The people in Jude Griebel’s paintings can’t hide how they’re feeling.
Their inner lives are literally bursting out of their bodies – trees growing from their hips, ocean vistas opening up in their faces and windows glowing out of their chests.
“All the work is anchored in the body – whether it’s things happening mentally or physically,” said Griebel, 32, who is the current artist-in-residence at the Ted Harrison Artist’s Retreat.
In calm shades of browns, greens and yellows, Griebel’s paintings tend to focus on one person consumed by a specific emotion or thought.
During the two months he’s spending at the retreat, he will finish 14 new works on people’s ideas of what will happen when they die.
“It has a lot to do with how people see their bodies – how they think they’ll leave them or how they think they’re attached to them,” he said.
Before arriving at the retreat on the shores of Crag Lake, Griebel asked friends in the arts to write how they see the afterlife.
“The texts have become self-portraits because people describe what they value in life – their fears and desires surrounding mortality,” he said.
Many people hypothesized some form of reincarnation will occur at death.
“And quite a few people think nothing will happen at all – which makes for a fairly simple painting,” he said.
Griebel spent August at an artist’s residency in Iceland, where he began using wood surfaces for his oil paintings.
He painted on wooden planes and then raised them off the wall a couple of inches so there’s a shadow effect.
“They’re almost like a cross between painting and sculpture,” he said.
He’s carried the technique into his afterlife work at Crag Lake.
But this time, he plans to use Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights as an inspiration for the paintings’ final installation.
“A lot of my influences are historical paintings,” he said.
He kept returning to old spiritual imagery because of the way people turned to the traditional in their texts.
“You can see these universal stories that people are personalizing in certain ways,” he said.
Griebel, who has a studio in Montreal, works like a nomad.
He’s done artist residencies in Vermont, Japan, California and Banff.
“It’s a great way of meeting other artists,” he said.
“(Residency) is a really important part of how I do my work.”
A couple of years ago, he was the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture’s artist-in-residence in Dawson City.
The far-flung isolation of northern life drew him back to Yukon.
“I have a very busy world that happens in Montreal and I’m very set in my ways in my art-making process,” he said.
“But when you go to a place like this, it’s isolated from everything else – it’s really like being in your own head.”
The Ted Harrison Artist Retreat is especially solitary.
Most residencies are tied to an arts school or academy where close contact with busy artists is the norm, he said.
But Crag Lake, home to Ted Harrison’s original cabin, offers a real chance to be alone.
“I find it helps me out in a lot of ways,” he said.
Griebel arrived at the retreat in early November and has a couple more weeks to go.
Before him, Whitehorse artist Lyn Fabio spent six weeks there advancing her long-time affinity for pig intestine.
She echoed Griebel’s statements about the freedom artists find at the retreat.
“Often residences are tied to institutions and there’s more pressure and expectations,” she said.
At the retreat, you’re not expected to leave with a finished body of work.
“It lets artists move further into what they have to do in their practice,” she said.
Fabio, who trained to work in textiles, has been stretching and contorting pig guts for nearly a decade.
“The quality of light through gut is quite magical,” she said.
The aboriginal people along the northern coast of Alaska right through the Aleutian Islands traditionally used walrus intestine to make impermeable parkas.
Fabio fell in love with intestine art after seeing an exhibit of the aboriginal work in Juneau decades ago.
But walrus intestine isn’t the easiest material to get your hands on.
It wasn’t until years later when Fabio found a course in Washington state on pig intestine that she could finally follow her inspiration.
She often makes vessels in various shapes mixed with other organic material.
She gets her intestine at a local deli.
“I also have some moose that’s been sitting in my shed for a couple of years,” she said.
“It’s packed in salt, so it will be alright.”
There’s always the occasional critic who’s grossed out by her love affair with guts.
Once a man in Inuvik said it was disgusting.
“I said, ‘What did you have for breakfast? You ate sausages, I mean, you’re eating it,’” she said.
The Alaskan aboriginals who started the intestine-parka tradition had two uses for the garments.
There’s the pragmatic use of parkas for fishing or hunting in the rain.
But there were also parkas for shamans who used them in ceremonies.
“There was this idea of an organ leaving the animal’s body and protecting the human,” she said.
“It was the connection between man and the animals they were hunting.”
Fabio made a parka and brought it to a major craft exhibition in Korea earlier this year.
She didn’t get much feedback from the Koreans.
“I have no idea what they thought,” she said.
While at the artists’ retreat, Fabio returned to her original work with textiles, this time mixing them with intestine.
Unlike Griebel, she experimented a lot more at the retreat.
“(The retreat) is about 10 times the size of my studio,” she said.
“It allows me a lot of experimentation.”
The work is for an April show at Arts Underground.
As for Griebel, his work from Crag Lake will be presented in the Cella Gallery in Los Angeles next spring.
For those without plans to go to California next year, the retreat is holding an open house on December 19 at 3 p.m.
On December 15, Griebel is hosting an artist’s talk at the Old Fire Hall at 5:15 p.m.
The retreat, which has been housing artists for about a decade, is also holding an auction of past artists’ work tomorrow at Gallery 22 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
There will even be serigraphs – prints made in a silk screen process – by Ted Harrison on auction.
Contact James Munson at