Yukoner blurs boundaries between painting and sculpture

Deanna Bailey can tell you there are much worse places in the world to get lost than in the French Riviera town of Eze.

Deanna Bailey can tell you there are much worse places in the world to get lost than in the French Riviera town of Eze.

It was last fall when the Whitehorse artist stepped off a train in the medieval village and took a wrong turn that led her directly to the beach and the Mediterranean Sea.

Although she wasn’t planning on staying very long initially, she became mesmerized with the sight of the waves washing up against the rocks on the shore.

“It reminded me of some places in the Yukon,” she said.

“There were some similarities with the rocks, too. I ended up spending a long time there, enjoying the view of the hillside and being amazed at how the communities there are intertwined with nature.”

It inspired her to create Eze Beach, an 11-by-14 inch artwork made entirely of modeling clay of different colours.

Standing five or ten feet away from it makes it impossible to tell it isn’t a painting.

But up close, your eyes begin to notice the shapes popping out from the canvas.

Bailey’s use of modeling clay to craft extravagantly detailed compositions blur the boundary between painting and sculpture, an art form she learned about three years ago.

In October and November last year, she took part in an artist residency program in southern France with four other international artists.

“It’s so easy to work there,” she said.

“I got twice as much work done there than I would at home.”

Bailey produced 11 artworks during her time in France but also visited a dozen French towns, countless art galleries, museums and studios.

She even met a 90-year-old artist, one of the last surviving potters from Pablo Picasso’s time.

Fifteen of her artworks, along with three ceramic doors, are on display in the Hilltop Bistro at Yukon College in an exhibit titled Opening doors: From Yukon to Cote d’Azur.

Her work often incorporates nature in some way, she said. “I want it to be present for people to see, as a reminder of what we have and what we need to do to protect it,” she said.

Before attending the artist residency Bailey did a bit of travelling around Europe. She was particularly drawn to old towns and walled cities, especially the doors that adorned the aging buildings.

They were always decorated with nature scenes, she explained, and it became a theme of sorts for her trip.

“I was fascinated by how these doors were always surrounded by all this stone and concrete,” she said, “yet the doors were always decorated with nature.”

“It’s also symbolism for the doors opening in my art career.”

Born in Calgary, Alta., Bailey completed her art and biology studies at the University of Lethbridge and University of Alberta in 2007.

It was while creating scientific illustrations that Bailey began investigating how she could incorporate more sculpture into her paintings.

She was introduced to modeling clay and it was the exact medium she was looking for, she said.

In 2010 she moved to the Yukon and a few years later she would attend an outdoor event that proved to be the turning point in her career.

The Yukon Plein Air Festival in 2014 brought various artists together over five days in July to create art in different parts of Whitehorse.

Each artist had to complete a piece of art every day, according to the rules of the event.

“Using modeling clay is a good outdoor medium because it doesn’t get bothered by wind or rain,” Bailey said.

“I was actually blown away by all the things I could do with it. I ended up putting my pencils and paints away and I’ve been working with it for the past three years.”

It takes Bailey between 15 and 30 hours to complete an 11-by-14 inch artwork, she said, whereas she’d spent upwards of 100 hours working on a scientific illustration.

She draws her inspiration from nature walks around the territory – some of her favourite spots include Kluane National Park and Tombstone Territorial Park – and works from the pictures she takes on those days.

Bailey’s exhibit at the Hilltop Bistro runs until May and all the artworks on display are for sale.

The Bistro is open for lunch Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. from October until May.

It operates as a community gallery showcasing a different artist each fall and winter term.

Contact Myles Dolphin at