You have to respect Jennifer Walden: she likes the Yukon, but she loves her Yellowknife home even more.

“Whitehorse has a postcard beauty – beautiful mountains and trees – but Yellowknife has a rugged, wild side … it grabs you.

“It is so raw, I love it.”

As a nature and wildlife artist, Walden appreciates how special this admittedly barren place can be. It was what lured her to Yellowknife, from southern Ontario, seven years ago.

Even though she lived in Africa and India as a youngster, and that is where she started painting as a hobby, it was Yellowknife that she was drawn to.

Today, Walden has been painting “seriously” for seven years and she figures her career “skyrocketed” three years ago. Yet her first solo show is now being shown at Copper Moon Gallery in the McCrae Industrial Area at the Rosati Arts and Business Centre.

“It’s awesome,” she says. “My work has been in here since its opening and it’s nice to see it and visit with the people.”

She already knew Harreson Tanner, Copper Moon Gallery’s curator. The two of them met in Inuvik in July, 2008, at the Great Northern Arts Festival where she sold 90 per cent of her paintings and was named “Most Promising Emerging Artist in Two-Dimensional Media.” Tanner learned that she did not have a home gallery, yet, so he invited her to send some pieces over.

In her solo show, Wild Spirits, visitors are seeing a strong northern theme. There are First Nation elders, wolves, ravens and polar bears from her Northwest Territories home.

Indeed, the largest of the paintings, The Search for Ice, is a depiction of a polar bear. The bear’s fur has a pronounced texture as she took the acrylic paint from the palette with a large spatula.

The background is a plastic sheet and the ground is given its feel with fish-tank gravel.

As an added touch, the sides of the protruding canvas are painted, too. It is a technique she picked up from the art program at McMaster University in Hamilton. Those who hang her paintings don’t need to have them framed and, besides, it gives her just one more thing to “play” with.

Besides its size, The Search For Ice stands out because it is a square painting in a time when rectangles rule.

“I love squares,” says Walden. “Rectangles are boring to me because they are so standard.”

She does have rectangular canvases, but not many. And often they are strong rectangles with a vertical orientation.

And, yet, one of her favourite and most-personal paintings is In Mothers Footsteps … on a rectangular canvas.

“It’s just me and my little boy at home,” she says, pointing at the two caribou in the painting, “and this is Mom and her little one in a vast … life.”

The vastness she speaks of is blue- and pink-shaded snow that dwarfs the calf as it ambles behind its mother.

“It’s where I am; it is a super-personal piece.”

Back to Yellowknife, already, Walden is preparing a show for the 2010 Olympic Games. The NWT selected her, as one of the non-aboriginal artists, to represent the territory and to act as a Northern ambassador.

She will also be contacting the various galleries in Vancouver that have expressed an interest in her art.

Jennifer Walden’s exhibit, Wild Spirits, will be on display in the Solo Show Room at the Copper Moon Gallery until Oct. 24.