The Gardner family presents their paintingsI tend to not paint very much between January and April. I don’t know why. It just sort of happens that way each year. Maybe to give my hand (and head) a rest, maybe just the winter blues tampering with my chi and dampening my motivation. Then as the snow melts so does my hibernating mind, and the ideas start to flow. Then more and more ideas come, and my head explodes into torrent of inspiration and I can’t get to a canvas quick enough.

The catalyst that sparked me out of my winter coma and into my painting frenzy this year was Lori and John. I am very fortunate to have so many people who believe in me (through acquaintance or just word of mouth), that (similar to a few other clients), when they purchased their new house, they told me to come over before they had moved any furniture in and “pick a wall.” They didn’t care what went up on the wall, they just wanted me to paint “them” however I saw them.

Their entire house has marvellous deep taupe walls and rich hardwood floors. For me, taupe is the “universal donor” of back-drops because not only is it calming and “earthy” (along with the hardwood), but it goes with just about every colour in my personal paint pallet.

The name for this set of paintings came from a song I listened to (repeatedly… of course) while designing the five individual paintings that represent this extraordinary family. Yeha-Noha is based on a chant of the Native Americans meaning “Wishes of Happiness and Prosperity.” It could not be more appropriate for the new house under whose roof these five amazing spirits now reside.


Sam the Bear

In a gentle way, you can shake the world.

Mohandas Gandhi

We are strong enough to bear the misfortunes of others.

Francois de La Rochefoucauld

What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.

Henry David Thoreau

When I first started coming up with ideas for this group of paintings, the bear kept appearing for Sam. Sam has a gentle nature, a giving soul, and is an amazing young man with an infinite capacity of compassion, benevolence, and fairness to the world. Sam The Bear. It came at me instantaneously, and insisted on staying.

However the main reason I went with it is because The Bear is willed with an enormous heart and a penchant for generosity, which is Sam inside and out.

For the Navajo and Crow Indians, The Bear is a figure that possesses wisdom and knowledge of the sacred. The Bear is a protector and symbolizes calm strength, introspection, leadership and dreaming. It has a capacity for patience and temperance, which makes it an excellent teacher and mentor. I can see Sam as a teacher, or a counsellor. Where ever he can impart fairness and equality is where Sam The Bear will shine most bright.

Because of Sam The Bear’s “enormous heart and penchant for generosity,” I chose to represent him as a Heartline Bear. The “Heartline” has a few different interpretations and usually shows up on a Bear or a Deer. The Heartline goes from mouth of the bear to the heart and ends in a triangle shape. This line is the path of the Spirit’s Breath. The holder of the Heartline Bear will breathe in to gain the spirit and powers of The Bear. The Heartline is thought to have to do with Love – having a direct connection to someone’s heart. The Bear symbolizes strength and self-knowledge. Native American animal magic is often based upon the animal’s behaviour and The Bear’s habit of hibernation makes it seem like he spends a lot of time in introspection and solitude. Hence, he knows himself very well.

I also saw the mountains in Sam. Every sketch I did, they always ended up there somehow. He didn’t seem complete without them. I just knew there was some kinship Sam had to the mountains, and they in turn conveyed to me the necessity to be there. Of course, as Calgarians we are but a stone’s throw from the mountains – I can see them from my house, but that wasn’t it. I thought maybe I was prophesizing he would come to know them better when he was older and maybe I was foreshadowing a future outdoorsman in Sam, but again… that was a mere justification as to why intuitively I felt the need to put them in. Then Lori told me that Sam was born in the Northwest Territories. OH… there’s my mountain connection. That explains why.

The first border around the Bear is the mountains, cuz whether he knows it or not, they are a huge part of his soul. The second border (outer most) of the painting (three elongated claw marks) is The Bear’s paw print. A Bear Paw print is an extremely good omen to the Native American culture. The Bear Paw in general is a symbol of direction and power. However, from a different perspective, the border also looks like sun and trees, which also form part of Sam’s soul.

Max the Eagle/Healing Hands

I took an open top Beetle
Through the eye of a needle
He was trying to throw his arms, around the world.


I’m open for movement and I have the touch…
Wanting contact, I’m wanting contact, I’m wanting contact with you!
Shake those hands, shake those hands
Give me the thing I understand
Shake those hands, shake those hands…

Peter Gabriel

I do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old;
I seek what they sought.

Haiku poet Basho

It was hard to nail down which symbols to use for Max. He embodies so many, more than I could ever paint in a year full of Sundays. At the heart of this amazing young man, is his capacity for honesty and knowledge, and a heartfelt passion to heal the world somehow. So it was a no-brainer that Max was going to get The Healing Hands. The Healing Hands are found frequently in ancient rock art and petroglyphs. They symbolize healing and helping, and are the most important tool we humans have. In fact, the hand print inside the wings of the Eagle are the exact outline of Max’s hands (scanned and shrunk down of course to fit into each wing of the Eagle). I thought if I’m putting them in there, they might as well be his. With The Healing Hands I had to add in The World somehow. The relevance being an allusion to one of my all time favourite U2 songs, “Tryin’ to throw your arms around the world.” Even at 11-years-old, Max is already beginning his mammoth embrace of the world, and having a huge impact on making it a better place. His arms are stretching and his wave is starting. It will hit all shores soon.

The Eagle is the wings that will take Max’s ideas and empathy around the world. Birds are usually used to represent prophetic knowledge and for warriors they represents prowess. The Eagle is the Spirit Connection to Higher Realms. It represents courage, spirit, strength, protection from evil, clear vision, success, bravery, intelligence and renewal. Eagle medicine attributes include clear vision and soaring spirit. The Eagle protects people from evil. Max’s goal is to do the very same thing.

Max’s hands are his greatest tool. Already he has shaken the hands of Prime Ministers and Governor Generals… just to name a few. And for him… this is just the start. In lieu of gifts for his most recent birthday party, he had his friends bring donations for me to take down to India for the orphans. This is not the first time he has done such a thing, in birthdays past he has instructed his friends to bring donations to various food banks in lieu of presents for him. I have no doubt that many years down the line, I will be saying, “Hey, I painted a picture of the Prime Minister when he was just 11.” How I look forward to that day!

Jack the Dragon/Uroboros

The Universe should be deemed an immense Being, always living, always moved and always moving in an eternal activity inherent in itself, and which, subordinate to no foreign cause, is communicated to all its parts, connects them together, and makes the world of things a complete and perfect whole.

Albert Pike

We’re five people, five individuals who came together to create something, to make music and to complete each other musically, to form a perfect circle.

Maynard J. Keenan

Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are prince(es) who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Jack is The Connector. The tie that binds. The One who Unites this family as a whole.

Since Jack was born in the year of the Dragon, I used the Uroboros to represent him. The Uroboros is an ancient symbol usually in the form of a circle of a snake or dragon devouring its tail. Morbid you might think? Not so at all. The symbol of the Uroboros signifies infinity, wholeness, and the connection of ultimate completeness.

Throughout history different cultures have fashioned the Uroboros to fit their own philosophy and purposes. The image has been used in India, Japan, Greek alchemic texts, European woodcuts, Native American Indian tribes and the Aztecs.

The Uroboros has many different meanings. Generally taking on a circular form, the symbol is representative of many theories. One is eternal return, everything being circular, everything recurring. A symbol of renewal, infinity, life, continuity, and the Eternal Return.

Within the circle of completeness (Jack), is the four other family members (his brothers Sam and Max, and his parents Lori and John).

Jack is the circle. Jack is what makes this family complete.

Lori – Phoenix

I don’t like people who have never fallen or stumbled.
Their virtue is lifeless and it isn’t of much value.
Life hasn’t revealed its beauty to them.

Boris Pasternak

Believe those who are seeking truth.
Doubt those who find it.

Andre Gide

You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.

Friedrich Nietzsche

I have met few people in the world who have really inspired me. Lori is definitely one of them. Look up Indomitable Spirit in the dictionary, and there you have Lori. Rising amid the ashes, her triumph over adversity is to be respected and admired, and she has passed on everlasting inspiration to those she has touched. Her strength of mind and wicked sense or humour are what has drawn me to her the most. There is only one of Lori on the planet, and according to folk lore, only one Phoenix can be of this world at a time, which is why it made sense that Lori be The Phoenix.

A mythical bird in Egyptian mythology that never dies, but rather periodically consumes itself by fire, and emerges from the ashes as a new Phoenix. It symbolizes our power for vision and rebirth.

The Phoenix also represents the sun itself, which dies at the end of each day, and is reborn the following dawn. So I have put the sun in the centre of The Phoenix, as well as in the 4 triangles that surround the main circle. Also, The Phoenix’s tears have a magical healing quality to them. And if you ever go to a sad movie with Lori… bring a raincoat (hee hee).

John – Fire Horse

Love alone is capable of uniting living beings in such a way as to complete and fulfill them, for it alone takes them and joins them by what is deepest in themselves.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

You must in all Airs follow the strength, spirit, and disposition of the horse…

William Cavendish

He who has a strong enough Why can bear almost any How.

Friedrich Nietzsche

John is an stoic individual, a talented musician, and an amazing father. In my original search for the perfect symbol for John a few animals stepped forward in my mind, as if to audition for the role. Many seemed worthy of his being. But out of all the animals that tried out for the part, the horse was consciously and unconsciously the clear winner. A few days later, I discovered that John was actually born in yhe year of The Horse (Fire Horse to be exact). I knew I was going to draw a horse for him before I got that information, so just a psychic bonus that he happened to be born in that year anyway.

The horse exudes independence, pride, purification, stability, courage, freedom, power, safe movement, love, devotion, and loyalty. People with Horse Medicine attributes often carry the burdens of other people. They are strong and able to bare the strain of the most difficult of circumstances, and thus they symbolize coping under challenging conditions. Pictured as an animal with supernatural powers in many cultures, Shamans are often portrayed flying to other realms atop mythical horses.

The painting shows John as the Horse, with Fire abound, encircling, protecting and nurturing his wife and sons, and how highly, in turn, they adore and admire him.

The inner border of the painting represents one of the earliest forms of a note of music. Sort of like an angular “P”. With the smaller triangle between the two “P” symbols is like an “A”… as Max, Sam and Jack all call John “Pa Pa”. Thus, his moniker forms the border.

Ultimately, John, like The Horse, is love, strength, and loyalty.

iPod Playlist

I didn’t listen to a lot of music while painting these. My playlist was quite short in comparison to other paintings. I go through fits and stages of what keeps me company in the background while I paint. I need something in the background acting like a metronome to keep me focused. This time I switched between one round of the songs below with one episode of Magnum PI (now that seasons 1 through 4 are out on DVD). And… as per my note in my Grade 9 yearbook of Simon Fraser Junior High School.. I still want to marry Magnum… even if he is.. you know… over 60 now. In my mind he’s still 40 and drives a really cool car.

  • Sweet Lullaby – Deep Forest (from Essence of the Forest)
  • Is This Home on Ice – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (from self-titledClap Your Hands Say Yeah)
  • Yeha-Noha – Sacred Spirit (from Pure Moods)
  • Underwater – Chilling Crew (from Dubai Chill Lounge)
  • Deep Weather – Deep Forest (from Comparsa)
  • Adiemus – Adiemus (from Pure Moods – I love this song… but at times I can’t help but picture the Whos of Whoville singing it….)
  • Dream Machine – Mark Farina & Sean Hayes (from Hôtel Costes 8 By Stéphane Pompougnac)
  • Feral Republic – Jason Collett (from Idols of Exile)
  • Tamtra Tibet – David Visan & Michael Winter Featuring Ani Choying Drolma (from Buddha Bar V: Dinner)
  • Tryin’ To Throw Your Arms Around The World – U2 (from Achtung Baby)
  • I Have The Touch – Peter Gabriel (from Security)
  • Note from Lori:

    I have been thinking for 24 hours how to ever thank you for the unreal beautiful soulful gifts you have created for us all. I feel very feeble… seems so pathetic to write you and attempt to say thank you. How can I POSSIBLY thank you for what you have given us? They are so much more than just these amazing pieces of art. They truly are testaments, windows into the essence of my family. To have these beautifully colored, textured creations in my home to remind me of the loving, strong and dynamic men in my life is such a gift in itself Mags and I cannot even begin to thank you, I just can’t.

    Your creations mean so very much more to my heart than you will EVER know – I just cannot quantify to you. It is unreal the feelings your art brings out in me and in the children as well – to hear them express to us and each other what those paintings mean to them is honestly not something I expected either. I came down at one point today and said to Sam “What are you doing?” He turned to me and said “I am just looking at my picture. I really love it.” This from a 13-year-old boy!! About art!!!! Jack has declared that his dragon is “the most best picture in the entire world.” Max is already attempting to negotiate to have his picture hung in his room – he also knows that is NOT going to happen!!! Max has told us how he thinks our pictures are all “brilliant” however, he has made it clear that he thinks his EAGLE is the best!!

    So thank you Mags. Thank you for your time, your insight and care and your ability to connect with our family to create a real soulful reflection of us all.

    Lori Gardner

    Note from John:

    Hi Mags, as per the subject [what to say what to say], I just don’t know what to say other than thank you so very much. The pictures are beautiful, thoughtful, sentimental and incredible. You put so much thought into the family ties and came up with something that will be forever remembered and thought of by our whole family. These will be with us forever as will thoughts of the wonderful person who made them.

    I didn’t know what you would come up with when we first talked. What we now have is something far beyond what I could have ever dreamed of. The significance of our important ties to each other is not something that we could ever imagine someone else could see. You not only saw this significance, but put it in art that is beyond discription.

    I cannot thank you enough and will forever be greatful.

    Aside from Lori and I, the pride you have given to our three little boys is absolutely beautiful. They stare at and enjoy talking about their pictures with each other. Trying not to sound too corny, you have given them a central point of focus on what they mean to each other, what we all mean to each other. Add to that our new home and we have all we need.

    Thank you so much again. I only hope that we can repay your kindness one day.

    John Gardner

    Yeha-Noha (Five pieces, each 18″ x 18″)
    June, 2006