About the Way Out West Landscapes
When I decided to begin painting representationally late in my art career around 1997, I was attracted to landscapes as a medium for making philosophical comments about our modern existence on the Planet Earth, as well as providing an excellent stage upon which to make observations about the economy and the environment.

I’ve always been drawn to landscape painting, although that can take many forms. I think of my “Earth Paintings” of the late 1980s as landscapes.  Landscapes offer opportunities for statements and commentary about the relationship between culture and nature.  Landscape painting, even if it’s not al fresca, also encourages a more thoughtful relationship with the Earth and natural forces. I love how landscapes create “space”, even when they also have a lot of “surface”.  This produces a tension between the illusion and the actuality that has always appealed to me.

In the Earth Paintings I used sand and gravel I found in the wild, and mixed them with Acrylic emulsion to build up a thick surface. I also use sand, gravel and raw pigment to build the ground of the new landscapes. I like texture, and so my paintings have over time become more and more like bas reliefs.

Some people often ask if I love the desert. I do, but I’m much more interested in creating a vast expanse in my landscapes. I want to create a vision of a wasteland, a vast territory where people come and go in their all-terrain vehicles. People are nomadic, settlements are temporary, structures are disposable, roadside attractions are fleeting. “Unfinished Ghost Town” sums it up well. The brush is moved by the unseen hands of market forces.

I grew up in Manitoba, and the Big Sky of the Great Western Plains has had a lasting influence on me. My favourite things to paint are skies. I do not want to spend a lot of time painting cars, trucks and tiny little people. I tried that in “Sky Should be Blue, No?”: much too time consuming. Essentially, painting cars is not what my paintings are about.  I used collage in “Ghost Town”, and I was forever printing small images from the computer to use as cut-outs to manipulate on the surface. It was an obvious next step to incorporate more collage into my paintings, especially if it involved images of corporate brands and commodities.  With Google Image, if I wanted a picture of a red 1965 Buick Wildcat in profile, I could probably find one, and then print it exactly the size I needed.

I insist on surface and relief in my paintings, because I want the painting to affect the viewer more than simply through their retinas. I have no love for photography other than as a tool to further my paintings. I want paintings that don’t fit neatly into a category. That’s why I’m usually trying to do things differently. I have painted “the Painter’s Hand” or stuck a paintbrush on the surface, simply to break the idee fixe of the picture plane and a finished painting. Those paintings always retain a certain unfinished, playful freshness for me. Painting is a noun, but also a verb. I’m pleased when I can keep the painting alive, and have it make a fresh unexpected impact on the viewer.

Now I am painting more and more in a non-representational way, but I still enjoy working on the landscapes. They allow me a wide range of expression both serious and comic.

-Michael de Gruchy Haslam