Earth Science and Art

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Icefield/Glacier Suite
silkscreen print on paper,icefield, pilot as artist, spirituality, abstracted realism, natural phenomena in art, art as contemplation, abstraction, prolific artist, photos assist artists,flying and art,organic forms, simplicity, landforms, mountains, snow, minimal landscapes, prolific artist, ten painting a day, sketching, plane accident, observing nature, primeval quality of landscape, austere landscape, find subject matter for painting, looking for art ideas, seaplane, organic forms, shape, austere painting style, primeval quality of landscape, organic form, artists using photographs in art, artist accidental death, landscape artwork, watercolour, simplifying subject matter, shores and coastlines, pristine landscapes, romantic, printmaking
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Since the 1960s, when Toni Onley became a pilot, he combined flying with his art-making. Writer Allan Wood says, “The seaplane gives him the mobility to cruise the sky like a hawk, looking down and around for hot items to paint.” (Wood, 1981)

Onley is known to have sketched and photographed images while flying his plane. He always had a knack for finding incredible images of natural phenomena. On one flight in 1984 he crashed into the Cheakamus  glacierAn immense field or stream of ice, formed in the region of perpetual snow, and moving slowly down a mountain slope or valley, as in the Alps, or over an extended area, as in Greenland. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  in the Garibaldi region of British Columbia, but survived with a badly broken leg. He wasn’t as lucky in 2004, when a plane accident took his life near Maple Ridge, British Columbia.

start quoteI got hooked on the primeval quality of landscape, which is what my work is about.end quote
-- Toni Onley (Tousley 1990)

For inspiration, Onley would take off in his plane and within a short flying time he was able to discover magnificent landscapes free from human intrusion. “My work relies on observations of nature,” Onley said in a 1987 interview, “the more rugged and untouched, unspoiled, and wild the better. The rugged west coast shores and mountain glacier lakes are the stuff of my watercolours and the  oilsSlow-drying paint made when pigments are mixed with an oil, linseed oil being most traditional. The oil dries with a hard film, and the brightness of the colours is protected. Oil paints are usually opaque and traditionally used on canvas. They can have a matte, semi-gloss, or glossy finish. To look at examples of works in oil paints, see the articles under the names of every period from the Renaissance onward. (Artlex.com)  and prints flow from them during the long winter.” (Heffel, 1987)

In an interview with Nancy Tousley he commented: “I got hooked on the primeval quality of landscape, which is what my work is about.” (Tousley, 1990)

Onley’s images emerge from his communion with  spaceSpace can be the area around, within or between images or elements. Space can be created on a two-dimensional surface by using such techniques as overlapping, object size, placement, colour intensity and value, detail and diagonal lines.  in landscape and his refinement of it. Allen Wood noted that Onley’s austere painting  styleA way of doing something. Use of materials, methods of working, design qualities and choice of subject matter reflect the style of the individual, culture, movement, or time period.  attempts “to simplify to the point of purity.“ In the same essay he added, “He organizes the  paintingWorks of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is either a tightly stretched piece of canvas or a panel. How the ground (on which paint is applied) is prepared on the support depends greatly on the type of paint to be used. Paintings are usually intended to be placed in frames, and exhibited on walls, but there have been plenty of exceptions. Also, the act of painting, which may involve a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's other concerns which effect the content of a work. (Artlex.com)  abstractly, then it becomes a landscape almost in spite of itself.”(Wood, 1989)

Onley himself described his painting process as follows: “I am always looking at it as blocks of colour,  shapeAn element of art, it is an enclosed space defined and determined by other art elements such as line, colour, value, and texture. In painting and drawing, shapes may take on the appearance of a solid three-dimensional object even though they are limited to two dimensions — length and width. This two-dimensional character of shape distinguishes it from form, which has depth as well as length and width. Examples of shapes include: circle, oval, and oblong; polygons such as triangle, square, rectangle, rhombus, trapezium, trapezoid, pentagon, hexagon, heptagon, octagon, nonagon, decagon, undecagon, dodecagon, etc.; and such other kinds of shapes as amorphous, biomorphous, and concretion. (Artlex.com)  and spaces.” (Porter 1981)

The shapes in Icefield/Glacier Suite are simple organic forms defined by delicate  pastelPigments mixed with gum and water, and pressed into a dried stick form for use as crayons. Works of art done with such pigments are also called pastels. Chalk is similar to pastel, but more tightly bound. (Artlex.com)  coloured washes of greys; grey blues, greens and browns. Allan Wood explains that after the pure white paper or  canvasCommonly used as a support for oil or acrylic painting, canvas is a heavy woven fabric made of flax or cotton. Its surface is typically prepared for painting by priming with a ground. Linen — made of flax — is the standard canvas, very strong, sold by the roll and by smaller pieces. A less expensive alternative to linen is heavy cotton duck, though it is less acceptable (some find it unacceptable), cotton being less durable, because it's more prone to absorb dampness, and it's less receptive to grounds and size. For use in painting, a piece of canvas is stretched tightly by stapling or tacking it to a stretcher frame. A painting done on canvas and then cemented to a wall or panel is called marouflage. Canvas board is an inexpensive, commercially prepared cotton canvas which has been primed and glued to cardboard, suitable for students and amateurs who enjoy its portability. Also, a stretched canvas ready for painting, or a painting made on such fabric. Canvas is abbreviated c., and "oil on canvas" is abbreviated o/c.  (Artlex.com)  has been prepared, Onley, “[begins] the deliberate self-imposed discipline of reintroducing shapes, first just one, then two and a ‘jump’ to three.” He adds, ”The very sparsity and clarity of these ‘less is more’ canvases is one of the most uncompromising elements of Onley’s art. “ (Wood, 1989)
 
Onley traveled the world extensively; seeking inspiration in the landforms found in the British Columbia coast, New Zealand, India, China, Japan and Maui to name a few. He is best known for his images of Canada’s Arctic. He had an affinity with that area. Allan Wood observes that in Onley’s  minimalistMinimalism is a twentieth century art movement and style stressing the idea of reducing a work of art to the minimum number of colors, values, shapes, lines and textures. No attempt is made to represent or symbolize any other object or experience. It is sometimes called ABC art, minimal art, reductivism, and rejective art. (artlex.com)  landscapes from around the world, “a process of distillation has taken place and is re-clad with just enough clues to re-create a specific sense of place. (Wood, 1989)

Onley was a prolific artist who could paint as many as ten canvases in one day. While they were produced rapidly with no preliminary drawing, the final works offer a sense of stillness and calm.  RealismThe realistic and natural representation of people, places, and/or things in a work of art. The opposite of idealization. One of the common themes of postmodernism is that this popular notion of an unmediated presentation is not possible. This sense of realism is sometimes considered synonymous with naturalism. (artlex.com)  was not something he wanted to achieve in his art; he strove for something more.

Summing up Onley’s landscapes, Allen Wood wrote that, “These works with their very simplicity permit a level of contemplation and enjoyment which has no limits.” (Wood, 1989) Another critic, Jack Anderson observed that Onley, “use[s] abstraction to evoke (from memory and mind) threatening, romantic and even spiritualized places and events.” (Anderson, 2004)

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Studio Activity

Paper and its qualities in watercolour

  • Try making your own paper!
  • NOTE:  For further step-by-step instructions and pictures of the steps outlined here, go to Make Handmade Paper
  • You will need a framed screen that will easily fit into a large pan that will hold the paper pulp and water.
  • To make your paper pulp, let some paper soak in water for a day and then agitate it with a hand mixer. The paper will break down into a pulp suspended in the liquid.
  • Stir the pulp and pour it into your pan.
  • Place your screen (wood side down) beneath the pulp at the bottom of your pan. Lightly shake the screen to achieve a uniform layer of pulp above the screen.
  • Lift the screen straight up out of the water and the pulp will be trapped on the screen.
  • Press any residual water from the paper with a rolling pin and turn the screen over on a sheet of absorbent newspaper to allow the paper on the screen to dry. When the paper is dry, press it again with the rolling pin if you experience any buckling.
  • For more information on paper and papermaking, go to Wikipedia

Collage

Some of Onley’s most successful works were done in the  mediumAny material and technique used to produce a work of art (paint, glass, clay, fibre, video, sound, etc.). It may also refer to the liquid with which powdered pigments are mixed to make paint. Note that the plural form of “medium” is “media.”  of collage. “Frustrated with the direction of the paintings he was working on, Toni ripped them up, then proceeded to reassemble the pieces into something new; accident and purpose mingled; resulting in a controlled expression. He was creating rhythms of torn shapes.” (Porter, 1981)

For information on collage, go to Wikipedia

Sumi paintings

Sumi is a traditional Oriental  techniqueAny method of working with art materials to produce an art object. Often implied is the sense that techniques are carefully studied, exacting, or traditional, but this is not necessarily the case. Examples include basketry, blotting, carving, constructing, découpage, embossing, encaustic, exquisite corpse, firing, folding, hatching, kerning, laminating, marbling, modeling, necking. (artlex.com)   of painting where the artist uses specialized brushes and black  inkLiquid or paste media containing pigment(s) and used for writing, pen and brush drawing, and printing. Writing inks, even blacks, are rarely sufficiently permanent to be used for art purposes. Black drawing ink, known as India ink in the United States, is especially made for use in permanent works. When it dries it is water resistant, enabling it to be gone over with a wash or watercolour. Also available is a water-soluble drawing ink; though otherwise permanent, it is capable of being washed away with water, and may be preferred to water-resistant ink for certain work. Chinese ink is similar to India ink, although various minor ingredients are added to enhance its brilliancy, range of tone, and working qualities. Most colored drawing inks are not permanent; those made with permanent pigments are usually labeled with names of pigment ingredients rather than the names of hues. Printing ink is actually more closely related to paints than to the pen and brush inks. (Artlex.com)  on porous rice paper. Onley regularly practised Sumi  paintingWorks of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is either a tightly stretched piece of canvas or a panel. How the ground (on which paint is applied) is prepared on the support depends greatly on the type of paint to be used. Paintings are usually intended to be placed in frames, and exhibited on walls, but there have been plenty of exceptions. Also, the act of painting, which may involve a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's other concerns which effect the content of a work. (Artlex.com)  because the works had to be executed quickly; there was little room for error and the artist had to have knowledge of this  styleA way of doing something. Use of materials, methods of working, design qualities and choice of subject matter reflect the style of the individual, culture, movement, or time period.  and mastery of the techniques. Rosalyn Porter says that for Onley, “They are a cleansing exercise, and aid in eliminating the extraneous from his regular watercolours.” (Porter, 1981)

  • Discover more about Sumi painting, brushes and brush strokes (see below for some website links to get you started).
  • Practice holding the brush and experimenting with simple brush strokes.
  • As your level of experience grows so will your ability to produce fresh and original works.

To see examples of Sumi paintings, go to:

To see artists using this  techniqueAny method of working with art materials to produce an art object. Often implied is the sense that techniques are carefully studied, exacting, or traditional, but this is not necessarily the case. Examples include basketry, blotting, carving, constructing, découpage, embossing, encaustic, exquisite corpse, firing, folding, hatching, kerning, laminating, marbling, modeling, necking. (artlex.com)   go to:

For lesson plans on Sumi  paintingWorks of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is either a tightly stretched piece of canvas or a panel. How the ground (on which paint is applied) is prepared on the support depends greatly on the type of paint to be used. Paintings are usually intended to be placed in frames, and exhibited on walls, but there have been plenty of exceptions. Also, the act of painting, which may involve a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's other concerns which effect the content of a work. (Artlex.com)  go to:

Science Behind the Art

Glacier By:  Jason Cosford, J.D. Mollard and Associates Limited

Over the past 2.5 million years (known to geologists as the Quaternary Period), continental ice sheets advanced and retreated across North America and Europe in a rhythmic succession of alternating glacial and  interglacialA geological interval of warmer global average temperature that separates glacial periods within an ice age.  periods.  The pacing of these fluctuations is primarily driven by cyclical changes in earth’s orbital dynamics around the sun, which result in one glacial period roughly every 100,000 years following an  interglacialA geological interval of warmer global average temperature that separates glacial periods within an ice age.  period lasting about 10,000 years.  The most recent  glaciationThe movement of glaciers across North America during one of the ice ages.  began slowly about 100,000 years ago, peaked around 18,000 years ago, and ended abruptly about 10,000 years ago.  During the last glacial maximum, ice covered up to 30 percent of earth’s land surface (compared to about 10 percent at the present time) and in placed reached over four kilometres thick.  With all of this water locked in ice on the continents, global sea-level dropped 125 metres lower than it is present.  Average annual temperatures in northern latitudes plummeted by as much as 10 degrees Celsius.  Today, glaciers exist only at high latitudes and in alpine environments, as depicted in this painting, where winter snowfall survives melting during summer.  When the rate of melting, or ablation, exceeds the rate of accumulation, the  glacierAn immense field or stream of ice, formed in the region of perpetual snow, and moving slowly down a mountain slope or valley, as in the Alps, or over an extended area, as in Greenland. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  retreats.  Around the world today, alpine glaciers, and even large ice sheets, are retreating in response to increased temperatures.

References

Anderson, Jack.  ‘Installation challenges fixed world objects.’  The Regina Leader Post, July 14, 2004.

Author Unknown.  ‘A long way from  paintingWorks of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is either a tightly stretched piece of canvas or a panel. How the ground (on which paint is applied) is prepared on the support depends greatly on the type of paint to be used. Paintings are usually intended to be placed in frames, and exhibited on walls, but there have been plenty of exceptions. Also, the act of painting, which may involve a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's other concerns which effect the content of a work. (Artlex.com)  labels.”  The Regina Leader Post, Dec. 5, 1981.

Author unknown.  ‘In Memoriam.’  Galleries West, Summer 2004.

Author unknown.  Toni Onley.  Abbazzo Gallery.  Retrieved from the Internet on June 13, 2008 from:  http://toni-onley.abbozzogallery.com/.

Dambrofsky, Gwen.  ‘The artist should live as well as those who buy.’  Publisher Unknown, Vancouver June 2, 1985.

Emery, Anthony.  Toni Onley: An Appreciation.  Exhibition catalogue.  Commonwealth Institiute Art Gallery, London, England, 1965.

Godfrey, Stephen.  ‘The Onley way to go.’  The Globe and Mail, March 16, 1986.

Heffel, Kenneth G.  Onley.  Exhibition catalogue.  Fine Art Inc., Vancouver, British Columbia, 1987.

Perry, Meta.  ‘Landscapes convey grandeur, vastness.’  The Regina Leader Post, June 3, 1987.

Porter, Rosalyn.  Toni Onley: Major Works From the Sixties.  Exhibition catalogue.  The Hett Gallery Ltd., Edmonton, Alberta, 1981.

Tousley, Nancy.  ‘Hairy Painter Portrays River Trip.’  The Calgary Herald, Friday Nov 2, 1990.

Wood, Alan.  ‘Honesty and Ostentation: Toni Onley.’  Vanguard, April 1981.

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning