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For Nickerson, there's colour in those mountains

Bright, bold and big are all hallmarks of Canmore painter Chrissy Nickerson.
Sleeping Buffalo at Razorback by Chrissy Nickerson will go on display at Elevation Contemporary Art Gallery Saturday (Dec. 7).
Sleeping Buffalo at Razorback by Chrissy Nickerson will go on display at Elevation Contemporary Art Gallery Saturday (Dec. 7).

Bright, bold and big are all hallmarks of Canmore painter Chrissy Nickerson.

And not so long ago another Nickerson hallmark was seeing her working outside with a large canvas propped against the back of her truck, pursuing her unique vision highlighted by thick paint, broad brush strokes and her obvious love of water and of colour.

These days, just as its rare to find a Nickerson painting without water featured in it; it’s equally rare to find her painting at the back of her truck. Now a mother of two young sons, Nickerson’s practice changed by necessity and the once prolific artist was down to painting one piece a month and instead of working on site in the open air, she began spending more time in her studio working from sketches and photographs.

But after a summer in Maine, where she was able to paint outside for half a day everyday, Nickerson is presenting her first solo show in about four years with Until We Come To Water, which opens at Elevation Contemporary Art Gallery on Canmore’s Main Street with a reception Saturday (Dec. 7) from 2-7 p.m.

“The reason why we went with that title, stepping from that body of work from this summer to now, the majority have water as a grounding element in there,” Nickerson said. “(It’s) the essence of everything; it’s the grounding of everything.”

Nickerson said she also finds it more appealing to paint a landscape if it has water in it, as it draws viewers deeper into the work.

“It’s easier to see the depth, a grand landscape with a lake or big body of water, your eye follows it and you want to see where it is coming from, what’s behind that mountain?”

Of all the ways and forms that water can be found, creeks are perhaps Nickerson’s favourite, with Policemen’s Creek topping out her list. And as a result, she has painted that creek many times, but like anything, do it too often and it can become stale.

“If you don’t challenge yourself, you’re going to be bored and you’re not going to have any fun. Otherwise it’d be like skiing the exact same run over and over again,” she said.

Instead of returning to a well-known, comfortable and much-loved haunt, Nickerson pushed out farther afield, seeking a challenge, which she found at the Junkyards, a popular ice climbing area near Grassi Lakes.

Where Policeman’s Creek is flat and languid, the water that falls from the edge not far from Grassi Lakes rushes over the edge in a mad dash towards the Rundle forebay, presenting a challenge to paint.

“(It was) a refreshing one,” Nickerson said. “You’re looking up back into space and there’s white back up in there, but its dark inside the forest and its getting lighter as you get up into it. So I had a lot of fun with this piece. I put a lot more colour in the water because it is coming down at you and its got a lot of yellow and blue and orange in there, whereas Policeman’s Creek is so flat.”

There’s also a lot more colour in that creek in Nickerson’s six foot by seven foot painting than one would find in the creek itself, but that in itself is typical of her work – Nickerson sees no reason not to embellish the natural world, to accentuate it and make full use of her paint.

“What I like best about paint is the viscosity and the pull of the paint off the brush. It’s like the magic of a marker, but its better because it’s wet and smooth and sensual almost. The magic of alizarin crimson is just so real and vivid. Like blood. It’s so red. That pure colour; that colour of life,” she said.

And after her hiatus and a successful summer of painting, Nickerson was looking to challenge herself.

“What I’m pushing through is the practice, to stay involved and prove to myself that I can paint this amount in this period of time. The more you paint the better you’re going to get. I’m just starting to wake up again. In the next five years once my kids are in school, I’ll be able to get a studio outside the home again,” Nickerson said.

“This show is about that and proving to myself and everyone else that I’m still here.”

Even though Nickerson had to back off from producing her art for a while, she was still voted the Best Local Artist in the Outlook’s 2013 Best of the Bow.

Rocky Mountain Outlook

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