Art in the field
Pastels not puck seemed an odd choice in ice-hockey-mad Canada but Daniel Porter tells Janet Menzies how he found a winning formula
Growing up in Canada surrounded by some of the world’s greatest unspoilt natural wilderness is ideal for a sporting artist. Growing up in Canada as the only one of four brothers not to be particularly interested in the country’s national sport, ice-hockey, was less straightforward. Daniel Porter remembers: “i was born in new Brunswick and we were a hockey family, so when i was a little guy i tried hockey – and quit. it made my dad so mad. He said, ‘You’re the best skater in the family.’ we were Canucks fans. Hockey is our national sport and i am going to be a painter. it was a bit of a lonely road at first.”
it was Porter’s mother who decided that if their boy was not going to emulate Ken Dryden, the legendary Montreal goaltender, he needed to do something else on weekends. “So my mum enrolled me in a Saturday morning art class and i took to it like a duck to water. From then on mum had to stop being a ‘hockey mom’ and become an ‘art school mom’.
Having overcome the initial barriers to being an artist in a nation obsessed with hockey, Porter found his chosen genre presented another obstacle. “in Canada, we don’t have many sporting artists – you have to go over the border into the United States for the well-known names and the galleries. in fact, in Canada’s fine-art circles, sporting art is actually looked down on a bit. Luckily i am quite near the border, so i get a lot of clientele from the States. And i am always meeting people through the sport itself, who come to fish or hunt in this amazing area.”
while you couldn’t possibly describe Porter as being contrary, the final hurdle he faced in his chosen career has been one of his own making: the choice of pastels as his main medium. He concedes this wasn’t a straightforward matter. “well, it’s true nobody in north America has really done sporting pastels, and it’s a very difficult medium for my subject matter. But i had seen the work in pastel of an English painter who had moved out here a number of years ago and i loved it. i found it rather daunting because it is like a finger-painting and really difficult to get the detail and depth i wanted in these sporting subjects. So i studied it closely and then started experimenting.
“There were no surface papers or canvases available that suited the pastels. i tried sanded paper and everything you could think of and none of it worked. i just couldn’t get the layers of pigment that i wanted. in the end, i found historic rising Paper, which is actually a kind of thick matt board – originally made at the rising Mill in Massachusetts. i mixed up my own ground using marble dust and i was able to create my own smooth, invisible sanded surface. You can’t see it, though you can feel it, and it will take eight or nine layers of pigment. So now i have been able to make these pastel sporting scenes central in my work. if you look at the river in the fishing scenes, there are eight layers that create that glassy, fluid look.”
it should come as no surprise that when Porter works in charcoals, it is not done the easy way. “when i am out salmon fishing or in the bird coverts i harvest small roots of wind-fallen trees, bind them in small bundles, dry them out and cook them in a controlled burn over open fire to make my own version of vine charcoal.”
Looking at his work, you can almost smell that slow, charcoal-burner’s fire. And Porter’s unrelenting engagement with his materials and subject captures a true wilderness feel that his fellow Canadians should be proud of. He says: “we have the most wonderful habitat here. i can take my two English setters out hunting for ruffed grouse and woodcock. or i get invited to fish the most marvellous unspoilt salmon rivers. i suppose things were a bit uphill for me at the start but now i’m so glad to be in such a special place with my work.”
recently, Porter has found a way of celebrating his love of salmon fishing by making detailed paintings of famous traditional salmon flies. “i paint them with a historic English portraiture background – each one is a portrait in itself.” what more could you want? A portrait of a fly that in itself portrays a whole way of life. To see more of Daniel Porter’s work, go to: www.danielporter.net
He can be contacted on tel: +1 (506) 453 7851 or by email: email@example.com
Clockwise from above: lamb in pastels; a woodcock; one of the artist’s fly portraits – the Jock Scott; eight layers of pastel give the water its glassy appearance; two scenes featuring Porter’s English setters