On a recent edition of the CBS program, Sunday Morning, a segment was presented that examined all types of dwellings. That show originated from Jefferson’s self-styled, eccentric, mountain-top house, Monticello. It started me thinking about the many homes that I have painted over the years in various countries. I have not tackled Monticello, but I have visited that much promoted residence. I would be one of the few people who are not very enthusiastic about that self-designed Italianate villa.
Many people will be familiar with my views of Mennonite farm houses with that now common style of countless additions in clearly unmatched colours. I’ve heard this approach called the paint-sale style. These paintings often include outbuildings such as garden sheds, smoke houses, garages and sometimes outhouses. A view of these houses tells us about the practical aspects of their inhabitant’s lives.
Perhaps, too, you have seen my versions of houses in Britain from the buff-coloured, stone-walled dwellings in the Cotswolds to the red brick Kentish homes in the south of England. These renditions are not architectural textbook renderings, all straight and correct, but rather are attempts to show these buildings in situ. Because buildings grow out of the geography, I think a telling house portrait demands a context, a setting that demonstrates the homeowner’s personality and the possibilities that climate affords or demands.
I have also painted tiny, low-ceilinged, tile-roofed homes in Ireland, all parged and painted white, showcasing some of the brightest hued trim to be found this side of Greece. As well, subjects include pastel-coloured houses in the south of France, surrounded by gardens that spill over stuccoed walls that have given up on trying to hold fast their vegetation. Who wouldn’t take the relaxed approach in that warm and dreamy piece of country?
Log homes in the American South, some restored, waiting for the high-priced photographer from Architectural Digest, others untended, “Waiting for Godot” have caught my eye. Also in my range of works are houses from the Charlevois area of Quebec with ski-jump roofs like the veil of the Flying Nun. Norman-style farmhouses on the Isle of Orleans present an opportunity to describe not only these buildings, strong, set like a football player at scrimmage, but also the leafy surrounding vineyards. From Key West to Spain, from Scandinavia to Mexico, I have tried my hand at a subject that says so much about people, their attitudes, and the way that they live.
As well as animal houses and bird houses, I have described in paint many garden houses, surely an extension of homes. Several times I have returned to a garden structure in a spectacularly full and beautiful backyard in Alton, Ontario. This quaint shed has a wavy piece of bargeboard attached to its ridge pole that proclaims its whimsy. I was so flattered to talk to a woman lately who told me that she had purchased a reproduction of one of my paintings of that garden house and has had a version built of that wee shed in her own garden. That certainly speaks to the idea of what a home should be and how we incorporate new ideas to make them personal.