will see it make a change. Add to this a couple of volcanic eruptions because of the ‘compressional and expanding forces’ of the universe, an earthquake here then there and you are looking at change. People get bumped around in this process and they start to ask questions or rather they start to think. We don’t see it until we live through the process of the system, dismantling the system. It is not very dissimilar to what the artist feels as he follows the process of making art. But we, the group, consciously will do it ourselves. We are in the process of making something new for us to live in, because we see the Truth in the limitations of the past. ‘As they did historically in ancient Rome, Greece, communist Russia…..’ Nature allows us to make and break systems. Well the artist, he sits coolly among all this and also functions just like it, in his own bubble: and he wonders why he is not seeing it yet. As the greater process functions, so does the artist as he lives creatively making art. Though the artist deals with the material object, the devotion to his craft has attuned him to non-material concerns. He is a function of the greater process: a micro entity of the ‘intelligence’: contained in a sphere with his own limitations and trying to decipher the big picture with his art.
‘The ancients saw the universe as a concentrically organized sequence of fields of consciousness, this being to them a universal principle.’ (‘The rise and Fall of Atlantis’ J.S Gordon.) As you can see from the diagram earlier we sit smugly in the center, in our little worlds, with our limitations and think we are the biggest thing since sliced bread. You know what I mean. Now if this is the big picture and we are really enclosed in the sphere of limitations not being able to see the landscape of the structure we live in: then we have to accept this. Progress comes from accepting this. We see that everything we make is an illusion, every idea is not real, but it may be an indicator of the manifestation of the invisibility and vastness of the space we live in, then perhaps we can unfold and progress. It is to bring on a settlement so a new space can become.
History of the universe has been a cycle of chaos and order. The making of us and the destroying of us: order and chaos. Atlantis was an example of this. In this cataclysm the new is created. As in art, it is only the look for the NEW is relevant. It is a personal opinion. It is the driving force for the unfolding of the race and evolution. ‘…..The ancients saw consciousness unfolding and then evolving……’ (‘The rise and Fall of Atlantis’). To bring this to a close quickly it is sufficient to say, from looking at J.S Gordon’s work on Atlantis, that these cyclical nature of the universe would bring on a series of states or ‘planes’ of consciousness within our local solar universe, that little circle in the center of the diagram. We evolve through 7 planes of consciousness (The current race is 5 and on the 5th plane). The flavour of this evolving nature of the races is one of involution becoming more egocentric, with increasing amounts of mass desire and by the 3rd race more grounded increasingly in physical matter. By the 4th race the concept of Mind, desire and physical form is fully integrated. ‘From the middle point of this race (4th) the process of evolution commences, the desire principle now becoming increasingly personalized and dominant in each individual and each local group. Correspondingly, in the present Fifth Race, it is the mind principle which is becoming increasingly individualized and dominant in the integrated personality and the local group.’ The seventh race returns to the first race and both races are spiritual in nature and the cycle repeats itself. As it did in Atlantis, the catastrophe will bring an end to one form for it to evolve to another. Another diagram from the book on the different races, ‘The Rise and Fall of Atlantis’ by J.S Gordon ISBN: 978-1-905857-43-2)
We are now in the 5th race, though still tied up to the object, desire, materialistic in the way we live but we are in transition. In the 5th race (us) the mind principle becomes prominent in the individual. We have just been through a process where the illusion of the structure we made for ourselves to live in started to show its weak areas. We could at one time almost see the possibility of the illusion crumbling. It had changed the lives of some, where all of what they thought was secure they lost: their homes, money etc. The mind gets stuck on things like this. When a lot of minds get stuck on such matters we get change. The structure of the ether changes. You witness the ‘rise and fall’. There is an awakening of the ‘Intelligence’ in the mind. I like to finish with a quote by Jiddu Krishnamurti on how the intelligence is woken by the discovery of a fact behind the illusion.
‘You see, intelligence is not personal, is not the outcome of argument, belief, opinion or reason. Intelligence comes into being when the brain discovers its fallibility, when it discovers what it is capable of, and what not.’ I think what K is trying to say here is exactly what is going on now in all our minds. Does this structure we live in now: is it real. We saw glimpses that it may not be real, only an illusion. When you see a fact, and its relationship to a fallacy, there is something in you that alters. A new presence makes itself felt in you because of that experience. The presence is a kind of ‘intelligence’ that can now operate through you. ‘And only when that intelligence, is functioning can the new dimension operate through it.’ The new you, as a result of seeing a universal Truth, now continues the evolutionary process towards the 6th race. So, as for the artist, in a different way, when he gifts you with the NEW in his work, he changes you forever and invokes that ‘intelligence’ to function in the NEW you.
Hamilton revisited – The dual nature of John Sloan Gordon
BY ADMIN ⋅ JUNE 1, 2007 ⋅ PRINT THIS POST ⋅ POST A COMMENT
By Gary L. Roy
“I wonder if the people of Hamilton appreciate the man in their midst…. A man whose advice and criticism went deeper than just correcting a line or subduing a tone or colour for his students…” – Arthur W. Crisp NA
“He would burst into the classroom without knocking and ridicule her or scold her about some trifle. Poor Mrs. Gordon maintained a tense little smile and made no protest… But the pulse in her throat throbbed more noticeably.” – Doris McCarthy RCA OSA
One man. Two masks. A life of contradiction: John Sloan Gordon.
When Gordon died on October 12, 1940, so closed a significant chapter of Hamilton’s vibrant art history. Canada’s first pointillist. Disciple of the instructional methods of the French academies. Champion of bohemian intellectualism. Lauded as they were during his lifetime, Gordon’s accomplishments in painting and in art education, once eulogized, would pass quickly into yet another institutional vertical file. However, his life is much more than a historical moment. It is a monument; a testament to the creative history of Hamilton and one of the pioneers who helped develop it.
Next month will mark the anniversary of Gordon’s death. To honour his life, we revisit the man, the art and the accomplishments that would later establish his enduring role within Hamilton’s history.
Sloan was born July 8, 1868 to Thomas and Janet Gordon of Brantford, Ontario. A year after his birth they moved to Hamilton, where Gordon grew up and went to school. He worked at the art department of the Howell Lithographing Company and later left Howell’s to open his own studio, devoting his energy to freelance illustration and advertisements. He began his fine art career at this time, taking courses at night from local artist S. John Ireland, and winning gold and silver medals from exhibitions held at the Hamilton Art School. His early success inspired him, and in 1895 he enrolled in art studies offered by the Julian Academy in Paris.
At the academy, he took drawing and painting instruction, and learned to model in clay. He also studied for a short period at the Academie des Beaux Arts and returned to Canada in 1897.
Sloan was much more than a talented, internationally trained artist and teacher. He was a gifted, yet unpredictable, creative force, who led a distinguished commercial art career; was elected a member of the Ontario Society of Artists in 1898; had an oil purchased by the National Gallery in 1909; and became an Associate of the Royal Canadian Academy in 1923. He also helped establish the Hamilton Art School. In 1909, he was made principal of the school, a post he held until he retired.
It was at the school where Gordon developed his most enduring and controversial contribution to the artistic history of Hamilton. His public lectures combined art history, biography, composition theory, and discussions of colour and light. He illustrated his points with prints from his own extensive collection, as well as spontaneous drawings in chalk on the blackboard. He enriched his talks with personal experiences and notes from his travels, as well as references to the literature, sculpture, architecture and music of the period being discussed. For Gordon, the education system should not just give art instruction and develop students’ abilities, but should also provide them with opportunities to give back to their country.
Gordon mentored a number of students who went on to become major artists of their day, including New York muralist Arthur Crisp NA; Saturday Evening Post stalwart and Society of Illustrators president, Arthur William Brown; and impressionist Albert Henry Robinson.
Besides his lectures, Gordon was an outspoken critic of the changes taking place in the art world during the early part of the 20th century. He said Futurist art was art that could not be taken seriously, as it was made by men “who wanted to be conspicuous, and could only be that, by being eccentric.” His acerbic outlook on the avant garde was soon to be tested from an unlikely source: his bride.
In 1920, Gordon married Hortense Mattice, a painter of china and pleine air landscapes, who taught at the Hamilton Art School. They took every opportunity to bring their educational methods and their students’ work to the attention of European educators. The work was new and distinctive, and attracted a lot of positive attention from the Europeans. They queried the Gordons, “How are Hamilton students able to do things our students do not seem to accomplish?” The response came quickly from Hortense and John: “Our students are not encouraged to copy, but to think for themselves, and environment does the rest.”
While the Gordons appeared to share common ground with respect to the academic welfare of their students, they differed significantly in their appreciation of what constituted significant achievement in art. The difference would lead to explosive, public clashes that would come to signify Gordon’s contradictory nature.
Hortense incorporated discussions of avant garde art theories into her classes, while John was blunt and dismissive about modern art. Inevitably, clashes occurred and they came to be known within Hamilton’s artistic community as “the turbulent Gordons”. What may have begun as ideological ‘fencing’, quickly descended to embarrassing gossipy incidents, exacerbated by John’s increasing dependence on alcohol. How he missed a Christmas dinner because of the ‘scotch flu’. How his sudden and stormy departures were inevitably accompanied by the musical tinkling of bottles in a suitcase. How he stormed into his wife’s classroom and belittled her mercilessly.
Gordon’s tumultuous relationship highlights his creative contradiction – as a man who lived staunchly dedicated to the artistic traditions of the past, while nurturing a generation of future artists. It is this lasting, yet complex impression – one of inspiration and intrigue – that resonates today.
The last word fittingly to Arthur Crisp: “Hamiltonians ought to be happy and proud that they had a man of his attainments…. I am sure that my career would have been less than it is had I not had the guide, philosopher and friend that J.S. was to all of us.”
John Sloan Gordon’s works appear occasionally at catalogued auctions and other secondary market venues. Expect to pay $150-$250 for drawings, $500-$750 for watercolours 10” x 12”, and $900- $1,200 for comparably sized oils.
With artist files from the Art Gallery of Hamilton, the Special Collections of the Hamilton Public Library, from “Climbing the Cold White Peaks” by Stuart MacCuaig, and “Hortense M. Gordon, A Dedicated Life”, Chatham Cultural Centre publication.
Alfred Joseph Casson, born in Toronto, began to study art with J.S. Gordon at Hamilton Technical School and was apprenticed to a lithographer. Returned to Toronto in 1916 and studied with Harry Britton at the Ontario College of Art; also at the Central Technical School. Met Franklin Carmichael in 1919 and worked with him at Sampson & Mathews, as a commercial artist. Became a member of the Group of Seven in 1926 and a founding member of the Canadian Group of Painters, 1933. A.R.C.A. in 1926, R.C.A. in 1939, P.R.C.A. 1948 - 52.
John Sloan Gordon, Artist and Educator
Principal, Hamilton Art School 1909-1932
John Sloan Gordon began teaching art in 1897 shortly after returning to Hamilton from Paris where he had been studying at the Academie Julian. He took part in organizing the Art League of Hamilton which eventually became part of the Hamilton Art School. In 1909 he became Principal of the Hamilton Art School and in 1923 was named Director of the School of Fine and Applied Arts after the amalgamation of the art school with the technical school. "Though Gordon's own art career was partially eclipsed by his pioneering work in Canadian art education and his dedication to teaching, it was a career of distinction nonetheless. When he returned from Paris in 1896 he became a 'leading representative in this country of the Impressionist school of painting'. Today he is remembered as the first Canadian exponent of Pointillism... In 1909, the National Gallery in Ottawa bought his Old Mill, Brantford, a work in oil considered to be typical of his style."
Climbing the Cold White Peaks:
A survey of artists in and from Hamilton 1910-1950
Place the canvas face-up on a dust-free table. Pile small strips of hard linoleum under the cracked areas of the canvas to create a support to protect the painting from further damage during repair.
Heat 1/4-cup damar resin over a low flame until it dissolves. Stir 1/4-cup beeswax slowly into the dissolved resin. Continue to stir over heat until blended, then turn flame off. Fill the eyedropper with English turpentine. Add three drops to the mixture. Stir to blend, then cool to 170 degrees Fahrenheit.
Load a small paintbrush with the 170-degree mixture. Apply liberally to the cracked areas of the painting. Poke the tip of the paintbrush gently underneath and between the cracks to saturate the front and back sides of the paint with the glue.
Heat the metal palette knife in a cup of hot water, then dry on a clean cotton rag. Press the flat side of the palette knife gently on to the saturated paint. The heat and pressure glue the saturated paint to the backing. Allow to dry and cool.
Mix 1 cup of white flour and 1 cup of cold water to create a paste. Apply a thin layer of the paste over the glued areas of cracked paint. Cover the pasted area with Japanese tissue paper torn to fit. Allow to dry. Apply a second layer of paste over the tissue paper, and cover with gauze. Allow to dry. Cover the gauze with paste, then attach a piece of heavyweight archival paper over the gauze. Allow to dry, cover with paste, then attach one more layer of heavyweight paper.
Lay the canvas face-down on a table covered with cloth. Heat the damar-beeswax-turpentine mixture to 170 degrees. Paint the glue on the back of the canvas behind the cracked areas of paint clearly visible as slightly darker than the rest of the canvas. Warm a dry iron to medium heat. Lay wax paper over the back of the canvas, and iron the glued areas to further flatten and attach the cracked paint to the surface. Turn off the iron. Peel off the wax paper. Allow to cool and dry.
Turn the canvas face-up on the table. Add supports underneath as described in Step 1. Spray the top layer of heavyweight paper with distilled water to dissolve the wheat-paste glue. Peel off the paper. Spray, then remove the second layer of heavy paper and the gauze. Spray the Japanese tissue paper with water, then wash off the paper and paste gently using the sponge.