Location: Whitehorse

Brian Boyle Shows Us Art is in the Eye of the Beholder

Brian Boyle Shows Us Art is in the Eye of the Beholder

When I was twelve years old my dad used to show me how to develop black and white photographs in our home darkroom. I was always fascinated by the magic of the image appearing before my eyes and to this day I am still in awe of the whole idea of photography and how it all works. The age of twelve was a long time ago and many things have changed since then, especially in the world of photography. I grew up using trays and chemicals in the dark, watching with excitement as my picture materialized, to working in the family photolab where the process became more automated and machines slowly started to take over. Today there are only remnants of the those magical days. Purists (as they like to be called) who still use film cameras and maybe even developer, stopper and fixer trays in their home darkrooms are themselves remnants.

Brian Boyle

Brian Boyle

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Although technology has changed how we get the physical image there is one thing that remains the same; the art form still requires the artist. This interview is all about Brian Boyle from Whitehorse, Yukon. Like me, Brian was introduced to photography at a young age but unlike me he has made it his life long passion and has been expressing this form of creativity since he was sixteen. I feel that Brian had a serendipidous moment back then. He was in Banff, Alberta and someone offered to sell him their camera. You almost can’t ask for a better place to have one fall in your lap. And so it began…the young man, the camera and nature.

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No matter where you see Brian today he always has his camera along. Some people say a dog is man’s best friend but Brian might say, that for him, it is his camera. We met Brian along the riverfront in downtown Whitehorse for his interview and sure enough his trusty sidekick was along with him. He shared with us an old saying that reminds him to have it by his side; “What is the best camera? The very best camera is the one you have with you.” I certainly can attest to that as regret has followed me around on a few occasions. Because Brian doesn’t often break his adopted rule, nature rewards him with so many wonderful treasures. The Yukon is this photographer’s playground. During the summer months the light presents itself in so many different ways; dancing and playing in the trees or shimmering like a billion sequins floating on the water. The summer light is long and keeps Brian busy and although there are more winter months in the north and it can be cold and dark, the snow is pristine and what light there is gives ample opportunity for that special shot.

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Brian’s photography is as varied and vast as the Yukon landscape. He enjoys wandering about in nature but also derives great pleasure in searching through an empty parking lot and exploring the angles, textures and how the available light can create an intimacy with the most mundane and often unnoticed thing. He creates art with his eyes. The physical world and Brian are partners, sharing a moment in time never to be seen again by anyone; the only evidence that it existed comes from Brian’s collection of memories and photographs.

If you would like to see more of Brian’s work please click here, click here and click here.

Please join us as Brian shares with us his love for photography in the Yukon. We enjoy receiving comments and would appreciate it if you helped us spread the word about Brian Boyle on social media. Thanks!

Donald Watt Creates Frozen and Fired Sculptures

Donald Watt Creates Frozen and Fired Sculptures

Team Yukon Canada wins first place at the International Carnaval de Quebec 2014 including Public Choice and Volunteer Choice Awards

What does it mean to follow your dreams? For Whitehorse, Yukon snow carver and sculptor Donald Watt it started at age ten, wishing someday to carve snow at the famous Quebec Winter Carnival. He recalls as a young boy watching the promo film for the Carnival on television with his father and proclaiming his aspirations. His father’s reply was that he was capable of doing anything he wanted. That stuck with him, and when Quebec invited Yukon to form a team for its national sculpture competition, he jumped at the chance. Donald not only lived his dream of carving in Quebec but has also seen victory as captain of Team Yukon, winning numerous times at the National and International Championships. Sadly, his father never got to see him carve in Quebec but Donald always pays homage to him by building an inukshuk from the initial chunks of snow removed as the carving begins to take shape. His father’s presence is now with him at every event watching him carve. Now, with over 30 years of carving, numerous awards from around the world and doing 6-8 carvings per year, that adds up to a lot of carvings, a lot of experience, and a testament to the power of his passion.

Donald Watt

Donald Watt

Team Yukon Canadian Championship Sculpture - Quebec 2013

Team Yukon Canadian Championship Sculpture – Quebec 2013

Snow carving is unlike any other art form; its closest relatives being ice and sand carving. It is a medium that requires a great deal of planning because it is not only dependent upon ones carving skills, but the carver must adhere to the laws of physics and nature. With a starting block of snow typically weighing 20-40 tons, it is not uncommon for a suspended portion of snow to weigh a ton or more. So if the structural design pushes load-bearing limits, combined with challenging weather conditions such as rain, the sculpture could collapse and end up in a pile before it is even judged. Other considerations are working against the clock as well as observing the criteria that the judges are looking for. These include creativity and artistic merit, technical difficulties as well as adherence to the original design. The appreciation and awe of a completed snow sculpture is fleeting; a live in the moment type of art work that not long after leaves its legacy in the photographs, memories and a marred footprint of where it once stood.

1st Place - San Vigilio, Italy 2013

1st Place – San Vigilio, Italy 2013

2nd Place - San Candido, Italy 2013

2nd Place – San Candido, Italy 2013

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The process for completing a sculpture is always a team effort, and each team mate will lend their strengths to complement the whole. The 2014 World Tour team for Yukon is comprised of Donald, Michael Lane and Ken Anderson. Donald is the three dimensional specialist and will guide the team in the initial stages to taking away the major chunks and getting the sculpture to an impressionistic stage. Michael is the idea guy and detailed carver who will advise on the fine particulars, and Ken is a skilled first nations carver that will also lend the knowledge and detail required for the traditional northern and west coast first nations themes.

Breckenridge, USA 2013

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When he isn’t carving snow Donald is still active in the arts. Formally trained in sculpture and printmaking, he enjoys helping out with three dimensional design; building and designing sets for the local theater groups as well as hiring himself out to the art department to design sets for movies that are filmed in the area. He also creates clay sculptures that he refers to as “fairies with attitude.” These aren’t your cutesy, pixie-like Tinkerbell fairies mind you; these have a personality all their own. Donald says that the idea for these fairies came from his Irish grandmother. She would always say, “Donald, you don’t go in the back of the garden because that’s where the fairies live, and they’re not always nice!” So he decided to create these not-so-friendly looking fairies and give them some chutzpah. Why do people connect with Donald’s fairies? Maybe they represent nonconformity; a rebellious free-spirit that doesn’t care what people think of them or how they look. Maybe they depict the balance between the dark and the light; good and bad. Or, maybe they’re just a whole lot of fun!

The Lady's Not For Sale

The Lady’s Not For Sale

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For many artists there is the piéce de résistance that lingers in the back of their mind; the ultimate work or challenge that pushes them to their outer limit. Having traveled the world carving snow sculptures Donald’s ultimate vision now is to go to Antarctica to carve the Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen expeditions. He wants to do a carving at Scott’s Antarctica landing spot, showing him leaving for the South Pole heavily laden with all of his supplies. Then he will fly to the South Pole and do another carving showing Amundsen’s arrival there with his sled dogs and planting the Norwegian flag, the first expedition to do so and beating Scott by thirty-four days. It is an enormous undertaking; requiring a lot of planning, permissions, safety logistics and funding, but having seen the journey and accomplishments of a wide-eyed young boy to where he is today, we don’t doubt that Donald Watt can make it happen. Keep following the magnificent snow sculptures of Donald and his Team Yukon through his linked website Snowcarver.ca… and maybe leave a little room on your nightstand for a fairy to watch over you.

Learn more about the art and science of snow sculpture during our interview with Donald Watt, and we always welcome Comments and Sharing on social media:

Candice Ball Follows Her Dream

Candice Ball Follows Her Dream

Paisley Brooch with Amber Beads

Recently, Gary and I watched a fascinating program about art created during the Middle Ages. One group that caught my attention was the Anglo Saxons and their method of casting jewellery using cuttlefish bone. I had seen this before but not on television. Our trip to the Yukon put us on the doorstep of Whitehorse artist Candice Ball who, among other things, uses this ancient casting method in her own jewellery craft.

Candice Demonstrating Cuttlefish Casting

Candice Demonstrating Cuttlefish Casting

Cuttlefish Cast

Cuttlefish Cast

One characteristic that I appreciate in artists is that they deeply love what they do. There is something about the act of being creative that seems to give them a heightened state of bliss. Candice is a jewellery designer and metal artist with a penchant for the unusual. She is joyously unrestrained and it showed in her fervour to share with us what she does and how she does it. Candice came close to landing a career that, for her, was just meant to pay the bills, but luckily her gut was telling her not to go there and she listened. After a long talk with herself she came to the conclusion that a creative life was what she wanted. I admire her for her fortitude in taking the road less traveled.

Piéce de Résistance Ring

Piéce de Résistance Ring

Surprise Garnet Cabachon Inside Piéce de Résistance

Surprise Garnet Cabachon Inside Piéce de Résistance

Candice loves working with all kinds of different metals as well as complimentary, or perhaps uncomplimentary materials. She says she is not afraid to try anything and confidently works toward being the trend setter, not the trend follower. Her intuition is her guide which she shows unfettered devotion towards. The ideas show up anytime and anywhere like an unexpected visit from a best friend. She says she doesn’t know how it happens, it just does. My guess is that Candice is completely tuned in to her surroundings which abundantly supply her with all she needs to feed her creative process.

Out of Woodwork Bracelet

Out of Woodwork Bracelet

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Candice is constantly researching techniques and materials to bring a uniqueness to her work that stands above the crowd. Lately she has been investigating ancient casting techniques using cuttlefish (see demo video below) as well as more modern methods known as Delft casting which uses sand to create the mold. She also explores the use of metals such as titanium in her work. Candice definitely has a hunger for knowledge and putting what she learns into practice, and because of this her work is quite varied. After we left Candice we went to Arts Underground Gallery to collect some footage of her art that was being shown there. We talked all about Candice’s jewellery but had no idea she also does mixed media wall pieces until we arrived at the gallery; each one having a personality all its own.

MIxed Media Wall Hanging

MIxed Media Wall Hanging

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As crazy as you may or may not think this sounds, I believe that art handmade by people like Candice holds within it a certain kind of raw spiritual energy that comes from the earth and the person who made it. When we buy art, in this case wearable art, we get to coalesce with a part of that energy. It gives us strength and a connection that you will never get from something manufactured by a machine. Just talking to Candice strengthened my resolve on this point. To see more of Candice’s work please go to her website at Dilcet Designs.

Please join us as Candice shares more about her passion for art and then watch the ancient technique of cuttlefish casting in the demo below. We love comments and ask that you share this post on social media and spread the word about Candice. Thank you!

Painter Heather Wanamaker Celebrates Colour and Contrast

Painter Heather Wanamaker Celebrates Colour and Contrast

Haines Pass II

Traveling back to Whitehorse from Dawson City in the sinking sun we couldn’t help but be struck by the hues of light mixed with shadows as they played on the golden leaves and white trunks of the birch forest that blanketed the surrounding hills. Only here, extending as far as the eye can see, have we ever seen such an abundance of “The Watchful Tree,” so called because of the eye-like impressions on the bark. This is just one pristine moment in the endless beauty of this grand wilderness, and one example of why acrylic painter Heather Wanamaker chose to live in the Yukon, a magical place aptly dubbed “larger than life.”

Heather Wanamaker beside "Cape Clear" - acrylic on canvas

Heather Wanamaker beside Cape Clear

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Talus Lake

Talus Lake

Heather always knew that she wanted to be an artist, and so right out of high school immersed herself in a program at Langara College and later continued her studies at the University of Victoria. During her hiatus between schools she surrounded herself in the arts community by working at an arts supply and framing store. She had a thirst for creativity; taking in ideas and learning from other artists, but yet to discover her own style. That all changed when she moved to the Yukon. Experiencing the seasons and the lighting of the northern sun, she soon found a new focus and drive bolstered by the enigmatic beauty of her surroundings. Heather now finds that the excitement of the next painting is always in her mind, and her environment never leaves her wanting for inspiration.

Echo Lake

Echo Lake

I imagine as an artist, sharing one’s personal expression and putting it out there for the world to see, hopefully in a meaningful and affecting way, takes a lot of courage. Having a community of like-minded individuals who will support, encourage and inspire that artist can help to nurture that creative spirit and alleviate those fears. Heather found this to be the case when she moved to Whitehorse. Having taken a couple of years off away from the paint brushes she had some trepidation upon arriving in the Yukon. How would she be received as a newcomer trying to get her name and art work out there and noticed? Those feelings quickly lifted as she found Whitehorse to have a welcoming community of artists where she could network and participate collectively.

Stony Creek

Stony Creek

Heather breathes inspiration for her paintings from the same mountain air she indulges her passions for hiking, canoeing and winter activities. It is a synergistic relationship; the obvious rewards of an active outdoor lifestyle complementing the visual stimuli of breathtaking scenery, colours and contrasting light. The bold beauty and sweeping landscapes influence her brush strokes; the ever increasing insistence towards vivid colours, sharp lines and larger than life imagery. Heather’s painting style is crystal clear now, and it manifests from her connections to the Yukon. Heather’s greatest satisfaction as a painter is being able to express on canvas a scene, with its colours, lighting and contrasts just as she glimpsed it while on a hike or other excursion, and hoping that others will see the same. She has captured the heart of the north on canvas, and the north has captured hers.

Bullion Creek Crossing

Bullion Creek Crossing

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Enjoy our interview with Heather she tells us more about her art. Please share on social media and comments are always welcome:

Painter Blair Thorson – “The Map Guy”

Painter Blair Thorson – “The Map Guy”

If you were to look at a painting from watercolour painter Blair Thorson, the first thing that you would notice is that he is all over the map…literally! Blair’s unique paintings utilize a “canvas” made from original, mostly topographical maps upon which he paints relevant images indigenous to the location of the map being used. His art is a collaboration between the left and right brain; the technically and mathematically defined lines of the maps conceding to allow the free-flowing randomness of an arbitrary image or scene. Allow me to introduce Blair Thorson, the artist known as “the map guy.”

"The Map Guy" Blair Thorson

“The Map Guy” Blair Thorson

Blair’s love of maps was no accident, and the irony of how his painting niche with maps came to be was relayed to us as Blair describes with humour his early life debates regarding profession and passion:
“In grades 7,8, and 9 we had to choose an elective via a parent permission slip from either music, art or French, and I wanted to choose art so I checked it off. My father worked for Water Survey of Canada and wanted me to join the civil service like him so he scribbled out art and checked off French instead. Consequently, two years in a row he picked French and two years in a row I purposely failed it! The third year in grade 9 he conceded and let me choose art, although pointedly saying that if I wanted art so bad that I had better be darned good at it. He didn’t want me to suffer the fate of the cliche starving artist.”
Blair went on to win the high school art awards for grade 9 and 12 and has been doing art in one form or another ever since. He also went on to work for Water Survey of Canada as a hydrometric surveyor for 35 years, and through his work he developed a love and fascination for maps. Blair’s passion for art combined with his father’s influence gave him the creative niche he has today, giving both of them the happy ending they desired.

Betalamea Lake moose with tracks

Betalamea Lake moose with tracks

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The first time that Blair’s idea for his map painting initiative occurred was after a halibut fishing excursion with friends in Skagway, Alaska. As a gesture of thanks he decided to paint them a picture in watercolour of their boat. He also found a map of the area they were in which would be framed alongside the boat. Once he set the two on the light table and saw them overlayed, then the light bulb in his head went on as the idea to paint the boat on the map itself was born. His friend was thrilled, and to this day says that when he looks at it he either sees the map, or his boat, but never both at the same time.

Igloolik igloo builders

Igloolik igloo builders

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Blair notes that “every map has a story and the images that go with it.” The subject matter for his art work is one of memories, whether from places and situations he has personally seen, or commissioned works from other people. The map provides a familiar visual reference of the area and the painted images bring that memory to life. Many of those memories occurred during his previous career where he was able to photograph his wild surroundings and the rural way of life. Ironically, many years later those images became the subjects for his map paintings. For some of his animal depictions Blair will embed the life size paw or hoof prints of his subject in the painting. It has a an exhilarating effect, making the presence of that animal more vivid. With his human subjects, Blair now strives to incorporate action; depicting people doing daily activities be it paddling a kayak, building an igloo or native dancing and singing.

Art can be a very solitary activity but at the same welcomes the public eye. As personable as we found Blair to be, he confesses that he is introverted by nature and would rather just be doing his art work but not the promotion side. Our time spent with Blair and his wife Linda revealed her to be his secret weapon; an enthusiastic supporter and promoter of him and his art. They make a wonderful team!

Canol Road - Yellow Truck

Canol Road – Yellow Truck

Enjoy our interview with Blair as you get to know the man behind the maps! We welcome Comments below and sharing on social media.

Life is Art for James Kirby

Life is Art for James Kirby

Family

In our search for artists to interview we have used various means to track them down ranging from emailing art organizations asking for assistance, emailing the artists directly, and even just riding into town and asking at the library, town office or people on the street who they might know. It gets a little tricky though when an artist is more reclusive; not usually engaging or paying attention to the ongoing banter of the various media sources. It was with a bit of luck then that Whitehorse artist James Carman Kirby of Wulvzwerx Arts decided, for whatever reason, to open one of those emails and answer our call to artists.

James at work

James at work

Driving up to James’ home and studio, the exterior looked like any other framed structure except that once inside the building the uniqueness of his abode reflected that of the man himself. Originally staying in a small, vintage travel trailer and having his workshop and studio beside it, he decided to join the two; building and framing the house around the trailer and encasing it as part of the interior decor. The effect is both quaint and symbolic; the travel trailer serving not only as both functionally decorative and as a conversation piece, but also retains memories of a time and place in his journey through life. Therein lies the first clue, revealing a man who is not one to adopt mainstream thinking and who walks to the beat of his own drum.

TshTsh Pectoral

TshTsh Pectoral

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James believes that everything about life is art; that the many facets of life such as raising children, building a home, the means by which we sustain ourselves, and how we engage humans and other life forms is all part of our creative being. He notes that if we treat life as art then it will become that much more satisfying and we will eventually create something very special. James’ art is a reflection of his life’s journeys, and as his life evolved into different stages for various reasons, so did the artwork that manifested from his hands. James chooses to live his life through individualism rather than conformity, and realizes the power of free thinking as his creative path.

Fire Ant Ring

Fire Ant Ring

As varied as his life has been, James’ art has taken him from painting, to stained glass, to now sculpture and jewellery. He also moved back to the Yukon from Vancouver Island to open a book store, and spent eight years as the largest bookseller of esoteric cult books in Canada. This last venture was at a time when James wanted to create a new culture for Whitehorse and shake things up a bit. He wanted to give people a chance to step out of their comfort zone and learn about other cultural, spiritual and philosophical teachings.

Feral Anima

Feral Anima

Although he is open to all ideas and is just starting to work on his own designs, his jewellery and sculpture creations primarily follow a particular niche. His jewellery focuses on talismans and amulets but his knowledge of western esoteric cultures and world religions goes into all of his artwork. James’ inner creation cannot help but extend to his artwork, where his curiosity for the foundations of his work impels him to research, source and manufacture his own materials as well as wanting to know what the process is; how things were made, why they were made and what sorts of materials were used. Whether quarrying the stone he is about to carve or learning the history of stained glass and how it was made, James’ foray into any creative endeavour always means being involved in all aspects of it. This can be no more true than in his jewellery making, where he ethically sources his own gemstones, does all his own castings, makes his own metal sheet and cuts his own wire. James notes that it is very much alchemy for him, having to know the process and then being able to apply it with skill.

Check out our interview with James below and feel free to share on social media and leave a comment:

John Boivin Gives Significance to the Unremarkable

John Boivin Gives Significance to the Unremarkable

Traveling to the northern part of Canada confirmed what I knew to be true all along; the north flows through my veins. I really felt at home there. Many people think of the south when travel whispers in their ear, but for me I think of the breathtaking north. It is a place that in large part is untouched by humans and therefore makes it undeniably special. It’s mystique has an allure all it’s own. The land is large and sweeping, free from man-made scarring for as far as the eye can see. By today’s standards it is not heavily populated with the two-legged species but is home to a significant number of caribou, moose, and large predators such as black bear, grizzly and wolves. Of the 37,000 people who call the Yukon their home roughly 28,000 live in the Territory’s capital city of Whitehorse. This is where we met up with John Boivin; our first of seven interviews in the Yukon’s capital.

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John was waiting for us at our designated rendezvous spot; a bustling Starbucks. After our handshakes and introductions I asked John how Whitehorse got it’s name. Who does that these days? I could have googled it. Nevertheless, John was very helpful and if he was wondering about whether or not I had ever seen a computer he didn’t let on. What I learned was Whitehorse gets its name from the White Horse Rapids on the Yukon River, which were a major obstacle for prospectors during the Klondike Gold Rush. The frothing rapids were said to resemble the manes of white, charging horses. But alas, the horses are no longer there. With the construction of the Whitehorse hydro-electric dam in 1958, the rapids were covered by the Schwatka Lake reservoir.

After my appetite for historical facts was satisfied we convoyed over to Yukon Artists @ Work, a local artist co-operative gallery and where John had a showing of his latest work. John is an acrylic painter with his eye on what he refers to as the “unremarkable”. I kind of chuckled to myself when he said this because to me everywhere I looked seemed remarkable. John went on to explain that he can’t help but be inspired living in the Yukon as beauty is infused within the landscape. His curiosity is piqued not necessarily by the land at large but by the two or three feet on either side of his easel when he paints en plein air. My thought was he must have incredible discipline to be surrounded by 360 degrees of beauty but to maintain a focus within the parameters he set for himself.

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While I was listening to John talk I surmised that he takes an integrative approach to his work. When the urge for a new painting starts tugging on his paint brush he hops on his bicycle and starts out for a ride. He doesn’t force his senses to be on alert but rather takes in his surroundings as it comes. When he feels the tingle on the back of his neck triggered by the sound of rushing water or a sunbeam dancing on the silk of a spider web he knows that special spot has revealed itself. It may not be the time to set up a canvas but his mind’s eye is already painting away, preparing for his return to that spot which intrigued him. If not painting en plein air, John likes to sit and imprint his memory with every little detail of his intended subject and then transfer what he remembers onto his canvas. His choice not to take a photograph is part and parcel to his technique. He feels it gives his paintings more of an authenticty because it forces him to really be present and in the moment in order to represent the scene just like he remembers it. In return, nature in conjunction with his art gives him the gift of glimpsing the tiny changes that occur after his painting has long been completed; something that, for most of us, goes unnoticed.

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It is easy to feel awestruck when we see something unusually beautiful, something peculiar or something elusive. Spend a few minutes with John as he shares with us the significance of the unremarkable. We appreciate comments and taking the time to share John’s story on social media. Thank you.