Posts Tagged ‘Wildlife’

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!

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.
Enjoy! 

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: 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.
Enjoy! 

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.

“Frost”

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.

“Calm”

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.
Enjoy!

 “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: Lori Dunn

Thursday, January 7th, 2016

It’s the new year, and we’ve got a new edition of Off-Season Artists! This is the series where Alex, the guy we send hurtling into 2016 at the speed of a broadband connection, interviews our artists for some off-season inspiration.
This time, it’s Lori Dunn, scratchboard artist, zoologist, and wonderful fusion of creator-naturalist.
Enjoy!

So for those of our readers who don’t know you, the path to where you are now has been pretty remarkable. You grew up an artistic kid, but then went into sciences, eventually becoming a zookeeper. Then it was back into art, and a very challenging artistic practice at that! I’d love to hear about what took you into the sciences in the first place, and then to take the plunge back into art.
As a child I constantly immersed myself in nature, especially small creatures that I could easily observe. I read nature books, watched  nature programs, and felt more of a connection to wildlife than people. Growing up in a military family, we were always moving, and so keeping friendships was difficult. I think this just made my interest in animals stronger as there was always a field or some woods to explore no matter where we lived. I had artistic talent at a young age, and of course my parents and teachers wanted to see me go down the artistic path. I was too absorbed in the biodiversity around me though… I wanted to learn everything I could about animals. When it came time to consider post-secondary education, there was no question in my mind to continue this path of learning. After obtaining an honors degree in zoology, I then proceeded to work with captive exotics in the zookeeping profession. During all of this time I was always sketching animals. I took a few drawing courses, but mostly it was a hobby. I drew animals that interested me and worked mainly in pen and ink and colored pencil. After 15 years as a zookeeper there was not enough learning going on and the job was getting stagnant and political. My passion was waning… and I knew I didn’t want that to happen. I left the zoo and decided to allow my knowledge and experience to guide me into the world of wildlife art.

I have to say, your two parallel areas of expertise seem to merge perfectly in your work. What does your work as a scientist bring to your artistic practice? And on the other hand, how has your artistry increased your engagement with wildlife?
Studying wildlife academically, in the field and in a captive setting, has allowed me a better understanding of species’ anatomy and behaviour. This is naturally going to translate into a more accurate representation of an animal. I can look at many photos of animals and know if something is “off,”  for instance if it is dehydrated, over or under weight, going through seasonal changes in appearance, or is simply not in peak physical condition. This allows me to zero in on the best image to use as my reference photo and depict the animal as it should be, or at least how I want it to be. My study as a zoologist has also given me a greater appreciation for the tiniest of details that define an animal’s appearance—the way the scales on a snake change shape and appearance along the body, or how the tiny facial hairs and wrinkles on a gorilla define the individual. As a wildlife artist, knowledge of your subject is crucial to allowing the viewer feel intimately connected with that animal through your thoughtful representation. In contrast, as an artist interested in wildlife, I find myself not just engaged in observation and learning with regards to anatomy, habitat and behaviour, but also looking at the light, the setting, the position of the animal… anything that would make for a unique capture of that species and moment in an artwork. Because I work in a monochromatic medium, lighting of my subjects is critically important to give depth to the piece. Ironically, I often find myself out in the field seeing everything in terms of light and shadow rather than colour. And while most photographers want a cloudy day to increase color saturation of their subject, I am the opposite—give me the harsh light and shadow! This is what makes a better black and white artwork!

“Muskoka Morning”

Speaking of your art… tell me a bit about scratchboard! It seems like an excruciatingly difficult medium, but your results are just incredible. What took you down that road? Are you, in fact, a glutton for punishment?
(Just kidding.)
But seriously, what appeals to you about the medium? Did you discover it when you were young or was it a bit of a revelation once you decided to plunge back into the artist’s life?

Scratchboard is a process of direct engraving on a board coated with white kaolin clay, then black ink is applied over top of the clay. A sharp instrument is used to etch into the surface to reveal the white of the clay, thus producing a black and white engraving. Tones in between black and white are achieved through the pressure used in etching (ie. how deep you go into the clay layer ), as well as how much black ink is removed. Given that I was a pencil artist for many years with a penchant for super-detail, it wasn’t surprising that when I discovered some scratchboard work online I wanted to try it out. Something about using such a sharp instrument like an X-ACTO blade was intriguing, plus I have always loved black and white art. Discovering just how much detail you can get in this medium was indeed a revelation to me. I was hooked, threw the pencils aside, and delved in. I am self-taught—just practised  over and over until I was happy with the results. It seemed to come naturally to me but this is not the norm. Most people find it an exceptionally challenging and difficult medium to master. It’s ironic that you ask if I am a glutton for punishment! This is one of the most asked questions I get at my art shows. People will ask “am I insane?” or “how do I have the patience for this?” My answer is that I don’t think of it in negative terms… yes it is a very time consuming and difficult medium, but I love doing it. Patience and/or insanity don’t really factor in. As someone who is an over-thinker, being able to zone out, shut off my brain and spend hours on end stippling or cross-hatching a 2-inch square piece of the board is a good thing. The music goes on, and I check out for a while—it clears my head and allows me to focus on something other than day to day stuff!


I love your commitment to education, since arts-communication is such a big part of our overall cultural language. Similar to the way your zoological career informs your art and vice-versa, do you find that communicating for education has been an asset in your artistic thinking? And how about the opposite? What does the artistic impulse contribute to your ability to communicate for education?

After leaving the zoo and delving into art, I suddenly realized the potential there was to educate others about the species that were portrayed in my works. Art reaches people on a visual and emotional level. Combining my artistic talent and passion for nature and wildlife allowed me the opportunity to really say what I wanted. I was not restricted in any way… and in this sense I really started to think about my subjects and the message behind the artwork. I didn’t want someone buying a piece of mine without learning something about that animal. I decided to include a thoughtful writeup on my website along with many of my works, bringing conservation issues to light. Not every piece has this, as I didn’t want to appear overly intense, but it is something that is especially important to me as I continue in this field. At my art shows, if I find people really connecting to a particular animal, I will often engage them in conversation about their own observations of wildlife. I still have a huge drive to learn and have learned quite a lot from talking to other artists and patrons. The desire to learn and the desire to educate go hand in hand.

Here’s a bit of a softball question for you, since it’s not every day I get to chat with a real live zoologist… What’s your absolute favourite animal, and why?
That is a really difficult question to ask a zoologist!
[laughs]
I am someone who finds even the most microscopic of organisms incredible! Throughout my zoological career, however, my favorite group of animals has been reptiles, specifically snakes. I spend countless hours in the wild searching for them. Snakes are notoriously difficult to find. They leave no tracks, have no scent, spend most of the time remaining hidden in tight enclosed spaces… you can’t bait them and you can’t sit on a boardwalk and watch them fly overhead. Finding snakes in the wild requires lots of hiking and bushwhacking, a bit of knowledge of good habitat and a whole lot of luck. It’s a neverending quest, but the reward is an adrenaline rush and an absolutely overwhelming sense of satisfaction at finding one of the most misunderstood and maligned creatures on the planet. So my favorite animal? The very next snake I find!

“Sidelight”

And last but not least, what’s something interesting we might not know about you?
Well… artistically speaking, you and your readers will be the first to know that I would like to delve into doing some “macro” wildlife art. My interest in tiny creatures knows no bounds! I’d love to start doing some really close up artworks of smaller wildlife forms. Picture for example, the compound eyes of a dragonfly blown up to appear almost alien-like, or a close up view of a jumping spider, showing every tiny hair… yes, I have big (or small!) plans…
[laughs]

“Night Stalker”

On that beautiful—and kind of alarming!—note, we leave Lori Dunn. It’s been a pleasure speaking with her, and we’ll be back with another edition of Off-Season Artists soon!

Golden Encore Residency: The Follow-up

Sunday, December 6th, 2015

You’ll remember that in October, we partnered with Algonquin Provincial Park in hosting Daniel St-Amant for the Golden Encore Artist’s Residency. Since then he’s been working hard on the projects he began there.
We asked Daniel to talk about the experience and update us on his progress. Here’s a look at the amazing work he came up with and his thoughts on his time in the park…

When I was growing up I was raised in the country. I spent as much time as I could in the woods, wandering, exploring, playing, and imagining what it would be like to live in another time, one where survival depended on the way of the land. So naturally when I was approached by Algonquin and the Art Centre with the idea of doing an artistic residency in the park, I jumped at the opportunity.

My plan was to bring as much paint and canvas as possible so that I could maximize my week, to use this precious time allotted to me to catch up on commissions and projects I haven’t been able to work on… basically just become a painting factory. I thought this because my day to day reality is pretty hectic. I live in the city and have a career as a VFX and digital painter. Usually, I can only spend weekends and evenings in my painting studio. On top of all that, I am also a husband and father of 2 beautiful children. As you can imagine, my life is busy, but busy in a fantastic way. So getting a week alone in the woods with no work or any distractions meant I could paint like a hurricane until I unpacked and sat at the little picnic table that was outside my cabin overlooking the lake.

I had this whole thing planned out. It was going to be extremely productive, except the moment I arrived I forgot about all my plans, I forgot about my schedule, I forgot about my timelines and deadlines. I honestly was so at peace with my surroundings. And that’s when my sense of exploration took over, something I hadn’t felt since my childhood. I began by walking in the woods every day, first thing after my cup of coffee. I would walk and collect specimens like a mad scientist, anything that peaked my interest in terms of colour or texture. At that time of year, you can just imagine how alive the woods are with colours, as if you’re walking through a Tom Thomson painting. This, to me, was heaven. I probably collected ten buckets full of leaves and branches and moss, basically anything that I felt I had to have. I gathered my thoughts and came up with a plan of making collage paintings using dirt and objects that I picked up on the way. I sectioned off the cabin. One room was designated for drying out my samples, which I spread out on the floor and flattened under books, and another room was for painting and drawing. I even had a room that I used for my wood shop to make stretchers. It was fantastic. I began experimenting with different media that I could use in addition to my current practice.

a canvas prepared with local materials

My typical work uses dirt and grime collected from the busy city streets. As my canvass are spread over the roadways cars run over them leaving their markings. This is a metaphor that represents humanity’s technologies that are causing harm to the environment.  Typically I create backdrops made out of these markings, which I use to house the animal portraits I paint.  This work is a direct response to city living. I see squirrels and raccoons running around, trying to avoid humans, all the while trying to survive in an urban setting. Being in the woods, I was away from it. Nature seemed more comfortable. Birds chirped with enthusiasm. Little woodland creatures scampered around happy. I felt that my work would change dramatically if I spent a prolonged time at the lake. My vision of my animal portraits changed into more of an evolutionary standpoint, I pictured animals growing out of my samples of sticks, leaves and bark. Instead of creating a portrait of an animal living within the confines of my tire tracks or “a human presence,” I wanted them to bloom out of the bottom of the canvas like a flower or a tree. It was a real eye opener, how one environment could change my visual reactions and my concision.

The 6 days flew by in retrospect, but while I was there, time was much slower. I spent a few days at the Visitor Centre doing a demonstration and one day at the beautiful gallery at Km 20. Some of my most memorable experiences were the people that I encountered and who helped organize the experience. I would like to especially thank Andrea Coulter and the owners of the Art Gallery, Joel Irwin and Matt Coles. Everyone was so accommodating and friendly I will never forget that short week I spent in my little cabin by the lake.

So now that I sit in my studio a few months after my time in Algonquin, my work has taken a bit of a right turn. No longer am I concerned with a negative outlook on the environment, hoping to spark a reaction out of the viewer. Now I am more interested in creating work that is a celebratory vision of nature. I now want the viewer to experience a positive reaction to my work. I want the viewer to look at my compositions and think about how beautiful nature is, how resilient it is. As an artist, you are always growing and moving in new directions.
I am extremely excited to see what’s to come.

another of Daniel’s residency-pieces in progress

We’re so grateful that we can be part of giving artists the opportunity to pursue their craft and communicate their love of creation with Algonquin visitors. We’re committed to continuing these residencies. In fact, our spring residency, Perennial Threshold, has an application open to everyone, so if you want the chance to create… apply!
For now, we want to express our thanks to Algonquin Provincial Park and to Daniel himself for making this an amazing experience for everyone involved.

Announcing Our 2016 Theme

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

It’s been just over a month since we closed our doors on the amazing 2015 season. Since then we’ve been hard at work looking forward and into next year. Now our leadership team, Matt and Joel, have decided on a theme for 2016. We’re proud to announce that theme now…
So without further ado, here’s our introduction to the 2016 season’s show at the Algonquin Art Centre:
Metamorphosis!

 Hilary Clark Cole, “Marsh Mellow”

“All things change. Nothing remains the same.”
Since the philosopher Pythagoras said these famous words over two thousand years ago, artists from all walks of life have explored the concept of metamorphosis, how things change and transform through time.  Their creative efforts have provided us with some of the world’s most iconic works of literature, sculpture, and painting. In addition to its cultural significance, Metamorphosis also represents one of the most familiar and ubiquitous biological processes we know of, leading some thinkers to conclude that life itself is simply a series of metamorphoses.

In light of this concept’s artistic and biological significance, the Algonquin Art Centre has asked its artists to explore the theme of transformation for its 2016 show, Metamorphosis. Selected artists will explore these ideas as they apply to the landscape and wildlife of Algonquin Park and Canada’s protected lands, shedding new light on a rich, venerable, and still vibrant artistic theme.

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!

Off-Season Artists: Daniel St-Amant

Sunday, October 11th, 2015

It’s been a great season, and we’re starting to wind down for the end of fall. We can’t thank you enough for how amazing 2015′s been!
Just because our doors are closing for winter, that doesn’t mean our passion for showcasing Canadian art is any less. So over the next several months we’ll be posting quick interviews with our artists. It’s a chance for you to explore their personalities and their creative identities a little deeper. Who knows? If you get to know the artist in the wild, you might fall even harder for the work on the wall.

To start us off, you might remember that we announced our Golden Encore Artist’s Residency in partnership with Algonquin Park a few weeks ago. Daniel St-Amant, a  modern surface wildlife painter, will be housed at one of the Park’s lodges form October 14th-21st, giving him some time in the wilderness to work on his craft. He’ll also be conducting artist-demonstrations at both the Algonquin Art Centre and Algonquin Park’s Visitor Centre over the weekend. It’s going to be a great time, and you can find all the information here.
Daniel hails originally from Quebec, went to school in Halifax, and now lives and works in Toronto. Aside from his artistic practice he works in visual effects for film. He’s also just a lovely guy! So without further ado, here’s a bit of our chat with Daniel…

Daniel St-Amant

As someone from French Canada who lived a while in the Maritimes and now operates out of Toronto, you’ve got a lot of Canada in your personal history. What have you taken away from those experiences?
The biggest thing apart from the friendships and life experiences would be the landscapes . It is quite remarkable to think about the diversity you see in the landscapes from the Canadian shield through to the Laurentians and southern Quebec all the way up the east coast.

Your artistic practice is very unique, and also very specific. How’d you arrive at it? Any particular influences?
Throughout my life, and artistic career,  I’ve been privileged to have been surrounded by many talented individuals that both inspired and influenced me.  Teachers like Gerald Ferguson at NSCAD and lengthy conversations with fellow artists helped sculpt my art practice. But I feel my upbringing in rural Quebec particularly influenced me and my body of art as my love and respect of nature ultimately led me to my subject matter.

“Timber Land” Daniel St-Amant

You also work in visual effects for film (which is SUPER-COOL, by the way). How does that line of work influence your painting?
My work in the VFX industry has influenced my art practice quite a bit in terms of my initial sketching techniques and tools that I adopt. I use a lot of digital reference and photography to compose my images in addition to some of the techniques we use in film such as integration, colour adjustments and composition prior to the actual production of my art.

“Red Shoulder 2″ by Daniel St-Amant

It’s great to hear a little bit about the Canadiana that makes Daniel tick, and we can’t wait to get to know him better when he arrives this week. Stay posted for updates and media from the residency, and more interviews as we progress!


Algonquin Art Centre - Gallery in the Heart of Algonquin Park

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located at km 20 on Hwy #60

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