Adam Kveton Photo Diane McCarten’s acrylic and collage piece, Family Matters, is just one of a variety of her abstract pieces on display at the MAC, along with Brian Middleton’s digitally-created paintings.

From touchscreen to printmaking, pair find new expression with show in Parksville

Brian Middleton and Diane McCarten ‘Still Evolving’ show at MAC

From acrylic to oils, pastels to watercolours, sculpture, photography and more, there are many different ways for artists to express themselves.

But why specialize in just one, ask Diane McCarten and Brian Middleton.

They are a pair of Island artists who, over the years, have experimented in many different ways of making art.

“For me… art is really about exploring — it’s finding new frontiers constantly,” said Middleton.

Sharing that interest in exploring, the pair have teamed up for an exhibition at the MAC called Still Evolving, where they are showing where that exploration has taken them more recently.

For Middleton, that’s the world of modern touchscreen technology.

Over his artistic career, Middleton has gone from sketching in Provence (France) to painting at the Ontario College of Art focusing on abstract and later landscape and botanical, as well as many other explorations, and even apprenticing to a wood engraver.

But Middleton’s latest artistic method is via iPad.

“Five years ago a friend arrived with a tablet and an app, not the one I’m using now, but I was intrigued and I played around with it for a week while she was here, and at the end of the week, I decided I need to buy an iPad and some apps and found out about what it could do.”

The way Middleton explains it, the software he now uses, called Procreate, allows him to do anything he could with a physical art studio, and some things he couldn’t. He can download digital “brushes” that allow the touch of his finger to smear digital paint mimicking various kinds of paintbrushes, he can layer different images and paintings to create unique collage work and depth, he can even take a photo with colours that he likes and liquefy it, allowing him to paint with those same colours but create something completely new.

“The possibilities are endless with it,” said Middleton. “And I get a chance to experiment to a far greater degree than I used to.”

That’s because working digitally has solved a big problem for him, and many other artists: where to put all their paintings. For Middleton, all his work is stored as digital files, either on his iPad or on the internet. It also means that there’s no cost to experimenting, as he doesn’t waste canvas or paint.

In the Still Evolving show, Middleton has prints of his work in a variety of sizes, some on canvas and others set to glass surfaces. The subject matter spans everyday objects to big mountain landscapes where a hint of flowers, a shelf of books and urban streets ghost in and out of the work.

Another unique aspect of working digitally means Middleton also has a new method of displaying his work: for each painting he creates, there’s a sped-up video showing his progress, meaning people could watch as the artwork creates itself before their eyes. That’s one way Middleton hopes to display his work in the future, but for this show, he’ll be putting on a demonstration.

Taking place Nov. 23, Middleton and pianist Dave Klinger will collaborate, with Klinger improvising on piano as Middleton paints, with his work projected onto a screen for people to watch and experience as a cross-media performance.

That runs 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the MAC (McMillan Arts Centre, 133 McMillan St, Parksville), with 60 seats available. Cost is $5 at the door.

For McCarten, creating prints using various things has become very important to her artistic work. And, when she finds something interesting, she gets right to work.

“I’ll be cooking in my kitchen and I’ll slice a vegetable or a fruit and it’s got this really cool texture. I’ve been known to stop the cooking and run in and print that,” she said with a laugh.

It can be the same with items on the street: when McCarten sees something that looks texturally interesting to her, she grabs it and prints it.

But that’s just the beginning of her process.

McCarten’s prints pile up over time, and she’ll sometimes look through them to find something that inspires her.

The printed paper can be a background for her painting, or just one piece in a multimedia collage.

McCarten said her work and Brian’s speak to each other on that level, layering being a part of many of their pieces. However, working with physical materials is particularly important for McCarten, and keeps her working physically instead of with software programs.

“I do like the physicalness of the materials, I do like getting my hands dirty. And yet at the same time, I can appreciate the iPad,” she said.

“It’s fantastic because it’s like you have your whole studio in that little iPad. So it’s thrilling what you can do with it, but I still prefer getting the hands dirty and feeling the stuff. Even when I was a little girl, I used to sidle up to ladies in fur coats and pat them because texture, I really like texture, even if it’s not the actual, even if it just looks like texture, it appeals to me.”

Over the years, McCarten has gone from painting portraits, figures and landscapes using a variety of media, but her work has now become abstract and non-objective.

However, she says an ongoing theme for her is people.

“Especially faces,” she said. “There’s something about looking at somebody’s face and then to their eyes and, you know, sort of seeing what they feel and think, and as I’m painting these people, it’s almost like… they are talking to me, and they tell me what they want on there, and I just try to get out of the way and let it happen.”

While McCarten may get one set of feelings out of what she’s painted, or she may see it as a commentary on the world, she said she’s just hoping that people who see her work can relate to it in some way, regardless of what she thought was there.

McCarten and Middleton’s exhibit continues at the MAC until Dec. 1.

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