Artspots

From the archives: A rose is a rose, but not when it's covered in 10,000 layers of paint

Eric Cameron paints objects until they become sculptures, and his Thick Paintings take decades to create. Watch a clip from his 2005 episode of Artspots.

Eric Cameron paints objects until they become sculptures, and his Thick Paintings take decades to create

Eric Cameron. Lettuce (10,196). Acrylic gesso and acrylic. Begun 1979. (Courtesy of Trépanier Baer Gallery)

From 1997 to 2008, CBC's Artspots profiled more than 300 Canadian artists from across the country. We're sharing re-edited cuts of the vintage videos this winter.

Name: Eric Cameron

Homebase: Calgary

Artspots appearance: 2005

13 years ago…

A newly minted Governor General's Award winner when this episode aired, Eric Cameron is probably best known for his Thick Paintings.

"I paint objects which turn into sculptures," he tells Artspots — about as tidy a definition for the project as they come. 

Every Thick Painting starts as an everyday object — a beer bottle maybe, or a sugar packet — which the artist then coats with gesso, a thin white paint that's typically used as a primer. 

After that, he paints it again and again and again — adding more than 10,000 layers in some cases — to produce a stark white irregular form with a mysterious and inedible Tootsie Roll centre.  

All the things I value most in my art have happened for reasons I didn't intend in the first place and most often tried to stop happening.- Eric Cameron, artist

Cameron began the series in 1979, and a Thick Painting isn't done until it's sent off with its buyer. Some are in progress for decades, and the artist keeps a detailed log of each item's evolution, keeping tabs on dates and layers. (The number of coats is typically included in the work's title.) 

And as he says in the episode, by the time he reaches the 6,000th coat of gesso or so, "all sorts of strange things are happening."

A rose is a rose, but not when it's swallowed by 10,000 layers of paint.

He can never predict what shape one of these paintings will take, and that element of surprise is what first fascinated Cameron about the concept.

As he told Artspots: "All the things I value most in my art have happened for reasons I didn't intend in the first place and most often tried to stop happening."

Watch the clip:

"All the things I value most in my art have happened for reasons I didn't intend in the first place." 0:44

Today...

Currently an art professor at the University of Calgary, Cameron's focus has gone from Thick Paintings to Dipped Paintings — and as that title should suggest, the artist dunks items in paint (pots of colourful latex paint this time, not gesso) to produce sculptures.

The results are unpredictable, just like the Thick Paintings before them.

Cameron sent CBC Arts a message via the Trepanier Baer gallery in Calgary. He writes:

"The first Dipped Paintings were made over a period of several years as a less labour-intensive alternative to my laboriously brushed out Thick Paintings, when I needed works to send to benefit exhibitions. Over the years, I found myself taking the results ever more seriously, ever more intrigued by the forms and surface textures that presented themselves."

"All the things I have come to value most in my art have come about as a result of my repeated failure to exercise control over the materials with which I was working, whether in the never-quite-regular checkerboards of my Process Paintings or the never-quite-even curvatures of my Thick Paintings."

He continues: "Although the process always represented a defiance of my will for the object, I always eventually came to recognize the imprint of my own physical and psychological being in the results."

"For me, the highest aspiration of art has long been to help reconcile us to the imponderability of the great imponderables that circumscribe our existence, including the most imponderable of all: ourselves."

Cameron is featured in Voices: Artists on Art, a show that's on now to April 22 at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery in Lethbridge, and his Thick Painting Lettuce (10,196) is included in 150 Years/150 Artworks: Art in Canada as a Historical Act, a new virtual exhibition organized by Galerie de l"UQAM at the Université du Québec à Montréal.

Eric Cameron. Morgane's White Sugar (1456). Acrylic gesso and acrylic. Begun 2004. (Courtesy of Trépanier Baer Gallery)
Eric Cameron. Gregory's Wine Gums (1344). Begun 2004. (Courtesy of Trépanier Baer Gallery)
Eric Cameron. Thanatos #X. Latex on Remembrance Day Poppy. 2011. (Courtesy of Trépanier Baer Gallery)
Eric Cameron. Thanatos #23. Latex on Remembrance Day Poppy. 2011. (Courtesy of Trépanier Baer Gallery)

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