Braving the Elements of Art
By Katherine Fawcett
The ancient Greeks divided all existence into four essential elements: fire, earth, wind, and water. This idea was a pillar of philosophy, science, and medicine for centuries. Through modern science, we understand the world in a far more complex way, yet the premise still holds that solid (earth), liquid (water), gas (air), and plasma (fire) are intrinsic to life. These elements are also fundamental to art, and the creative manipulation or representation brings joy, beauty, and depth to all who appreciate it. Whether carving a stone mined from the earth, using fire to sculpt glass, capturing the movement of water or air in a painting or on ceramics, the artist brings the elements to life. We’ve sought out a few artists represented at Whistler galleries whose work reflects a deep connection to one particular element.
It’s often said you can’t get blood from a stone. But the emotions, beauty, and movement Squamish-based contemporary sculptor Andrew Gable evokes from his marble, granite and soapstone come pretty close. The smooth curves, detailed faces, and musculature are so realistic that Gable’s pieces seem ready to spring to life. Yet the marks and colours of the stones add a rich depth and textural element.
According to Gable, a lot of intuition is involved in choosing the stone and planning the carving. “It’s a collaboration with Mother Nature,” he said. “You pick out a stone, you put it on the carving table, you learn the density, any cracks, colour variations, and you make a relationship with it.” It’s a slow process, a mix of intellectual and the physical, and Gable said stone carving in his Squamish Valley studio is quite calming. His sculptures, many of Western Canadian wildlife — including bears, wolves, owls, and sea creatures — are collected worldwide. Visit Mountain Galleries in the Fairmont Chateau Whistler to admire his stunning works. mountaingalleries.com
Gaye Adams painting
A highly acclaimed oil painter and art instructor of studio and plein air workshops, Gaye Adams has always been fascinated and inspired by the way light interacts with water. An artist’s trip to B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest amplified her love of all things aquatic. “It was the most amazing wilderness. Pristine. I was captivated by the ocean formations, the marine life, the surf,” says Adams.
As an avid swimmer, kayaker, and scuba diver, Adams said the water of that area has a “clarity and a colour that is just amazing.” Her compelling canvases at Adele Campbell Fine Art in the Westin Resort & Spa, Whistler, boldly capture that energy — whether in churning, tumbling, and cresting waves or on the calm, gently rippling ocean’s surface after a storm.
Ceramicist and former Whistler resident Rachel Grenon’s functional art pieces —bowls, plates, and serving platters — each has the look of being glazed by the sea itself. Brush strokes on her porcelain bowls are spontaneous, as though they were made by water rushing onto the beach, then disappearing.
“I’m very related to water,” said Grenon from her current home on a farm adjacent to a lake in rural Quebec. An avid cold-water swimmer, Grenon noted, “Water is my element… my gestures are very fluid."
Grenon’s strong connection to water led her to a community project in Comox on Vancouver Island, where members of the public were invited to make small ceramic boats, which she then glazed in an oceanic style. Each piece of Grenon’s work is hand produced and unique in design. See her new pieces at Adele Campbell Fine Art. adelecampbell.com
The wind has been artist Ken Kirkby’s life-long friend. As a child in Portugal during World War II, he would rush outdoors to be in the wind when his friends ran for cover. Later in life, he revelled in the “ferocious wind” of Canada’s Arctic. And when he moved south, he continued to be enamoured by the storms off B.C.’s coast.
Today, at 81 and an “oil painter through and through,” Kirkby is still fascinated with turbulence in the atmosphere. “Motion of the air is a relative thing,” Kirkby said from his home in Nanoose Bay on Vancouver Island. “It’s always relative to something else. It’s bending or moving something. [So,] you start to look at what it moves. Sometimes part of a tree moves one way, and part of it moves another way. [The] wind is a complex thing.”
That complexity translates to beauty and intensity in Kirkby’s paintings, several of which are displayed at Adele Campbell Fine Art. adelecampbell.com
Carl Sean McMahon takes abandoned materials, recycles them, and gives them wings. Literally.
Some of his bird sculptures, made of recycled steel and cedar, are heavy — “Eagle V” weighs 77 pounds — yet there is such a lightness to them that you might think they could actually take flight. Perhaps it’s because McMahon’s unique construction allows air to pass between the feathers. Or maybe it’s due to the leap of imagination the viewer experiences when connecting such an unexpected form from familiar materials. It is utterly breathtaking.
Based on Salt Spring Island, McMahon is surrounded by an abundance of bird life. With his pieces, he can capture the bird’s essence rather than replicating it. And each bird has an individual personality. For example, while there is grace and dignity to McMahon’s herons, his eagle sculptures are intense and determined.
“Carl’s work blends the raw fluidity of the natural world with a bold and powerful mix of reclaimed & industrial materials. His pieces are sophisticated and featured in corporate and private collections around the world,” said Benjamin McLaughlin. Mountain Galleries director of communications. See McMahon’s eye-catching sculptures at the gallery in the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. mountaingalleries.com
Placing Czechoslovakian art glass in a furnace heated to more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit until it reaches a molten state, then manipulating it with air and movement as it cools, is not for the faint of heart. Yet that’s what artist Hayden MacRae does every day, following an artistic tradition that has changed little in the past five centuries.
“Glass-blowing is like a dance,” says MacRae, whose elegant and timeless pieces are available at Mountain Galleries in the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. “It’s magical. Fire is amazing, and the heat is addictive.”
There is always an element of danger in glassblowing, and somehow knowing this makes the pieces even more stunning. MacRae says he’s burned himself and cut himself on shards of glass more times than he can count. But he loves the process, and his striking pieces, both decorative and functional, are incredible in their balance of intricacy and simplicity, with waves of rich colour and graceful lines.