Colours and textures burst forth from the canvases and the acrid smell of oil paint lay heavy in the air.
“This is where it all happens,” said Simon James Gilpin as he opened the door to his studio.
Copper Moon Gallery will be hosting an exhibition, opening October 7, by this artist who originally hails from Yorkshire, England and now lives in Whitehorse.
Gilpin had been exhibiting regularly while in the UK and had built a name for himself in Yorkshire before making the move to Yukon.
“My inspiration is here,” he said as he looked over the forest, trails and woods behind Copper Moon Gallery, also the location of his home and studio.
Gilpin first visited Whitehorse in 2005 where he met his soon-to-be-wife, Jean. In a typical Yukon story, they moved back to England and then to Nelson, BC, before deciding to return to where they had first met: Whitehorse.
They arrived in April of this year and he was hired as gallery manager at Copper Moon Gallery in July.
“I always wanted to be working in the art industry,” he said.
Gilpin holds a bachelor of fine arts degree from Bretton Hall University in Yorkshire.
His first foray into the art world came after he finished university and moved to London, England where he opened a studio.
“I learned very quickly that it was a very cutthroat business down there and very difficult to make ends meet,” he said.
Gilpin describes his show, Yorkshire to Yukon, as a transitional show with the paintings being from the last three-year period. It includes scenes from England, Nelson and Yukon.
“Life in Europe and life here are so similar in so many ways, yet so different,” he said. ‘It shows the progression of my journey both visually, and the physical journey from Yorkshire.”
Gilpin describes trying to figure out the Yukon landscape as it is very new for him.
“It’s different in terms of the mountains and the fact that there are fir trees instead of big oak trees,” he said.
The colour scheme is unlike what he previously worked with. The water has a very different hue as do the woods. He is fascinated by those visual elements.
“One of the paintings is of Miles Canyon and it took me a while to get my head around that turquoise of the glacial water because that is a colour you’d never see naturally occurring in England,” he said.
Gilpin’s artistic interest lies in the balance between the natural world and the human-made world.
In England he focused on the areas where human habitation met the countryside.
He painted the edges of cities, towns, and parks, places where there had been buildings but now have nature growing back. What he found there was conflict between human and nature.
Gilpin was born on a pig farm at the edge of a small town. After his father’s death, his family moved into that small town which, by then, had become the suburbs of a city.
“That’s probably where that obsession with these two different environments comes from,” he said.
“Whereas, since I’ve been here, I’ve been much more drawn to the wild, so to speak. You know, the pure nature of being out in the woods where humans have had very little if no impact on it because that’s something that you could never really find in England,”
He said that it’s the same kind of commentary, only in Yukon it’s the absence of people in the wilderness that he concentrates on.
“They are not represented at all. It’s a landscape untouched by humans,” he said.
The change in visuals since coming to Yukon has been difficult for Gilpin and he’s not sure what direction his art will go in the future.
“I like to push things and challenge myself with my artwork,” he said.
His paintings focus on a small area of the woods; capturing the way the light strikes the leaves and presenting the various colours and subtle shades of green that are found when viewing a small area.
His work is a blend of texture and form.
“I very much like texture and I want my paintings to exist on two levels; one, purely as a surface as a beautiful and intriguing surface of textured and well applied oil paints, but also as an image,” he said.
Gilpin works from photographs in order to capture moments in time.
He doesn’t concentrate on details, but creates an image that emphasizes texture when the viewer is up close and blends into an image as one moves further away.
At one time the texture in his paintings had gotten so heavy it would obscure the image, creating an abstract style. He was using a technique of flicking the paint onto the canvas with a palette knife.
“It gives you these graceful long thin lines that are perfect for depicting branches and foliage. You can get more energy with a line that’s flicked onto the canvas you’d ever do by painting it with a brush,” he said. “It makes brush-painted lines look very static in comparison.”
During his last two years in the UK, he had a lot of paintings that he wanted to finish while he was there, so he had to come up with a quicker way of doing them as the flicking technique is time consuming.
He learned a method that achieves a similar effect by scraping paint with a palette knife.
More recently he has, once again, been using the flicking method to slowly build up the amount of oil and create even more texture.
Gilpin has an interesting view on how the digital era has impacted art.
“I think it’s actually made painting a little stronger because people can run photographs through applications on the computer that make them look like sketches or paintings, but they still know it’s not, really. So when they see something that has been done by hand it seems all the more impressive,” he said. “Visual art is kind of the last bastion, in a way, of the traditional hands-on way of life.”
The pieces to be displayed in his exhibition range from 12 by nine inches to 58 by 47 inches, so there is a size for every decor.
The exhibition opens at Copper Moon Gallery on October 7, and runs for a month.
Norm Hamilton is a
writer and photographer.