My painting and poetry have always been about the natural world and my place in it.
Although my work owes much to the tradition of landscape painting in Canadian art, in my studio work I make only limited attempts to represent the land as it looks photographically, or “realistically”, if you will, although representational elements will sometimes appear. Our physical experience of the land is very different. We move around, constantly changing our point of view; we catch glimpses of things in our peripheral vision; we get to know a place over a period of time; we bring our memories and moods with us; we hear, smell, taste and feel. Our experience is also coloured by what we know or believe about the land. As well, we use different ways of representing three-dimensional space depending on the information we need. Maps and charts, for example, don’t look like the land we see, but they contain very precise information about it. Similarly, symbols are used in many cultures for informative, decorative, or ritual purposes. In my images, I combine mapping techniques, aerial views, shifting perspective, symbols, memory, and emotion to arrive at images that evoke but don’t necessarily describe the space that inspired them.
On a formal level, the images, though based on real spaces, are ultimately defined by the elements of composition, and often contain elements that are purely abstract. Light and dark and colour may be chosen for descriptive or evocative reasons, but may also be used to create formal harmony or tension. I am also always torn between painting and drawing, and frequently mix the two. I am drawn to the physical nature of charcoal, with its deep velvety blacks, and frequently use it to set up a rapid black and white composition. The images are then built, erased, and worked over using other media – I particularly love oil and cold wax medium – as well as the tools of abstraction. To a degree, these are drawings and paintings about the simple joy of the activity of drawing and painting.
To a greater degree, though, these images are about the land and its power. I’m particularly fascinated by the glaciated landscape, especially during harsh weather, and humbled by my own insignificance within wild spaces, particularly as I become more aware of the divinity within nature, and our human role in destroying it. Recently, though, my explorations have been limited by the company of my young son to gentler terrain, and this has changed my work significantly. To a child, the local field is huge and intimidating, and the stands of trees are forests; to me, well, parks are really gardens, and as such, very controlled. It’s a lot of fun helping him explore, and encouraging to me to discover that, although the culture of which I am a part is at best neglectful of our wild environment, the green spaces under the direct stewardship of our city, at least, are thriving. It’s interesting, now, to explore the dichotomy between his experience and mine, and between the value we place on nature within and outside of our cities.