In my earliest school days, the pinnacle of my artistic achievements was a full page of newsprint covered solid with purple poster paint, proudly titled: “Grape Jelly”. My teachers subsequently recommended a career in the sciences. My interest in visual art began in mid-life, when I wondered if there might not be other ways of seeing the world, apart from the purely scientific.
My primary interest lay in expressing my feelings about land and the experience of people living there. My first efforts, in watercolour and charcoal, looked like technical drawings, but I soon learned to experiment with shape and colour, to express my feelings about place. Post-card sized renditions evolved to larger and more colourful images. In order to achieve greater vibrancy of colour and texture, I shifted to working primarily in oils and acrylics.
I was inspired by the work and life of Van Gogh, his wild shapes and colour transitions which mirrored the raw emotions and struggles of his inner life. Then I saw the same in the life and art of Tom Thomson, the sense of mystery in wilderness scenes that foreshadow his early and mysterious death. Rather than scratching my head about the strange shapes and hues of Thomson and the Group of Seven, I felt inexplicably intense emotions I couldn’t define when I looked at their depictions of Algonquin Park— the lakes and portages I knew quite well from summer jobs as fisheries technician. These were jagged skies, scraggy trees and blazing hills that communicated a new sense of mystery and raw beauty.
My career as environmental scientist has taken me to many places throughout Canada, as well as some thirty countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas. This has provided me with not only a knowledge of diverse spaces and cultures but a wide selection of subject material. My art focuses particularly on sensitive ecologies such as grasslands, lakeshores and wetlands. Much of my work has been with Aboriginal communities, and this has further reinforced the importance of a sense of place. My scientific knowledge of land—the plants, soil, water and air—and how they function together as ecosystems seeps into my artistic expression.
During recovery from a motor vehicle incident, I learned about the significant healing properties of the artistic process. Subsequently, I led weekly art classes at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital for out-patients with brain injuries. More recently, I have worked at the Bissell Centre in inner-city Edmonton, finding there some profoundly talented people. From this experience, I have gained yet more perspectives on how we view the world.
Painting, for me, is more than a description of a place: it is an expression of how I feel about a place. I may paint a place many times, experiencing its seasons, changing colour, warmth and vibrancy. With each visit, I absorb more of its character.
I enjoy experimenting with new pigments, media and processes. Lately, I have been concentrating on painting digitally transformed images of landscapes, taking into account some aspects of chaos theory and using digital ‘brushes’ of different capabilities to ‘re-paint’ the image. At the end of the process, the transformed images become an expression in oils on canvas or paper, rendering entirely new visual expressions.