Roberts Gallery Blog
Roberts Gallery Blog

THE LATE YEARS by RFM McInnis

— PART THREE —

Now 75, there are many years and experiences behind me, too many to enumerate short of an autobiography. I have always, since age 16, kept a Journal. These, along with my papers, letters, photographs, negatives, sketchbooks and certain portraits of painters, are in the Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa. It has been a well documented career and it continues. I am now in “my late years”, so to speak. The question is, “Do painters ‘retire’?” I don’t think so, not as long as there is canvas and paint. And of course models.

Since I work from life, the need for models is always present. Finding suitable women to pose is not always an easy task. I am quite fussy. I look for  a “type”.  I prefer inexperienced people who are willing to pose for me. There is a certain look. You can see it in my paintings.  You could almost call it as “a McInnis look”. Long, dark hair, dark eyes,  strong cheekbones and chin. She must have, as well, a certain personality and be comfortable within herself. Generally my models are semi-dressed, legs, stockings, high heels. Art school models have seldom suited. I find them too rigid, lacking flexibility. At the same time, I find my models anyplace I may happen to be. I will just go up to someone and ask, if I particularly like her look. And yes, I get many refusals, but I also get many positive responses as well. Normally, I work three to six sessions with a model. Some, longer, up to 20 sessions if they are good and sustain the interest.

with Chief Justice, in Nanton Studio, 2003

I am not interested in doing portraits. I am a figure painter, not a portrait painter. This has to be explained. The difference is “likeness”. Likeness is not what I’m after. Form is. I need a model in order to explore form; to discover “subject matter” involving the female form. I work many many sketches and poses, over a three hour session seeking one idea. It is the  Studio Sketch Books that are now in Library and Archives Canada. These are the preliminaries to the paintings since 1991. The Journals are the story. The sketchbooks are the illustrations.

That is not to say I have not painted portraits. For I have. Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin was the most recent. One of my large Alberta Landscapes hangs in her office, so she approached me. Before that was James A. Coutts, once Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s Executive Assistant and a neighbour in Alberta. Peter Pockington, owner of the Edmonton Oilers at the time, asked me to paint his portrait. Maureen McTeer, wife of former Prime Minister Joe Clark also posed as did author Margaret Atwood, many years ago. I painted professor and painter Barker Fairly, then in his nineties, several times. We were neighbours in Toronto. I photographed A.Y. Jackson when I lived in Ottawa, several times, both at my apartment and in his studio, as early as 1965 when I was just starting out in my career. and was still a photographer in the RCAF. Then there are the many “known and lesser known Canadians” in front of both my camera and my easel as well, including many noted painters including  Dorothy Knowles, Joseph Plaskett, Joane Cardinal Schubert, John B. Newman, Tom Forrestall, Illingworth Kerr, Jean Paul Lemieux. A 13 metre long painting containing 60 portraits of art-related personalities of Calgary in 1980, is in the collection of the Glenbow Museum, each character painted from life, over a period of one spring and summer. I do not paint portraits from photographs.

Generally, I used the term “sketches”. I make a clear distinction between sketching and drawing. Sketches are the preliminary studies in search of a paintable subject from a suitable pose. It is a search, an exploration, tentative. A drawing, the way I approach it, is  complete in itself for it’s own sake. I draw a lot, but the drawings have rarely been shown, seldom torn out of sketch books, seldom seen in galleries. Canada, as a landscape country, invites painting, colour, lots of reds and oranges, to a fault! It’s a problem for someone who likes to draw. In my studio sketchbooks are the drawing and sketches that relate to almost every figurative painting I’ve ever done. As I said, the Journals are the story,  the sketch books are the illustrations. They go hand and hand into posterity.

The Roberts Gallery show is made up of landscapes. These are, for the most part, “oil sketches”. painted the way the Group of Seven worked, on site, making preliminaries from which to do larger works. Over many years, I put my favourites away in boxes for my future, as my legacy to myself. Turning seventy five I felt was a good time to bring them out. To have Roberts Gallery present them to mark 75 years of age, 55 years as a painter, 35 years  with Roberts’ and Roberts Gallery’s own 175 years, not to mention Canada’s 150. A good year. This IS the future.
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