Monday, March 11, 2013

Ottawa Citizen Covers March Painting Marathon

                                                                Photo by Julie Oliver (Ottawa Citizen)
Article by Peter Simpson

Now is the winter of Patrick John Mills’ contentedness, and he does not want it made glorious summer by the sun over York Street, nor over anywhere else in the scene he’s painting.

Mills is painting the view from the Mackenzie King Bridge — between the National Arts Centre and the Rideau Centre, facing toward Parliament, the Chateau Laurier and the ByWard Market — every day in March.  The Ottawa artist will be painting day and, he hopes, night, representing on canvas the same quintessential Ottawa scene, over and over again.
But, in March? When the temperature in Ottawa lingers stupidly on the wrong side of zero, like a drunk at the bar 10 minutes after closing time?
Patrick John Mills' painted hands and materials. The cold air changes how the paint behaves. (Photo by Julie Oliver, Ottawa Citizen)
Patrick John Mills’ painted hands and materials. The cold air changes how the paint behaves. (Photo by Julie Oliver, Ottawa Citizen)
The bridge is exposed, windswept. Passersby pass by quickly,  hunched into their fur collars, almost furtive, as if suspicious of this painter on the bridge. Every few minutes, just a few feet away, a city bus rushes past and whips up a blast of even more rude cold. Summer is nice, I say to Mills as we stand on the bridge on the first Saturday of this damnable month. Have you ever considered summer?
“I like the harshness,” he says, standing with brush in hand before a large canvas. “Even if it starts being a blizzard or something I’ll continue painting and just see where that takes me. It’s kind of insane, I know.”
Summer also brings too many interruptions, he says. He’s happy to talk to people who stop, but in warmer weather the interruptions blossom to the point of distraction, when he’s trying to focus on the plein air job at hand. In the cold winter “they don’t hang around.”
Some do. As we speak a half dozen people stop to look. He says that earlier a city bus stopped and the driver got out to chat, while his busload of passengers waited. Some people take photos, and one chap has takes his own photo standing with Mills’ painting of the day, and a few minutes later returns to take his own photo again.
Mills understands that determination to get it right, though perhaps “right” is not the right word. He wants a kind of insight into the cityscape that lies before him. That’s why he’s making one, or perhaps even two, paintings each day of a scene that’s the same, but at the end of his brush changes slightly from day to day, from canvas to canvas.
“When you’re only doing one painting you try to condense everything you’re doing into one painting, but when you know you’re going to do a lot of one thing then you can take certain kinds of liberties,” he says. “It frees you up to experiment with things.”
Mills was freed up to experimentation last year when he shut down his art gallery in Hintonburg. It was in his home and he lacked the zoning or permits to host the large events he wanted, and when the city finally caught up to him he decided to close the doors. He intends, with a business-minded partner, to reopen the gallery at some other location.
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