Thursday, 01 June 2017 10:25

Exhibition takes viewers on a unique road trip across Canada

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Nicole Bauberger stands next to a drawing of her painting in the back of her truck. Nicole Bauberger stands next to a drawing of her painting in the back of her truck.

If you want to go anywhere in Canada, you are most likely going to drive along a road during that trip.


That is what Yukon artist Nicole Bauberger did between 2008 and 2015 when she travelled along the country’s main highways to create 220 oil paintings of road scenes for her solo exhibition Get There from Here, which is currently on display at the Art Gallery of Swift Current (AGSC).
She spoke about the creation of this series of paintings and her road experiences during a public reception for the exhibition, May 18.
The notion to paint roads came to her while she was working on another project in the Yukon to paint a mountain in the Tombstones Territorial Park.
“The idea kept coming back to me that I couldn’t get up there to paint these mountain scenes without driving,” she said. “It wasn’t possible. If that road wasn’t there, I couldn’t get there. … So I did a couple of series of roads and I noticed there was something about the road series that really engaged people. I think partly because people stare at roads all the time. You have to, if you’re driving, in order not to die. So it’s an image that has a deep familiarity.”
These paintings provide a transcontinental vision of the country through the roads that are an essential part of daily life in Canada.
“I thought it might be interesting to try and link the landscapes so that people could connect to the landscapes that were deeply familiar to them,” she said. “But then also, because I have the road and the familiar lexicon of the road as the central subject matter in the painting, that people might be able to see how these landscapes might connect to each other and have a glimpse of another part of Canada where perhaps they’ve never been.”
She travelled along the highways from St. John's, Newfoundland, to Victoria on Vancouver Island, and north through British Columbia and the Yukon to Inuvik.
She followed a very specific approach to create these paintings. She stopped every 50 kilometres to paint the road scene in front of her from the back of her truck.
“I stopped as close as I could to every 50 kilometres,” she said. “There were a couple of things I needed. I needed a safe place to stop my vehicle where I could look at the road, and I knew I want to hang them in sequence. I wanted the road to be going from left to right in the picture plane. So if it was going straight and I could pull over to the right, then it's going basically from left to right, or if it's going around in a curve to the right then I could do it from the opposite side of the highway and I can turn around and paint out of the back of my vehicle.”
This method to only stop every 50 kilometres was necessary to give discipline and rigour to his endeavour, otherwise it would have taken longer to complete the project.
It was not always easy and she was often tempted to break the rule when she passed a beautiful scene along the road.
“It wouldn't have been possible to traverse Canada if I stopped and painted everything that I thought was interesting and picturesque” she said. “It was a discipline that leveraged me away from my feeling of what might be picturesque, because as an artist you can wind up painting more or less the same painting over and over again, and this forced me to paint different ones.”
This approach was inspired by the method used by biologists to do scientific surveys. She came across them when she was painting in the Tombstones Territorial Park.
“Biologists use something they call transects,” she explained. “So if they want to figure out how many caribou there are, they fly a helicopter and every 100 kilometres they count how many caribou they can see. It would be tempting to count caribou at 50, but they're using that to get a picture to reduce the information into something they can analyze. Or they climb up a mountain, every 20 kilometres they throw down a one metre diameter hula hoop and they count all the spiders inside the hula hoop. If there's another interesting spider over here, they don't count that spider.”
She never had any safety concerns about travelling alone, but as a precaution during her trip along the Highway of Tears in British Columbia she was accompanied by her mother.
“So my mom and her dog and my dog and me were all in the truck, “ she said. “There's certainly a sense of worry about that road. ... That being said, I found it a very beautiful place to be in general, and that struck me as being even more sad that I could be comfortable enough there to just enjoy the beauty of it, but that's part of the privilege I enjoy of having my own vehicle.”
The reputation of this stretch of Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert is a result of the disappearance of women, of whom most are indigenous women and girls, along this road. Signs along the road warn women not to hitchhike.
She included the image of a women's dress in the paintings that were created along this stretch of highway to give recognition to the issue of missing and murdered women.
“I felt I couldn't just slather over that, just the landscape, because I felt like that made these women disappear into it even more,” she said. “So I needed to leave a space to acknowledge the loss and what was missing, because of their disappearances and because we don't yet live in a country where everyone can be safe. It's the fact that these women are missing and also the things that are missing from our country to make it an equitable place.”
AGSC Director and Curator Kim Houghtaling met Bauberger in 2013 when she stopped at the gallery while working her way across the prairies. At that time he already felt her paintings will be suitable for an exhibition in Swift Current.
“I thought this was an outstanding project,” he said. “I saw examples of the painting at the time and knew that this was going to be really quite remarkable. Nicole had a vision for this project becoming a whole exhibition and a complete statement and so I definitely wanted to be a part of that. We suggested even then that we need to stay in touch and work on the exhibition and have it here. So right from the outset I was impressed with it.”
He noted that her commitment to a particular approach is quite noteworthy and the exhibition provides a different perspective on the Canadian landscape, but at the same time it will be familiar to anyone who has travelled along these highways.
“I think it's the reality of it all,” he said. “Part of the experience of travelling this road is when we see these man made elements and so forth creeping in. We take for granted the kind of beautiful tree that's right there or the rolling grass hills and the lovely sky. ... What these images do really is demonstrate the kind of way we've merged our human activity into that landscape and how the natural landscape is just an assumed part of it.”
Bauberger spent a few days in Swift Current before the public reception for the exhibition to present classes in outdoor oil painting and encaustic painting. She also interacted with school children during group tours of her exhibition and afterwards the students painted their own road scenes.
“It was wonderful and then we looked at their road paintings together,” she said. “It was really neat to see the different ways that the students saw and perceived roads.”
Her exhibition is a Canada 150 exhibition project. Her paintings will be on display at the AGSC until June 25. In July this exhibition will open in the art gallery at the Esplanade Arts and Heritage Centre in Medicine Hat.

Read 1789 times Last modified on Thursday, 01 June 2017 13:52
Matthew Liebenberg

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