Red is a very strong colour. It is the colour of the earth itself.
The initial impression of something, ‘earthy’ might be the calm, undulating hills of Wales on a sunny day. But, while red can be that immovably tranquil, it does so by it’s deep strength which can equally be expressed in an erupting molten mass from a volcano.
Removed from the outdoors, red continues to exercise his strength in the studio: His tenaciously pigmented fingerprints will not wash off a person’s skin for a week; his yell will cause your ears to crackle while grinding; and his stubborn refusal to sink in water once finely ground—as all rocks do—further demonstrates his tenacity.
These attributes are in keeping with red’s origins. Red ochre could be thought of as simply rusty, decomposed iron but, according to Plutarch, it is the substantive bones of dead gods—there needs be that such remains possess an echo of their origins, I think.
Red also connects us with the earth. The same ochre that pigments the earth gives colour to our blood. In our age of virtual self-aggrandizement and unnatural-actions, red connects us back to our reality—as the modelled clay of our earth. And, while mankind’s history attests to our own strength to create and destroy, we never do so divorced from the earth, but rather as an extension of it and ultimately, upon ourselves.
My very first pigment-hunt was searching for red from Hell’s Gate on the Mattawa River. It was a mystical adventure, and one that connected me with an artistic process going back 30,000 years. My, ‘red’ experiences remain my most powerful, and my most fun.
Last week I had a magical experience in San Diego … It involved beautiful people, a red landscape, and ancient tools! It was a joy to meet up again with Dr. Norrie—she is an amazing combination of child-like enthusiasm with deep knowledge! Together we headed back up to the mountains around the La Jolla Reservation. Once again I was … Read more
Yesterday I had an amazing opportunity to paint with a group of Luiseño children on the La Jolla Reservation north of San Diego. For over a decade, Dr. Norrie Robbins has been running the Science Explorers Club at reservations around San Diego with the express purpose of nourishing a love of the outdoors and sharing values that protect the … Read more
Before leaving for his trip to hike up around Lake Superior, Reiner promised he would try to locate a vein of red rocks he had found 15 years ago. He wasn’t too optimistic about it because he had looked for it since and never been able to find it, but he would try nevertheless. I … Read more
As you can see from the photo above, refining the red ochre my brother and I collected from the old mine in Londonderry resulted in a wonderfully bright red pigment. It took longer to dry than I had anticipated, but I am so happy with the results that I’m not put out by that at … Read more
The colour within my pallet that I am most unhappy right now is my reds. I have had little success in claiming or modifying the rocks I collected but today I thought I would give is one more try. After sorting through the rock samples my brother and I collected and grinding these down as … Read more
It has been 9 months since my brother, Aaron, and I spent the week collecting pigment/rock samples from old mines in Nova Scotia and the verdict is in as to which of these samples are usable. While I am excited about these colours, not all of them were what I expected (as you will read). … Read more
While the gross work of pounding the pigment into colour was done, there still remained the work of finely grinding them. This work was done during a demonstration at the Homer Watson Gallery. When grinding with a glass muller, one can’t help but notice that some rocks grind up with ease, but others require a … Read more
For the past three years I have been growing a few plants of Rubia tinctorum, commonly known as the Madder plant. Madder is one of the most permanent pigment producing plants. Its use goes back a thousand years in Europe and much further in the East. In the West (until the rise of Indigo, another … Read more
After collecting all the pigment samples from my trip to Nova Scotia a lot of work still lay ahead: The grinding and testing. Today I did that grinding. Using my wonderful, 20 pound cast iron mortar and pestle, the rocks were ground up one by one. Some of the rock samples ground up quite … Read more