Painting an extension of love for mountains
Thursday, Sep 16, 2010 06:00 am
For Banff artist Alex Emond, watercolour painting became an extension of his love for the backcountry of the Rocky Mountains.
Emond, who has lived in Banff since 1968, began to understand painting could be a means to enrich his experience in the mountains.
“Painting, in a way… I wouldn’t want to say it’s a byproduct of hiking, but for a while when I was younger, I took up hiking and covered tons of ground that I really liked. But this way, it allows you to learn one little spot rather than to be hell bent to get to the top of this thing,” he said, pointing out the top of a mountain peak in one of his paintings.
It’s also a passion that grew out of exposure to paintings at the Luxton Museum of the Plains Indian, now the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum, the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies and through a friendship with Catharine Whyte, one of Banff’s most influential artists. She often shared work with Emond.
All of which led to the eventual act of taking up painting in 1991-92.
Inspired by the work of American artists Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent and Edward Hopper, along with Walter Phillips, namesake of the Walter Phillips Gallery at The Banff Centre, he began with small, postcard-sized paintings.
“Those guys were teachers in the way they handled watercolour,” he said.
Eventually, as he gained confidence in the medium and his abilities, he turned to larger pieces of work to provide more space, and, as he said, “slosh more paint around”.
“That was when I worked at Skoki (Lodge) and had afternoons off. I’d take off like a shot and just sit down do it and try to get that done in one afternoon, in three hours or so and then get back to work. A few years of doing that, that helped.”
With an increasing understanding of watercolour paints, Emond began to employ more complex techniques, such as scoring the paper, using wax and glazing, allowing him to emphasize details and to mix colour directly on the paper, as opposed to premixing it on the palette, giving much greater control of his colour use.
Colour is only one of the many aspects that leads him to choose the mountain scenes that he does.
Shape draws him as well, as do specific scenes, and the scene that presents itself from the door of his tent.
“And it could be more blasé than that. It happens to be where I camped. I could make a nice picture out of this. If the weather is not very steady, I can sit in my tent and still work,” he said.
Emond’s work is soft, subtle, filled with colour and details, but not overpowered by either.
Instead, he presents just enough of either to give the mind space to work when viewing his paintings and complete the picture, so to speak.
“It is just amazing what the mind will do if you just give it the suggestion. It doesn’t have to be accurate, but it doesn’t bother you at all when you’re five feet away,” he said.
He’s also willing to experiment and remain flexible, as he understands it takes years, decades, to hone his craft. He is in no rush either, preferring to keep his day job as a house painter, which allows him to continue to enjoy his watercolour passion without diluting it by introducing the stress of relying on it as his livelihood.
“When you have your day job, it is not as super important to profit from it, so you can remain true to your vision.”
Emond’s watercolour work is on display at The Edge Gallery in Canmore’s Springcreek Mountain Village as part of It’s All About the Mountains until Oct. 12.