Thursday, September 30, 2010

Boundary Issues

One evening last fall, my sheep came home to the barn with their fleeces a tangled mess of burrs and thistles. I noticed one ewe was also sporting a fringe of blackberry canes, another one had accessorized herself with a small tree. Now our pastures aren't perfect, but I did find this odd considering I had gone to some pains to cut down, dig up, and burn as much of this sort of debris as possible. The next morning I went out to check the pastures and the fences and discovered that the back gate was open. The sheep had been out in the fallow no man's land between out place and the neighbour's woodlot, no doubt scrounging for crab apples. I cursed irresponsible teenaged ATV riders and closed the gate.

What I had hoped was a unique event began to look more like a pattern when the episode repeated itself the following week, except this time it had been raining. Not only were my beautiful, white, long-wool sheep covered with sticks, burrs and brambles again, but they wrre also WET. The first time had cost me hours of labour pulling out the burrs and disentangling the sticks; the second time I used the hand shears and gave the worst offenders "punk rock" haircuts. At least two of the sheep looked like they had been shorn by a blindfolded lunatic using a lawnmower.
Celeste with haircut. Photo by the artist.

Of course, that back gate was open again. This time, along with the requisite cursing, I also considered getting a padlock or at least putting up a sign asking whoever opened the gate to please shut it behind him (or her), thank you very much. As it turned out, I didn't have to do either.

One Saturday morning as I was unloading groceries, a strange car pulled into our yard. A blond man in his early thirties got out and introduced himself as Sylvain, our neighbour. His house sits near the end of our long driveway, and although he had lived there for more than a year, this was our first real meeting. Casual observation of his behaviour from a distance had led me to conclude that Sylvain was both trigger happy, (he almost shot our other neighbour while out hunting deer the previous fall), and that he was quite possibly a pyromaniac, as he was always burning something in his yard, and had set fire to our ditch twice in a six month period. It was with some trepidation that I shook his hand.

"I was up here this morning, " he said, "but no one was home, so I was watching through my scope for your car. Your sheep are loose out in the neighbour's bush. I have permission to hunt there; I thought they were coyotes and I almost shot them."

While I was annoyed that my gun wielding firebug of a neighbour could mistake a flock of Border Leicesters for a pack of coyotes, I was even more dismayed that this rather strange man had been using his scope to watch our house. My days of topless gardening were obviously at an end.

"Well, my sheep wouldn't be loose if some idiot wasn't always opening our back gate." I answered.

"What gate?" he asked.

I explained the situation to him.

"Oh," he said, "well where does your property end?"

And I explained that to him too.

"Oh." he said, and paused as if contemplating something, then asked, " Do you want help rounding them up? I could get my four-wheeler."

I told him not to worry about it, that the sheep would come back on their own (which they did), if he would just please not shoot them in the meantime (which he didn't).

This autumn I closed off the back pasture completely so the sheep no longer have access to it at all. Better safe than sorry, I figure. Throughout the year I have continued to check the back gate from time to time, just out of curiosity. I have never found it open since. Not once.

What's on the easel

The Hemmingford Studio Tour takes place this week end (Oct. 2&3, 2010) from 10 am - 5 pm, both Saturday and Sunday. I'll be at Petch Orchards flogging my wares. If you are in the area, stop in and introduce yourself.

Here are a couple of new sheep collages which will be on display during the tour exhibition.

I give you Miss Juliet,
10x8 painted paper collage on mdf panel ©2010 Alyson Champ

Fabulous Fionna,

9x12 painted paper collage on mdf panel ©2010 Alyson Champ


and of course... Celeste!

9x12 pencil drawing on paper ©2010 Alyson Champ

Thursday, September 16, 2010

You Gotta Know When to Hold 'em

One of the toughest parts of being involved in any kind of creative work is knowing when something is finished. Rarely do I realise my artistic vision so completely that there is no doubt. Once in a while, I'll call something completed when I can no longer stand to look at it. Most times though, I have to live with a piece for a little while before I can really sign off.

I was working on a large, ambitious collage recently and thought I had finished it, yet there was something about the piece that left me uneasy; I didn't really feel I had accomplished visually what I had set out to do. I wasn't happy with it, but I didn't know why. So I decided to set it aside for awhile- this after having heralded the collage's imminent arrival on my Facebook Fan Page. That will teach me. The fat lady wasn't in fact ready to sing; she was merely clearing her throat.

I had the collage set up on an easel in our downstairs hall, a very central part of our house. This forced me to look at the thing, confront it, examine its flaws throughout the day, everyday, for a couple of weeks. That did the trick. Eventually I worked out what the problem was and how to fix it. It took some tough love and a little "renovation" work, but now it really is finished- finished and soon to be up on display at Salle Alfred-Langevin in Huntingdon as my contribution to the local collective exhibition for the Journées de la culture. The vernissage is Friday, September 24th at 5:00 pm. If you are in the area, come and check out the show.
Last Light, Ormstown- 24X30 painted paper and fabric collage on canvas
©2010 Alyson Champ

Friday, September 10, 2010

Differently Abled Daffy

"What do you mean one of my ducks is simple minded!" my friend Anna Maria wrote with mock outrage in an email to me a couple of weeks ago. In a note I sent her, I had mused that of the three male Muscovy ducks she had given me, one of them appeared to be a little mentally slow. Daffy (my name for him) is definitely different. Whereas the other two are very adept fliers, he can't fly; when the others zig, he zags; while his companions are out foraging in the yard, he spends much of his day sitting in a corner in the barn looking at the wall. And this isn't exactly new behaviour. While he still lived at Anna Maria's place, he one day zigged when he should have zagged, got underfoot, had his tail stepped on and subsequently lost part of it. Truth be told, Daffy is a slow witted, off balance, flightless duck with no sense of direction and only half a tail.
Daffy is the off-kilter duck on the left. Photo by the artist.

In that same email, Anna-Maria went on to remind me that just as people have varying levels of intelligence and competencies, so it is with animals. This is undoubtedly true. Take my dogs, for example. I have one who can slip any collar, and who, through trial and error, learned how to undo the catch on the baby gate to let herself out of the kitchen. I have another who can stealthily rifle through a bag of groceries when my back is turned, extract a package of pastrami without disturbing the other contents of the bag, carefully open the plastic and eat only the pastrami. Pretty smart. And yet we had a third dog so stupid she couldn't find her way out from under a blanket.

Even among the sheep, an animal with a reputation for stupidity, I have noticed a fairly wide range of intelligence. Take Julius the ram for instance, while not a deep thinker to be sure, he did learn to use his nose to pop the hook on the side gate of the barn to let himself (and the others) out in the morning whenever he felt I was being too slow.

Furthermore, intelligence seems to be inherited. One of my ewes is smart and vivacious and her daughters are just the same. Another ewe, the one we call Dumb Dora, invariably has stupid lambs who get lost in the grass or can't figure out how to go around an open gate to get out of the pasture, or worse.

One afternoon this past summer, in the middle of a heavy downpour, I noticed my sheep standing outside by the front of the barn, wet, and looking completely miserable. Now, there was no good reason for them to be outside in the rain: the barn was open; they could go in if they wanted to. Weird, I thought. A little later, from an upstairs window, I could see a white shape racing back and forth along the fence line of the pasture behind the barn. I put on my boots.

First I went to scold my stupid sheep for standing in the rain when the barn was open, next I went in the barn to take a look around. Nothing looked amiss, at first. A moment later I noticed a water bucket was missing and I knew exactly what had happened and to whom. It was, of course, Dora's daughter Violaine who had somehow gotten her head through the handle of the nearly empty water bucket, and it was she who had terrorized the other sheep now left stranded out in the rain, and of course, it was she who was now out by the back fence frantically trying to run away. From herself.

But back to those ducks for a minute. In about ten days, the ducks have a scheduled date with destiny. Destiny being Lavallée's slaughter house. I have no doubt that I will be able to catch poor, witless Daffy- a sitting duck if ever there was one. As for the other two...I have no idea what I'm going to do. I don't know how they know, but they seem to be aware of some impending disaster and have recently started roosting up on the wooden supports for the stable cleaner track outside the barn, putting them well out of my reach. I suppose I'll have to figure something out. But for now, I'm afraid that I must live with the embarrassing truth: That I have yet again been outsmarted by ducks. Like I said before, there is a wide range of intelligence among all animals.

What's on the Easel?

Well, quite a lot, as it turns out. I'm participating in a studio tour and a group show this fall, so I've been quite busy of late. I will include more information about these upcoming shows next post. For now, here are two small pieces .

Goldfish #3- 6x8 painted paper collage on panel ©2010 Alyson Champ


Salamander (Which Way Is Up?) - 5x7 painted paper collage on panel ©2010 Alyson Champ

Back to the drawing board er, collage table!