For this Hamilton painter, making mistakes is an art all to itself
Gord Bond has mastered the art of flubs, not quites and missteps
Hamilton-based artist Gord Bond has made a habit of hanging some of the paintings he likes least in his living room so that he has no choice but to solve them. The problem panel tenured in his front room for the last two months pictures two cartoonish skulls, fused together roughly where their ears would be, with eyes cut like jack-o-lanterns. The conjoined crania float over a peach-coloured plane.
He included the work recently in an exhibit, but that doesn't mean the painting's done. Something about it has bugged him since he brought it home: flat, too graphic, maybe lacks colour. Definitely incomplete somehow. So today, he's lugged the canvas upstairs, back to his easel, to begin again overtop and find out what happens next.
The 27-year-old painter describes his method as a fortuitous series of flubs, not quites and missteps. "My process is a realization of mistakes," he says. "You keep messing up, then recognizing the mistake and reacting to fix it." Bond isn't precious: he attacks what appear to be finished canvases with scraper and sandpaper, with fresh layers of acrylic, latex house paint and oil sticks.
The canvases develop a history visible in layers like the strata of sedimentary rock. Lower-level vestiges appear on the surface like ghosts. "The best paintings," Bond told one interviewer, "are the ones that have a lot of bad paintings underneath."
One of his favourites is a 6-by-5-foot panel titled "He Used To Sail," which depicts, in expressionistic verve, a face with a fleshy, spade-shaped nose, marked over the cheeks with the cursive gesture kids use to draw seagulls or waves or W's. It bears at least 15 layers. And, tracing its story back in his memory, it began as a few shapes sketched in spray paint.
Each move is negotiated by a process of reading and reacting — from the initial mark onward. A series of primary-coloured, concentric ovals at the bottom of one canvas, he explains, called for a scratchy white bubble at the top as counterweight. As elements (and, sometimes, errors) accumulate, one layer influences the next. Though he often begins with a doodle, that's just a jump-off. "It's more about where the paint takes you."
My process is a realization of mistakes. You keep messing up, then recognizing the mistake and reacting to fix it.- Gord Bond, painter
He developed the technique in art school when he felt he wasn't a strong enough painter. To build those muscles quickly, he produced prolifically and with little hesitation. At the same time, he trained the reflex to identify bad work, as well as the courage to scrap it and try again — that's where the over-painting began.
The method has furnished Bond with a workmanlike ethic and a productive practice; he's had a show every month since October. His high-volume output is especially impressive considering that he covers over something like three quarters of his work.
"I feel like there's a life in a blank canvas that's just kind of unrealized," he says. He shares an anecdote about American painter George Condo, who after a long night of painting discovered in the morning that the fuzzy, carmine character from Red Antipodular Portrait had just sort of shown up in his studio. He wasn't imagined so much as found. Bond says his process feels similar. He likens it to reading a book: "I don't have much in mind when I start, but I keep wanting to know what's next." It isn't done, he says, "until it looks like it should be there."
Bond sets in on the twin skulls with huge, splashy strokes of cadmium red and yellow, blocking out two squares, then works quickly through the next few maneuvers. When he puts down his tools for the evening, the skull on the right has become a man with a blue beard and a baseball hat and the left skull has a veiny eyeball shooting like a comet out from one socket.
"I'm not sure it's done," he says, "but I like where it's going."
Find out more about Bond's art via his website.