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Mountains, memories and imagination

Horst Berlow is happiest atop a mountain. But he'll settle for a nice view of a peak, especially if he can share it with others.

Horst Berlow is happiest atop a mountain.

But he’ll settle for a nice view of a peak, especially if he can share it with others.

That’s what the 72-year-old, German-born Faro resident has done with his latest collection of watercolour landscapes, on display this month at the Chocolate Claim.

“Most are actual places,” he said. “A few are in my mind.”

Berlow decided to become a painter 16 years ago. He was a cabinet-maker at the time, tired of the screech of machinery and stuffiness of sawdust.

He wasn’t particularly talented when he began. But he had it in his head he would become a painter, so he did, through hours and hours of practice.

Berlow usually starts by making small thumbnail sketches on location. Sometimes he’ll also take photographs. But he doesn’t copy off them.

The problem with photographs is they show everything. And every landscape is full of minute details that distract from the big idea of an artist.

So one of the most important things Berlow does is leave things out. He simplifies shapes - Yukon’s scraggly spruce trees become better defined, with sporadically placed bushy branches and not a twig in sight.

Bushes are “just hinted at” with brush strokes, as are a field of purple lupin flowers.

“I exaggerate a little bit,” he said. “Artists usually do that to get the message across.”

No wonder, then, that when Berlow painted the same scene with another watercolour artist from Faro, the two creations “turned out totally different.”

Berlow isn’t interested in manipulating photographs on a computer. He finds it’s a lot simpler to do that work in his head.

“I can cheat more,” he said. “I like to be more free, more loose.”

Berlow aims to create paintings that can transport the viewer to another place.

“You have the feeling that you’re actually there. I think it would be very difficult for a photo to do that.”

He paints exclusively in watercolour. The medium has a luminous quality, as if light were shining up from beneath the paper, which he finds particularly suits landscapes.

But watercolours are finicky to use. Make a mistake with oils, and it’s fairly simple to correct. With watercolour, “you get one chance, more or less.”

Autumn is Berlow’s favourite season. Aspen are “a painter’s delight” at that time of year, thanks to the golden colours of their leaves.

One big painting stands out. It shows the sun setting behind a forested pond, cast in light orange. The lake is found just outside Faro, but the sunset scene is Berlow’s making.

“It’s part of a photo, part of my memory, and part of my imagination,” he said.

Berlow likes to start and finish a painting in the same day. Usually, he begins in the morning. After six hours, he’s usually done.

Berlow reckons he’s produced approximately 500 paintings to date. And at what point did he become satisfied with the result? “I’m still not happy,” he said with a smirk.

“I can find something wrong with every painting, which no one else will see. Often, I’ll do it over, to see if I can do better. And often I can’t.”

It’s an important lesson that took him a while to learn: don’t fuss. “It takes a lot of self-control to stop, because you’re only making it worse.”

Berlow also paints flowers and butterflies. But he finds they don’t sell nearly as well as mountains.

Last year, during a similar show at the Chocolate Claim, Berlow had four paintings of butterflies on show. None sold. But most of the landscapes did.

Berlow’s show continues for the rest of the month. His work can also be found in galleries around Whitehorse and at Faro’s Anvil Range Art Gallery.

Contact John Thompson at