This week, 12 Whitehorse artists set up their studios en plein air along the banks of the Yukon River to share their artistic process with passersby.
The En Plein Air Festival, hosted by Yukon Artists at Work, features a selection of local artists working in various disciplines, from multimedia sculptures to pine needle weaving to oil painting.
Inspired by the 19th Century French Impressionist style, the open-air venue aims to create a setting that adds a flowing element to the creative process and sparks conversation between viewers and artists.
The festival takes place approximately every two years, but this is the first time it has been able to fully operate since COVID-19.
Neil Graham, coordinator of the festival, said the artists were selected to showcase both a traditional approach to En Plein Air, as well as some more niche, modern interpretations.
Organizers were “open to different ideas, but most importantly looked for art forms inspired by nature in some way that would translate well in that setting,” Graham said.
The artists can be found at work along the banks of the Yukon River, stationed between the SS Klondike and the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre, from July 25 to 28 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. All works produced will be on display at the opening show at the Artists at Work Gallery on July 29.The exhibition will continue until Aug. 27 at the Ted Claxton Gallery.
On July 25, the Yukon News spoke with several artists to gain insight into their processes, inspirations and backgrounds.
Linda Leon is a multi-disciplinary artist who chose to work with oil paints this week. Although much of her recent work has primarily been in charcoal and print-making, she says that oil painting is the quintessential medium for working in the open-air, because outdoor settings are where the style of Impressionist painting originated. When working in oils, Leon finds herself inspired by a more traditional, scholarly approach of observation. In regards to her first piece for En Plein Air, depicting the trolley building near Kanoe People, she said she was “really interested in the flowers and the way the wind was blowing them against the side of the stark red building.”
Leon often finds a way to incorporate an element of satire into her works. She debated whether or not to include the No Trespassing sign into the scene she was painting.
“It’s got me thinking, maybe the flowers are trespassing? Well hey, if so, good for them.”
Maya Rosenberg is a landscape artist who uses oil paints to translate specific moods and lightings with her expressive approach to colour. For her first day out on the river, Maya chose to paint the Riverdale Bridge, and plans to “go with the flow” and work her way downstream over the course of the week. Rosenberg was born in Israel and has visited many places all over the world, depicting her travels through her paintbrush, but she says that the Yukon has provided one of the best canvases because it “changes so much throughout the year.”
“It’s like I live in four different places,” she said.
Rosenberg is also the owner of Art by Maya, a studio where she offers painting workshops and coordinates events and exhibitions. Her work can be found on display at Arts Underground.
Josée Carbonneau is a textile artist who combines her passions for fly fishing and art in her work with fish skins. She uses a selection of teas and natural dyes to tan the fish skins, which she uses to create beaded earrings, bowls and figurines. However, Carbonneau does not limit herself to one medium, and works with many different textiles including silks and needle felting. She is thrilled to see the craft of fish skins becoming more well known, and thinks that using scrap materials like this “just makes sense” and is the way of the future for artisans.
“When I was first introduced to fish skins it was such an ‘ah-ha’ moment for me. I’m always fishing and have all these fish skins, I may as well do something with them.”
Janet Patterson is a mixed media artist who lets her vivid imagination drive her creative process which she describes as “assemblage art.” Her project this week is a series of three dimensional dioramas inspired by “what could be hidden in the Yukon River.” The piece is constructed from scuba gear she has found washed up and features quirky figurines, including a giant squid and her version of the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
“There are creatures from the Bering Sea that find their way into the Yukon River. One of my grandchildren would often ask me if there are monsters in the river, too,” Patterson said.
“And of course we have bits of old ships under the Yukon River, and who knows what else? So all of these things made me think of exploring it with my art.”
Francoise La Roche is a fibre artist and weaver who lets whatever medium she chooses guide her creative process. For En Plein Air, La Roche chose to weave small, intricate baskets using dried pine needles, which she can complete in the course of a day. She travels to British Columbia to source the pine needles herself, where she collects them off of the forest floor. She then dyes some of the needles in different natural tones to achieve unique patterns and designs in her basketry.
La Roche appreciates the chance to expose people to more unusual artforms, and illustrate that there is no limit to what materials can be used.
“I like to work with fibres, and I see these pine needles as a fibre too. When you look at nature, you realise that there are just so many materials you can work with,” La Roche said.
Ava Christl is an impressionistic artist who has long been inspired by the Yukon’s unique ecosystem. She works in both pencil and charcoal, and her style focuses on capturing her surroundings through broad strokes and bold statements.
Christl is currently working on a multi-year circumpolar project on the Boreal Forest, and plans to do so by taking up artist residencies across the North. Christl has taken part in many community art projects throughout her career, and is grateful for another opportunity to be working out in the open, engaging with the public.
For her first day on the waterfront, she was inspired by something man-made, and chose to sketch Ken Anderson’s installation Building from the Past, Looking to the Future, which has held a sentimental value to her since she saw it installed 20 years previous. She said that working from such a strong piece was effective in depicting her process of using contrast and composition, in hopes of exposing visitors to the real craft that goes into all the art she makes.
“I think it’s an important part of the practice to share what we do and have people see the work in progress because so often we just see a finished work and have no idea how it’s made or what goes into it,” Christl said.
Other artists, including a costume designer and a poet, were also at work along the river this week; however, they we were more difficult to locate, perhaps due to the elusive nature of artists.
Contact Mira Alden-Hull at firstname.lastname@example.org