Posts Tagged ‘paddle in’

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 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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