Artist Jackie Ziehe has a secret tool to help her find the perfect painting subjects – a helicopter.
At Ziehe’s newest exhibit in the Copper Moon gallery, she stands in front of a piece with blue and grey mountains towering over a winding river. The heavily layered watercolour looks like an old Chinese print with impressionistic flourishes.
But because the sketches were taken during a tour in one of her husband’s choppers, you’ll never get to know how much of it is artistic licence.
“We were up flying up near Mayo, I think,” said Ziehe, a professional painter for more than 25 years. “The mountain has no name.”
Her husband runs a helicopter business in Whitehorse, allowing Ziehe to paint like a National Geographic photographer shoots pictures.
In the eight years since her last exhibit, Ziehe has painted in watercolour, acrylic and ink.
When time came to present her work, she noticed her taste had moved into a kind of painter’s limbo.
“When I finished all of the work and said, ‘OK, I think I’ve got enough work,’ I looked around and I realized it isn’t one thing,” said Ziehe.
“It isn’t representational, it’s not all abstract, it’s not Impressionism – it’s a combination,” she said. “You can see that I’m going from very realistic to very abstract.”
Ziehe has dubbed her exhibit Transitions, a collection of works hanging at the Copper Moon in McRae until September 30.
“Most artists start out being very realistic,” she said, adding her beginnings were much the same. “That’s how you start as an artist. You draw what you see and as you work you become more confident. You become looser and you’re able to pick and choose.”
Her paintings – despite sharing many autumnal hues – cover a wide range of moments in nature. They’re best described as moments since they revolve around the way rays of light are manipulated by trees, geology and weather for a very brief period.
When Ziehe and her husband moved here in 1980, she was awe-struck by the light.
“It’s at an angle,” she said. “It’s a painter and photographer’s paradise.”
She has to be very quick when she sketches because most scenes disappear in seconds, she said.
And while her exhibit features a few grand vistas, most pieces depict low-lying, heavily-shaded corner of the natural world.
“(The paintings) are often ditches, bogs and trees,” she said. “I like hidden places.”
By the time sunlight passes through leaves, clouds and precipitation, it attains a unique colouring and intensity, she said.
Anyone who has been on Skagway’s White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad might recognize two paintings Ziehe has done of the quiet swamps beside the train tracks just in town.
And Ziehe’s massive depiction of the mountains near Carcross are easily recognizable too.
“I had these pictures for four or five years and so I always remembered the light puddling in the valley,” she said.
When unearthing old pictures, it’s not hard for her to remember what caught her eye, she said.
“After 30 years, you start to know the colours.”
Ziehe was originally an oil painter before the heavily toxic medium made her asthmatic.
“Most people recognize what they call my whiskey voice but it’s basically asthma,” she said.
But her attachment to oil’s heavy and rich colours remained. Her watercolours are rarely pale and are often deepened with layers of gouache.
“I am strong in my watercolours,” she said.
Ziehe’s most striking work in the exhibit depicts a massive cloud thundering over a valley, like a blimp.
“It wasn’t in the helicopter,” she said. “It’s actually a combination of places I’ve been and I wouldn’t call it anywhere.”
The cloud is quintessential Yukon – they’re the kind of thing you see rolling over a mountain ridge every so often in Whitehorse.
“You often seen these clouds that are like entities,” said Ziehe. “They’re fragile and soft. They’re like this huge being that comes across the hills. You see one coming and it looks like a really alive thing coming towards you.
“And the sun behind it leaves puddles of light,” she said.
“I love puddles of light.”
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