Cassiar Cannery is the focus on multiple levels of a new artist in residence at the Port Edward site. Renowned Vancouver artist, Jeff Wilson has taken up a three-week stay at the cannery, sponsored by the Prince Rupert Community Art Council (PRCAC) as part of their annual “long residency”.
Wilson will be applying his paintbrushes with acrylic to canvass until May 10 at the North Coast tourist attraction which hosts artists of many genres and mediums each year for the short and longer residencies.
“Jeff has received a number of awards, including finalist in the inaugural Saltspring National Art Prize, appeared in the recent “Landscape Artist of the Year Canada” TV show, and received two Downtown Eastside Small Arts Grants from the Vancouver Foundation,” PRCAC stated. “He has completed residencies at the Booth in Shetland, Parks Canada’s Art in the Park and the Wallace Stegner House.”
Setting to work as soon as he arrived on April 20, Wilson told The Northern View he finds inspiration in his natural surroundings, such as the landscape, aspects of resource industry like mining, forestry shipping, and of course rail cars prominent in the North Coast. He takes photographs of vignettes and scenes that catch his eye interpreting them through his artistic vision and handiwork, like fishing and the cannery, he said.
His first work at the cannery depicts an early morning view below the dock under a shed. The 30-inch by 40-inch painting will take about a week to complete.
“I talk to people, and listen to stories and read and so forth. In the end, certain stories resonate with what you’re seeing. Ideas just jump out. You photograph them and then turn them into paintings,” he said.
Originally from Edinburgh, Wilson has made Vancouver his home base since moving to B.C. in 2004. He is one of 25 members of the Portside Studios which is an artist cooperative in Gastown where his workspace is located. It is the largest artists coop in B.C., he said and is fringed with more than 500 artists in the Gastown area.
It was in 2010, after taking some classes at Emily Carr University, when his life started transitioning him into a full-time professional artist from a career as a geologist with painting only as a hobby.
“I did a lot of fieldwork when I was doing geological work in remote areas for extended periods and you just develop your routine,” he said adding this has helped with his time at the cannery.
Wilson wakes up, eats breakfast, and warms up the artist’s studio with the wood-burning stove to paint until noon. In the afternoon he travels around the region meeting people.
He said he wants to create a touring portfolio of between 10 to 15 pieces to exhibit in galleries and a number of sites over the next couple of years. He currently paints up to 50 peices a year of various sizes. A large artwork, like the Cassiar Cannery underdock, takes about a week, and smaller ones take less time.
While Wilson is known for his visual narrations of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside urban landscapes, he paints a variety of themes such as scenery, animals, pop culture pieces like candy, junk food and vintage neon signs.
“So the signs that might end up in my collection might be the West End or the Stardust. They are kind of ‘of that period’” he said. “…These feature a particular time in Canadian history. Often they mirror the history of immigration and the railroads.”
Wilson said it’s his favourite to paint figurative works like portraits and would love to see a greater call for them. They sell well in large art markets in London, Hong Kong and New York, he said. However, in B.C. it’s the scenic works and landscapes that sell best. He prefers acrylics as his chosen medium because of the strong, bold colours and fast-drying qualities of the paint.
Wilson’s acclamations include exhibitions in public galleries in BC, Alberta and Washington State.