'The Thieves of May' (detail), 2017, by Timothy Alfred Cantor b.1969, oil on gessoed panel
"The Thieves of May" and associated works
It is a gift to be blessed with passion.
It yields the richness of hope, of motivation, and it brings the livening of eagerness and desire. It graces one’s days with relevance. It bolsters affection, breathes fear, uplifts and stings and grieves with sentiment and love. It, in essence, is the key to the fulfillment of life itself. This is its enormity, its importance to not only bring ambition, but to relish in life’s ultimate privilege.
Within this same breath, it must be said, too, that passion stirs the heart in many forms. Aspiration surely fuels frustration and heightens the blows of defeat. Wishes, commitments, enthusiasm; all form an inevitable bond to a disquieting awareness of mortality.
Inflicted with this unrestful contradiction between love and the passing of time, Tim Cantor created the original oil painting I Come to Rest. Along with his painted allegory, there exists his correlative poem to which the final words read, “Love not the past less, but the future more.” Written in the latter part of 2008, it is, perhaps, the artist's answer to harmonize the nostalgic nature of the human condition. As one ages, there is a reigning tendency to fill more hours of the day straying in the recollections of one's own history ― roaming in the footprints of a path already walked. Fondly. Regretfully. Always wondering. Always questioning.
There is a darkness in memory, bred by sadness and the impossibility of altering the past. Moreover, in its relentless manner, this sadness not only feeds off remorseful memories, it clutches onto the good ones as well; as longings, as yearnings, as wonderful yet torturous evocations that can spoil the present. They urge the veracity that each day gone by is precisely that; ‘gone by.’ Unrelivable.
With that said, harking to the past is not, as for now, Tim Cantor's plight. His angst lies in the amount of time still left to live, and love, and create. Time remaining is, without a doubt, his great fear. Yet, I Come to Rest, like so many of his works, is based on his perceptions. He is an observer of his surroundings. He sees and hears glimmers of regret and growing hungers for the past. His heightened consciousness billows as his friends, family, strangers ― all aging in tandem ― relive stories from long-ago. Likewise, present day modernism only fuels this trait, linking so many souls collectively together. Old companions and early loves rekindle connections after years of estrangement; all inciting Tim Cantor’s awareness of nostalgia’s rule.
Nostalgia, however, is not simple. It has many sides. Though it brings its aches of remorse, its hold is an impetus of strength as well. It gives us savvy and intellect. It gives us influence over our existence. It gives us perception. Seven years after Tim created I Come to Rest, he painted his awe-inspiring composition Nostalgia and befittingly christened an entire exhibition under the same title; highlighting the power that the past can bring about. With regard to I Come to Rest, its composition and meaning was ― rightly so as it turned out to be ― the predecessor to that perspective. It flattered the drive to let go of the sorrowful memories, rather than hold onto them. The birds depicted in the painting symbolize the release of captive feelings, freeing the heartache and remorse associated with one’s past. The figure is portrayed vulnerable, nude for its timeless intent. A subtle fire on the horizon burns away the regretful side of time. Its meaning is one of pureness, humility, and promise. Its sway is to solely see the beauty in memories, and deem them as a driving force of appreciation; to “Love not the past less, but the future more.”
On the contrary, early drawings for I Come to Rest were not so idealistic. As metaphorically beautiful as this painting is, its inceptive drawings laid plans for a more explicit representation. Unlike the airy hummingbirds of the final composition, black birds rushed ravingly from a darkened hollow in the torso of the feminine figure. Perhaps these initial ideas relayed an aggression that paralleled Tim Cantor's first response to his understanding of the pain that nostalgia can inflict? Other concepts depict doves flying into the back of the body, bursting out as pitch-dark crows from the front. Beautiful memories going in, hurtful ones released.
Black birds, in Tim Cantor's paintings, have been a recurring subject, but not always as a delegate of bereavement. Often, they are cherished as endeavors of affection ― symbolizing curiosity, great thought, or even love. However, in the first waves of concepts prefacing I Come to Rest, they indeed represented a darker-toned turn of mind. Yet, as Tim considered the scale of the painting in both physical grandeur and philosophical reach, he took the path of a more gentle nature. On and off his easel for more than a year, his beautified painting found its perfect balance of positivity, elegance, and profound context.
Nonetheless, as the years carried on, his original plan persevered in his thoughts; haunting him, thirsting to be fulfilled. However, it must be said that this yearning was not for reasons of regret. Tim Cantor was indeed proud of I Come to Rest. Rather, his pressing need was bred by that of incompletion. He had an original thought which evolved and transformed into a variation of his initial vision. Although this process was frequent in his method, this time he was left with an uncharacteristic desire to answer those visceral skeletons lingering about within his own obsession.
Relative works would arise throughout the following years, inspired and broadened by Tim Cantor's possessing first idea. In that time, we behold the extensive provings of that undying impression, and his enduring compulsion towards its theme. Embodied relations of its spirit can be felt considerably throughout the succeeding years, including in a bold blue painting that was uniquely created and titled for Imagine Dragons' song Shots. As Cantor was given the lyrics early on, he uniquely visualized the painting’s descriptive nature to align with his perception of its meaning. With that said, he delivered a symbolic idea ― an ensemble of birds erupting out of a hollowed portrait illustratively cut off just beneath the eyes. The birds, in this case, represent the uncontrollable voice that speaks out its thoughts openly and unrestrained. This was Tim Cantor's relayed interpretation of Dan Reynolds’ ― lead singer of Imagine Dragons ― unhesitating lyrics. As so, in the painting Shots, Tim Cantor's birds denote a wreckage of contentment.
Simultaneously, Tim created Words Of The Wiser, a similarly devised composition with birds flying out from the top of a portraiture, yet with an entirely different meaning.
What Shots is to heartache, Words Of The Wiser is to sentimentality. Detailed life-like hummingbirds float outwards and upwards from the rich blue cloth that wraps the mind of a young boy. In this case, Tim’s corresponding poem reveals that the birds portray the life-long wisdom of an elderly soul, voiced candidly to all who will listen and try to decipher the seasoned sanity from the random thoughts of a fading mind. Tangled as that seems, once known, indeed the birds so ideally stage the visage of turbulent feelings and ideas bursting out from one’s brain. Adding to its intricacy, the boy stands in as the youthful symbol of a very old person, still grasping hungrily at life, yet lost in the mix of knowledge and dementia. Words Of The Wiser is a complex painting in both meaning and metaphor that further builds upon his first conception.
Over time, paintings continued to arise in the beckoning wake of the original drawings for I Come to Rest. Still, however, a completed oil painting of his initial vision had not yet materialized. Though, he was drawing nearer with each inspired expansion, every time modifying the concept’s meaning for each unique composition. The inevitable resurrection of his early notion as a refined work was close. In 2015, in an eager sweep, Tim loosely painted a background for its formation and penciled an outlined figure resembling the archetype envisioned from so many years ago. And yet, there it sat, another year, perhaps two, untouched, spawning off further ideas and inspirations.
One of those being, arguably, a supreme piece of Tim Cantor's.
In Promised Land, a man, sightless, levitates above a green field of wealth. Black birds seethe upwards from his torso and stretch beyond the painted work. This apparent self-portrait clearly bares the blindfolded likeness of the artist's facial profile. However, it's unclear if the significance is based on his own success or, more likely, the observations of others. Its rendering being that of a sudden realization to the banality of wealth. Tim's birds, now, embody a life-changing discovery. The composition relays this epiphany as a message, or rather, awareness, that believing happiness resides entirely in the attainment of riches is, indeed, foolish. The birds; they billow out as new knowledge, new understandings, realizations carrying their host peacefully to a higher strand of existence. A brilliantly detailed mansion retreats in the distance on the line of the horizon. This was his pursuit, his achievements, his emblem of victory ― yet not the holder of his true contentment. That regard lives only in a more honourable purpose.
In the summer of 2017, as Tim was completing the final strokes to Promised Land, he once again, continued penciling in outlines that resembled his early first ideas. However, transformation steered his hand, yet again. He uncovered an oil sketch which had been set aside for an unknown period and had began as the succession of his decade-long bewitching vision. It was partially drawn upon a thick French board. In the eyes of the artist, this material had a softer more florid feel than the gessoed panels he more often chose to paint upon. No one could guess that would be the cause for another unpredictable spin-off with an indirect consequence. There is no defining factors that constitute this feeling. Nonetheless, it was Tim's personal notion that this particular substrate was to portray a more innocent theme, which further swayed from the intensity of the original concept.
Perhaps it was his subconscious fearing the fulfillment of something that sparked such extensive inspiration. Perhaps so many years had passed that his mind had matured and moved on to a place that could never return to the younger artist who devised those aging inked lines. Whatever the reason, his new painting veered again, becoming a youthful androgynous version of the womanly first figure of I Come to Rest. Half-swathed in striped textiles, torso wounded and bandaged, this child holds an open book with a gathering of romantic clues that heed Tim’s love for his wife Amy. From this book, from this body, sparrows flourish outwards like a poetic swarm. The birds, this time, they tell the future.
Libretto & Sparrows was painted like an opera. Its theatric endeavor is to share the artist's love, dramatize his wounds, and sense both love and pain in a tender-minded guise. Complicated and enigmatic, Tim Cantor grants us all the telltale keys to his riddle, clearly viewed, cleanly rendered, yet out of reach from the indifferent. His painting’s allure is clear, exquisite, esthetically polished, and rendered with the most paramount of skill. His meanings, however, are most often far from clear. Like the stage of an opera ― lit, colorful, sumptuous and enticing ― yet performed in Italian. Libretto & Sparrows' divine scene holds our gaze, but if we are among the inquisitive who peer deeper, decrypting its dialect, we will find a story. We will be told of two children in love ― painted as one ambiguous youth. A child of semblance ― Amy’s lips and nose, Tim's eyes and hands, holding a book that scrolls the dates, figures, and ages they met and their many years together. Bandaged is the scar that the artist sustained at age 47. While the birds, in this calling, illustrate ‘time’ itself, foretelling the thousands of experiences and places the artist and his wife will visit in the 26 years they will have shared together by the date of this painting’s creation.
It could be said that Libretto & Sparrows was the decisive final impetus to fulfilling his enduring ambition to, after more than a decade, creating an accordant oil painting of his original plan. The firm grip this impression had on his soul was not going away. As Libretto & Sparrows was instigated with authentic intentions of delivering his lasting haunt to the tangible world, and yet once again, veered away, its violet background, however, was created well before it altered course. What swayed its course was impelled merely by the soft medium on which it was begun. That favored background, however, would now be echoed onto a solid gessoed panel to which Tim Cantor finally begins what will be his closest resemblance to I Come to Rest’s first bold-hearted objective.
Those early drawings that had so long preyed upon him were, at last, coming loyally to light as a precious requisite, destined to be titled, The Thieves of May. More wounded, more elusive, and even a bit more aggressive than the first inked and penciled concepts, this winsome refined painting would still be, undeniably, their closest kindred since their birth.
Unlike the vivid nature of the hummingbirds in I Come to Rest, which beautified a parallel meaning, the black birds of The Thieves of May thrust a more hostile blow. They are a burden. They are the ‘thieves’ of delight, held within as the dark sides of memories. This, indeed, was Tim Cantor's original purpose ― to shed light on the comprehension that memories tow the lines of both joys and sadness. If one can somehow expel the latter ― holding no regrets, no sorrows, no dampening desires ― then perhaps the fortunes of existence might fully thrive. But nostalgia is human nature. It is our way. Knowing this, Tim Cantor paints his observation not as a lecture, but as a fictitious reverie of his own ponderous knowledge of this great constant of reality that cannot be changed. It will forever haunt his perceptive eyes. Perhaps this is why these birds perpetually circle around the reflections of Tim Cantor, continually guiding his brush with passionate intent?
Ten years in the making, countless inspired works in-between, The Thieves of May would be a fascinating work of art created by one mind in two chapters of life. Its elegance is that of a matured painter, while its temper captures a decade of an artist's evolution ― an evolutionary creative track that could be seen as one of the more intense examples of complex growth within Tim Cantor's canon. In an extraordinary manner, we can candidly follow Tim Cantor’s ancestral obsession through from his inception of life ― from the adolescent five year old who painted his first image in oil, through his youth, his luminous marriage, his twenties, thirties, forties, and everything ever-changing that his mind has openly rendered. We sense his youthful simplicity. We endure his struggles. We witness his astounding rise as we see and read enriching depth with every new painting. And heretofore, we observe the works of a tempestuous mind who has traveled the earth in search of refinement, bringing to us some of the most elegant and meaningful paintings of our time.
The Thieves of May is a wondrous endorsement of that belief. Its contrastive qualities of grace and blatancy dance off the surface with precision. Its vagueness intentionally lets the viewer sense themselves as the subject. And the birds. The birds, cast in movement, driving out of the human body like an explosion; obliged to accept whatever it is we heed upon their reason. But, what are they to their maker? Why do they hold such profound importance to this artist, turning up again and again and again? Black birds, white birds, hummingbirds, cranes, sparrows, and even the make-believe; each thick-full of feelings and meanings and great personal confession.
The inconstant nature of Tim Cantor perpetually eludes universal meaning to his paintings. Recurring subject matter seldom carries recurrent rationale. The black birds of The Thieves of May boldly renders the release of one's own internal oppression. While in stark contrast, the birds of The Selfless Ballerina are held protectively in place, as jewels of an artistic freedom. Simplified and barely there, they are the seeds of doubt in The Savior, placing the distant trace of uncertainty into a painting that weeps of absolute trust.
The birds; they are loneliness and solitude. They are realization. They are memories. They are strength. They are weakness. And they are love. What they are not, within Tim Cantor's realm, are one and the same. Their variations scope the plains of unpredictability. Nonetheless, there is one definitive connection that all of these birds do, indeed, share. They collectively bare a divine eagerness ― a driving awareness that defies the gravity of apathy as they float their changing ways throughout a painter’s impassioned art. They surge across his canvases with a fathomless respect for life. This is their heart. And perhaps, Tim Cantor had told us this, clearly, a decade before he fulfilled his enduring goal. Perhaps he tells us this with every wing he paints, in every detailed stroke, and in those simple nine words written so many years before,
“Love not the past less, but the future more.”
'The Thieves of May,' concept I
'I Come to Rest,' 2009, oil on wood panel
'I Come to Rest,' detail
'I Come to Rest,' concept XI, (detail)
'Shots' 2014-15, oil on wood panel
'Words of the Wiser,' 2016, oil on wood panel
'Promised Land,' 2016, oil on wood panel
'Libretto & Sparrows,' 2013-17, oil on Arches imported board
'The Thieves of May,' concept II
'The Thieves of May,' 2017, oil on wood panel
'The Thieves of May,' detail
Find out more
Observations of Tim Cantor's paintings:
This acclaimed youtube series, narrated by BBC's John Cavanagh, highlights diverse subjects and views within Tim Cantor's paintings
List of descriptive poems & writings
Pore over the many written narratives the Tim Cantor writes to interpret his paintings, sometimes straightforward, and so often abstract.
Drawings & Conceptual: works
Browse Tim Cantor's original concept works that are currently offered. Many have fascinating particulars to discover.