Geoff Bladon still recalls the impact of a black-and-white film about the famous Canadian painter A.Y. Jackson that he watched in sixth grade. “I was bowled over,” the Montreal native says. “Although I had been making drawings from early childhood and had been taking art classes on Saturdays at the local recreation center, it had never occurred to me that a person could make a life as a painter. I can still see the scenes of Jackson canoeing and hiking in the wilderness and then setting up an easel and painting the natural world around him. I thought it would be a great life.”
As it turned out, Bladon’s father had other ideas for his son. “Father discouraged any serious pursuit of art as an occupation, which was understandable,” Bladon says with a wry smile. “So I went to college in Manitoba and then I went to law school, which I’m glad I did, but all the time I continued drawing, sometimes for student newspapers.”
Over the course of 15 years practicing law in London, Ontario, then five years serving as a criminal court judge in the Yukon and finally joining the Faculty of Law at the University of New Bunswick in Fredericton, Bladon continued drawing and, eventually, painting in oils. A.Y. Jackson’s impressionistic, plein air work also continued to be a source of inspiration.
“Being outside and painting is a real rush,” he says. Another rush, he adds, comes from reveling in the environs of St. George, where he and his wife Daila bought a home in 1995. Bladon’s connection with Maine is longstanding. “As an anglophone adult living in Montreal, my grandmother ‘summered’ in Kennebunk Beach staying at the Narragansett Inn. My father would accompany her as a boy,” he says, adding, “Francophone Montrealers went to Old Orchard Beach.” Bladon’s father started bringing Geoff to Maine when Geoff was about 7 years old.
“Maine has always been a draw for me,” Bladon says. “Part of our decision to take the job in Fredericton in 1987 was so that we could be close to Maine.” The couple travelled to the midcoast area in particular, once staying in a B&B in Camden and then, in 1993 renting a house in Port Clyde from Cindy Lang for the month of May. “That was the beginning of the end,” Bladon laughs. They returned to Port Clyde the following year, all the time taking note of properties that were for sale. In 1995 they bought a small house on Main Street in Tenants Harbor next to the marsh. The couple now divides their time between St. George and Fredericton, where Bladon continues to work part-time doing labor adjudication work.
“Like a lot of us who have picked St. George to live, we really enjoy what we have here—I love this place. It is a wonderfully different and unique area. It is nothing like Camden or Rockland or Belfast or Boothbay or even Friendship. The indigenous architecture and the landscape itself is what makes it different. In my paintings I try to offer a celebration of this area.”
The range of images in Bladon’s current show at the Jackson Memorial Library testifies to this commitment. From the farm buildings at Harjula’s (as seen from the little cemetery on Westbrook), to the Apple House in Wiley’s Corner, the Tenants Harbor Boatyard and Drift Inn Beach, Bladon makes clear that the beauty he finds on the peninsula and in the surrounding area is very specific in terms of season, time and place. While he has not painted every scene outdoors—larger paintings are difficult to complete in the two or so hours before the light changes—for the mood and sense of place and light, Bladon always relies on first-hand sketches. Photos provide factual information when needed. “Sometimes I need to double check things like the number of windows on a facade,” he explains.
Bladon admits that it is “a source of validation” when someone likes one of his paintings well enough to buy it. And getting juried into a show provides a similar satisfaction. But Bladon says getting that kind of support is not why he paints. “The actual doing of the painting is what makes the blood flow,” he emphasizes. “And what keeps you at it is that you never get it right, not fully. The painting that is in your head is not what comes out. There are keepers and then paintings that are not.”
The important thing, too, he clearly believes, is that while he has not, like his hero A.Y. Jackson, earned a living as a painter, he has, like Jackson, made painting a life.
Bladon is represented by Tidemark Gallery in Waldoboro and Gallery 78 in New Brunswick. Bladon’s show at the Jackson Memorial Library runs through February. Also part of the exhibit is the work of Charlene Vanderslice, paintings that are inspired by the marine realm and dedicated to saving the oceans. —JW
PHOTO: Julie Wortman