Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Storm Brewing in a Teacup on Downton Abbey

12 x 16'', acrylic on gessoed hardboard
painting #241, 2016

Last month I received an invitation from the Fog Forest Gallery to submit a painting for a group exhibition that would give the viewer some respite in the wake of the current political uncertainty looming with the upcoming presidential elections in the US and the series of violence / terrorist attacks in the past year alone that seems to be on the uprise and constantly in the news. The exhibition is entitled ''Art for a World Gone Mad'' and runs from September 22 to October 15, 2016.

In my still life painting, entitled “ Storm Brewing in a Tea Cup on Downton Abbey”, I chose to document aspects of the critically acclaimed British television series and draw a parallel by allowing us to appreciate  how much the world has indeed changed in the past century for the betterment of humanity in most instances.  

Downton Abbey chronicles the life of the aristocratic Crawley family and exposes the lavish lifestyle of a disappearing elite class and the relationships they entertain with their many servants. But all is not so rosy at the Yorkshire castle. The main story line centers around the heir and descendants of the Earl of Grantham with their on-going struggles to financially sustain the domain as they meet the challenges of the modern world. Although the series is fictional, it does become quite credible as it follows the timeline in the UK during a very turbulent period in their history between 1912 and 1925.  Some of the events that filters through the script written by the show's creator Julian Fellowes include the sinking of the Titanic (1912), the ravages of World War I, 1914-1918 (17 million casualties, 20 million wounded), the 1918 flu pandemic, aka- Spanish flu (in excess of 50 million deaths), women's suffrage in 1918 (right to vote) and the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921).

The themes and drama that are explored in the six seasons are still pertinent today as they were back then and these include: social classes, snobbery, secrecy, sibling rivalries, woman rights/equality, political revolts, conflicts, infidelity, betrayals, feuds, murder, conspiracies, loyalty, blackmail, sabotage, bullying, scandals, racism, refugees, war and love.

The world in which we currently live in is fast paced and in a state of constant evolution. Much can be said about violence in its many forms, but many historians suggest that we are actually living in the most peaceful period of the past 500 years.  Advancements in human rights, technology and medicine alone makes the world a much better place than a century ago. 

The world economy, religious beliefs, the oil industry, control and power does rule the planet at this point and time. Terrorism, drugs, gun control, poverty, corruption, unemployment, politics of fear and division, global warming are some of the current issues we are faced with in 2016.  It's easy to get overwhelmed with the state of the world when we are constantly being bombarded by the media to a point where we become desensitized in order to cope.  While it is easy to reflect on the past when life appeared simpler, except it is not always true.  But one shouldn't lose hope because there is still a whole lot of goodness in the world today. 

As a painter, a great deal of my artwork does document aspect of popular and mass culture.  I do try to put a positive spin in the imagery. I've occasionally done paintings reflecting the economy or political climate by using a Monopoly Game board as a prop, which in turn becomes a form of symbolism.  I am not turning a blind-eye on all that is happening in the world today. We live in a world where we have to adapt in order to strive and move forward. We also need to take time for ourselves by taking care of our body, mind and spirit. I believe in the laws of Karma / the Golden Rule and try to do good, show gratitude, compassion and respect towards others.

With “Storm Brewing in a Tea  Cup on Downton Abbey”,  I've place a tea cup on top of a book that holds imagery detailing the work achieved behind the scenes with set decoration, costume and hair design, in recreating authenticity while filming the series at Highclere Castle.  The book was written by Emma Rowley and published by St. Martin's Press (2013).  The tea cup and saucer done in a Moroccan pattern is by Grace's Teaware. The setting is my own backyard. King Cole Tea is steeped locally by Barbour's in Sussex, NB. It has been widely renown as the favourite tea of Maritimers for the past century. 

I've actually watched the whole series of Downton Abbey twice. The first time, I binge watched the first four seasons on Netflix then tuned in on PBS for the remaining last two seasons. Then, I replayed the five seasons again on Netflix while I started this painting. I was hooked after watching just one episode. A combination of brilliant writing, a stellar cast and stunning cinematography helped create one of the most beloved and widely watched television dramas in the world. It's a serial where happiness is fleeting for most characters. The daily ritual of drinking tea is often the only constant they can rely on. Even while in the trenches of WWI, Thomas Barrow is serving tea to Matthew Crawley steeped from a cooking pot over a campfire. I leave you with words of wisdom from the matriarch of the Crawley family, Lady Grantham, brilliantly played by Maggie Smith.
''Just the ticket.  Nanny always said, Sweet tea is the thing for frayed nerves''
from Season 1, episode 3.
Fog Forest Gallery
14 Bridge Street, Sackville, NB
(506) 536-9000 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

12 once Pepsi-Cola Bottles

14 x 11'', acrylic on gessoed hardboard mounted (4 cm deep)
painting #240, 2016

Pepsi-Cola was introduced in 1893 as ''Brad's Drink'' named after it's inventor Caleb Bradham, in New Bern, North Carolina.  Very much like Coca-Cola which preceded Pepsi by 7 years, it was conceived by a pharmacist as a energy drink and a digestive aid. From it's ingredients pepsin and the kola nut, it was later rename Pepsi-Cola in 1898.

The rivalry between Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola has probably existed from the time they started to mass produce the carbonated sodas. In 1936, Pepsi-Cola introduced the 12 once bottle and sold the soft drink for a nickel, the same price as the 6.5 once bottle of Coca-Cola. During this period, it would double its sales. The Pepsi Challenge was introduced in 1975. A blind taste test where people off the street were invited to drink samples of Pepsi and Coke in unmarked cups. This marketing coup targeted people who had never tried Pepsi before. Pepsi also went all out with commercial adds targeting the ''New Generation'' teaming up with mega star singers like Michael Jackson, Madonna, Britney Spears, Pink, Beyoncé and many more. 

Putting taste aside, the two colas have taken different routes in marketing their soft drinks from a visual aspect. Coca-Cola has stood by their iconic contour bottle and font for the past century, while Pepsi keeps re-inventing itself with the changing time.

The same can't be said about tie-in products produced by the two rivals during this same period. Demand for Coca-Cola collectables is in a different league and are still very sought after. 

Based on a Best Global brand rankings in 2014 by Interbrand, Coca-Cola was the world's 3rd most valuable brand, behind Apple and Google. Pepsi is ranked a respectable 24th. Coca-Cola outsells Pepsi in most markets for the exception of countries like India, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Eastern Canada (minus New Brunswick) and in Appalachia, North Dakota, Utah and the city of Buffalo in the USA. 

During the fall of 2012, I found these two bottles on a Kijiji listing from a vendor living in Fredericton, NB. The carton which was not in the best condition, was acquired from a US vendor on eBay during the following months. I was able to make it look better in the painting. While they are not dated, according to the above graphic, they carton is probably dated from the 1950's. During my youth, I can clearly remember these bottles being in use during the 1960's. The graphics used here was conceive during the same period when Pop Art was emerging, using primary colours in a most brilliant way. 

Personally, I do not favour one cola over the other. They each have their own unique taste and I enjoy both in moderation. Imagery like this become a unique vehicle for documenting popular culture by bridging the gap of past and present. 

The above photo was taken during the 1950's in Cap-Lumière, NB. 
My late father Raymond stands in front of a small convenience store.  

To acquire about this painting which will become 
available on August 12, 2016, please contact: 
Fog Forest Gallery
14 Bridge Street, Sackville, NB
(506) 536-9000 


Thursday, June 30, 2016

Fredericton Collects

My painting, ''Car Jam'' is currently on exhibition in The Story Behind It at Government House in Fredericton, NB.

The Fredericton Art Club presents The Story Behind It, an exhibit of selected works from the collections of members, at Government House (Gallery inside the New Brunswick Lieutenant Governor General's House) located at 51 Woodstock Road. The exhibit features paintings, photographs, pottery and other treasures. The exhibit will run, and be open to the public, weekdays and by appointment when possible from June 16 until July 31, 2016.

The Fredericton Art Club is in its 80th year. The club brings art and the community together by advocating visual literacy, promoting art education, and the appreciation of art.

Very thankful to the owner of the painting for submitting it into the show. The Government House Gallery was certainly on my wish list of places to exhibit at least once during my lifetime. 

Car Jam, 16 x 12'', acrylic on hardboard
painting #211,  2012 
Private collection 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Good things comes in threes

 East Coast Living Magazine - Summer 2016

In less than one month my artwork has made the front page and/ or has been featured on the cover of three publications. As the French would say, ''Jamais deux sans trois''. This latest probably pulls at my heart strings more than anything that has ever been published on my artwork even if the focus is not on myself as the artist. 

Whenever I complete a painting and send it off to a gallery, one can only hope that it will be adopted in a household where it will be appreciated and loved. This story features gallery patrons whom have been collecting my artwork since 2004. To my knowledge, they own at least nine of my paintings that includes two commission pieces. I've never met them in person or had any contacts since the commissions were done through the gallery as the liaison. However, I do feel a connection with them since they've embraced my art in the best possible way and own some of my favourite pieces.  

The Toronto based couple and their children have been spending parts of their summers on Prince Edward Island for more than 20 years and are currently the focus with a feature article in the 2016 Summer edition of East Coast Living Magazine which invites the reader to peak inside their newly renovated summer cottage. The two paintings featured below are among those that appear on the cover and on page 41. I read the article with a flutter in my heart and a lump in my throat. 

The magazine is available through their website at and at many newsstands throughout the Atlantic provinces. 


Monday, June 13, 2016

Commission piece

Title- Edward R. McDonald's Crossword Game
11,25 x 24'', acrylic on gessoed hardboard
painting # 239, 2016

Board games are versatile props which I have used many time in my still life paintings, especially Monopoly. Scrabble on the other hand had eluded me up until now. Opportunity recently came knocking at my door to produce a narrative painting based on the possible new found origin of the game that even pre-dates the first version of Scrabble. The game was invented in 1938 by architect Alfred Mosher Butts. It was initially called Criss-Crosswords based on a previous variation of a game he also invented named Lexiko. The definitive version of the game and current name was modified by James Brunot in 1948. In 1952, the Selchow and Righter company bought the rights and started mass producing the game. It has been translated in 29 languages and approximately 150,000,000 units as been sold worldwide. 

In January, I received an invitation by the Chamber of Commerce of the sea side town of Shediac, NB to produced a painting based on an earlier version of the crossword game that was invented by one of it's town's former mayor, Edward R. McDonald. What was once part of New Brunswick trivia took a more serious turn once the US patent was recently uncovered dating back to July 6, 1926 and predates the Criss-Croswords by 12 years. A Canadian patent was also issued for the same game on December 7, 1926. While the rules differ somewhat, what they share is the grid checker board, and the lettered tiles with number values (for the exception of vowels) using the same fonts as today's Scrabble board game. The initial project is the brainchild of Pierre Cormier, a member of the Chamber of Commerce and is responsible for taking steps in uncovering the patent that was found by an Ottawa patent lawyer in the recesses of the Smithsonian , the world's largest museum and research centre. 

The painting was initially conceived for a box cover illustration with the intent of manufacturing Mr. McDonald's Crossword Game in light of the 90th anniversary of his invention. It remains unknown if the game was ever marketed and sold beyond a prototype made which his daughter Elizabeth Carvell, 89 recalls her father playing with a neighbour when she was a child. My involvement with the project was only to produce the painting. Since my initial meeting with the Chamber of Commerce the scope of the project has taken a different approach in honouring one of it's most outstanding citizen. As of now, the propose re-edition of the game has been put on hold for the time being and the image will be used for promotional purposes.  

I took part of a press conference held in the historical Webster House in Shediac this past June 8. My speech was to elaborate on the narrative behind my conceived imagery. John Chew, co-president of the North American Scrabble Players Association announced that Hasbro, the current owner of the Scrabble Game will be supplying a large number of games to the town to demonstrate their support for their initiative. Many Scrabble related activities were revealed for the up-coming summer season. The town will form the first certified Scrabble Club in the Atlantic provinces, and will be hosting an International Scrabble Tournament from September 30 to October 2 with Mr Chew presiding over the event. On September 17, Shediac will also host a roaring 1920's Gatsby themed night in conjunction with Scrabble related activities, highlighting the flapper fashion period recently popularised during the later seasons of Downton Abbey.

click on image to view the Global News broadcast

 Biographical notes-

Edward Richard McDonald (born- Shediac, NB 1870, died- Shediac, NB, 1952) defines the word renaissance man as an adventurer, lawyer, politician, writer, inventor and family man. In his youth, as the son of a captain, he travelled extensively by sea for three years, serving before the mast on large sailing ships and during which he visited many ports around the world. An experience which he considered gave him training and a greater conception of life. Upon his return, he studied law and was admitted to the Bar of New Brunswick, but his career was not confined solely to that field in earlier years. He travelled to Florida where he engaged in the real estate market for one year. He then made his way to Leadville, Colorado where he was employed in the gold mines for a couple of years before heading north of the border to Alberta where he was involve in ranching. He then became a gold mining prospector for a year in Porcupine, Ontario. After all of these endeavours, he resumes his law practise in New Brunswick and acquired a province wide reputation as a lawyer, being regarded as among the ablest appearing in the criminal courts and other branches of the law, embracing all the courts from the lowest to the highest. 

He was also a very active politician on the local and provincial scene. He served as mayor for four years as well as an alderman on the Shediac Town council for two decades. In addition, he also served as town clerk for many year and councillor for the Shediac Parish at Westmorland Municipality Council for sixteen years.  In 1935, he was elected as one of the members of the Legislative Assembly for Westmorland County serving a four year term during which he played a prominent role in the debates of the House and serves in several committees. 

He was one of the first person in the province to own and operate an automobile and the first in Shediac. He purchased his first vehicle in 1903, sporting license plate # 111. His love of the sea also made him an avid sailor and yachtsman. 

In 1908, he co-wrote a science fiction novel, The Mad Scientist: A Tale of the Future with Raymond Alfred Léger under the pen name Raymond McDonald. 

Upon his passing in 1950, he left to mourn his wife, the former Annie Gertrude Ryan, a son E. Ronald McDonald and three daughters, Gertrude Capreol, Mildred McLellan and Elizabeth Carvell.  He is the great grandfather of Todd McLellan, the current NHL coach of the Edmonton Oilers and Chris Williams, an animator, screenwriter and director working at Walt Disney Animation Studios. In 2015, he won an Academy Award for co-directing the best animated feature Big Hero 6. 


For the composition I was given a copy of the US patent, a re-printed photo of Mr. McDonald when he was elected mayor, another picture appearing in his vintage automobile, a book on the history of Shediac and some printed documents. After meeting with members of the Chamber of Commerce and visiting city hall which has several paintings documenting the history of Shediac, I did some research and decided to incorporate a few more items in order to create a more cohesive composition. 

The patent itself was drawn by Fetherstonhaugh & Co. It serves at the most important artefact and the base of the composition upon which objects are layered on top. The patent agency was founded by lawyer and agent Frederick Barnard Fetherstonhaugh in 1890. The other commonality that Edward McDonald shared with Frederick Fetherstonhaugh apart from them both practising of form of law, was that he was also an automobile enthusiasts.  He was well known for having the first electrical car in Canada,which he help design and also bore his name. The 1893 automobile could reach a top speed of 15 mph and the 270 lbs batteries lasted for 5 hours. 

On eBay I was able to acquire a pair of early 20th century 12 K gold filled spectacles, which I was told he wore. Also a collectible postmarked first official flight letter pertaining to the Air Mail service when Shediac was designated part of the Pan American Northern Route which flew over the Atlantic Ocean during the summer months using a Boeing B314 Yankee Clipper plane, which could land on water. This service route included Port Washington (Long Island, New York),  Shediac (Canada), Botwood (Newfoundland), Foynes (Ireland) and Southhampton (England). The inaugural trip occurred on June 24, 1939. This specific letter was postmarked July 1, 1939 to Quillin's Stamp Shop in Washington, DC. and was flown from Shediac to New York with final destination in Washington, DC. The Air Mail service has historical significance and did contribute greatly to the town of Shediac, it's economy and it’s status as one of the Atlantic link to the US and Europe until the service ceased it's operations by the end of World War II. 

The US Patent Office is currently located in Alexandria, Virginia (near Arlington). In 1926, when the Crossword Game patent was issued, the office would have been located at 8th and F Streets, NW in Washington, DC which now houses the National Portrait Gallery which I was very fortunate to visit back at Easter 2012. 

At first, I didn’t know how I would incorporate the First Official Flight letter (1939) since it precedes McDonald’s game (1926) by more than a decade.  When the Criss-Crosswords was patented in 1938, one can imagine that word of this game might have reached Mr. McDonald's ears by the following year. Being a lawyer, he might have sent a letter to the US Patent office in Washington in order to discuss possible infringement on his patent and concept. It helps to create a link even if it's only an assumption from my part pertaining to this period in time.

The score pad in yellow is also known as a legal pad, which bodes well since Edward McDonald was in the legal business. I wrote both his and wife's name has the honorary players for this match. I was able to acquire two sets of lettered tiles which are sold at Michael's and painted them all by hand in black and white for use for my study and the prototype. I also incorporated a monogram using a drawing of a tile letter R found on top of the patent itself which I re-positioned and a painted black lettered M tile which rest on the edge of his picture. I borrowed a wooded letter stand from a Scrabble game in order to display the tiles which spells ''crossword'' but also to make a reference to beloved game which also bear's its name in their title, Scrabble, the Crossword Game. We've had a French and English edition in our home for at least 25 years, which at the time was manufactured by Irwin.   

My painting and prototype of 
Edward McDonald's Crossword Game

In the wake of the press conference held of June 8, an initial article was published on May 28, 2016 in the Moncton's Times & Transcript and affiliate newspapers (Saint John's Telegraph's Journal and The Fredericton's Daily Gleaner). My painting of the crossword game was featured on the front page of the Moncton edition. Journalist James Foster who covered the story later contacted me to conduct an interview for a related story which also surveys my own artistic career thus far. 

Media coverage in print 

I wish to thank the Shediac Chamber of Commerce for bestowing upon me this unique opportunity and visibility. Also for giving me carte blanche in order to create a narrative painting which focuses on paying homage to one of it's most honourable citizen. Mr. McDonald had left a legacy to the town of Shediac which remained dormant for almost a whole century. The town can finally boost the title of being the Scrabble Capitol of Canada in addition of already holding the title of The Lobster Capitol of the World.  

Ron Cormier, president of the Shediac Chamber of Commerce
playing the role of Edward R. McDonald and Sophie Doiron-Belliveau 
in 1920's period costume after the press conference at Webster House,
 June 8, 2016. 

Left to right:
Pierre Cormier, Shediac Chamber of Commerce member and project initiator
John Chew, co-president of the North American Scrabble Players Association
Ron Cormier, president of the Shediac Chamber of Commerce
Louis Babineau, Shediac Co-op

The 15 ft long Shediac sign in fiberglass coated
Crossword letters will be on display this summer
alongside the World Largest Lobster in Shediac, NB


Saturday, May 21, 2016

Acrylic Artist Magazine - feature article and cover

Last fall I was contacted by the American based art magazine ''Acrylic Artist'' for a feature article and was interviewed by Amy Leibrock. The summer 2016 edition will be available at bookstores and newsstands on June 7. Very fortunate to have been given my first ever cover and my article is a full 10-pages. Many thanks to managing editor Jennifer Smith. Available at Chapters/Indigo and Read's Newsstand locally, Barnes & Nobles and where art magazines are sold. To acquire a print or digital download, you can go on this link- .  

Back copies currently available at this link - HERE 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Commission piece

''Loon over Cross Stitch'' (Huard sur point de croix)
Acrylic on gessoed hardboard, 10 x 12''
painting # 238, 2016

This painting combines tools used by the lovely clients whom have been retired for some time now and have kept very busy with arts and crafts among their many pastimes and passions. I've added the proverbial mason jar as a symbol of preservation.


Saturday, February 27, 2016

Hello Kitty rides The Great Wave

12 x 12'', acrylic on gessoed birch panel
painting # 237, 2016

This painting combines both past and present elements of oriental art and popular culture pertaining to Japan. Last year I did a painting of the same Hello Kitty oriental take-out food inspired candy container, except this time I've opted to include the lid and present it as a vessel.

The background art is perhaps the best known artwork by a Japanese artist to the rest of the world. The Great Wave off Kanagawa (a.k.a. The Great Wave) by Katsushika Hokusai is a woodblock print part of a series entitled the Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. It was created during the end of the Edo period circa 1829-1832. Here it is shown sideways off the pages of the art book, ''999 Art Works you must know, you should know and you really impress if you know'' published by Scala Group, Florence Italy (pages 520-521).

The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai

I can't recall when I first saw The Great Wave, except it created a lasting impression after visiting Claude Monet's house in Giverny back in 2006.  Monet started collecting Japanese woodblock prints around 1864, which in turn would inspire him to build and incorporate a waterlily pond and a Japanese footbridge on his land beyond his flower gardens. These two elements would contribute to inspire a series of paintings which would become some of his best known work. Monet's collection of woodblock prints are exhibited throughout his house. His own artwork shown in his home however are only in form of reproductions. The Great Wave off Kanagawa can also be found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the British Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago among several others. 

During our visit to Washington DC, back in 2012, we spotted a mural of The Great Wave on the side of a building near the campus of Georgetown University that was brilliantly done.

Hello Kitty continues her phenomenal wave of popularity with owner Sanrio serving as the marketing empire using the white bobtail cat on more than 50,000 products worldwide. Her actual name is Kitty White. In 2014, Sanrio celebrated Hello Kitty's 40th anniversary with a first Hello Kitty convention. The sold-out event, a global gathering of fans and friends was held in Los Angeles from Oct. 30 to Nov. 2.  A museum exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum and unique collaborations and limited edition commemorative products were also made for her milestone birthday.  

While waiting in line for Broadway Show tickets at Times Square in NYC during the Christmas Holidays, I spotted a Sanrio Store. Unfortunately, I did not have time to visit the holdings of Hello Kitty treasures it had on display. 

Sanrio Store, Times Square, NYC
December, 2015

While Hello Kitty was initially conceive for a target audience of young girls, it has definitely crossed over to the adult market as well and gone mainstream. Last week-end I saw a screening of the new Marvel movie, ''Deadpool'' starring Ryan Reynolds as the protagonist. This film is rated R. During the opening credits, there is a Hello Kitty product placement floating in space, then later on in the movie, a Hello Kitty dufflebag can be seen in the front seat of a taxi cab. 

On July 3, 2015, Sanrio announced a full-length Hello Kitty theatrical film to be released in 2019 which will certainly attract a very wide audience around the globe and increase her popularity even more.