Posts Tagged ‘painting’

Daniel St-Amant: Convergence

Monday, August 15th, 2016

We’re very excited to be hosting our artist, former residency-holder, and good friend Daniel St-Amant for his solo-show, Convergence!

You might remember that last October, Daniel spent a week at Algonquin Provincial Park’s Clarke Lake Cabin. He used that time to gather specimen and natural materials like mud and leaf-litter, to take in the inspiration of the park, and to plan large-scale artworks. His days were spent working on his craft, and at night he got to hear the howling Algonquin wolves.

In the past, Daniel used his signature technique—laying canvasses on the road to pick up the impression of passing cars’ tire-tread, the painting wildlife—to signify the way nature is often closed in and crowded out by human intervention. He would place animals within the confines of human encroachment. But since his time in the wild, his style has moved in a different direction…

Works in progress for the show!

Lately, rather than using human elements as structures of confinement, Daniel allows his wildlife to grow out of the mixed environment of urban and natural materials. It’s a hopeful message about the convergence between the human and animal worlds, and the ways that their interaction can be healthy. It’s an evolution and a progression, conjured up from the melding of very tangible materials from the real world, incorporated into artistic creativity. Daniel has perfectly expressed the spirit of this season’s overarching theme, Metamorphosis.

Join us from now untilSeptember 15th to see these completed pieces and reflect on Convergence in person!

David Grieve: Warm Shore

Wednesday, July 20th, 2016

As the summer progresses and this season’s theme of Metamorphosis continues, we’ve got a new solo show! We’re proud to welcome David Grieve’s Warm Shore, which showcases light and landscape in his signature impressionist style.

David Grieve has worked with oils most of his life. He started out very young, accompanying his mother to her studio, and later attended Guelph University for fine art. All throughout his long painting career, he’s been captivated by landscapes, most importantly the Southwestern Ontario fields he calls home and the rugged woodland of our wilderness.

“Resplendent 2″

David’s style is based on broad bands of colour aligned into impressionistic renderings of the landscape. His technique has some surprising results. It makes you move in, step back, engage with the image, and interrogate the way the trees and hills resolve out of his form. By revealing his brush strokes so dramatically, he adds an extra layer of interpretation onto the already beautiful landscape.

“Warm Shore”

David’s solo show, Warm Shore, specifically explores his use of light. Sunlight’s animating presence transforms a dormant landscape into a kind of radiant wonder-world, brimming with possibility. The daily change of light between sunrise and sunset is among the most fertile territories for an artist to explore. That change reveals new regions overlaid atop familiar geographies. We all know the feeling of revisiting a favourite location at an unfamiliar time of day or year. It’s almost an entirely new place. David’s use of light captures just that experience in his depictions of the familiar Algonquin landscape…

“Wagi, Jumping Rock”

You can experience Warm Shore July 21st to August 15th at the Algonquin Art Centre, located at km 20 in Algonquin Provincial Park. Get all of our details over on the website, Stop by, and let these beautiful interpretations of the landscape guide your experience of Algonquin!

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

David Lidbetter: The Colour of Winter

Sunday, June 5th, 2016

“Late Lies the Wintry Sun”

Now that the gallery is up open and running, we’re excited to announce our first solo exhibition of the season. From now until July 20th, come experience David Lidbetter‘s The Colour of Winter. 

“Tea Lake”

David works from a simple premise. He heads into the wild to find his inspiration, but he doesn’t seek out the conventionally picturesque. He looks for scenes that evoke strong emotion, often feelings of isolation and solitude. You can sense his reflective attitude toward his work as he visually ponders distance, depth, and looks for colour in the muted landscapes of winter.

“New Year’s Day”

This winter saw David out in the bush, taking sketches and impressions of Algonquin in winter. “I love the surprising natural sense of balance and design found in landscape,” he says. “The line, the abstract space and fractured colour are what interest me most.” Anyone who’s examined the cracks in the exposed rocks along the trail or looked through the angles in bare tree branches knows what he means. There’s a disorganised symmetry to nature that David captures perfectly.

“Narrow Way”

 We can’t wait for you to experience this exhibit in person. Take in David’s work 10-5, seven days a week until July 20th!

“Northern Sky 2″

June 1st is Right Around the Corner!

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

In just one week, we’ll be opening our doors for the brand new season, and 2016 is going to be a great year. We seriously can’t wait for our family of art fans and friends to spend some time with us in the awe-inspiring surroundings of Algonquin Provincial Park. And we have some very special announcements to get you excited for this year’s program…

Our 2016 exhibit, Metamorphosis, promises to be fertile ground for conversation and inspiration. This season we’re fascinated by the idea that stasis is a fiction and all life is change. Across biology, ecology, and practices of internal well-being, the art we’ve chosen reflects big ideas. If all life is change, what does our experience of stillness mean? What roles do science and art play in understanding change, and how can they work together? In what ways can we guide change to make things better in ourselves and the world?
Come experience our 2016 lineup of artists and ponder these questions with us!

David Lidbetter, “Morning, Brewer Lake”

We’re very excited to announce that our featured artist for the month of June is David Lidbetter. We’ll be profiling this painter who’s rapidly becoming one of the most potent forces in Canadian art. His muted tones, ingenious takes on perspective and proportion, and all-season passion for Algonquin Park make his work the perfect launch into Spring at the gallery.
We’re thrilled to have David with us, so stay posted as we highlight his work throughout the month of June!

As we hang the new pieces and put the finishing touches on the space, we’re also gearing up for all the things our friends have come to expect. Take in art classes in our gazebo, where you can paint birch bark canoes or learn landscape painting in the style of the Canadian masters. Shop for the perfect gift in our boutique, or stop in for an artist’s talk.
Follow us here on the blog or on our social media channels to stay updated on everything happening at the gallery. Our Twitter is @AlgonquinArt, and you can stay informed on our Facebook page as well! We’ll also be sharing moments on our Instagram, @AlgonquinArtCentre, and keeping abreast of art news, travel, and nature on our Tumblr. There’s a lot of ways to keep in touch and stay informed, so follow us across all of our channels!

All in all, we can’t wait for you to join us and make 2016 a summer to remember in Algonquin.
Experience art in the park!

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!

Perennial Threshold Artist in Residence!

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

We’re so excited to announce that we’ve selected an artist for our Spring 2016 residency, Perennial Threshold.! Friends of Algonquin Art Centre and lovers of all things art and nature… meet Sarah Carlson!

Sarah’s an artist from the GTA with a BFA from York University and a close relationship with the outdoors. She’s explored the backcountry in every way you can imagine, from cycling and paddling to hiking and scaling rock walls!
Her work straddles a number of different media including painting, printmaking, repurposed objects, and collage, while combining seemingly disparate techniques like representative portraiture and geometric abstraction. Just now she’s fascinated by mystical encounters between the realms of the human and the wild. Her work treats themes of growth, decay, symbiosis, and regeneration. You can see why she’s a perfect fit for Perennial Threshold!
Just take a look at this composite piece, “Canmore Caribou.”

From March 11th to the 21st, our partners at Algonquin Provincial Park have provided Sarah lodgings at their Clarke Lake cabin. She’ll be able to use that as a base of operations for her explorations, art-making, and the much needed time in the wild that every naturist-creator needs.
Sarah will also be leading activities and demonstrations at the Visitor Centre at various points throughout the week and they’re open to the public. So stay posted for exact dates and times.
In the meantime, congratulations to Sarah. We can’t wait to see what you get up to in this beautiful part of Ontario!


Off-Season Artists: Michael Dumas

Monday, January 25th, 2016

It’s that time again! Here’s Off-Season Artists, where Alex, intrepid interlocutor of the internet, interrogates some of Canada’s most interesting artists. This edition features Michael Dumas, a realist painter who imbues his canvasses with a sense of elevation and nostalgia that reach beyond simple representation.

 “Watchful,” depicting a red-tailed hawk alongside its creator, Michael Dumas

It’s a pleasure speaking with you, Michael! You’ve had a long career in the arts and naturalism, starting with where you grew up, right outside of Algonquin Park in Whitney. You even spent time as a ranger! I’d love to hear a little bit about your experiences in the bush and how that contributed to who you are.
I guess everyone is influenced by where they grew up, and Algonquin is part of my very earliest memories. We would often take Sunday drives in the park when I was very young, and that was when there was a lot of deer in the park. I remember feeding the deer by hand, just like in those early postcards from the late 1950s and early ’60s. When I was a bit older, I had the opportunity of exploring a few of the hiking trails, and I spent a lot of time in the bush on the outskirts of the park. Being a ranger was an extension of all that, and something that I took to quite naturally.
Among the things that have stayed with me from all this is a vivid sense of nature as something dynamic, changing from moment to moment. When you’re in the bush day and night, every day for weeks at a time, you become intensely aware of weather, the wind and the rain, the passing of the sun, wildlife, whether you can find dry firewood, and so on. You become sensitized and very observant of the world around you, and it is a mix of both pleasure and hardship. Even a simple thing like having really cold water to drink is something very rare in the bush, and if you come across a spring on a hot, humid, summer day, it’s like striking gold. This combination of hardship, awareness, and moments of comfort and natural beauty, really does have a lasting influence. If you’re an artist, it’s bound to influence your work.

Michael in 1970, his ranger days

I notice that your education is a blend of art and ornithology. Which would you say was your first love, being a naturalist or being an artist? How do the two occupations come together in your art?
Experiencing nature has been instrumental to my art, but my art is first and foremost an expression of self, and that comes first. I do more work involving birds than any other single subject, and maybe it has something to do with childhood experiences. We always had winter bird feeders, and I also have some very early memories of being shown nests with eggs and baby birds in them. My mother used to put out short pieces of yarn and twine on a cedar in the front yard for the cedar waxwings to put in their nests. Swallows would nest high up under the eaves of the stable and my grandfather’s workshop. Seeing birds was an everyday event, and I never tired of watching them.
When I was maybe seven or eight years old, a bird had flown into the kitchen window right behind where I was sitting. By the time I ran out to see what it was the bird was already dead. It was a sparrow, and I remember picking it up and being fascinated by the colours and markings of its feathers. Of course, I’d seen sparrows before, but not up close, literally right in my hands. I hated the idea of just tossing such a beautiful thing away, and that was probably my first attempt at holding on to something by drawing it. This all just came about without any planning on my part, just me following a natural inclination of the moment. And, I suppose that’s pretty much at the heart of both what I do, draw, and paint, and what my subjects are: things that draw my attention. And if the interest is strong enough it winds up being expressed in either a drawing or painting, often both.

“Recumbent Grace”

Speaking of your favourite natural subjects, starting in the late 70s you really launched into conservation efforts. Now you’re known as a force in Canadian conservation. What prompted that initiative that’s had such a profound effect on your life and your art?
I think my involvement in conservation efforts is a very natural one. People care and protect the things they love. I am aware of the many objective reasons for conservation and preservation, and they are all good, solid, and sound. In the end though, it’s the emotional aspect of it all that really has the final say, and it’s the underlying reason so much of my time over the years has been devoted to it.

Now in terms of your artistic style, what guided you towards realism?
I draw and paint in response to either a direct experience or a concept that comes to mind, and my thoughts relating to both are always in the form of realistic images. I think the reason for this is simply because there is not a moment of our waking lives that is not directly connected to imagery of real things. When we read or listen to a story, when we think of family and friends, places we’ve been, and any memory we might have, it is realistic images that form in our minds. Even our subconscious, such as when we dream, is in the form of realistic images regardless of the emotional content of those dreams.
So in this sense, realism is the fundamental experience of life, and because of this, it is also a universal means of communication. I certainly want my work to be relatable, to communicate with the viewer. But real life experience is always subject to a high degree of interpretation because of our individual preferences, biases, and so on. This is what makes realism in art quite different than, say, the realism found in a photograph. The artist working by hand has a very differentandI would argue a much widerrange of purely subjective choices at every turn of the process. The end results are also influenced by the unconscious individual ‘touch,’ much like one’s signature.

“Hardwood Down” and “Stable Mates”

I have to admit I just love the paintings that focus on chopped wood or rustic tools, with small wildlife perched and hanging out around them. There’s something so charming, and the textures are perfect for your style. Where did the inspiration for that series come from?
Well, all these things I’ve been saying can be applied to subjects dealing with man-made objects. I’m painting what I know, things imbued with meaning to me personally. All of these objects I’ve included in a painting are familiar because I’ve actually used them, or has been directly observed being used. I know what it feels like to heft an axe, walk into the coolness of a stone mill on a hot day, or feel the silvery patina on the handle of a well-used implement. The wildlife that finds its way into my paintings is just exactly those species that you see in that environment. The sparrows that appear so frequently in these paintings are not generic representations of the species, but individual birds I have come to know over time. It’s all very personal.

“Down Time”

Within the realm of realism, I notice a preference for muted tones: russets, muted golds, pale light… something almost like soft stage-lighting. What attracts you to that aesthetic?
It comes from being selective in the use of the various things that make up a painting. This applies to colour, but also to manipulating edges or adjusting tonal ranges, or detail emphasized in key areas but subdued or eliminated in others. Being selective is part of the process at every stage, even to precisely locating the various elements within the painting’s borders, adjusting the proportions of the painting itself, and so on.
But getting back to colour and how it directs the variety and range of colours used. It has a lot to do with light, and the purpose light serves in a work. Light can be considered like the French Impressionists did, where all the colours in the prism are contained in white light. And if you work from that premise it is a natural path to emphasizing the colour spectrum and making it a primary feature. On the other hand, you can view light first as a means of illumination. In this case, the effect is to reveal three-dimensional structure and how the patterns of light and dark contribute to revealing shape, depth, and surface texture. Selectively manipulating all of this in just the right way can lead to a heightened dimensional effect. So it’s a matter of emphasis. The first premise emphasizes colour first, and the second premise emphasizes form. That’s not to say the emphasis on one eliminates the other, but it does tend to sort out which is primary and foundational, and which plays a supportive role.
Your question clearly indicates which approach I am inclined to work within, but maybe I haven’t really addressed why I am attracted to that aesthetic. I think there are a couple of reasons, the first being that all of my work is based on drawing, and drawing is essentially the description of form and as such it doesn’t require colour. I don’t separate my drawings from my paintings, so paintings become extensions of the drawing process rather than something entirely different. In the vast majority of my work, colour is a means to support and enhance the drawing element, not the other way around. Couple this with my preference in subject matter and exercising restraint by being selective and you get the general approach of my work.
Oh, but one more thing about colour and subject matter. If I choose a very colourful subject, the colour is there in the painting too, but not at the expense of reducing form. Something very colourful, such as a peacock, will still be treated with a version of light as illumination. In fact, I have done that in a painting called “Indigo and Umber,” and even though colour is a primary feature it does not reduce the importance of form. It is also a good example of how my work can be said to be realistic, but it is a realism greatly filtered through very personal preferences and emotional responses.

“December Twilight”

What an amazing chat with Michael! I just loved hearing him speak about his ideas concerning the use of colour and light…
I can’t wait to interview our next artist, so stay tuned and we’ll be back soon with David Grieve!

Off-Season Artists: Josh Tiessen

Thursday, December 17th, 2015

Here’s the next instalment in our ongoing series, Off-Season Artists. In these interviews Alex, the guy we send off on a portage through the winding watercourses of the interwebs, spends a little time getting to know our artists.
This time, he’s speaking with Josh Tiessen, an amazing high-realist artist from the Hamilton area…

You have a very singular background: born in Russia to Canadian missionary parents, living in places all over the world, well traveled at a young age…
I’m curious about what you learned most from those experiences and how they’ve shaped not only your artistic persona but your personality as a whole.
Growing up as a young child in Russia, my parents took me to circuses, ballets and symphonies, which were always done with the utmost of excellence. We also visited world-class art galleries wherever we travelled. I have since returned to my Russian roots, reading Russian novelists such as Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. My childhood was grounded in an appreciation of the arts even though my parents were not artists, but professors and humanitarians. They were also field directors of a large group of 40 expat families who were working in churches, drug and alcohol rehab centres, youth and children’s camps, etc.  Beginning my life in a developing nation opened my eyes to the majority of the world, who live in relative poverty. I am glad that I am now in a financial position through my art to be able to give to many charitable causes locally and around the world through my Arts for a Change Foundation.

Studying under Robert Bateman at Hollyhock must have been a fantastic time. He’s got such a prominent place in the pantheon of Canadian artists, and that’s a truly gorgeous part of the world. I’ve done a little hiking in those islands, and it blew me away. So I can only imagine the impact it would have on an artist! What would you say you took away most from your time in that beautiful place, studying under a remarkable artist like Robert?
I happily fell down the rabbit-hole into the art world through the style of naturalistic wildlife. In many ways, this was a gentle landing, as I met many kind and down-to-earth wildlife artists, the most acclaimed of them being Robert Bateman. It was an amazing time being mentored under Bateman, who is old enough to be my grandpa! He told stories from his long and illustrious career and showed his techniques of how he works on a painting from start to finish. My favourite memory was when he critiqued a piece of my art. It was kind of nerve-racking since he decided to do the critiques anonymously, meaning that my painting would be critiqued alongside the work of a select group of professional artists who were double or triple my age. But he gave my “Nesting Trumpeter Swan” a very good critique, and I breathed a big sigh of relief. While on Cortez Island, I was able to take many photo references, as I usually work from up to 20 photos for each piece. My painting of a Great Blue Heron, “Glimmer of Hope,” which exhibited at AAC last year, was inspired by my time on Cortez Island.

I love that painting! It’s so ominous, while the figure of the bird is full of a tangible dignity. But the piece doesn’t lose its naturalistic underpinnings. Speaking of which, the mode you work in, high realism, obviously takes a great degree of technical skill to master. You’ve clearly got that covered. Other than the challenge, what attracts you to that aesthetic?
Yes, I do love the challenge of painting in the style of high realism. When I was younger, I tried cubism and expressionism, but always returned to realism as it better reflected my personality, with my attention to detail and experiences in the natural world, where so much complexity and diversity abound. There is also a great sense of fulfilment when I have worked on a painting for 300-500 hours, and it is something I am really proud of. The misnomer of realism is that it is just the copying of photos, or as Aristotle understood art as being “mimetic” of human life. I think Tolstoy was right when he said that art is the transmission of feelings and thoughts. Art can also be narrative and full of allegory and symbolism, and I feel realism is a well-suited way to express these elements of human experience and history

Lately, we’ve seen your art blend realistic depictions of wildlife and architecture into otherworldly, almost fantasy environments. Where does that impulse come from?
These paintings are part of a new series entitled Streams in the Wasteland, inspired by the Jewish prophetic literature found in the Old Testament of the Bible. I have been interested in the content of the Israelite exile foretold in Isaiah’s prophecies, but specifically struck by his prophecies about wild animals taking up habitation in the destruction of Babylon after its fall to Cyrus of Persia. My particular investigation lies in the significance of these symbolic animals bringing honour to their Creator because of His provision of water in the desert. This became an indictment of the Israelite community as it contrasted their continual unfaithfulness to their God, yet at the same time it was a hopeful foreshadowing of the Living Water that would come. So far I have just begun exploring the modern parallels of exile through my juxtaposed paintings of wild animals in abandoned ancient ruins. Each piece is telling a nuanced aspect within the grand metanarrative. I still have many more paintings planned in this series, and I hope to gather them up from the collectors they have sold to and exhibit them cohesively in a solo exhibition.

You’re in a unique position. Not only have you had a great deal of artistic success while still fairly young, but you’ve also learned to deal with the business-side of artistry. What’s that been like? Do you find that artistic creativity informs your business-sense and vice-versa?
To be honest, business has never come naturally; it has all been learned. A few years ago I was fortunate enough to be accepted into a grant program funded by the Ontario government for young people starting businesses called Summer Company. I also benefitted from free seminars held at the Art Gallery of Burlington. I really had no manual to go by for making a career out of my art, so I have been kind of making it up as I go, with advice from established artists like my mentor Robert Bateman and fellow International Guild of Realism members regarding pricing, promotion, galleries, pitfalls to avoid, etc. My computer skills in graphic design (through college courses) and my creative eye also help me in my business, especially when I am designing exhibition promotions, my website, or planning walls for exhibitions. As a person who is methodical about his artistic process, since all of the money I put into my business is my own, I make sure I’m both methodical and innovative about how to use it best through channels like advertising, social media, the Arts for a Change Foundation, etc.

What’s next for you? Where do you see your career, artistic subjects, and aesthetics as you go forward?
I plan to continue creating non-quadrilateral paintings, developing a unique and recognizable style. In the last few years, I have often painted birds in various environments, but I am now returning to painting mammals like the humpback whale in my recent painting “Whale Hymn,” and the arctic wolf in my current work in progress.

I love taking risks in subject matter, so I may be incorporating figures in my work in the near future, but still within a natural environment

Last of all, what’s something we might not know about you?
When I was younger, I played basketball competitively at a rep-level, and I still enjoy shooting hoops in my backyard. Also, in my free time I enjoy walks at the Eramosa Karst Conservation Area (for which I am on the board), the Bruce Trail, and the Waterfront Trail of Lake Ontario, both of which are just down the street from my studio gallery.

That’s it for our interview with Josh!  We’re just as excited to see his new work as he is to create it.
After we give everyone a little breather for the holiday season, we’ll be taking to Lori Dunn about studying wildlife, the strenuous process of scratchboard art, and everything in between!

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