John Boivin had a breakthrough recently. He was painting a view to the south of Tombstone Territorial Park.
Ever since picking up his paintbrushes in 2002, after a long hiatus since he was a teenager, he’d struggled to make what he saw in his head correspond with what he created on the canvas.
He had captured the dark blue of Charcoal Creek surrounded by yellow-leafed willows and green spruce. It was the brown mountain looming in the distance that proved a nuisance.
Boivin tried one shade a brown. He added shadow to sections. Then he added a dollop of white to his palette and stroked on a dozen highlights.
It was, in his view, perfect. “It was exactly what was out there.”
This and 13 other recent paintings by Boivin are on show at the Yukon Artists at Work gallery. “This is really the first show in which I felt in control of every painting. My hand and my brain were actually working together. That’s the rush you strive for.”
There are few fine details in Boivin’s work – just broad strokes. “You want to leave room for the viewer to get into the painting,” said Boivin. “You don’t want to be overly precise.”
Yet Boivin’s latest batch of paintings also contain more detail than he could have mustered in the past. It’s the result of him gaining confidence in his painting skills.
He’s probably the proudest of a painting of a willow tree, also done at Tombstone.
In it, the roughly painted forms of yellow leaves pop out against the more sharply delineated branches in the background.
This seems to draw attention to the swirling, dynamic pattern that the leaves form as a whole.
Boivin can bang off a paintings in a matter of hours. But sometimes he’s thought about it for several years, until the composition clicked in his head.
So it went with the willow painting. Boivin wanted to paint the tree for three years, but he needed to let it stew first.
Nailing the right colour is often tricky. Several efforts to capture the yellow of willow leaves “looked like a big mush,” said Boivin.
He eventually figured out what worked: cutting a stroke of yellow against a backdrop of darker red, to create a sharp line.
Or, when painting yellow and orange lilies, Boivin tried to capture their brightness by painting layers of white before topping it with a splash of colour. This lets the base paint shine through.
But it takes a lot of practice to get right.
Perspective can be tricky too. Boivin’s exhibit includes several views from mountaintops, looking downward, that he struggled to get right.
Boivin’s interested in the patterns found in nature and how they’re reflected in mathematical formulas, such as the golden ratio and fractals.
He borrows a line from science fiction author Rudy Rucker: “art is the way of knowing what you don’t.”
The way nature organizes itself may remain mysterious in many ways, but Boivin tries to do it justice with “the way lines and forms and shapes and colours all click together and interact.”
Boivin shuns working from photographs. He says he can spot a painting that’s been created from one.
Without a photograph, “you end up editing out a lot of stuff that doesn’t need to be there,” he said.
The show is called Fleeting Colours. That’s a nod to the transient nature of the flowers that dominate many of the paintings: crocuses, lupins, wild roses and tiny yellow meadow flowers.
One flower that’s absent is fireweed. Boivin’s yet to complete a painting of it that he’s happy with.
This is partly because they’re complicated in shape. And they’re always changing.
“It’s like there’s a fire lit at the base that burns its way to the top as the summer dies,” said Boivin.
Maybe next show he’ll have it mastered.
Fleeting Colours continues until Wednesday,
Contact John Thompson at email@example.com.