Bog Edge, Spring, Mark Brennan, oil on canvas 20x24 2017 (1 of 1)

In 1970 the American Photography critic Nancy Newhall remarked upon a portfolio of Ansel Adams textured black and white landscapes,
 
” …this world contains or suggests more images than the whole history of art, which includes photography, has ever yet discovered. And that most of those images ‘Man’ has discovered still endure, and wait somewhere for you. New images cry out to be seen and realized…”
 
I have spent a lot of time just looking over the years, the more I look the more I see, there is a heightened awareness that develops over time that doesn’t just include our vision, for me at least it is this heightened sense of aliveness that continues to give me a continued fascination with life, I am not yet bored!
 
The photographs Nancy Newhall refers too are a small collection of Adam’s almost abstract photographic landscapes that peel away the realism of his vast mountainous vistas he is known for to reveal a process developed on a deeper level that gives us insight into his growth as an artist.
 
My own artistic growth has always been important to me and although I love to paint landscapes I am also very interested in trying to explore moments of awareness in a way that tends to push beyond trees rocks and lakes. From this has come the series I am currently working on, The Bare Elements.
 
This work, ‘Bog Edge, Spring’, 20X24 inches, oil on canvas, is one of those pieces from the series. It depicts a moment spent with the edge of a bog in the Boreal forest, it is a rendering of the shift of morning light at sunrise, the quivering new growth in May, the shimmering reflections of snags and the coolness of that morning. There is also bird song and the last calls of the Spring Peeper as night turns into day. Little attention has been paid to realism, it is a felt landscape, an intimate moment, one of those images waiting to be discovered and found.

Winter Morning At Five Islands, Nova Scotia

Dawn, Five Islands, Winter 2017 Nova Scotia (1 of 1)
I have to say that the 2 hours I spent on this beach near Five Islands, Nova Scotia, was one of my most memorable in a long time. I always get a sense of what this coastline must have been like thousands of years ago, it seems so random and changing with inlets, rivers, incredible tides and wildlife, unlike anywhere else in Eastern Canada.
 
The first thing that struck me was contrast between the foreshore and the islands, the clouds above were floating right to left, coming off the Bay of Fundy, out of the South. They were moving quickly even although it was so still at ground level. I arrived on an incoming tide and anyone who knows this area also understands that you have to move quick! A few minutes later I was wading out of the water, backwards, grabbing my camera bag that I had left on the shingle.
 
Winter Coastline, Bay Of Fundy, Near Five Islands, Nova Scotia

Rural Landscape, Elgin, Pictou County, Nova Scotia

winter landscape northern nova scotia (1 of 1)

Rural Landscape, Elgin, Pictou County, Nova Scotia. Interesting light here, the brightest part of this landscape is the farmhouse on the hill, so you have to be careful not to overexpose it. The long shadows do a lovely job of pulling us into the landscape and the foreground fence gives a nice sense of depth and detail when compared to the distant trees. It was a just a perfectly still, bitterly cold winter evening with that evening light pouring out of the Western sky for just a brief moment. These rural areas are dying unfortunately. Those old homesteads are mostly homes now and the fields unused, so it was nice to capture this rural landscape as a representation of what ‘once was’. I think we have all seen these old farms, I always feel those from the past lived more simple, quieter lives when compared to today. Bronica ETRSI 645 Medium Format Camera, Ilford Delta 100 pro film.

Late Summer Sunrise, Bras d’Or Lakes

So it was a 3.30am start this morning to get one good photograph at sunrise on the Southern tip of the Bras d’Or Lake. I had slept on it over night and decided this might be the place, somewhere near Dundee where the sun would appear in the right location in the right weather.

I got here with about 5 minutes to spare after about 180km on the road. Loons were calling, shoals of fish were feeding, a Kingfisher clattered off in the gloom, somewhere out in the shadows I could hear a single Canada Goose calling. Everything was so still, not a wave or a ripple, the water was an exact opposite, upside down world, of the dawn sky above.

I set my tripod up on the shingle and waited. As the sun began to rise a lighted area began to form on the left, it reflected in the water, it was a perfect lead line and I settled the lens on this image I have posted here. I took light readings every 30 seconds to make sure the exposure was spot on, ready for when the light was perfect. I took two photographs as the light changed using my cable release with the lens at F11 focused on infinity at 1/4 and 1/8th second about 30 seconds apart using Ilford Panf Plus 50. This is a very slow film with a very small grain structure, perfect for printing very large with a medium format negative. The light changes very quickly at sunrise and you can easily miss the exposure if you are not measuring it constantly.

So the bigger question is why would someone travel that distance for one photograph? This image for me expresses the Bras d’Or Lakes in late summer the way I have experienced it over many years. It represents a time stamp on one of the most incredibly diverse and beautiful places in the whole of Canada. To do a place like this justice could take a lifetime of work or it could be done in one image, I am not sure. I do know that to honor a place through art does take work, photograph, painting, poem, you have to be there, immersed in the subject until it touches you. Then you are allowed to express what you felt!

If you want to see the location on google Earth, it is here:

https://goo.gl/maps/GSSvFYX3afP2

Not far from West Bay, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.

Sunrise Near Dundee, Bras d'or Lakes, Cape Breton 12 Augusut 2017 (1 of 1)

A New Medium

Well, my first photographic prints are here (Low Tide Ecum Secum, Nova Scotia), all the way from the studio of Master Printer, William Oldacre in Toronto. This is my first Limited Edition print from real black and white film (Ilford Delta Pro 100) and I am blown away by the results. There will only be three (3) prints in this edition available, I wont be printing any more of this photograph for the foreseeable future. As you can see in the images each one is embossed, numbered, titled and signed.

I have gone for absolute quality for this new medium, in all parts of the process, from the camera/lense used to the development of the film, the printing process and the archival paper. It should last 100 years or more if professionally framed.

This has been a lot of work, but I am so happy to have got to this point! I am offering my photographic prints at a low price to start with $95.00 including shipping. I did this with my paintings many years ago and gradually raised the prices over the years. The 3 prints are available individually at the link below, or if you want to read the story of this work, it is also there.

http://www.markbrennanfineart.ca/low-tide-ecum-secum/

Low Tide Ecum Secum print (1 of 6) Low Tide Ecum Secum print (2 of 6) Low Tide Ecum Secum print (3 of 6) Low Tide Ecum Secum print (4 of 6) Low Tide Ecum Secum print (5 of 6)

Lake Pines At First Light

Lake Pines At First Light (1 of 1)
‘Lake Pines At First Light’, oil on birch 16×18 Inches. I’ve seen a lot of sunrises, especially when I have been out to record the morning chorus of bird song in spring. Somewhere I have the recording that goes along with this painting. This was the sky at 5.10am on June 11th 2016 at Middle Lake in the Liscomb Game Sanctuary. I had arrived here at dark after walking down a long road and then feeling my way through part of the woods.
 
Usually I am out of bed at about 3.30am to get on location to record the bird song in late spring. When you are up with the birds there are incredible sunrises. This was the view across the lake from me. You can see the pines silhouetted against the Eastern sky and the growing light, the colors like this last anywhere from a few minutes to perhaps 10 or 15. They grow in intensity and as the sun rises further, the colors begin to lose their saturation, often there is a slight wind as the sun comes up, subsiding eventually to stillness, you can smell the water, it is earthy and sweet. On this morning a woodpecker drummed nearby, its call echoing over the lake to come back again from the distant woods, it really was magical.
 
Experiences like this are a whole body experience for me, I try really hard to just be there and take everything in I can, for me this is true wealth. I have always wanted these experiences, they give me a sense of wholeness and I even find them calming. I remember doing the same thing as a teenager in Scotland, rising before everyone and finding myself in the woods well before dawn.

Acadian Forest, Winter, March 2017

Dalhousie mountain winter (1 of 1)

This is an image from my medium format film camera. I wanted to find something of the Acadian Forest in winter and searched for quite a while. This is northern Nova Scotia and there’s not a lot of intact forest remaining here. It was evening and I climbed up a steep incline up in the Pictou, Antigonish Highlands, no show shoes, sinking up to my waist in snow! You’d think I would know better. There was a lovely evening glow on the snow and this was the surface of a small brook starting to show it’s self in mid March, I could hear it running beneath me. I loved the texture on the rocks, how they must have been heating up during the day to melt the snow, and the way rocks take your eye into the image. The small bent tree on the right took my eye too, it adds interest. I might go back there again in the fall to take another image. I work with an old light meter, the same kind Ansel Adams used in the 80’s and took a light reading off the brightest snow, I nail the exposure every time! “Acadian Forest, Winter, Dalhousie Mountain, Nova Scotia” Part of a series I am doing on remnant wild places.

Bare Elements Series, Low Tide At Hichens Cove

Low Tide At Hichens Cove, Seal Island NS oil on canvas 36x48 inches

Here is the third piece in my series ‘Bare Elements’, oil on canvas 36×48 inches, Low Tide At Hichens Cove, Seal Island. This was from my 8 day visit last October. Seal Island lies about 40km SSE of Yarmouth. When we left from Barrington this group of islands couldn’t be seen, they were over the horizon. You really got a feeling of isolation here, just a small group of us staying in one of the old homesteads. We were surrounded by history and tragedy of course, many ships have gone down on the outlying reefs with the loss of likely thousands of lives.

I really didn’t have any preconceived idea of how this work was going to progress, but had a general plan in mind. I paid very close attention to each tiny mark on the canvas, wanting the marks themselves to become places where the movement of the brush could be seen, but I wanted the brush to take on more of a life of its own in where the marks were made. There is much more of a randomness in the placement of the paint, the way you would see in a beach at low tide. You will see areas of long brush strokes, short, dabs of paint, flicks, straight lines, rounded lines, all taking on a life of their own. I tried very hard to do this subconsciously. Other areas have been more thought out, like the rocks and the light falling on them, but I wanted the rendering of these areas to remain loose and organic in their shape/hues.

I covered the larger areas with broad washes of very thinned paint using rags and used these undertones to build the painting, you can see this in the foreground sand color and sky.

From this point we are looking South East, out over the Atlantic.

Bare Elements Series, Channel At Stove Pipe Run

The Channel, Stove Pipe Run, Tobeatic Wilderness Oil 36x48 inches

A continuation of my ‘Bare Elements’ landscape series this work I had shown being started about two months ago in a short video I had posted. This series is about reducing the landscape to its basic forms, places of energy where forces and the land come together to render something significant, high energy in this case.

I wanted to flatten the image to further reduce what we are seeing to it’s bare elements. The idea for this painting, 36×48 inches, oil on canvas, comes from a portage known as Stove Pipe Run in the Tobeatic Wilderness. When you are moving through the river system here you are on very flat water and then suddenly between these two lichen covered erratics (top and bottom) the river narrows to produce a long dangerous run that has tipped many an experienced canoeist into the water.

It is a place of intensity surrounded by calm. Calm in the topography of the low surrounding landscape and also in the biotic community, the lichens, grasses and forest cover. What we can see in the painting is the water before plunging into Stove Pipe Run to the paintings left, to the right is the calm of the river system. This is the place where the two meet, the point of intersection if you like. This piece should be available for viewing at Argyle Fine Art in Halifax in a few weeks.

Krakow Photographs

In May of 2017 I visited Krakow, Poland for 5 days. I had wanted to see this city and visit an ‘Eastern Block’ country for the experience and the history. The trip also included a very moving visit to Auschwitz, one that I think was life changing in many ways. The visit to Poland is something I reflect on often both for its beauty and the raw connection to World War 2 and its occupation by the Nazi’s. Walking around the city you get a feeling that Krakow has lived through some very trying times and also some incredible ones as experienced in its architecture. You also feel the link to communism in many ways, especially in the older generation, but I felt that the younger people were much more interested in embracing Western culture. I worked with a Lumix Gx7 Micro 4/3rds camera on the street. It has a flip up viewer that I like, which enables quick photographs without being too obvious. Here’s a selection of three of those images. The others in this collection can be found on my website here.

Krakow May 2017 (2 of 19)

Above, Man And Dog, Krakow

Krakow May 2017 (6 of 19)

Above, Tram, Krakow

Krakow May 2017 (10 of 19)

Above, Visitors, Wawel Castle, this was the location of the Nazi leadership during WW2.

Daily Photo August 5th 2017

Sunrise, Waterside Provincial Park, Nova Scotia. Lumix GX7.

I love bird watching and there’s nothing I like more than being on a beach at low tide on the Northumberland Shore of Nova Scotia in August. Late summer is when many of the northern shorebird migrants start to return from their breeding grounds. This image comes from one of my mornings last year while searching for shorebirds. The light lasted for about 10 minutes, gradually increasing in intensity. I took one photograph with my Panasonic Lumix Gx7 on a tripod. I just stood there in awe afterwards!

Seeing In Black And White

Light At Taylor Head

Yesterday though it was almost effortless, the whole landscape reduced itself to monotones in the fog, creating a lovely sense of depth, when the sun came through the light shimmered, the landscape glowed, light dripped from the branches and blanketed the shoreline granite, it moved on the calm water, distilled and subtle. Timing is everything and in the course of the 4 hours I was there the light appeared perhaps 4 times, it was fleeting, sometimes for just seconds. I spend a lot of time hanging around in situations like this, looking for compositions and waiting. I shot a roll of Ilford Detla 100 (15 exposures) and it was the last shot that I think summed up the experience of yesterday.

I had spotted some long whale back granite ridges pointing out to the ocean from the shore, the sun hovered above and the mist moved over it like a veil. At one point the rocks were split setting up a perfect place to let the light come through, I took two photos of this scene while balancing on a steep cliff! The first was the rocks with the light coming down between them and for the second I wanted to add something more, another dimension to the photograph, so I asked my kid who was with me to stand on the rocks, looking out to sea, into the light. It worked, adding a human element into this already dreamy yet mysterious scene gave the image what it needed. Below you can see an iphone image of what I was intersted in, I got my kid to stand on the right side of the gap. This was taken after the light had gone.

The Whale Back Ridges, Taylor Head.

It is hard to post online images from film right away! The above photograph was taken with my iPhone, sometimes I will use the phone to get a look at something I am interested in before I take the photograph. I convert it to black and white on the spot which helps to see if everything I think I am seeing is there and will work on film. Below are two other images from my iPhone, both of which I did eventually take with my medium format camera.

Through Thick Fog, Taylor Head

Looking Inland, Taylor Head

The Unfamiliar From The Familiar

"Homestead Near Canso" Nova Scotia, Bronica etrsi 645, Ilford Delta 100 film. Winter 2017

“Homestead Near Canso” Bronica645, Ilford Delta 100 film

It’s a hot sticky August day here in Nova Scotia, I cant stand this heat and usually stay indoors when its so warm. I’m waiting for the sun to dip a little when it will cool and the light will begin to change. That’s what I am after today, the magic hours, about 2-3 hours before sunrise or sunset. I will head out in the car for a few kilometers looking for something that takes my eye.

This evening I’ll be taking photographs with my medium format camera using black and white film, wandering through the rural areas looking to discover something. I work like this a lot, it’s spontaneous with interactions that are unplanned, you never know what your going to get and that’s part of the appeal. The problem is that the landscape, its forms and the way we use it are very familiar to me and its that familiarity that reduces the awareness. I think this way of seeing or interpreting is in all of us but those of us who can overcome this predisposition to the familiar can notice the unfamiliar or the story that needs telling.

I am getting better and better over the years, learning to see without having the mind interfere. You can learn to see patterns, shapes, relationships instead of houses fields and roads you have watched for years. If  you are wondering what this feels like, to see this way, turn yourself upside down and you will see the world new again, that’s right, just bend your head under your arm and look! When you do this the brain cant filter what you are seeing and you see things the way they are, major shapes, angles, color and values. It’s almost as if you are separating yourself from what you know about a landscape and trying to look at it in a way that someone being there for the first time might. Being able to do this consistently can reap benefits in the way you interpret what you are seeing, you strip away the preconceived and come towards a more truthful understanding of what is ‘there’ before you.

The Best Of Times

se

Oh boy, I found this old photo tonight from 2003, 14 years ago. Me and my kid in the Cape Breton Highlands. This is in the Aspy Valley on a trail that was closed a long while ago. You used to be able to cross country ski on groomed trails here. We still go camping, but once or twice a year. I look so fondly back on those times as a young dad! Would you believe I still have that sweater and they key lanyard which I bought on a trip to Algonquin Park after locking the keys in the car! But thats another story!

New To Me Large Format Camera

Sinar P 4X5 Large Format Camera

Sinar P 4X5 Large Format Camera

A few days ago I was browsing Kijiji and stumbled across a listing for a Sinar P, 4×5 View Camera in Ottawa at a great price. This classic camera of the 1970’s would have cost about $8000 in today’s money. The owner was a retired photographer who by all accounts had a very successful career. Three days later and it’s sitting in my studio on a tripod complete with 3 top of the line lenses from that era. I feel so fortunate to have found this camera.

Over the past year or so I have been working in medium format to photograph the landscape, making trips to the coast and the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Medium format keeps up with some of the best digital cameras out there today, its also small enough to carry around in a small back pack. The 4×5 view camera I have on the other hand weighs a massive 13lbs, it’s a dead weight, and will travel as far as the photographer is prepared to carry it! The advantage of this camera though is the negative, at 4×5 inches it can gather more information than some of the most advanced digital cameras today. One of the other key things with a view camera is its movements, these movements help with depth of field, focus, changing, composition and even angles within the image. I am after a photographic image that is top quality and I hope I can do this with this camera.

The 4×5 film is on order and should be here in the next few days. With a camera like this, you don’t waste your film, each press of the shutter is going to cost me almost $10 per shot! But there’s an advantage to that in the way it slows you down, makes you pay attention, prepare and check, and this is the process I love. It’s a deliberate way to create something special in a medium that is really quite versatile.

My hope of course is to continue to explore the landscape with this new equipment and produce a much broader body of work that complements my painting and sound work. The camera can indeed be used as a form of expression just as well as a painting and the process or the creation of a work, while somewhat different, still maintains a type of thought process similar to making marks on a canvas. The next few years will tell.

 

Low Tide Ecum Secum, Limited Ed Print

Before I post this, I just wanted to say once again how grateful I am for the people who care about art, artists, making art, selling art, those who work with artists, support artists and those of you who choose a different route and add some richness to your own lives and the lives of others by expressing yourself. We are sincerely a very lucky bunch!

Over the years I have learned that artists must do the work, there’s no substitute, no easy way, its long days, lonely days, wonderful days, months without money, then all of a sudden you are rich, until you pay the bills! Its a tough but very rewarding road and if you can do it without compromising your integrity and your quality, then life’s meanings take on something you never expected.

So here it is then, my very first archival photographic print. I have done the work, kept my integrity and enjoyed every minute of this new path so far. Visit the print page.

Mark Brennan Portfolio (18 of 20)

“Low Tide Ecum Secum” See The First Limited Edition Print. Edition Of 5

The prints will be available September 1st. I will release subsequent new prints each month. Have a look at the page, there’s a story behind each piece, this print is an edition of 3. The hope here is to develop a collection, a public archive of sorts over time. They are museum quality and printed in Toronto by a master printer and signed/numbered by myself.

St Marys River Project

st marys

Rain gets me out, especially for the light that comes with it.  I was at the upper St. Mary’s River this afternoon, near the source. I waded thigh deep to get here, I think it was worth it. This is a continuation of my project on the St Marys River of Nova Scotia.

Yellow, Blue And Myself. Seal Island

seal

It’s been almost a year since I was on Seal Island and I am going through some of the remaining images.

When I set the camera upon the tripod for the long exposure I could hear only the rolling surf of the bay to my right, no engines, no humans, just the yellow house, nature and the heavens. It was one of those moments where I felt the awe of being alive. Going to a place like this strips you of your routines, and even your responsibilities to others, you go where you want, when you want, if you want. In a sense you surrender to everything, the mind no longer wants to control things because you have the space and the time here, you become yourself again.

Bird Islands, Cape Breton

bird isl

On Saturday I made a visit to the Bird Islands, East of the Cape Breton Highlands. It was 2 hours by boat out and around these sensitive breeding grounds for many thousands of sea birds. When you see the islands from a distance they appear as just a smudge on the horizon. Up close both islands are teeming with life. Razor-bills, Puffins, Kitty-wakes, Bald Eagles, Guillemots, just an incredible interwoven eco-system. The landscape its self was an angular eroding series of cliffs and sea caves covered by a thick carpet of guano, grass and shrubs. I look forward to painting them sometime in the near future.

Changes, A New Direction

I think many of you see my work taking somewhat of a new direction. I had a long conversation with Adriana at Argyle Fine Art about this over the past few weeks. I think there is always a strong tendency for those striving to explore our short lives as deeply as possible to reach a little bit further every time we have the opportunity. Ideas come and go, avenues to explore open and close and some of these take a sharper turn into the subconscious where they percolate and are ruminated over for months or even years. Most fizzle and drop away but some do come to fruition and blossom into some sort of hybrid new bloom of the mind that is expressed in a fresh way on the canvas.

I have made some changes, the first is that I have ‘recalled’ all work from 2015 and earlier from the galleries that represent me. One of these galleries is closing this fall (retirement after many years), another I have parted ways with after many very good years, on very good terms of course. It is time to go leaner with gallery representation so that more time can be given to creating work that expresses my changing views. By the end of the year, my work will be represented by 4 quality galleries in three provinces.

My visit to Auschwitz in May has unraveled many of those old ego based ways of conditioned thinking and has even jolted me into a new hyper focus, to what end I am not yet sure but I hope to get to the bottom of it over the next few years. To be blunt, all the bullshit has fallen away.

My output is going to decrease, there will be far fewer smaller works available, but the opposite reaction will be a more focused approach to creating work that reflects more on the times we live in. I guess to be more sincere I am beginning to pull away the safety net of producing landscapes where a sale is almost guaranteed. This is really all about truth, growth and integrity to the process and the journey.cc


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