Whiteway artist opening new show
Whiteway painter sticks to Newfoundland roots with new exhibition
Whiteway’s Clifford George loves a good story. While sketching a scene out in the open air somewhere in rural Newfoundland, he’s apt to think about what events might have unfolded decades ago in the very same spot where he’s seated. This week, a new exhibition of his painting will open at an art gallery in St. John’s, titled ‘Ancestral Anthems.’
Visual artist Clifford George can pack a lot of detail into a 16-minute chat about his paintings and passion for Newfoundland and Labrador.
That love for the land, its people, and the stories and songs they’ve shared over centuries plays a pivotal role in his new exhibition ‘ Ancestral Anthem,’ opening Friday, April 8 at Christina Parker Gallery in St. John’s at 5:30 p.m.
Old homes and fishing stages are captured vividly, often looking like they haven’t been occupied in quite some time. But for George, he likes to think of the activity that once thrived in these rural environments.
“It’s about what’s rooted in me over the years,” George told The Compass. “It’s all about my history and my people. Keeping faith with the departed people.”
For the three years he spent working on pieces included in his new show, George travelled to places like Change Islands, Fogo Island, Twillingate and Morton’s Harbour, working from photos and sketches to create his paintings. He was particularly smitten with Morton’s Harbour, given its prominence in the popular Newfoundland and Labrador folk classic “I’s the B’y.” That song carries special meaning for George, harkening back to his days growing up in Whiteway.
“My grandmother’s name was Eliza, and (the line) ‘I took Liza to a dance,’ I used to say it to me grandfather, and we used to laugh at that song when we’d listen to it with my grandmother in the house. We all lived in the one house, and grandfather used to play it for the dances with the old accordion and everything.”
In his travels that inspired the new paintings, George was struck by the history of these structures and how they stirred his creativity. Often enough, this happened completely by chance.
“Everywhere you go, you see something or some house that’s important. I was down there in Change Islands, and out on the back of the island, almost catching this real old house … There was an eerie feeling that there was ghost’s and everything there.”
He would often write notes under sketches, as he did in this case.
“Sea air freshens this old house,” he wrote. “The wind echoes its tune through every room. Curtains blowing in the directions of the wind open these stage doors of my mind. Long uncut grasses portrays the many greens and yellows as it dances to the tunes of long ago.”
As it turned out, this house had a direct connection to George’s life story.
“Someone came along and said, ‘ Do you know who lived there?’ I said, ‘No,’ and they said, ‘That’s Bishop (Mark) Genge.’ Now he confirmed me in the Anglican Church when I was a boy … You think about all the people who lived in them houses when you’re sketching them and what happened inside and all that kind of stuff.”
George hopes to one day compile his sketches and musings into a book. In the meantime, he’s content to continue painting for as long as his body will allow.
“You take a dedication in your life at artwork, and then as you get older it’s more important to say what you’re got to say. I’m addicted to it. I’m at it everyday.”
‘Ancestral Anthems’ will be on display at the gallery April 8-30.
Clifford George inside his artist studio in Whiteway.
“Fishing Room, Morton’s Harbour (The songs of fish).” Acrylic on canvas, 40 in. x 5 ft.
“I Pray the Lord my Soul to Keep.” Acrylic on canvas, 3 ft. x 5 ft.