Posts Tagged ‘hiking’

Sarah Carlson: Perennial Threshold

Monday, April 11th, 2016

Over March Break, we and our partners at Algonquin Provincial Park were fortunate enough to host Sarah Carlson for the Perennial Threshold spring residency. She sent us her description of her time in the park, along with a few pictures of her experience.

The wilderness has always brought me great clarity and perspective. Along with a heightened awareness of my surroundings comes increased understanding both of myself as a maker and as a strand in the web of life. Hiking, paddling and climbing are frequent jumping-off points for the conceptual development of my work. Since the diversity of the landscape propels my investigation into human-environment exchanges, I immediately seized the opportunity of being the Perennial Threshold artist in residence at Algonquin Provincial Park.

Going into the Algonquin Art Centre residency, my plan was to cultivate a connection to place and to work on large-scale paintings in preparation for my April solo exhibition in Toronto entitled ReWILDING. This exhibition positions the Canadian Landscape as a site for questioning and (re)imagining relationships between humans and the natural world.

The beautiful yet unpredictable spring weather meant for multiple types of footwear, from snowshoes to traction aids to rain boots.  Hikes and plein air sketches were followed by hours in the studio/cabin translating my experiences onto canvas. I was listening and learning from the trickling creeks, rustling conifers and forest critters. It’s hard not to have multiple “Snow White” moments with birds landing on you and squirrels climbing on you while you’re taking a photograph or painting. I also had the privilege of learning from park naturalists and biologists. These conversations and experiences continue to resonate with me and I am excited for the new directions this residency has inspired!

It was amazing to watch Sarah at work. Her time was so productive she was able to finish some large-scale pieces, which are now on display as part of the ReWilding exhibit at Toronto’s Graven Feather gallery. For a special treat, we were fortunate enough to attend the opening last Friday!

If you’re in the Toronto area before May 1st and cruising around Queen West, we definitely recommend stopping in for the exhibit. These huge canvasses are striking in person, and you get pulled into her otherworldly colours the same way you’re coaxed into the landscape when you’re out in the wild.  Find all the information at Graven Feather’s website!
In the meantime, this was such a successful partnership between Algonquin, Sarah, and the Art Centre that we’re getting more and more excited for our next round of residencies. We can’t wait to get our next one under way, so stay posted!

Off-Season Artists: Jan Wheeler

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

Just in time for the springy weather, we’ve got another Off-Season Artist! In this series Alex, who spends his time pacing the vaulted halls of the internet, head reverently bowed as his footsteps echo into digital eternity, interviews one of our artists to learn about their process and personality.
This week, it’s landscape painter Jan Wheeler! 

So let’s get right into it. Your style is very difficult to pin down. Your landscapes are both very naturalistic but also otherworldly. There’s a monumentally static quality to your rocks and hills, but they all flow together in swirls and motion. How do you reconcile these seemingly competing elements so effectively?
Each piece sets out to share the rhythms and forces I’ve observed. There’s always an underlying rhythm, perhaps the strong winds of a storm, or a gently rippling breeze.
It’s that underlying rhythm that shapes the piece. Whether sky, water, rocks or hills, the wind flows over and sculpts all. Light and shadows from the skies flow over rocks and hills with the same force and rhythm. I work with all the elements together to create the choreography of the composition. The fluid lines and curving form draw the viewer’s eye smoothly through the piece so they too can feel the wind at play.

“Montreal River Harbour”

Who would you say were your influences in developing this style? It’s quite unlike a lot of other landscape painting out there.
A major influence for me was a contrary one: Cezanne. By that, I mean that while he explored planes of light and form in a landscape, I was aware of a curving form. I knew I had to diverge from his work to find a way to interpret what I was “seeing”.  The artist I consider the key influence would be Henry Moore, whose tumbling, flowing forms enabled me to see how I could develop the flowing movement I was trying to capture.

Paul Cezanne, “La Mont Sainte-Victoire” and Henry Moore, “Reclining Figure”

Wow. Now that you mention it, I can really see that. I understand you also have a great deal of different regional influences. You’ve travelled quite a bit throughout the world—Japan, Saudi Arabia, the UK, Italy—and clearly you’ve used your diverse experiences to hone your style. What overseas experience would you say was the most valuable for making your art what it is today?
I would have to say that my time in London, UK was most valuable. I was able to study the works of many great artists and explore my own interpretation of landscape against that inspirational backdrop.
I played with the curving light and form of London’s plain trees and the rolling hills of the South Downs. During this time of development I worked in an office across from the Tate Gallery, with a Henry Moore sculpture in its front courtyard. His fluid, smooth forms draw the eye through and around the three-dimensional forms almost without awareness.  Seeing his work in situ sent my mind racing through the possibilities of my own developing style by further exploring the fluid movement and rhythms of a landscape.

“Wind Sculpted Skies”

In spite of all that travel, more than any other subject the interaction between big Canadian waters and their skies seems to captivate your attention. I’m thinking of “Wind Sculpted Skies” in particular, one of your most ominous paintings and one of my favourites. What draws you to those subjects?
I’m drawn to the movement in landscape and want to capture a scene, not in its stillness, but in its living. Water and skies are rich with rhythm and simply captivating when observing. They’re a challenge for me with complex dramatic shifts that require complex choreography within the composition.
“Wind Sculpted Skies” is a scene from the shores of Lake Superior. The painting describes a long, age-worn rocky peninsula weathering once again the force of an expansive storm front. Strong winds drive and sculpt the sky, providing a rich choreography for me to work with.

There’s no place quite like Lake Superior, is there? On that note, you’ve done quite a bit of backpacking and canoeing. What’s your favourite natural space to get into in Canada, and why?
The north shore of Lake Superior never fails to inspire and challenge me. I’m captivated by the geologic forces in constant battle there, and on a scale that can be very hard to bring down to even a large canvas. Its geologic age gives it an underlying weight that resonates in the rhythms I observe.
For an artist who loves to work with stormy skies and turbulent water, the great lake provides me with a rich range of awe-inspiring moments.

“Break in the Storm”

Speaking of getting out and working on pieces in the open air, one of the notable things about your paintings is their sheer size and ambition. When you’re in the presence of one, boy does it take over! What’s the process of going from mobile sketch to huge canvas like for you?
It’s great to hear that the paintings are connecting with you.
While on location I sketch, take photos and if I have colour with me, I’ll do a colour study for later reference. The scale and complexity of the scene usually dictates the scale of the final piece. The larger the scale of the scene and the more complex the underlying rhythms, the larger the final painting needs to be.
A final drawing precedes the painting, where I work out the rhythm in the landscape in a finished composition. This is important in order to have a consistent flow for the eye to follow; to draw the viewer into the underlying dance of the scene.
On canvas, I can develop the flowing scene more as the brush moves and blends the colour throughout the piece. The largest piece I’ve completed is a 48”x60”, which, if you know me, is as big as I am and that brings its own challenges.  The extra work is worth it though as a larger canvas lets me develop and express more dramatic and complex scenes.

And last but not least, just for fun: what’s something we might not know about you?
Well, over the years I’ve had encounters with a lot of wildlife: a bobcat, fisher, weasels, elk, bears and many more. But probably the most memorable was when I was kissed by a camel in the Saudi desert.
I was with my husband and a group of friends, heading across flat sands to the Red Sea for some snorkelling when we came across a female camel and her two youngsters.
We stopped some distance away and watched quietly, taking pictures. The curious young camels playfully approached, soon followed by the mother. Everyone in my group backed up out of range, worried about an attack by the mother.  I could see the mother wasn’t stressed and felt it best if I just stood quietly, making no moves.
The kids stopped before they reached me and looked on with curiosity but kept their distance. It was the mother who stepped up to me. She slowly, gently sniffed my face, my hair and then gently rubbed a cheek. She looked at me carefully one more time and then her incredibly long tongue washed my face in a big kiss. Astonished, yet careful not to move, I spoke to her quietly, thanking her, and watched as she and her kids went on their way.

“Shimmering Lumsden Lake”

That’s it for Jan Wheeler! She’s a delight and we can’t get enough of her art…
Check in soon for our next Off-Season Artists post!

Off-Season Artists: Joseph Koensgen

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

It’s that time again! Here’s our next edition of Off-Season Artists! That’s where Alex, who takes flight on majestic wings of Wifi, spends a little time talking to our favourite creators.
In this instalment,  he interviews painter, photographer, hiker, and conservationist, Joseph Koensgen.

So Joseph, I’d love to hear a little bit about what life was like growing up. Did you live in the Winnipeg area all your life? When did your fascination with the outdoors begin?
Yes, I have lived in the Winnipeg area my whole life. I grew up just outside of Winnipeg where there were many forests and fields close by. I was always an outdoors kid, wanting to explore, and I was just generally interested in being in nature. I always had a love of animals and any chance I could get to try and see some I would, with most of my observations coming from backyard birds at the birdfeeder. I also had the great fortune of many family trips to Riding Mountain National Park, a place I still frequent. This gem in Manitoba played a huge part in my love of nature as its untouched landscape inspired me then, and still does today.

I believe it! Part of that affinity for the outdoors seem to stem from a tremendous love for hiking. I’m guessing that came about when you were younger as well. Your Instagram is full of images of big-sky Manitoba from a natural, isolated vantage point. Where are your favourite places to hike? And aside from providing visual subjects for your painting, how does being out in nature contribute to your art?
I absolutely love to hike. Getting out into nature with a good trail and a camera is one of my favourite things to do, and my Instagram feed would give a pretty good glimpse of what I like to do and where I like to go. My favourite places to hike in Manitoba are Riding Mountain National Park and Whiteshell Provincial Park. A little closer to home would be Bird’s Hill Provincial Park, a smaller but equally enjoyable place to hike. Each season in these places offers something different with the pinnacle of colour and inspiration being the fall. Being in these places and getting inspired by a scene is what goes into my art. Seeing it and feeling it means I am able to put those things, as best I can, into my art. I’ve noticed that my best work comes from something directly inspired by an experience rather than something I’ve pieced together from multiple locations. Not to say that I can’t be inspired by many things, but a rewarding feeling is being patient enough to capture a scene as it happens, and translate that into a piece of art. There is always a range of emotions I experience when this happens and it’s a delight to see it come out in my art.

This set of passions also must tie into your work as a naturalist and conservationist. Can you tell me a bit about your background there? What led you down that path? What kind of work do you do in those fields?
It was a fairly recent addition to my passion as a nature artist. As I had grown in my interest and skill as a nature artist, I began to read and learn more about the concerns and conservation issues all around me. I then joined an organization called Artists for Conservation in 2013, which was doing something that I wanted to do myselfuse art as an avenue to raise awareness and money for the conservation of the natural world. And since then I have been involved in their annual shows and have used my art and sales for just that. I have also submitted art for the Ducks Unlimited Canada National Art Portfolio, which sells prints to raise money for wetland conservation. I have had the honour of being selected in 2012, 2014, 2015, and 2016. This has been a wonderful experience, and I will continue to submit work, as well as work with other conservation organizations.


Moving on to your art, I notice a real visual unity in each painting. It’s something about the way you bring together your tones and compositions to make the wildlife one with their surrounding landscape. It really does remind me of encountering wildlife on a hike. It’s always an amazing moment, but without the accentuation or fanfare that some painters might add to their wildlife subjects. How did you arrive at that style?
When I was young, I wasand still amvery inspired by one of the great wildlife painters, Robert Bateman. I studied his work when I was young and well into high school. After taking a long break, I found myself wanting to do art again. I bought a camera and started up again, working from my pictures. I usually try and depict the animal the way I’ve seen it, in its natural setting without getting too lost into how I think it would act or behave. And the experience of seeing these animals is something I’m striving to recreate at the easel. Of course, I’m also interested in a pleasing composition, but I’ve hopefully steered clear of anthropomorphizing my subject too much. But there is a certain look to my art that I am going for. I like colour harmony and pleasing shapes and motions in my paintings. I like to keep the realism to a point to where you could say, “I’ve seen something like that!” I love hearing that, because if my art brings someone back to somewhere or something they’ve experienced, then I know I’ve captured it well.


In terms of wildlife, birds seem to be your most enduring subject. What makes them such a favourite of yours?
It started from a young age. I had always been interested in animals, and birds were very accessible because I could sit at the window and watch them come to the backyard bird feeder. It was a fantastic venture for a kid interested in nature. I would love to see what types of birds would show up and at what time of year. As well as researching what types of things would get uncommon species out in front of my camera. As I got older my affinity for birds remained, and I have been able to see more and more types of birds as my travels have expanded and the digital age of cameras has made it easy to capture. 

I notice that in your paintings—even when they’re a sweeping mountain image like “Across the Valley,” which I love!—you often seem to be working from a high angle or zoomed in close. It’s often a creature framed by the ground or foliage around them, without extending the composition upwards into the sky. Is that the focused photographer in you? The naturalist’s scrutiny?

“Across the Valley”

By the way, while we’re speaking of “Across the Valley,” where did that painting originate? It looks like parts of the Yukon to me.
I would say that is more the focused photographer in me. I do want to accurately portray the settings I choose, so the naturalist in me pays attention to that, but my art is heavily influenced by my eye as a photographer. Although, recently I have been inspired to expand my paintings into some more large and sweeping compositions that include skies and mountains. Mostly because of a recent trip to the Yukon, as you accurately noticed about one of the first paintings I did from that trip, “Across the Valley”. The Yukon was one of the most amazing natural wilderness areas I’ve been to. Huge mountains, large sweeping valleys, and thousands of kilometers of untouched forest. Truly the nature lover’s playground. Even though I have yet to really get many pieces out from that trip thus far, I’ve got a great number of ideas that include these huge skies. I hope to expand my work in that way for a few pieces as I think it’s good to continually change things up and be inspired by different landscapes. It’s also a good thing to keep oneself challenged by new and engaging ideas that at first glance, seem tough to recreate with paint, but would be very rewarding as a finished painting. 

I couldn’t agree more about the Yukon. If the word “epic” were a location, that’d be it! But just to finish up: just for fun, what’s something we might not know about you?
I have been playing the guitar for about 15 years. I started when I was a teenager and just kept it going from there. What I like to play is blues guitar. I’ve always enjoyed blues music and the great expression that can be done when playing a blues guitar solo. I don’t play as often as I used to, but I still enjoy it just as much.


 So that’s Joseph Koensgen! It was a pleasure to get to know him…
We’ll be back in a couple of weeks with another interview, so stay posted, art lovers!

The Western Uplands with Alex

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

Alex, our Social Media Manager, recently took some time to visit one of the backpacking trails near the Algonquin Art Centre. You can read all about his adventures here!

That’s me! Also, there’s a map of the trail section so you can follow along. Click to enlarge and get a closer look! 

I’ve loved backpacking ever since I first hiked the Lake Superior Coastal Trail with my best friend in 2008. The mountains, tundra, and coasts that I’ve hiked since then are amazing, but the Canadian Shield holds a special place for me, so I never miss an opportunity to get out and do a trek in Ontario. This time, it was the Western Uplands trail in Algonquin Park.

I had also been meaning to try out a solo backpacking trip for a while, so I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to take it to that next level in country I’m familiar with. I chose Western Uplands because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t undertaking anything too extreme for my first solo, and you can do a two-night loop, hiking around 12 to 15 km a day. With that in mind, I mustered my gear, caught a ride in with our General Manager Joel and our staffer Jenna, and set out.

Day 1
Make no mistake. I look cheerful but my flesh is being steadily consumed by insects.

This being late July, the trail’s first impression was “You are now in bug-country. Prepare to pay the blood-tax to your insect-overlords.”
And yes. I definitely did.

As soon as we snapped that trail-head picture, Joel and Jenna jumped back in the car and headed to the gallery, while I quickly coated myself in Muskol. Health-concerns aside, Deet is one of our greatest achievements as a species. Once I was sprayed down, the bugs left me pretty well alone, so I booted up and got on the trail.
My first night’s destination was West Maggie Lake, about 16 km in a winding, north-westerly direction.

This part of Algonquin maintains a pretty high elevation, which forces the clouds to drop a lot of their precipitation to the west of the park. The vegetation is much denser and more varied than where I’ve done most of my Algonquin hiking, in more easterly places like the Highland Trail and Centennial Ridges. Day one was a lot of dense bush, crossing streams and bogs, and steadily climbing to the high lake where I’d be camping.

There weren’t too many people on trail. I did, however, face a great deal of territorial posturing from some very gutsy collared grouse. They look like a greyish, mottled turkey, and they scoot around with their heads down until you get too close. Then—POOF—they shoot up, puff out their tail and collar, and rush you! It can be pretty startling to be honest, but you just keep on forging ahead and they leave you alone. After a while, it’s just funny.
I wanted to keep a fairly quick pace, so other than a stop or two when there were enough predatory damsel-flies to keep the mosquitoes at bay, the day was pretty uneventful.

After about 6 hours, I came to the eastern tip of Maggie Lake, where you peel off from the main trail to loop around West Maggie. I trekked along the lake until I found the perfect site. It was at the very western tip of the lake and looked east onto some rocky islands. One look at that view, and I made camp right away.
After getting my site in order, I had two cravings: coffee and washing off.
(Coffee first, obviously.)
After coffee, I was feeling so hot and sticky that I just needed to get refreshed, and Maggie Lake is great for a splash around.

That little island—which probably has a name, but I’m going to call it Spruce Island—was a perfect destination. It gave me the chance for a good 150-meter swim and some warm, flat, shoreline rocks to catch the westerly sun while some enormous spruce trees towered over me.

It was beautiful.
But the sun was getting lower, so I swam back to camp, made my dinner, and after reading my book for a while, secured my bear-hang and turned in for the night.

 Day 2

The woodpeckers woke me up just after the sun rose. I can’t tell you how beautiful the view from my tent was, so I’ll just show you.


Now, an experienced trekker knows that on any trip longer than two days will have one Hell-day. It’ll never be the first or final day but can otherwise occupy any place in the trip. So, by process of elimination, on a three-day trip you just know you’re going to run into trouble on day two.
Conveniently, I forgot this rule as I woke up, broke camp, and set out.

Don’t get me wrong, the day’s hike was beautiful, especially as I set out around Maggie Lake to meet back up with the main trail. But, day two constituted the top of the trek’s loop, heading east, which hikes you up onto ridges that are both stony and boggy, and inhabited by swarms of mosquitoes. My legs were sore, my pack felt heavy trudging up the largest elevation changes on the trail, and that late coming summer we were having decided to hit me with a day around 29 degrees and dense, humid wetland air.
This is also when the deer flies found me.

I had an exciting moment after climbing out of the Mink Creek ravine when I met a black bear grazing in one of the bogs I trudged through. It’s an interesting feeling, encountering a bear on your own. All the going wisdom and bear-training tells you that in the overwhelming majority of bear sightings, the animal flees as soon as it sees you. But in the back of your mind, there’s that inescapable knowledge in your brain that says “Wow. If it decided to, this animal could really mess me up.”
But I stopped and, as expected, after a few moments the bear noticed me and took off like a shot. No worries!

Not long after that, at about mid-day, I turned onto a side-trail up to Norah Lake. It was a bit more of a climb than I’d like in the middle of a gruelling day, but it’s pretty much the highest point on the trail and I wanted a nice spot to break for a while.
I wasn’t disappointed.

Norah has a beautiful platform of rocks overlooking the water, and I spent a long lunch watching a family of loons fish on the lake. It was exactly what I needed to get some wind back in my sails.

At that point, it was only a couple of hours to my day two destination, Panther Lake. I was a little nervous about this spot, since it only has one campsite and—I’ll admit it—I’m kind of afraid of the dark. That’s multiplied when you haven’t seen a single person all day and you get to thinking about marauding bears and Wendigos. Another fun fact: my reading for this trip was The Fellowship of the Ring, and on this night I just happened to be reading about the Black Riders.
So that definitely added to the “alone in the woods” jitters.

Fortunately, Panther Lake had a beautiful site waiting for me, with some of the most enormous spruce trees I’ve ever seen in Ontario. I honestly didn’t know we had them that huge out here. Even though the water-access was a little rough, it made for a great looking spot…

I was way too bushed to think about anything except getting some food in me and getting to bed, so other than a few nervous glances into the trees, I fell asleep pretty quickly.

 Day 3

There’s always a mixed bag of emotions on the final day of a trek. You’re sore and tired, but it’s sad to leave the trail behind. Fortunately, this was my shortest day, clocking in at around 11 or 12 km. This leg closes the hike’s loop by coming down out of the highlands and heading south towards the highway, so the trail is also mostly downhill, which was a treat for the legs.

With all that in mind, I took my time and enjoyed the walk. I saw my first human being for about 36 hours around Dace Lake, and from there to the highway there was a steady stream of people just starting out on the trail. They were all friendly and asked questions, mostly about the bugs, and I tried not to have a grizzled, thousand-meter stare as I responded that they weren’t too bad.
Nobody needs that when they’re just starting out…

I only made one substantial stop, at Guskewau Lake, which has to be the most picturesque lake of the whole hike, with rolling hills and good, wide water that makes for a stiff breeze. From there, it was just a straight shot down Guskewau Creek, all the way to the marshy flats around the trailhead. And there I heard the best sound for any trekker at the end of a trip: cars on the highway.

I hitched a ride from a super-nice young couple from New York, and met up with my friends at the Algonquin Art Centre.


Final Thoughts

I was pretty pleased with how this trek came together. I ate most of my food, with the exception of my emergency extras. I wore every piece of clothing I carried as well, so it was nice to know I have my garment-packing locked down. Both clothes and food were in the right quantities. I didn’t touch my extra bottle of fuel though, so I’ll learn from that and pack a little less next time.
But all in all, I managed well!

On a personal level, I learned a little about myself. Although I’ve backpacked a lot with close friends and I love that experience, I also took a lot away from this trip. I felt at peace and ease, and found myself really taking the time just to look at the world around me without feeling the need to comment on it. That’s a pretty special feeling for an extrovert like me, and I’ll carry the lesson forward.

My conclusion is this: trekking with a friend is more fun, but by yourself is more beautiful.
I can’t wait for my next trip, whichever kind it is.

Algonquin Art Centre - Gallery in the Heart of Algonquin Park

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