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.
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 mysterious death. From the work of Thomson and the Group of Seven, I was inspired 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 Indigenous 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. 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 learned about the significant healing properties of the artistic process, and I have taught art at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital and 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.
I enjoy experimenting with new pigments, media and processes. In the last few years, I have been creating 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 (see Digital Variations gallery under Portfolio).