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Ted Godwin, "Forest Dance."
TED GODWIN In His Studio
By Jennifer MacLeod
Ted Godwin emerges from his southwest Calgary bungalow as I park my car out front. "Call me Ted, and by the way we give hugs in my part of the country."
He's a big man -tall, wide and solid - and the embrace is warm. "Come in. I'll take you through the house first," he says. Inside, I meet Ted's wife and art school sweetheart, artist Phyllis Godwin.
Then I meet the elite of the Western Canadian art world from the last half century - a steady succession of icons inhabiting every room - mentioned casually like so many old friends. W.L. Stevenson, Ken Lochhead, Jack Shadbolt, Walter Phillips, Buck Kerr, Max Bates. There's also a Lismer, a Casson. Ted and Phyllis knew many of these people, several of the pieces gifts or trades between fellow artists, souvenirs of days past. "Here's one by Ernie Lindner. I remember being with him at Emma Lake when he was painting it and both of us telling each other how to paint," says Ted, with a twinkle. "He kept coming around to my canvas and saying, 'too much wiolet.' "
A Bob Boyer blanket painting graces one wall: "he was one of my students." A Bill Duma: "he comes over every week." Mingling comfortably with the western landscapes and abstracts is an exceptional collection of Buddhist statuary and artifacts, evidence of a lifelong interest in eastern philosophies. "Here's a bronze Buddha I brought back from Bangkok," says Ted. "Look - it still has the temple wax on it."
We move on to the double attached garage which no longer bears any resemblance to a garage. From the indelible fragrance of turpentine to the paint spattered concrete floor, this is most definitely Ted's sanctuary, a place of daily retreat.
In his book of advice and experience, The Studio Handbook for Working Artists, Ted devotes Chapter Three to a discussion of the studio. He writes: "Your career will accelerate if you begin with the premise that you are a real professional artist, not the Sunday afternoon variety. So the first thing you have to do is set a space aside where you make art and only art." I look around for the collected objects that he says "sanctify" the space as his own. The red wooden chair that has been in every studio for the past 30-plus years. The photographs. Old paint brushes.
I feel a little voyeuristic. "Not too many people are invited in here," he says. In the book, he writes: "Be extremely guarded and most careful about who or what you allow to enter the space. It is your temple, and your place of worship."
A table near the entrance is laden with wood and tools for making canvas supports. The side wall is stacked with painted canvases, their secrets turned from view. Another table holds a rambling topography of paint tubes, well-used brushes and sticks of charcoal. On the opposite wall are stacks of artist's boxes, and an easel designed by Ted to tilt large canvases to various planes. A CD player sits amidst towers of discs, mostly jazz. "Music has always been a part of any studio I have had. Let the music fill and activate the space," he advises. The end wall is clean and white and well-lit. A grand canvas is mounted there, with a bramble of charcoal strokes upon it drizzled with blue and green streaks of paint - a fresh forest scene emerging. The ceiling above has been raised, "to let the spirit soar."
As Rosemary Clooney croons about Manhattan, Ted invites me to sit upon the red wooden chair. One by one, he picks canvases from the stack against the wall and reveals their lush surfaces. Inspired by a trip around Newfoundland last fall, these paintings will be featured in a solo exhibition at Wallace Galleries in Calgary in November.
In each, the perspective and scale create the impression for the viewer of being a part of the water, an intimate player in the forestscape. These are "fisherman's views" of the scene, says Ted; so many of his pieces have been inspired by fishing trips to the country's great waters.
It is clear that whenever Ted enters this studio, he is accompanied by a chorus of memories, voices and experiences from a long and storied career. As a young artist in Regina in the 1960s Ted, like many of his contemporaries, was inspired by the abstract expressionism coming particularly out of New York City. Ted's early investigations into abstraction led to the Tartan Series. Grid-like tartans allowed the artist to address questions of scale, figure-ground relationships and Cubist space and imagery. Following "a long evening with Clement Greenberg" at a pivotal Emma Lake workshop led by the famous New York art critic, Ted decided to follow his heart and look more to nature as his inspiration.
There's a very close connection between the serial interweave matrix of the tartans and his landscapes, notes Ted, pointing to the intricate intersections and bold, woven lines of the tree branches in his current paintings. "Nature is just a disorganized tartan," he says."These are really abstractions disguised as landscapes."
Water holds a particular fascination for Ted -- an abstract dance of colour, light and anthropomorphic shapes that becomes, in his hands, the nearly tangible experience of a fisherman's pleasure.
Seeing and painting the abstract in nature has provided Ted with critical and commercial success. He concludes: "I have found a common ground, serving God and man."