My art practice explores interactions with manufactured and industrial landscapes through painting and installation. I am particularly interested in how Maritime cities and the local industrial heritage of Saint John contribute to notions of regional identity.
Stephen Parrish, Coast of New Brunswick, 1882, Etching
Years ago, I encountered this etching in the New Brunswick Museum by American artist Stephen Parrish (1846-1938) and learned that he and a fellow artist passed through Saint John, NB in the summer of 1881on an etching and painting tour of the Maritime provinces. Coast of New Brunswick, 1882, features small sailing vessels, rustic wharves, fisher folk and the quiet harbour of Saint John. The rusticity in the depiction did not correspond with what my understanding was of Saint John in the late nineteenth-century. I was a history student at the time, and I knew enough to recognize a disconnect. Saint John of 1881 would hardly have been described as quaint. The city, then as now, was an industrial centre with shipping and construction activity and port-side factories. This disconnect – depicting the quaintly idyllic and rustic where there should be industrialization – is not an isolated phenomenon. Parrish was part of a wider tradition in British and American landscape painting of the nineteenth century of romanticizing the rural and the maritime. This quest for the picturesque meant avoiding or creatively re-framing evidence of modernity and industrialization and in doing so, reaffirming a pervasive idea that the pre-industrial embodies something that is somehow purer and more authentic.
Idyll, 2019 responds to Parrish’s etching, by restaging in the painting, the same 360-degree landscape surveyed from the same vantage point as the historical work. Moveable screens allow only some portions of the painting to be seen, which I hope signal the artist’s role in directing the gaze and deciding what is left in or out of the frame. I would like this artwork to remind us of the agency of both artist and viewer and prompt the questions: what are we seeing? What and who is included or excluded and why? What is beyond our gaze?
More recently I have been looking at historical representations of Maritime landscape in art and questioning the role of these landscapes in constructing a narrative about the ideal Maritime landscape. I am currently working on projects, including the storm paintings, that explore the role of historical representations in crafting current social attitudes towards manufactured/industrialized landscape, how nostalgia for an imagined or idealized historical landscape impacts current regional identity, and how notions of the historical ‘Folk’ manifest in myself and my own identity.