Doing battle with a brush
Re-creating some of Mother Nature’s best work — whether on canvas, paper or wood — is no small feat.
But 50 B.C. artists have jumped at the challenge, picking up their brushes, pencils, sketch pads and carving tools and heading north to depict what are arguably some of the world’s most picturesque land and seascapes.
And in the process, they’re hoping to help protect them for future generations.
Among those scattered along B.C.’s north coast, from Calvert Island to Klemtu and Hartley Bay for several days at the end of June was a trio of Langley artists.
Fort Langley artist Janice Robertson, her husband, painter Alan Wylie and Murray Phillips were invited to participate in Artists For an Oil-Free Coast — a project, conceived and organized by Mark Hobson of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation to draw attention to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline.
If approved the pipeline will carry bitumen (a tar-like substance) from the Northern Alberta tar sands to port at Kitimat to be loaded onto tankers and shipped across the Pacific to Asia.
The problem, say the plan’s critics, is that the project would benefit only Alberta, while B.C. would bear all the risk.
And the risk, they fear, is considerable.
“They’re very concerned about the Northern Gateway Pipeline. They fear it’s only a matter of time before there’s a massive oil spill,” said Robertson who along with Wylie, Phillips and White Rock artist Mike Svob, spent five days in late June on Calvert Island, off the northern tip of Vancouver Island.
“The people at Raincoast are calling it the fight of their lives. They’ve had experience with oil spills — especially the Exxon Valdez,” said Robertson, referring to the tanker which infamously ran aground in Alaska in 1989, spilling an estimated 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound.
“When you are an artist, you think, ‘What can I do?’”
But with such a pristine and fragile ecosystem at risk, she knew she had to try.
The group spent five days sketching and painting alongside several other artists, including famed Canadian wildlife painter Robert Bateman, whose profile can only help the cause, said Robertson.
“It’s just so beautiful,” said Robertson of Calvert Island. “There are sandy beaches the whole way around and pack of wolves that lives there.”
“We painted on beaches and in the woods every day,” she said.
While Wylie set up a canvas and painted en plein air on the beach, Robertson walked the island and sketched, snapping roughly 700 photos to bring home as inspiration for her larger canvases.
“You see how perfect and unspoiled it is, and then you think about what could happen,” she said.
“You can’t really clean up an oil spill. It’s like putting a band aid on an amputated limb.”
For Robertson, the trip was an opportunity to really ponder what is at stake.
“This was interesting for me because I’m not a political person,” said the artist. “I’ve never laid down in front of a tractor or a bulldozer in my life.
“There’s this little handful of people resisting.
“There’s no big agenda. We just want to keep something for the next generation that is precious and irreplaceable.”
In order to spread Raincoast’s message, Hobson, who organized the artists, and arranged for their accommodation and transportation —most of which was donated or provided well below cost — will also co-ordinate and travel with an exhibit of artwork created through the project.
He acknowledged the cause benefitted from a scathing report released on July 10 by the NTSB, which condemned Enbridge’s handling of a 2010 bitumen spill in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River.
“It certainly helps. The timing was nice,” he said.
Still, he’s not ready to sit back and relax just yet.
“I don’t think the (federal) government will back down. There’s a lot of money at stake,” said Hobson.
And as bad as a pipeline burst would be, Hobson’s greatest fear is an oil tanker breaking up off the B.C. coast and what that would mean for the delicate marine ecosystem.
In high winds, the shallow waters in Hecate Strait, can create mountainous waves, he noted. Combine that with hidden reefs and rocks in the area and it all makes for treacherous navigation, Hobson said. It was in this area that the Queen of the North ran aground and sank after veering off course in 2006, he noted.
“There’s no contingency plan by the federal government. Nothing on our coast that could come to the rescue.
“We’re just asking for trouble,” he said.
“Everybody talks about jobs lost. But beyond the straight biological loss, this (wilderness) is iconic of B.C. and Canada,” said Hobson.
It is what British Columbia is known for throughout the world, he said, comparing its global status to the Great Pyramids at Giza.
“Nobody in Egypt would consider chopping them down to sell the bricks,” he said.
“If people understood what they have to lose, they would stand up.”
“For Canadian people, this is our identity and therefore we need to preserve it. For the average person to go into a bay and see wolves trotting along one side and a bear on the other, it’s an unbelievably powerful experience,” he said.
The artists will do their best to express that powerful imagery in pieces that, in addition to being part of the upcoming exhibit, will be compiled into a coffee table book that will be available in late autumn.
The paintings and other works of art will be on display in Victoria, Vancouver and Nanaimo in November, before likely being toured across the country in the New Year.
A DVD is also in the works, said Hobson.
In Vancouver, the exhibit will be on display from Nov. 27 to Dec. 1 at Performance Works on Granville Island.
Other dates have yet to be confirmed.
For more, go to www. raincoast.org/artists-for-an-oil-free-coast.