< < <
  3: 1995-2005  <  4: 2005-2015 >  1: up to 1984

My last decade has been one of adjusting to a very changed world. We have flat panel tv's a million video channels, a thousand social media sites, and in general we are in a very electronic world. Real art painted with paint onto canvas is almost a museum item, just like antiques. Although I have adapted to the internet - I was among the first, learing to write html code already at Netscape 2 in 1998, to put myself on the worldwide stage. The trouble is that I do not have an electronic product like a video, and my paintings or prints are physical items that people tend to want to see. (If someone is interested in a painting shown on a web page like this, I can, however discuss the painting via email, and take snapshots of it in  realistic settings, and even in closeup, so that the prospective purchaser can study it from all angles.)  As a result of these daunting changes in the world, I turned my interest towards other interests going back to my youth - one of which was storytelling originating from as a youth trying to create comic strips, and the other was learnng about the prehistory of north European aboriginal people. In the first case, it inspired me to try to write a novel. In the second case, already by 2000, I developed a theory that they had been oriented to travelling waterways in canoes, and that they expanded along waterways in every direction, including whalers circling the arctic.  Out of this came my wondering what happened to the boat peoples over time, and that lead me to investigate the ancient peoples known as the "Veneti", and translating their ancient inscriptions and discovering their language was Finnic. My interpretations of ancient history has been met with great interest by some and controversy for others because they do not follow established entrenched beliefs. Meanwhile on the artistic front, I want to explore directions I have not explored very much - such as putting people into appropriate  landscape paintings instead of animals, and creating illustrative paintings in the traditions of the past. In ancient times art was mostly about illustrating mythology in murals, etc. The following pages explores these options that I have not pursued much - a little but not much.
As I am now past 60 and technically retired and recieving OAS, the pressure to create "art that sells" is off. I can now pursue creativity according to my own whim, rather than the whims of the marketplace.



    While scenes with people in them is not new, scenes with people in wilderness has been rare, except for illustrative art showing sports fishermen or hunters in quest of their game. Other situations of sport with wild in the background might be canoing on a lake or sailing in the ocean. Otherwise, scenes with people in them have been ones which humans have developed - city streets, gardens, farmfields, city parks, etc.  The reason is that traditionally there did not exist any context that would place humans in wild nature - beyond the hunting-fishing sports I mentioned. Except that I guess illustrators of aboriginal peoples who live within nature could put those humans in the wilderness - and there have been some illustrations showing "Indians" against wild backgrounds.
    It is clear that if we put humans into wilderness landscapes we have to have a meaningful context - why are they there. When I put an animal in a wild scene, I make sure it belongs. I would not put an elephant in a northrn forest, for example. So too, humans as animals, have to have a meaningful context - as I say, hunting, fishing, hiking, canoing, camping, etc.
    When the public fascination for wildlife art declined, an artist acquaintance famous for wildlife portraits. Micheal Dumas, began using human subjects. Obviously he did not place them on mountains or in forests, but the environments humans inhabit. One painting showed a woman with an open book sitting on a bed in a room with a window.
    Already long ago, I had now and then attempted some illustrative paintings with people in them, or at least showing manmade subject matter like buildings, boats. Here are some:


Inspired by a tiny photo in a book showing children drawing on a pavement with chalk, I composed his design inspired by my attendance for several years of the Toronto Exhibition of Art at Nathan Phillip Square in Toronto. Nathan Phillip Square is covered with square slabs of concrete. So my idea was to show a little girl depicting the art exhibition on one of those squares. I showed the painting at the next Exhibition but nobody realized the girl was depicting the Exhibition. One woman, a teacher, wanted it for her school - a number of teachers had pooled their resources - but her price was very naive. She did not understand its value had to be comparable to the amount of work in it. Many naive people establish their idea of cost of art, according to the common art created with loose brushes, created with little detailed work, and which take as little as a quarter of the time of detailed realism. (This painting is still available, but be prepared to bay for the intriguing concept and detailed work.)


I visited Estonia, the country of my parents origins, in 1993, and was shown around by my relative. One of the excursions was into the Estonian farmlands where there are large boulders with man-made pits put into them. The farming people may have put grains into those pits to communicate with deities, Such pitted rocks are also found elsewhere across northern Europe. Here my relative Toivo and his sone are on one old rock studying the pits. 

    In 2009, I believe, wanting to explore paintings with people, I painted the following painting of a young woman leaning against a weathered barn/shed. Her environment is one developed by human hands. The weathered look of the barn, the rust on hinges, also spoke of it having had a history. It conveys a narrative that is meaningful to most people.  This is a very large painting (48" x 36" compared to the paintings above)

THE RED HAT  48" x 36" oil on canvas

The barn in the background is based on a real barn/shed, except that in reality it is a bit twisted. In painting this  I made all the lines horizontal or vertical and the figure postions in the design involving the door and window. I completed the scene with the rusty wheel, chains, etc. The grass is made more orderly. It took a long time to paint for one reason - getting all the boards looking old and weathered. Based on time spent alone, the painting should be worth at least $4000 without any dealer commission, shipping, framing.

    Another scene which puts a human into a meaningful context, is the next one. I confess that this painting was inspired by a photo in a book, and I basically interpreted the content of the photo. But I show it here anyway:

THE ROWBOAT 36" x 24" graphite and acrylics

Inspired by a photo in an old book, I was fascinated by the reflections in the water. Although large, I painted this quickly, combining pencil and acrylics.


    In my wildlife paintings, I mentioned my practice of placing suitable wildlife into landscapes when it seemed to improve the painting, give it more narrative. Well the same can be done with adding humans to scenes. The humans will be very small in the scene, and the painting could work without the human figure.


This painting was inspired by a photo in a book, depicting places along the east Baltic shore. As in the previous painting, my job was to interpret the scene, in this case with plenty of graphite (ie pencil) and only a little acrylic for colour. You can't see the human? Well the building suggests the human presence in the scene.


For at time the Budds, some kilometers from me had such barns and sheds, then falling appart. I painted them at the time. They have all been taken down in the intevening time and this painting remains as a record of it.


This is a very quickly painted scene in acrylics, done from a photo from the Budds, who visited the arctic. As I said above, fishing is a context in which humans can be found in a natural setting.

    The following painting is most like what I would like to paint - the entire scene is wild nature, but there is a human in it in a meaningful context. The effect is that it makes us contemplate the human being as a creature upon the earth - naked rather than nestled within human altered settings.

EDGE OF THE EARTH  (East shore of the Bruce Peninsula, facing Lake Huron)  48" x 36"

This is a major new seriously designed painting from recently, where the human figure, although small in the context, is a significant element in the scene/design. This is an actual location that has such flat rocks, lapped by waves. The figure is contemplating the sea, and the title 'Edge of the Earth' expresses the feeling of standing at the edge of nothingness.


    In Section 1 and 2, I show my early talent in portraiture. Traditional portraiture basically places the subject in a chair, and the background is secondary. It is possible to put wild nature in the backgound, which I did with the following portrait (The general problem with photos of faces is that most photos catch the face in various expressions and not in the most characteristic expression. If the artist knows the person they know what is the correct resources and what is not correct.)

    Another characteristic of traditional painting is to be "painterly" which means making the brush strokes, etc stand out. Painterliness is not good when the objective is to DESCRIBE the subject matter details as opposed to capturing the feelings of it - as in many landscapes. Painterliness detracts from the descriptive purpose. Traditionally, all historic art going back thousands of years, sought to describe the subject, and it was of utmost importance to make the painting technique as invisible as possible. The painterliness must not be the star. The subject is the star.
  Traditionally, throughout the history of art, if the purpose was to portray or illustrate something specific, then it was of utmost importance to hide the painting technique so that the technique did not become a barrier to entering the reality portrayed or illustrated. Imagine for example the Mona Lisa being painted in a painterly way - the mystery of the Mona Lisa would be lost.
    Accordingly all REAL portraits or illustrations I have created attempt to hide the painting technique unless the purpose of the painting it to capture emotion. Impressionistic and abstracts impact on the viewer on the psychological level, and that is fine if there is no desire to describe anything. But describing the colours and feathers of a bird, or the features of a face, is more easily achieved if we make the painting technique invisible. This is clear if we paint a bird with a few thick brush strokes - it may capture some emotional qualities in the bird, but it obscures the details - if the purpose is to portray the details.
    While my early paintings followed the tradition of being painterly - lots of thick brush strokes, I never liked becoming painterly. I always sought to make the painting about the subject matter, not my painterliness. My recent portrait and illustrative paintings try to hide the painting technique so that the viewer observes the subject matter BEFORE observing the subject being portrayed. See the next painting. While you can see the painting technique in it after a few moments, you do not see it first, but only AFTER  seeing the description of the subject. That is good technique whenever one portrays a person, animal, or scene needing physical description (ie an illustrative scene).

 (LEFT, ABOVE) A "painterly" portrait (where the technique dominates) I painted in 1964 when I was 18. Portraits where the technique is strongly demonstrated, is a new development in art history because before a century ago,  the objective in art was to hide the technique so that attention was entirely on the subject

The following is a  painting from my recent period (1995-2005), this one of my sister.

MONICA   (about 20"x16")

My sister Monica came to visit me some years ago, and at the time, wild raspberries were everywhere, and we went to pick some. It took a few photos and used them to create the painting. As I said with other paintings, I CAN work from photos. as long as I know the subjects of the painting very well at least so that I can detect when something feels 'correct' compared to my familiarity with it.

    It isn't difficult for me to paint a portrait. I only need a reason for it. Normally a person commissions a portrait from me, and that is the reason. But one does not always get a good subject. It is much better when I as the artist can choose my subject myself - and usually it is when a good idea comes into my head.
    The following is one of those portraits which was not commissioned, but a verbal contract was established that I would paint a 20 hour painting in exchange for her reading a Young Adult novel I had just been writing. There is a story connected with this, and I will present it in a separate article, as it demonstrates the pitfalls of dealing with people in relation to art.

CAITLYN  14"x 8.5"

This painting has a long story attached to it, but suffice it for me to say that  the  painting is unfinished. I made the error of painting it from a photo under warm light, and that resulted in the painting looking good under lamp light but looking pale cool under light near a window (window light is cool) I let her have it temporarily because it needed 6 months to completely dry before I added a red glaze to correct the overall colour to the warmer tones. The photo at left has been warmed in Photoshop, but I need the painting back to correct it with warm glazes..

    Also from recent years, is a portrait I did of artist Micheal Dumas. He was involved with a charitable art show and  sale in Peterborough for which portraits of people of the Peterborough region was requested. (Putting it up for sale was optional.) I thought that the above portrait of Caitlyn would fill the requirements, but he was unable to persuade Cailtyn's mother to let the charitable show borrow it only. So I suggested to Michael why don't I paint a portrait of him. He said "okay", so I went to his place to take a few photos fitting the idea I had in my head.  In painting it I exploited the opportunity of painting it with traditional oil paint, with only linseed oil and turpentine - same as was done centuries ago. I also sought to make this a very detailed painting to see if I could do it - instead of being in a looser more impressionistic technique. The following is the result. It was hung in the charitable show.


Note the very very high photorealistic technique, with carefully developed lines to create the overal clean design, including the careful design of the objects on a round table. Besides my objective of making this a painting 100% in traditional oil painting technique, on very fine canvas, I also wanted to give the painting the kind of look of Micheal's own paintings. Based purely on the great amount of time spent in design and painting it, I priced it at $6000, but I still face the lack of understanding of the time and effort needed to create a high realism painting. I could certainly have painted a loose painting similar to what I painted decades ago, and priced it under $1000, but unless my purpose is to make money, I prefer to present myself with challenges and to go beyond what I have achieved before, even if few people understand what I have done. I also question painterliness in any art that is mostly about describing details - portrayals or illustrations - as opposed to capturing feeling.


    As with a portrait of a human, a portrait of an animal is mostly about the animal, and the background is secondary or even absent. Most of my paintings with animals are mainly landscapes that include the animal that we would expect in that landscape. In those paintings, the landscape, the environment, is primary, and the animal is secondary - often the viewer not seeing it and suddenly being surprised to see it.
    But now and then I wanted to portray an animal - usually when I got to know the animal well, from seeing it often in my daily experience - like chipmunks and red squirrels - or from extensive research of videos, etc - such as my mastery of wolves.
    The human is just another animal, so my experience portraying humans, is transferable to portraying non-human animals.The following are some obvious portraits of animals - the animal dominating.

All wolves have the same pattern of fur on their face, and hints of the coloration patterns. It is because we recognize it in dogs, that a wolf can look attractive like a short-eared large dog.

These goose winter in southern Europe or southern North America, and winter either in the Canadian arctic of arctic islands of Europe. Some believe they are ancestral to the common farmyard goose. I do not know these birds. I researched them through internet pictures, and developed it as it was one of the birds suggested as the subject in a Habitat Canada wildlife art competition. This painting was one of the top three and shown off in Ottawa, but of course I would have preferred to win.



Both the snowshoe hare and red squirrel are frequent visitors to my property, and it was easy to make portraits of them


The raccoon is another common visitor to my property, following the shore, so when I had an interesting piece of shore, it was interesting to install the racoon in it.


This is one of several profile portraits in which I had the light define the edges instead of drawing any lines.

There are also wild turkeys in my area. Even if I didn't manage to get very close to them, the very fact they were in my environment inspired me to portray them. Actually this was painted in response to a competition by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, which called for a depiction of wild turkeys to suit a wallet-size "conservation card". I was told mine was one of the finalists, but the trouble is that these competitions give absolutely nothing if you do not win - not even any publication of finalists or any publicity. That is why I ceased to enter such competitions. This painting is available.

These are another couple of animals I see often. One is inspired if one already knows the animals. One knows their character, their behaviour and what to portray.


The loon is also common in my area, visiting my bay daily in the summer. It gave me plenty of opportunity to view them through binoculars. In this painting, I used the design in the water to give a sense of the loon being at one with the water.

In my research and painting of wolves, I was fascinated how the stare of a wolf's eye is chilling. I therefore got the idea of focussing on the eye of one side of the face, lit by moonlight, and the other eye in the shadow.


I was inspired by graphics of animals in Native art, to try something like that myself. Here the circle is the moon, and the curves around it suggest antlers of caribou, and the wolf is closely tied to the caribou as prey, in northern Canada.


     Several years ago, I was fortunate enough to visit Montreal where the touring show of the paintings of Waterhouse were on display. Waterhouse is the artist that poster-makers like to print and sell, since they are illustrative and convert to reproduction form readily.
    I am in love with such historic masterpieces, because they transcend normal illustration in ambitiousness and glory. Circumstances existed that made it feasible for an artist to spend a year or years on a single large painting or mural, reaching a result beyond the average. Such masterpieces were commissioned by wealthy families for their expensive manor or castles. The tradition of large illustrative, story-telling, paintings - usually frescos - dates back to ancient Greece and Rome. The following panel shows the painting of the birth of Venus/Aphrodite in mythology found at the Roman city of Pompeii along with many other large murals. They loved murals.


The photo to the right is located in the ruins - as made available to tourists - of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii (the one that was destroyed by the nearby volcano).
The painting you see is one of the original depictions of the Birth of Venus, but even this is not the first, but copies one painted centuries earlier by an artist named Apelles, as Roman historian Pliny reported. It shows Venus/Aphrodite lying in an enormous shell floating in the sea surrounded by Cupid and other figures. In any event Pompeii presents numerous large mural paintings showing how in vogue it was in ancient times to paint large illustrative murals

    The subject of the Birth of Venus was repeated not just in classical times, but when the European Renaissance arrived, when there was a revival of ancient classical science and culture, Boticelli was commissioned to paint the subject again, as shown in the panel below. Because of the fame of Botelli's painting, other artists through European art history tried their own versions of the subject, but none was as good as this one.

Botticelli's "THE BIRTH OF VENUS" painted in 1480, based on Greek mythology, is probably the most famous muralic masterpiece of the last couple of millenia, achieved only because in those times wealthy families or the Church might hire an artist to spend years to create such works.
(Another famous illustrative masterpiece is Leonardo Da Vinci's 'The Last Supper"

   But the Birth of Venus is only one of many subjects from the Bible or ancient Greco-Roman mythology, that were illustrated in elaborate, large, adventurous paintings. The last of this tradition occurred in the late Victorian era. Personally I found the artist JW Waterhouse one of the most impressive. He used themes from the Greek epic Odyssey, and then stories from the mythology of King Arthur covered by poet Tennyson.  The following panel shows his most famous painting - The Lady of Shallot, painted in 1888.

by JW Waterhouse

Example of the most recent pursuit of large illustrative mural-paintings celebrating something high in the public consciousness.
In the Victorian era, large storytelling murals were the rage, and toured museums. This painting is one of the more famous ones. What caused the art world to decide to paint crap and call it art after three millenia of real art?

     Today there are artists creating illustrations for books, movie posters, etc. But they all fall short of what can be achieved if there is financial support for an artist taking a year or years achieving something incredible. (Obviously the artist has to be good to begin with; otherwise a large amount of time will not make their work better in quality.) Also, there is no practice any longer of putting large murals onto walls. Corporations - who have the money to afford major works - no longer think of commissioning a stunning mural.
    My closest attempt to create a storytelling mural-type painting was my 6ft by 4ft "Under Northern Skies" shown below. It wasn't commissioned. I simply felt that this painting would have maximum impact if it was large so I could have an environmental effect from the dramatic sky. So I painted it large, and I still have it because ordinary people do not have large walls. It needs a large wall, such as in a large lobby of a public building. I have to start making contacts to find a home for it.

My largest painting


I created this painting so large because I wanted to dramatize the sky. But today there is no market for paintings this large.


    I was informed of a world touring show of the work of John William Waterhouse visiting Montreal in early 2010, and I wanted to see it. I had already become interested in including humans in my paintings, considering I had already been painting humans in portraits. I had yet to properly portray humans in a larger context, in an environment of some kind - except the painting shown above called "Red Hat" with the young woman standing in front of a barn/shed.
    But in the late Victorian era, the paintings were much more involving, much more elaborate, and filled with so much detail that a person would have to sit in front of it for an hour to take everything in. That is extraordinary, and something not found since. In those days - before photography - the profession of artist was a distinguished and celebrated profession, much like architect today. The artist went through many years of formal study, and there were art academies governing the profession.
   I therefore arranged tickets to take the earliest train to Montreal in the morning, see the exhibition, and then return by the late train. It was quite an endeavour, but I achieved what I intended - without the need to linger in Montreal overnight. It was located in the MUSEE DE BEAUX ARTES - MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS. A banner of Waterhouse's Lady of Shallot was stretched above the entrance (see photo)
    I was surpised how moving the original paintings were - each seemed to have an intangible energy. The exhibition was very powerful. When afterward I made a quick tour of the art museum where the exhibition was held, it was anti-climactic.
    Photography was not permitted in the exhibition, so I can only show some of the major images obtained from the internet. Some of the images have been reproduced as posters recently and you will find them familiar.

Three of the major paintings by JW Waterhouse done over a century ago and shown in the touring exhibition

    I have only shown three of the most significant, most elaborate paintings, but you can see what I am talking about. They all illustrate some scene from mythology. He was mostly interested in events in the Odyssey and the legends of King Arthur as described poetically by Tennyson.
    Although I have not embarked on any new project yet, or at least finished any, I am keen to paint narratives that illustrate something important in our culture today. ALWAYS, art mirrors what society of the time celebrates. In Waterhouse time, the Odyssey - the adventures of Ulysses - were strong in British culture, as was the stories of King Arthur described by Tennyson. This was a time when students learned Latin and Greek in school, as well as Greek mythology on the one hand, and celebrated poetry and poets on the other.
    Thus obviously any illustrative work today must reflect today's popular thinking. As I already said above, the art that illustrated wildlife in their habitat was a response to society's growing interest in the natural environment, concern about pollution, concern about endangered species. So that theme is still valid. But if we include people in such paintings, what role would they play and in what context.? I suppose there is a great interest in health and fitness. It is a question needing more thought.  One could go negative, such as paintings showing clearcut forests or polluted waters, but negative paintings only have a moment of shock value: people do not want to continue to look at them and disturb their life. It has always been better - as wildlife artists did - to show the opposite: animals in absolutely pristine environments do that the negative comes from their actual daily life.
    In any event, at this stage - being semi-retired - I now have some freedom taking on major projects that last years, instead having to churn out saleable little paintings or prints to make a living. And that is where I am now, in 2016. WATCH FOR DEVELOPMENTS.
written April 2016
by the artist - Andres Paabo

  3: 1995-2005  <  4: 2005-2015 >  1: up to 1984

contact: A.Paabo, Box 478, Apsley, Ont., Canada

2016 (c) A. P��bo.