Painter Geoff Phillips and His Rural Reflections

arts-quest-geoff-phillips-whispering-pinesNot our last interview but our last stop in Saskatchewan took us to painter Geoff Phillips’ house in Maple Creek. We had been through Maple Creek once before but this time it was with fresh eyes. It’s a cute little town in southern Saskatchewan nestled within the prairie landscape and close to the Saskatchewan/Alberta border. It was here that Geoff and Connie decided to move their family from Calgary, with both sets of grandparents following in hot pursuit soon after.

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It would appear that the Phillips family lives an idyllic life in Maple Creek. Geoff’s steady income comes from their next door neighbour, the local Co-op food store where he works in the meat department. Besides not having to drive to work, living right next door has other benefits too. When he is not helping customers with their meat requirements sometimes they come in and ask to see his artwork. He asks his boss if he can pop home to show it to them, bloody apron and all, and off he goes. Only in a small town.

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For the past 6 years Geoff has had the good fortune of being the artist in residence at the Cypress Hills Inter-provincial Park for one month in the summer. But it is no coincidence that Geoff has had this opportunity for 6 years running. His unique style gives park visitors not only an appreciation for Geoff’s art but also for the surroundings that comprise the park itself. What started out as a pilot project has turned into a marvelous draw to the park, with subsequent years also being funded to carry on the successful project. With his family’s encouragement and the well wishes of his employer he stays at the park to paint and run workshops for visitors. His paintings are based around the flora and fauna of the park and are meant to bring awareness to those who make the journey there. Geoff’s art is colourful and certainly very eye-pleasing so his pieces attract people like honey attracts bees. Every year Geoff packs up his canvasses, paints, brushes and a theme that he will incorporate into his work while he is there. This past August he worked on 12 very large canvasses and painted micro sections of the park depicting the landscape and the common plant species which are found there.

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I have found over the last 6 years of doing interviews that each artist’s process is just as unique as the art they create. During his stay in Cypress Hills Park, Geoff will go out and wander the woods until he finds an intriguing spot he wants to bring to life on canvass. I would have thought a few pictures and maybe a sketch book would be what he would use to gather material for his piece. Instead he pulls out his really large canvass and spreads it out over the ground and then proceeds to stomp on it with his shoes to try to get it to lay as flat as possible, but of course there are always lumps and bumps creating hills and valleys. No matter, Geoff pulls out a can of brownish acrylic paint and proceeds to map out his future painting. He paints in oils but acrylic dries quicker for this part of the process. He then packs up and heads back to the art cabin where he adds a layer of primer and then proceeds with the oils. There are a few reference pictures taken as well. As Geoff puts it, it is very crude but he likes doing it this way because he can really get a feel for the spot he wants to paint and this helps to ignite the passion that goes into his work.

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When Gary and I stopped in on Geoff to do his interview we also got to see the new workshop and painting studio that he and Connie recently added to their home. Both Geoff and Connie, who is also an artist, have collaborated to bring all kinds of art programs through The Art House to the town of Maple Creek. They offer their artistic expertise to help guide children and adults through their own artistic expression, whether it be at a Splatter Party where one gets to pretend they are Jackson Pollock, or something a little more structured like learning the basics of drawing. It is obvious that both the Phillips family and the town of Maple Creek have benefited from their arrival. Geoff and Connie are bringing art to their community by teaching others how to express their creativity. They also enjoy the exposure of their art lining the walls of the local pub and restaurant and in the form of Geoff’s huge mural that was commissioned by the town of Maple Creek for the Heritage District revitalization program.

So if you ever find yourself in Maple Creek, Saskatchewan stop in to the Co-op, ask for Geoff at the meat counter and ask to see his art. He’ll be glad to oblige.

Be sure to check out our interview with Geoff. Also, help us spread the word about Geoff through social media by sharing this blog post. Clickable buttons are provided below for your convenience. And we love comments so please feel free to leave a nice one about Geoff and his work below. Thank you!

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.