A picture may be worth 1000 words, but what are 1000 pictures worth to an aging painter?
“My son wouldn’t come from Whistler to deal with any of them, my daughter would just say give them all to Salvation Army or something. Give it to anybody that wants it.”
Dennis Stembridge has a problem. After painting since the early 70’s, he has accumulated a multitude of paintings in all shapes and sizes, from small prints to murals.
He began painting in his spare time near the end of his 48-year career in Toronto as an architect. He paints now on a covered porch in his backyard, and in a spare room in his small house in Belleville.
Stembridge is a member of the Quinte Arts Council, and finds himself inspired by other artists in the community. He has a drawer full of images, paintings, and pictures that he has set aside to paint at a later date.
The spare room is covered from floor to ceiling in paintings. Realistic and impressionistic scenes, people, and buildings cover the small 8×10 foot room. There are at least four different carpets, rugs, and mats on the floor covering old paint thinner stains.
Stembridge speaks excitedly about his style and his history, pausing briefly to talk about each of his paintings in the room.
He finds himself painting mainly with oil and acrylics but has done pencil, pen and ink, model trains, and has spent 10 years doing drafting table work.
He sells his paintings at anywhere from $100 to $600. He took out a thick logbook dating every painting he has done since 2003, over 150 of them. Flipping through the musty, laminated pages you could see just how much work he has done, and only in the past 10 years.
But he says that he wasn’t making a lot of money.
“If I sell a painting for $100, its not much, it works out to $10 an hour. It’s not much because you pay for the paint, the varnish, and the canvas,” said Stembridge. “It’s a case of ‘do I want to have 300 of these things hanging on the wall or do I want to sell them and get something out of it.’“
He does a lot of commissioned pieces for family, friends and neighbours. He prefers painting for himself, though.
“I found out that I don’t really like painting what people want me to do, cause its more like a job then,” said Stembridge. “You have to do it like this, you have to do it right, whether they’ll like this or whether they’ll like that, this is too dark, and can you fix this. You know what, I’ll paint what I like and if they like it they buy it. If they don’t then I don’t have any pressure, I hate stress and pressure.”
But Stembridge says he finds it hard to balance painting as a job and painting as a hobby.
“I look at other work I keep around and I think ‘Can I paint that? Would I paint that? Would anyone buy it? If I spend 40, 50 hours on it will anyone buy it? What’s the point of doing it if it’s just going to hang on my wall.”
Stembridge knows he’s going to have to get rid of the paintings somehow, but who will take them?
“I’m getting at the age now that my kids don’t want any of my stuff. In five or six years we gotta’ move out of here, go into a retirement home or who knows what,” said Stembridge. “What’s going to happen to all these things? My kids aren’t going to do anything with them; they’re just going to give them away.”
Stembridge was visibly frustrated with his situation. He doesn’t say he’s a great painter, but he still doesn’t understand why people won’t buy them.
“A lot of people say they like it, but they don’t say they’ll pay for it,” said Stembridge. “But I spent a lot of time to do it. Someone might think it’s worth $100. Other people say its nice but they aren’t interested.”
He reached down and picked up an old sketch of a forest scene from 1958 he did as a teenager. After looking at it for a few minutes he began talking about how he feels when he paints.
“I find it exciting, invigorating, in a way. You sit down at a canvas and you got this thing dancing around in your mind,” said Stembridge. “I saw Beyoncé singing at the halftime concert (Super Bowl) and all I thought was ‘oh I gotta’ paint that!’ You just can’t wait to get it down.”
Stembridge is still painting though. He has a nearly finished painting sitting on his easel in the studio that he plans on finishing by the end of the week.
“I’ve spent about eight hours on this so far, I like it but, hopefully someone will buy it.”
Check out his work at http://www.flickr.com/photos/dennisstembridge