Posts Tagged ‘naturalist’

Peter B. Mills’ Metamorphosis

Sunday, July 10th, 2016
We love it when art and science intertwine! One of our artists, Peter B. Mills, is both a fantastic painter and an accomplished naturalist, and he’s just published a book called Metamorphosis. It traces the double life of amphibians, depicting the amazing natural changes that occur throughout their life-cycles.
With our theme of Metamorphosis this season, we’re excited to see one of our partners engaging with a natural process like this. Featuring writing and original illustrations from Peter, this book is a great resource for the citizen scientist who loves getting out and going deep on understanding their environment.
You can see that understanding in Peter’s artistic work as well. The life and habits of his subjects animate his paintings in unique ways. Here’s a look into his thinking about one piece on display at the Algonquin Art Centre…
“Lord of the River” is the phrase that came to mind as I watched this ancient male Wood Turtle plod across a shallow riffle and out into a small brook here in Algonquin Park.  Rather than enter the brook with the flow of the water, he cut a path at a slant to the water sliding over the stony bottom.  This seemed like an act of defiance against his surroundings.  This and the stern golden ring in his eye left me to interpret this animal as one who was a master of his domain.
Algonquin Park is one of the last places in Southern Ontario where Wood Turtles remain as lords of their riverine haunts.  These turtles are crushed by vehicles and agricultural equipment, displaced by development projects, and collected by uninformed people to be kept as pets, all of which lead to population crashes.
“Wood Turtle” is done with translucent paint on an aluminium surface.  As a result, a lively light gleams through the work under natural light.  This seemed like an appropriate way to render an animal that spends so much of its life in shallow, sun-sparkled brooks and rivers.
 “Wood Turtle”
You can get all the information on Peter’s book over on his website. You definitely don’t want to miss out on seeing his pieces in person, so be sure to drop in with us at the Art Centre. You can get a preview of his work right here.
Stop in with us and explore the concept of Metamorphosis through art, while surrounded by Algonquin park’s dynamic environment!
Peter and Joel in the gallery

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!

Off-Season Artists: Joseph Pearce

Friday, November 20th, 2015

Here’s the next instalment in our Off-Season Artists series, in which Alex, our go-to guy for all things internet, has chats with some of the Algonquin Art Centre’s creators. In this edition, we speak with Joseph Pearce, painter, paddler, and all-round lovely guy. So pour a cup of tea, pretend the steam is the mist rising off a lake as you sit in your canoe at sunrise, and enjoy!

Like a lot of the artists in the Canadian tradition of wilderness painters, canoeing seems to be a huge part on your life, and a key point of perspective in your art. Tell me about your background in canoeing. When did you get your start on the water? What was your favourite trip?
Besides my love of family, my love of canoeing is the biggest part of my life. Everything else (including my career) has followed from that.  I got hooked on camping as a kid, but I didn’t really get into a canoe until my late twenties.  Then in October of 1984 (a year before starting my art career), I rented a canoe on Lake Opeongo and did a five-day solo trip to the famous Hailstorm Creek Bog and back.  That was interior trip #1.  It proved to be a challenging, rain-soaked experience, but it still managed to cement my passion for the Algonquin interior.  Thirty-one years and 103 interior canoe trips later, the millions of memories that I have generated have come to define my life from a personal perspective.  Of course, the fact that I have been able to parlay all of those trips into an integral part of a full-time art career is incredibly rewarding—not to mention being very convenient.  I can’t possibly point to any one trip as my favourite.  But I have definitely benefited most from the many important people with whom I have shared my canoe over the years (my wife Helen, my brother John, and a great group of dear friends).
I feelvery fortunate to have been given the opportunity to do what I do… paddle, portage and camp throughout such a magical and mythical piece of Canadian wilderness, and then interpret it, in so many ways, onto canvas in my studio.  I am certainly not the first Canadian to be artistically inspired by Algonquin Park, and I certainly won’t be the last.  I’m just glad to be one of them.

That’s a real-life shot of Joseph’s bow on Lake Traverse at sunrise…
because Algonquin is basically heaven.

In addition to canoeing, I see that you have an educational background in both zoology and fine arts. That’s a real mix! Was one of those your first love and then the other complemented it? Or did you always know you wanted to be an artist-naturalist? I’d love to hear about that progression.
I acquired a passion for (and appreciation of) nature and wildlife at a very young age—passed on from my father.  When I was 14, I bought my first 35mm camera with the express intent of becoming a wildlife photographer, which I later did for a while.  But the study of wildlife remained my first passion, so I first obtained my Bachelor of Science in Zoology (Wildlife Science) from the University of Toronto and then decided to follow through with a Diploma in Photography at Humber College.  Both fields would eventually be critical to the kind of art that I would do, but the art career only started years later.  As for the painting part, I pretty well taught myself… first in watercolours and then in acrylics, and always by striving to improve my technique and to expand my creative vision.  After a couple of years of painting wildlife (based on years of wildlife photos), I decided to focus on Algonquin Park landscapes… and the rest, as they say, is history.

“Ode to a Bog”

I notice a favourite subject of yours is luminescence as it interacts with calm water. What speaks to you about this kind of scene?
‘Luminescence’ is pretty much the constant theme in my landscapes.  Even in the first years of my career, I recognized that my misty sunrise themes yielded the most inspirational compositions, and the most dramatic responses from the public.  Typically, pointing my camera towards the sunrise or sunset results in a dramatic image from which to paint.  It’s also pretty obvious that most Canadians are attracted to water—even those few who don’t get to spend much time on a lake or a river.  Personally, most of my best wilderness experiences have happened in a canoe at sunrise, and usually included the call of a loon or a wood thrush or an olive-sided flycatcher, or the distinctive sounds of a moose feeding at the water’s edge… or sometimes all of the above.  So it stands to reason that I have always endeavoured to be “on the lake” at sunrise—not always an easy thing to do.  And I consequently get to see (and photograph) a lot of scenes with dramatic lighting.  My constant challenge then, in the studio, is to come out with an equally dramatic painting… a challenge that inspires me.

“Young Bull on the Move”

When I look at your use of light, I’m sometimes reminded of the photorealist community, but there’s an otherworldly quality to your work. Who would you say are your major artistic influences? How would You describe your work?
You know, because I came to my art career very gradually (very organically) and because I did not study art in school, I really didn’t have any major artistic influences.  My years of serious photography, before starting to paint from my own photos, really formed the basis of my artistic vision—how I see landscapes.  But I can say (again because of my father’s influence) that I grew up with an appreciation for most of the great Canadian wildlife artists—Robert Bateman, Glenn Loates, Michael Dumas, Fenwick Lansdowne.  And I have always admired the work of two landscape artists from the past: Clarence Gagnon (Canadian) and Maxfield Parrish (American), who both featured light and colour in their art, although in very different ways.  Over the years, some of my own collectors have pointed out that there is a strong similarity between my art and the “Luminism” movement of some American artists of the late 1800’s.  That similarity is entirely accidental, although it’s one that I appreciate.  Consequently, I sometimes refer to my own style as “Neo-Luminism”… focusing on light, depth and atmosphere.  Maybe most importantly, I do paintings that take me back to that original moment on the lake… my own moment.

What are your upcoming plans? Any new themes or images you want to explore? How about new adventures on the water?
At this stage of my career (or of my life), I keep returning to the park to search for that next important composition that might help to eventually define my “oeuvre,” my body of work.  In other words, I want to continue to challenge myself and to continue my paddling and camping in the hope of being on the lake for that next inspirational shot, the next engaging composition from which to work.  And just like so many thousands of other backcountry paddlers, I am in no way tired of getting to Algonquin Park. “The more you go, the more you want to go back.”

“Silver Maple-Golden Study,” a small study on its way to becoming a full-size canvas painting 

And last but not least… just for fun, what’s something we might not know about you?
Well, I find this to be more strange than funny.  As if I haven’t already dropped enough artists’ names, Vincent van Gogh has been a magical thread running through my life, since my teens… long before I ever picked up a brush.  Don McLean’s “Vincent” has always been my favourite song… it still chokes me up!  My 1970’s university dorm room was plastered with Van Gogh posters, to the wonderment of some of my pals.  When I first told a friend about starting to paint in 1985, he spontaneously went out and bought Lust For Life by Irving Stone for me to read… which I did twice.  It’s a biography of van Gogh written in the style of a novel.  Years later, during a challenging encounter with an art agent in Edmonton, a huge sculpture of van Gogh’s portrait by Joe Fafard magically appeared on a Jasper Avenue sidewalk.

It seemed to be looking right at me, helping to bring a smile to my face and calm my mood.  And several other events have maintained that thread in recent years. Too funny… too strange… but true.

That’s it for now! I hope you liked getting to know Joseph a little bit, and stay posted for our next Off-Season Artists!

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