Yukon painter Halin de Repentigny’s new art show, Hills and Underbrush, opens at Whitehorse’s Copper Moon Gallery this week.
He believes people will appreciate his work as coming from someone with decades of Yukon living.
“It’s a show for Yukoners,” he said. “There are colours and feelings they will recognize because I can share it with them.”
Gallery owner Nerissa Rosati finds de Repentigny’s talent to be pure and real. “There is nothing strained or stressed about it,” she said.
He has been painting since childhood.
“At 16 years old, I was doing portraits in old Montreal in pastels to feed my mom and brother,” he said.
He worked at other jobs but always went back to art. It made him more money than anything else.
“Eventually it became a way of life for me,” he said.
He spent 20 years trapping in the Yukon and has a passion for the outdoors. The lifestyle provided by trapping allowed him the opportunity to paint.
During the winter, the lack of ventilation in his cabin forced him to put his paintings outdoors or hang them on the wall of his shop and let them freeze until spring.
This caused no damage to the canvases.
“Oil paint does not dry, it cures in light and warmth,” he smiled.
Ten years ago, he decided to become a full-time artist and now travels to Argentina for the winter months so he can paint year-round.
He has been away from the Yukon for those 10 winters, spending six months each year in Argentina. This year he decided to stay here and paint.
“Some painters paint with artificial light but that’s not for me,” he said.
Daylight hours, however, are in short supply during the Yukon winter.
The time spent painting different scenery in Argentina brought change to his technique and changed his color palette.
“My knowledge of painting evolved without me knowing. You do evolve, you get better,” he said.
While walking in the Yukon woods now he sees the colours even better and views things differently.
“I have a different absorption of it. Stuff I would never paint before, never even look at – and I look and say, ‘Wow this is fun; this is good, I will do this’.”
He was excited to paint underbrush as there is so much to show.
“You don’t have to go very far,” de Repentigny said.
The show is comprised of paintings from the Yukon and Patagonia. Many are from the area behind Yukon College, including McIntyre Creek.
There are a couple of majestic paintings of mountains as well.
“The right light is a jewel,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter whether it’s from Yukon or Patagonia – a mountain is a mountain. It’s nearly impossible for people to identify where the mountain is from.”
It comes down to whether it’s a good painting or it’s not a good painting – people really don’t care where it comes from, said de Repentigny.
He doesn’t believe that all art needs an artist statement because good representative art makes its own statement.
“I don’t think I have to explain my painting,” he said.
He believes this show makes a definite statement for itself. The display is mostly oil paintings with some acrylic and some that are mixed media of both oil and acrylic.
The paintings began with a sketch on canvas board and included photographs. They are then reproduced on larger canvas in the studio.
“It’s all about light, color and composition,” he said. “You use photographs for this. If you do it from memory, it doesn’t have the same impact.”
For this particular exhibition it is obvious that he began in fall with the autumn colors and worked through the winter until snowfall.
The day after the painting titled Last Light was completed, a snowstorm obliterated contrast and colour so he decided to do mountain scenes.
Eventually it became too dark to be interesting any longer.
An artist should always be evolving, he said. “Especially as a painter, you should be getting better and you should see the change. If the painter is doing the same as he did 20 years ago, something’s wrong. He’s stagnant.
“In my case it’s mostly the style that’s changing – constantly searching.”
A change in theme will cause a change in style. As an example, if an artist is used to painting spruce trees their style will have to change to paint a eucalyptus tree.
“These kind of things seem to make you start to evolve. Your technical style, these kind of things make you learn. I like the challenge,” he said.
He believes that suggested detail is more interesting than actual detail in paintings.
“With one big stroke I can suggest a million strokes that will look the same from 15 feet away,” he said.
“I can never pretend I’ve mastered it yet. The day I’m able to paint anything I want exactly like I want, I’d probably stop painting. There’d be no more challenge.”
He is constantly working.
“I’ve never had a vacation in my life,” he said with a laugh.
Even when he goes to Argentina he’s always painting or working at something.
“I think what I do so far, people like,” he said. “I know a painting works when it creates its own light.”
Once people buy a painting and hang it on the wall for a while, they get to like it better, said de Repentigny.
He explained that the paintings, although well displayed by Copper Moon Gallery, will actually look better in isolation.
“When space is allotted at home, they are way more striking,” he said.
There are some portraits included in the show, including one of local artist Jim Robb.
He would like to see Robb’s portrait displayed in a public gallery or a museum rather than in a private collection.
Said Rosati: “Halin is ready to move again into the national and international market as an established Canadian artist … the shift has most definitely already begun.”
The show opens at the Copper Moon Gallery in the McRae subdivision on Feb. 3 at 5 p.m. and runs until March.