Secluded artist comes in from the lake

Alice Park-Spurr doesn't come out of the wilderness often. In the summer, she takes a 120-kilometre boat ride from her home on Tagish Lake to get to the highway.

Alice Park-Spurr doesn’t come out of the wilderness often.

In the summer, she takes a 120-kilometre boat ride from her home on Tagish Lake to get to the highway. In the winter, she and her husband ride a snowmobile to replenish supplies like food.

But over the last couple of weeks, Park-Spurr has been travelling in and out of seclusion preparing a painting exhibit of recent works at the Copper Moon Art Gallery in McCrae.

“I really like it out there – I liked the solitude, the peacefulness,” said Park-Spurr. “Except making the trips. That’s what really bothers me.

“I’m feeling old about it.”

There’s nothing old about her art.

The flowing and dreamy landscapes in Whispering Colours, a collection of nearly two dozen oil and acrylic paintings, captivate the eye with their larger-than-life presence.

Besides, Park-Spurr isn’t leaving her cabin on the lake any time soon. The seclusion shapes her art, she said.

“Painting is my way of practising Zen in an artist’s way,” she said in a brief biography of herself.

“It is my way of meditation with arms, eyes, body and mind.

“I like to observe things slowly and thoughtfully, as Zen practice requires a great deal of patience and discipline.

“Through patience and discipline, I develop my visual language and master my craftsmanship. A deeper understanding of self develops.”

The paintings on display, created in the last two years, are more representational and less abstract than her previous exhibits, she said. Pure whimsy motivated her decision to be less interpretative.

“I just felt like doing some kind of change,” she said. “I’d been going the other direction since I graduated and I just wanted to do something different.”

Park-Spurr paints loosely from photographs she takes in the area around her cabin. She returns to her studio, takes some guidance from the pictures, and lets the paint flow.

“You won’t see these views in the real area,” she said. “I interpret my own way, I’m not just copying exactly. It depends on mood or colours.”

There are several smaller pieces in the exhibit, but what’s really worth showing up for are the big pieces. The monster vistas of lazy blues and vivid reds are reminiscent of Group of Seven paintings, but with distinct moods created by Park-Spurr’s colour choices.

She says she doesn’t plan ahead when she paints. The shapes gradually arise as she works.

“I often paint over until I feel satisfied,” she said. “Because (planning) seems to restrict my freedom. Once I tell myself I’m going to do it this way, I can’t express, I can’t explore.”

Park-Spurr didn’t plan to come north either.

She and her husband worked at Hewlett-Packard in California. He was a mechanical engineer; she was an industrial designer.

They had visited the North in 1975, but it wasn’t until he read a book on northern living, Paradise Below Zero, that they decided to move, said Park-Spurr.

“I just followed my husband,” she said.

In 1980, they began building their cabin.

They lived on Tagish Lake half the year, taking time in the winter to work Outside for their bread and butter.

It wasn’t until 1999 that the couple moved there permanently.

The beauty of the region soon sparked an interest in painting. Park-Spurr began taking college courses down south in art, and then enrolled for several years at the California College of the Arts.

“Only after we moved up here, all the surrounding areas seemed very beautiful,” said Park-Spurr. “The light and everything else made me think ‘I must do something about it.’”

Whispering Colours opens today at the Copper Moon Gallery from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Brenda Lee Katerenchuk will be performing on classical guitar at 6 p.m.

Contact James Munson at

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