nothing is as it seems

or as the mind wants to believe

for the eye hides its truth behind a curtain of mirrors

shielding the self from seeing within

Inversion is a concept that has been explored in psychology and science, math, and music, however, as far as I can tell, it’s not a concept that has been explored much at all in art, if ever. It is a concept that I have explored for some time but not exactly like this until more recently. In the past I have looked at ways in which we are seen by others and see ourselves and how those ways of seeing are not true, instead they are mirrored images of what we think we see, or of ourselves seeing what we need to see.  

This idea of seeing what we think we see instead of actually seeing these things as they truly are was something that was brought to my attention when I was quite young studying to be an artist. I was fourteen and studying with the wonderful art teacher and painter, Maxine Schacker. Maxine was my first art teacher, my first real art teacher I should say, with whom I learned life drawing and life painting. From Maxine I learned this concept of truth around seeing and what we think we see. Maxine, using the Nicolaides’ method, would say, don’t draw what you think of as that object, a table for instance, instead draw what is truly in front of you. Do you actually see four legs? In their entirety? Is the top truly horizontal and the legs vertical? Or are parts cut off or hidden behind other objects that obscure the view? Has the angle been affected by my point of view and therefore that table top is a diagonal line instead of straight across, etc etc.

And so, extrapolating: the clouds, don’t draw your image of clouds, your preconceived idea of clouds, your interpretation of clouds, what you think looks like clouds, draw exactly the shape and form and lines that are in front of you. And if you are truthful about drawing what you see, the viewer will see the clouds.

This was the foundation of my formative years as an art student.  This concept of interpreting what we see, of preconceived ideas of the world around us has been with me for 40 years; and what’s key for me is that our interaction with people and the world around us is so often based on these preconceived notions of what we think is rather than what actually is

How different the world would be if we, if I, approached every person, every topic, idea, subject matter, concept, movement, with a blank slate without any preconceived notion or idea of who are what they are or how I think they should be, and genuinely listened to what I was hearing, saw what they were truly doing, understood what they truly intended to convey.
Our whole communication would experience a profound paradigm shift. For years I’ve painted and sculpted and drawn women in boxes, tiny people next to large walls, huge people within confined spaces, tunnels, passageways, paths, roads from distances with the scale skewed, humans with features that change or distort as we approach them or move away (hence my fascination with Giacometti). Mostly, this exploration revolved around communication and how we allow our own ideas of a person to colour our listening of them. We/ I tend to look at people and ideas as though looking through a lens coloured with our own/my experience.

The same can be said of any subject with a different race, colour, sexual orientation, mindset, ideology, age, demographic, status, political leaning than the person observing/judging.

Too often, regardless of how we/they appeared or showed up, we have been seen or listened to or heard by the “other” as the other decided we should be seen or heard.


Here too, as “other”, I/ we have prejudged, concluded, determined how we would listen, see, think, judge….

So, this concept of placing people in boxes ahead of time has been something that I have played with for decades. It has evolved over the years and morphed into an examination of looking inward and outward at the same time; of seeing what’s outward as a mirroring of what we see, or sometimes don’t want to see, inward. Inverting. Inversion.

And that brings me to the painting, Inversion.

I had already decided that I would flip Inversion’s painted world sideways and thus the horizon had to be vertical. The sunset had to feel almost like it was bursting upward and outward instead of receding downward and inward. And there needed to be contradictory elements, organic soft surfaces against hard steel edges. And so naturally, I had to include the striking flower growing not 10 feet away from where i was painting this canvas.

I was given this flower, a begonia by a very dear friend of my father’s, Joanna, and she knows the person who brought this particular begonia species, ‘Heron’s Pirouette’ Hardy Begonia to Canada.


It’s funny in a way because begonias are not a flower I’ve loved very much in the past and when Joanna brought this to me it was just this little twig—it didn’t look very promising or encouraging at all and I couldn’t quite see that it would end up growing into anything at all, and so again a leap of faith here.

We planted this pirouette begonia and watched it grow. It didn’t just grow, it evolved and morphed. It transformed. One day I noticed these leaves with amazing red veins going through them and then these beautifully delicate little flowers started to blossom. They were such a light pink that almost seemed to have white edges lining their bottoms—but no, not white, it was the sun coming through the delicate almost-transparent petals—what a contradiction! This heavy foliage with its contrasting and complementary red and green juxtaposed with the airy delicate little pink and even lighter pink flower…well, it felt like the whole concept of inversion was growing right there in front of me.  So why not put a hydro tower in the background. Wait, how did the hydro tower fit in?

I’m so often asked what is it with me and hydro towers? And you know I had never really looked at them up until about a year-and-a-half ago. I’ve grown up around them all my life, of course—many of us in big cities and suburbs have. And do we ever even notice them? I mean really ever looked at them, wondered what they are doing here? There are 4 within 400 metres of my home… I’ve seen them thousands and thousands and thousands of times, probably 10s of thousands, and yet I never really noticed them, but when I did, I started to see these towers everywhere. Reminds me of that question, where do you find a McDonalds? The answer is: everywhere. Where do you find a hydro tower? In Ontario, my province, the answer is: everywhere.

They have become part of the landscape. Are they particularly beautiful? I don’t think so although some have interesting shapes and are almost figurative at time. If you take a look at some of my digital work. I have brought them to life through their stoic gestures. But I think that to become part of the landscape and not be so noticeable is substantial and meaningful and worrisome. I feel that it is absolutely remarkable that we so rarely discuss these hydro towers and the possible effects they have on our environment, and the flora and fauna in Canada, and on us as the people living near them. But all that for another blog. 

For me, inserting the hydro tower, my last painting (I believe) of hydro towers, is about challenging our idea of landscape, of a pretty sunset, of what constitutes beauty in nature, of what’s natural and what isn’t and has become so. About accepting without question the world we are building around us, for us, It’s about truly seeing how we live and allow ourselves to live.

All painting is an accident. But it’s also not an accident, BECAUSE ONE MUST SELECT WHAT PART OF THE ACCIDENT ONE CHOOSES TO PRESERVE.”

Back to the idea of inversion. Though I had been building on this theme for some time, how it came about in the painting is rather serendipitous. You see, sometimes I takes photos of my work and put them on my iPad and play around with them to decide which direction I will take that work because, unlike digital art, sometimes it’s a little bit difficult to undo things on a canvas laden with oil paint—or at least it’s not as easy to undo them as it is on a digital format where I can make multiple copies and go in multiple directions and end up with five or six or as many different outcomes as I would like.

However, in this case I took a picture of my painting in progress, and I wanted to see what it would look like if I pulled some darker blue in some of the clouds and somehow, my finger slipped and I seem to have caused an inversion of most of the colours: everything that was light became dark and things that were dark became light. It was fascinating for me because I had already built the piece around this concept of inversion with that sideways horizon, and then suddenly now most of the colours on my iPad were inverted too.

I immediately felt drawn to this digital image, it was striking, and a bit unsettling, but somehow it was also strangely comforting; it felt right in an upside down inward/outward backward sort of way. Maybe I had done it subconsciously because this is exactly what I was exploring with the painting on the canvas; about seeing the world in a different way, and it opened up something for me as both the artist and the viewer.

Here now was the rub: how would I put onto canvas this “mistake” I made on the digital tablet? The iPad is so forgiving, one can undo anything. However, as I stated earlier, it’s quite different with oil paint which is not as forgiving unless I’m going to scrape everything down, which I didn’t want to do as I felt what I had was a solid foundation and was a good start. Therefore, it meant taking this leap of faith and going back in on just-painted areas and glazing over where they were dry enough, scumbling where I still wanted the base colour to come through and scraping off some of the paint where I wasn’t patient enough to do either. If you watch the Making of Inversion video you’ll see what I was dealing with.


I did leave one of the clouds to reflect a fragment of what we think of as normal-looking clouds. In this way we can have a bit of a reference point, a springboard, if you will, that demonstrates or highlights the whole concept of inversion right there by having that “normal”-ish cloud.

In Inversion, our idea of the typical landscape, of a horizontal horizon line, of clouds weighted with their most dense precipitation at the bottom, of fluffy whites, is inverted—a horizon turned on its side, the sunset spreading out instead of in, fluffy whites replaced by dense blues, transparent and delicate begonia petals opaque to the sun’s rays, a hydro tower just part of the landscape—seen but not really.

Perhaps if we turned the world inside out or upside down or sideways, we would look with a different kind of eye through a different kind of lens.  Maybe we would see a world as it is instead of what we think it to be.