Art in the time of physical distance: Clifford George

April 2020

What book(s) and author(s) are you reading right now and why? I finished a book on the life of Vincent Van Gogh and right now I am more involved with reading the research on Covid-19. Where I worked in the past with data on medicine at MUN I like to keep up with it all. I love reading poetry by WB Yates and Larry Small and keeping up with my own writing and storytelling myself.


Is there a particular genre of films you find yourself watching? Or do you have any recommendations of series or movies on a streaming site? Not really, I just look at YouTube. Since this virus thing all started I tend to keep busy doing my own painting from images I took last summer from going around the province, so I have no interest in sitting down and looking at movies right now.


What music or artist are you listening to right now and why? I’m listening to all [kinds of] talent online, artists from all over are online showing their talent from all over the world.


Are you able to keep to a routine in terms of your own work? Do you have any tips or words of wisdom for others who are struggling to work from home right now? When the weather is fine I plein air paint and right now I’m doing social distancing and doing my own painting at home and putting [it] on social media, expressing myself doing large paintings – 45 x 60 in and 60 x 96 in. This way I’m entertaining the masses with my years of experience and technique. It keeps me really busy at a time like this. My tips would be to tell people to share their knowledge and expertise on how to do it online. Your lifetime experiences become simplified so share it with others. This is what I do every day, along with looking after my horses and chickens. Nothing has changed for me.


Social media is exploding with daily check-ins, poetry readings, virtual art gallery tours, etc – is there anything in particular you have discovered that has delighted you? I discovered that there is a large audience out there that are asking me for more videos on painting, storytelling and poetry.


How has food provided a comfort? It has given me a chance to go through my deep freezes and pick out the stuff that I have collected and stored since last fall. Especially the fish and cooking up different dishes.


Can you describe the physical situation you are in right now – what location, who you are spending this time with. I’m in my art studio in my home, the full second floor of my home with windows bringing in morning sunrise and evening sunsets, overlooking the sea. I have lots of brushes, canvases, and paint. Isolated and loving it. I’m spending my time with my wife. I have two Newfoundland ponies and chickens and a rooster that I look after.


In your opinion, what’s the best thing about being in NL during a global pandemic? I told my grandfather one time that I was going away to Toronto looking for work, he said, “My son, what are you going to do that for?” and I said to make some money, his reply was “Stay home my son, the only way you’ll starve to death in Newfoundland is if you lose your appetite, someone will feed you so don’t worry about it.” We are dealing with this Covid-19 and we are listening to the Health Minister John Haggie and the Chief Medical Officer [Dr Janice Fitzgerald] and hoping for the best and striving to survive in our own way. I grew up in a house where people died from TB, it was a hard time in our lives and one time I was really sick as a boy, and I wanted some encouragement and a relative of mine came in and I told him how sick I was and in the midst of it all he replied “My son, that will go away and you will go with it,” and he made me laugh. So that’s the way it is here in Newfoundland. People grieve, laugh, and help each other through all sorts of hardships and just hope that everything will work out.


Any overall words of wisdom to share? When I was young I bought a fishing boat for $150.00 and my mother was worried to death and mad because I spent my hard-earned money on a boat so grandfather said, “Leave the boy alone, he can make money for himself now, you can always make money with a fishing boat,” that’s the way it was back then. So he made me two paddles and gave me 25 fathoms of rope tied to an anchor in case my motor failed. My words of wisdom from my grandfather was, “If you get a big hole in your boat, pray to God and keep rowing to shore.” So in everyday life you have to keep going, doing what you do best and you’ll get better and better at it.


What do you miss the most? If I can’t go plein air this summer I will be devastated but if I can go I plan on taking yellow caution tape with me and marking off 10 feet around me, isolating myself to paint.

Clifford George worked as a medical artist at the Health Sciences Centre and now lives and paints in Whiteway, Trinity Bay. He is represented in St John’s by Christina Parker Gallery.