My “highway” paintings explore the sensations, perceptions and meanings of travelling through landscapes, a journeying through space and place, time and transformation, movement and transition, stillness and motion, and identity and belonging. My position is that of the driver but also of the vicarious passenger: I draw upon source imagery from my partner Kay’s quickly snapped photos and randomly captured video from the passenger seat. Much of the material was gathered during essential travel trips that we made during the COVID-19 pandemic. Driving along these highways, the landscape feels like a sped-up experience, one of being immersed in a rushing monotony of getting from here to there but also of continuously encountering the sublime. I think of Canadian poet Earle Birney’s “Bushed,” in which the protagonist is overwhelmed by “a mountain/so big his mind slowed when he looked at it.” I want to slow down the mind to create an experience of looking that conveys a sense of travel and movement but also the slowing down that happens when making and looking at paintings. Clouds in the upper part of the compositions stand in for thought bubbles, representing a state of mind or reflectivity, that we can fill up with ourselves, our imaginations, or even an absence of words.
What can be experienced along these highways that cut through lands and waterways is the traditional settler Canadian visual iconography of landscape and the sense of a vast and possibly dangerous wilderness, but there are also the countless human interventions, displacements, and dispossessions that mark these spaces. For me, uncertainties around home, place, and belonging arise. I work with these themes from my perspective as a settler Canadian of Irish, English, and Scottish descent from Quebec who relocated “out west” many years ago and now travels the highways between my homes in British Columbia and Alberta.
The series Lavender’s Hens are the illustrations for a two part children’s book that is both a design textbook and a fictional story. In the first part, the Principles and Elements of Design are explained, and in the second part a fictional story about Lavender’s animal dreams and the messages she receives from them are told. With this book I wanted to combine my love of nature and my love of design together.
I painted the illustrations using gouache in a graphic way by making strong shapes then outlining them in black and painting opaque, flat fills of bright colour. Using a triadic colour scheme with the primary colours in most of the illustrations was important to unify the artwork in the series.
The design part of the book was inspired from teaching Design at VISA and studying the textbook Design Basics (Lauer and Pentak, 2005). For the fictional story I was inspired while observing and sketching my hens as they free ranged in my backyard, and inspired by a re-occurring dream where I am swimming with whales, a dream I had always wanted to draw.
Very often when I work, a whole story develops from a few small sketches. The first drawings for the book came to me while practicing “legs up the wall” yoga pose. I sometimes like to write in my journal in that posture. While I was in Viparita Karani I began making small sketches in my notebook of a character hugging a fat bird. That sketch became the illustration of Lavender hugging a bird in her dream. After that I began drawing a stylized bird over and over again which also became a final illustration of all the birds flying together.