Artist seeks enlightenment with each brushstroke

TAGISH LAKE Painting is meditation for Alice Park-Spurr. After that first courageous act of defacing a raw white canvas, she relaxes and lets her…


Painting is meditation for Alice Park-Spurr.

After that first courageous act of defacing a raw white canvas, she relaxes and lets her unconscious take over.

“It’s all very spontaneous — sketching and planning only restrict my freedom,” she said from her isolated cabin home on Tagish Lake.

“I draw from lots of experiences: a boat trip, a walk through the woods, my childhood — all these images just skip through my head.”

The images that materialize on the canvas reveal her inner self.

That’s no accident.

Park-Spurr, who once attended a Zen Buddhist monastery in Berkley, California, likens mastering painting to enlightenment.

“I learn from my mistakes,” she said. “They help me discover something new.”

Her latest work is called Raven Tales.

She began to make sketches after watching the ravens visit the tree-stump birdfeeder in front of her cabin.

“I really had the image in my head — the image of the raven”

Despite the running theme, the collection’s paintings maintain Park-Spurr’s subtle, abstract style.

Selections from Raven Tales will be sold at the Arts Underground for the next month.

It’s a fundraiser, with 50 per cent of the proceeds going towards the Ted Harrison Artist Retreat.

“It’s a very good foundation and, being an artist, I’m very happy that I’m able to help.”

“The arts community here has encouraged me and been very supportive — it’s almost a payback.”

Park-Spurr also wanted her ravens to remain in their home territory.

“They’re Yukon’s territorial bird, I wanted the paintings to stay here rather than be sold in the south.”

Park-Spurr was born in Pussan, a South Korean port.

At 20, she followed her sister to the United States and began taking mechanical drafting classes. Eventually, she landed a job at Hewlett-Packard.

There she met her husband John Spurr, an Englishman who had also immigrated to California.

In 1974, the couple made their first trip to the Yukon. They fell in love with the place.

In 1980, they quit their jobs and build the Tagish Lake homestead.

“In the beginning we worked from sunup to sundown,” said Park-Spurr.

“After the main cabin was built though, we began to have more free time.”

Park-Spurr wanted to find an outlet to express herself, and record the pristine wilderness that surrounded her.

She decided to try watercolours.

During one of their frequent return trips to California, to visit family and work for their “bread and butter,” she decided to enrol in an art class.

After just one semester, she knew that she wanted to continue.

“If you’re so interested, then why don’t you go to art school?” her husband asked her, and in 1990 she enrolled at the California College of the Arts.

“It was hard at first. I had to do art history courses and things like that, when all I wanted to do was paint.”

“Having English as a second language made it difficult too; I had to study twice as hard.”

She earned both her bachelor’s and master’s of fine arts with a focus in painting.

Her master’s thesis was entitled An Integration of Zen and Painting.

Every Zen master needs a proper place to meditate.

For some a monastery perched high in the mountains and filled with impeccably kept rock gardens will do.

For Park-Spurr it’s a cabin built with her own hands that’s a two-hour boat trip from civilization.

The pioneer lifestyle is a lot of work.

Wood must be chopped, and the greenhouse must be maintained.

But in that monk-like seclusion the artist finds inspiration to paint.

In her thesis, she wrote that art had become essential to her life, almost like an addiction.

She’s still hooked, even after working professionally for more than 10 years and staging exhibitions across Canada and the US.

“I can never find enough time to paint as much as I’d like to,” she said.

“My head is full of images that I want to express.”

Her show of selections from Raven Tales will open this Friday at the Arts Underground.