In late April or early May, 1979, I began applying acrylic gesso to some objects that just happened to be lying around my Halifax apartment and initiated the “Thick Paintings (to be continued)” that have been central to my activity as an artist ever since. Gregory’s Present was started a few months later, at the end of October, after my wife and children had rejoined me from England, where they had been living since 1976, until we saw if my three-year contract at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design would be renewed. It had been, they came back, and we bought a house in Halifax’s South End, where I continued work on my “Thick Paintings” in the low basement space that became my studio. Matilda, our youngest, was seven at the time and wanted to help. I suggested she choose something to paint herself, and she applied all of three half-coats to the chestnut she selected before losing interest. (The paint has to be applied in half-coats so one side can rest on the bench while the other side dries.) My son Edwin, aged twelve, then asked if I would paint an egg for him. That left me wondering what I could paint for our eldest, Gregory (fourteen). It did not take me long to decide.
Several months before, Gregory had sent me a packet of Maynards Wine Gums. There was no special reason; it was not my birthday. They just arrived out of the blue. I was so touched, I kept the box with a couple of wine gums still inside. It was now an obvious choice and, as it turned out, a happy match for the other two pieces. Matilda’s Chestnut has stayed generally spherical, while Edwin’s Egg is still more or less oval (egg-shaped). With judicious placing of the overlap of half-coats, it was not too hard to persuade Gregory’s Present to retain its overall cuboidal, boxlike shape, as the application of more gesso generated a complex system of protrusions and indentations somewhat more pronounced around the sides than on the larger upper and lower surfaces.
Calgary, September 2000
Application of gesso to Gregory’s Present began in 1979. It was discontinued after 5,104 coats in 2001, upon the work’s acquisition by the Museum.