Genius Loci | The Poetry of the Painted Landscape

Guest Post by Genius Loci artist James Fowler 

Canada has a rich history of landscape painting and from it comes this notion that the spirit of Canadian painting lays in the land, but in the 1950s in Quebec there was a movement named by the Automatists that surmised the spirit of Canadian painting lay in the culture of the people and in the mind of the artists. What my work aims to do is try to resolve these two very different schools of painting and find some common ground. How can one express automatic expression and at the same time capture some representation of the land.

My jumping off point for this project is to look at the more iconic works of the group of seven and pay close attention to the colours they used and where they were painting. I made note of their palettes and digitally extracted them, sometimes creating more than one for a painting until felt I had capture the right hues to represent the work. Next I would research the area and look for photo representation of the location. From there I usually diverge into one of two directions. For paintings that represented ‘the wilds’ of Canada I would take a more abstract approach and keep it unrelated to any actual place.


Map and palette preparation for PERE RAQUETTE (2011) by James Fowler

For those paintings made in or near towns, villages or cities, I would try to locate where the artist would have to be to have painted the location. For this I used Google Maps and Google Earth, doing a fair amount of research about the artist’s time there and his relationship to various places. Was this a place often visited? Was it a favourite neighbourhood? Were the buildings of significance to the artists? I’ve shosen to use squares to paint to reference the my source materials. A hundred years ago, a Canadian painter went out into the wilderness. Today we can see representations from satellite and photographs, but in doing so we lose the experience of being there. We lose the poetry of the land.

BLACK COURT (1921) by Lawren Harris, BLACK COURT REVISITED (2011) by James Fowler

With the research and more digital of prep work complete, painting is very much a manual process. I drop in the streets first and then neighbourhoods and sometimes even specific buildings, sourcing the architectural vernacular to capture their essence.

THE JACK PINE (1916-1917) by Tom Thomson, SEPTEMBER 17 (2011) by James Fowler

Like for most painters, there are many zen-like moments in working with balancing the painting, often adding subtle variations to the work. Artists talk about being in “the zone.” Working on repetitive detailed work can have a very tranquil and meditative effect and sometime I have found many hours have passed focusing on many tiny squares without a break which can sometimes be quite rewarding. It is in these moments I feel the poetry of painting.

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