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Bright and brooding on display at Canada House

Glenn Payan’s world is bright, sunny and joyful and dark, brooding and touched with a tinge of sadness or nostalgia. The B.C.
Banff Springs, oil on canvas, by Glenn Payan at Canada House Gallery.
Banff Springs, oil on canvas, by Glenn Payan at Canada House Gallery.

Glenn Payan’s world is bright, sunny and joyful and dark, brooding and touched with a tinge of sadness or nostalgia.

The B.C.-based artist is so connected to his work and his subjects that when he’s painting the Rockies, the West Coast or the Prairies, along with place, he’s really painting his emotions and his memories.

As he shares how he feels about these landscapes that are near and dear to him, Payan creates an intriguing mix of near-realism and the playful interpretation of place that stretches both reality and perspective, creating a magical landscape of a highly stylized world of umbrella trees and colourful, skinny houses.

Payan’s latest work goes on display this week at Canada House Gallery with an opening reception on Saturday (Oct. 1) from 1-3 p.m.

When Payan starts a new oil painting, he begins with the most distant and realistic part of the painting and moves forward into the highly stylized part.

Cascade Mountain, for example, is Cascade Mountain. There’s no doubt about that. But the Banff Springs Hotel that sits in the foreground is Payan’s version. It’s vaguely reminiscent of Banff’s most-famous hotel, but Payan has stripped it down to its basic shape, while squishing it – like all of his buildings – in and up.

He then decided to paint the Banff Springs hotel red, continuing to draw from his love of the bright, colourful houses found in Nova Scotia fishing villages.

Payan uses the more realistic background as a starting point, grounding his work as a place that “people can grab onto,” he said, as a reference point. Once viewers know where they are, Payan begins to play.

“From that, I know where I am and from there I have done my own thing with it and played with colour and form with that background that people can latch onto,” Payan said Monday (Sept. 26).

Payan’s Rocky Mountain paintings feature bright bluebird skies, as that is how he sees the Rockies. They are highly idealized which, on those perfect mountain days with still air and clear skies, is true.

The majesty of the mountains and the scale, the clear mountain skies and the shade of blue can mean only one thing: happiness.

“Blue skies to me are indicative of joy and happiness. Those bluebird days, it is just so clear. Coming out of Canada House once and looking at Cascade, it was so clear. It was amazing,” he said.

While the mountains bring him a great deal of joy and inspiration, they are also exhausting to paint.

“When I think of relaxation, I don’t think of the Rockies as relaxing. It’s a heightened sense of adventure, scale and beauty. But I wouldn’t go to the Rockies to relax.”

But not all of his work is highly idealized with blue-sky days. Instead, other pieces, drawn from memories as a climber, represent a feeling of danger or the darkness found within the rain forests of the West Coast.

“Often, but not always when you go climbing, you are going to do a fairly dangerous activity and I put the dark in there to say it could be potentially dangerous and a little bit brooding. And at times that is where the darkness comes from,” he said.

Payan works on one piece at a time, putting everything he has or is into that piece at that time, as he lets his feelings or emotions guide him.

“I do one at a time and it is based on my emotions. I have to be true to that to get what I want to out of the painting. If I’m not being true to what I want to be painting, it just doesn’t work.”

Along with painting the softer scenes of island living, Payan also loves to draw his inspiration from the Prairies. Of all of his work, these scenes seem to come with a statement on the urbanization of rural life where grain elevators and family farms firmly represent what we are losing as rural communities change.

“I have one called Our Vanishing Past and another called Things We Should Not Have Let Go,” said Payan. “It’s that whole thing, the movement from what we call the ‘good old days’. We are just losing that, losing that whole sense of the country and family.

“We’re being overtaken by more urbanization and movement away from family values and that seems to be in the past in some ways. Things we are going to be missing, I think those people who lived on the Prairies will look back and say ‘those were the good old days’.”

Rocky Mountain Outlook

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