For Robert Genn

Late in the evening, I took one last step out onto the balcony to breathe in the cooling night air from the sea. With the moon at half, the sky was sparkling with the very dance of eternity, but I was preoccupied with the finite. I closed the door, drew the curtains and, before heading to bed, wrote two lines at the top of a fresh page of my workbook. Robert Genn and then below, my friend, underlined. Holding the pen in two fingers by its tip I rather drew the words than wrote them. They formed in contemplative sorrow.

Robert Genn

Emails from Robert are always welcome and I confess one of my guilty pleasures when I am supposed to be focussed on work at hand. I pop it open and read what he has to say that is always sound advice for artists, mostly thought provoking, often funny, very wise and always, always authentic. But yesterday, I opened the one entitled “The bomb”. It had come the day before, but I was being good and saved the moment till the next day. I popped it open and there it was – the bomb. Robert has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given a year to live.

True to his nature, he kindly put the doctor at ease, acknowledging how tough a job he had – imparting news like this to a friend. The letter went on to share his response to the news to put the rest of us at ease and, ever the professional, shared his activities of sorting canvases so that only his best work represents him to the world market. Robert is one of Canada’s preeminent artists painting traditional landscapes. He is a prolific writer, shows in over 30 galleries and is a brilliant self marketer.

Self-Portrait with Emily Carr, Robert Genn

Self-Portrait with Emily Carr, Robert Genn

Oh, and just one thing – I’ve never met Robert Genn.  So, how can I call him friend?

‘Knowing’ Robert is one of the gifts and everyday miracles of the Internet age. We are finding our tribes as Seth Godin describes it. Like minded individuals are connecting around the world in real time. We are learning that our connection comes from the heart, not proximity.  Communications are instant and one day when I telephoned him from Toronto, Robert picked up his phone in British Columbia. Now, I am on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean and his welcome emails arrive in my inbox twice a week, as he promised when I subscribed.  

What makes Robert so ‘knowable’ is his transparency, his vulnerability, his certainty, his groundedness.  He knows who he is – he has worked that out on his canvasses all his life – and he shares that authenticity.  He is real which is a rare and cherished commodity.  Robert embodies the very reason why authentic art is critical to our lives.  

An artist friend of mine, Linda Frayne Kemp, introduced me to Robert Genn’s Twice Weekly Newsletter, and his website The Painters Keys, some years ago. It wasn’t long before I realized that I had already bookmarked his site months before for its rich resource of quotes on life and art.  His site hosts a simple and inexpensive gallery for hundreds of artists, events and books.  

Whether he is taking groups to be dropped by helicopter on the tips of the Rocky Mountains or travelling the world on solo painting expeditions, he has managed to keep his promise of consistent insights and advice twice weekly, since the year 2000. The letters are sometimes answers to questions from artists around the world, both struggling and accomplished. They are relatively short and to the point – “go to your room” -and very often philosophic; seeking and expressing the deeper self, or more pragmatic; brandy over hot chocolate for keeping warm while winter painting en plein air. And each time, a showcase for the artist and a bit of colourful esoterica.

There are two particular streams of devotion that I so respect this man for and they are; to truly be of service to the individual artist encouraging authenticity and proficiency, and also to raise the bar of what makes great art in the minds and perception of the world in an industry that has gone a little crazy.

I am not an artist, but I find his candour and philosophy applicable to the art of life itself. I read him faithfully. I have given his book The Painter’s Keys, A Seminar with Robert Genn – as a gift. It is a incredibly valuable and digestible resource for painters offering practical advice on painterly skills – like interesting colours that go into a ‘black’ shadow as well as practical self marketing advice – like shipping unframed canvasses to dealers who are also framers – win/win.

Robert is not only my friend, but my hero. He walks his talk and I admire that. Unbeknownst to him, he has also mentored me with his words and caused me to change direction when I wasn’t being true to my art – my own life. His is one of the few blogs I comment on and it is usually to say, in essence, thanks for turning on the light again.

My heart is full to overflowing for the challenge Robert now faces. I am sending billowing clouds of love for him to use any way that serves his body and soul. If, in return for his generosity to me and so many others, I could offer one light, predicated on the trendy but true phrase, cancer is a word not a sentence, it would be this:

A prognosis is an opinion based on probabilities and statistics. It is not a certainty. Timing and finality are only known in retrospect. None of us knows the numbering of our days, only that they are. Every day is precious.

I know Robert will receive all the love and devotion he has seeded so generously – over 250,000 readers in 117 countries – and richly deserves. That’s a whole lotta love!  

Abundant blessings, deep gratitude and love, to my friend.