Halin de Repentigny, mysterious Yukon painter, experienced trapper and musher, is well known for his vibrant Yukon scenes of fishing, dog sledding and historical townscapes.
Originally from Montreal, de Repentigny has spent most of his life in the bush tucked away 40 miles upriver from Dawson City.
Bi-Polar, the title of his new exhibition at the Copper Moon Gallery, refers to de Repentigny’s recent winter migrations to Argentina and back again to the north. It’s a pattern that allows him to paint in a comfortable climate year round, he says.
In this show of recent works, de Repentigny presents a bold new body of work that expresses, with his loose style, a great sense of colour, movement and rhythm.
Arriving at the gallery, I am struck by de Repentigny’s self-made voyageur-style birch bark canoe, displayed prominently outside at the gallery entrance.
I wander up the stairs to enter the gallery and am struck again by de Repentigny’s energetic and large oil canvases. Paint is generously applied with hand, spatula and brush.
The influence of de Repentigny’s recent winter migrations to South America may be what we see in the brighter colour palette of work.
Though all of his paintings tend to be strong in brush stroke and colour, Bi-Polar reveals a departure from his typical more traditional and more realistic style.
Here, the imagery is much more abstracted and painted with thicker paint, brighter slashes of colour and bigger gestural brush strokes. The approach is less about depicting an accurate image and more about conveying a feeling.
The result is a body of expressive work – large, full of new colour and energy. It’s exciting!
Another series of paintings, inspired by the Northern Lights, is electric, bright, full of movement and energy.
The aurora are so beautiful and mystical to observe in the night sky, yet so hard to convey in an artistic expression.
Here, de Repentigny takes it on and succeeds, conveying something elusive about this awe-inspiring subject matter.
“Some of my paintings are an attempt at the symbolic, like my big work of the Northern Lights for example. I am expressing my personal experience with them as a northerner, ex-trapper, and as a painter,” he says in an email conversation when I ask about these works.
“I am attempting to show their visual power and yet they are very musical to me. I paint with a strong bold knife stroke in a rhythmic way.”
My favourite piece is [**Title to come]. It is a tangled bush scene, thickly painted with bright pinks and oranges flashing out from behind strong dark diagonal tree trunks that jut out across the canvas.
Looking at it, I am so absorbed by the colour and dynamic composition that I almost forget it is depicting a forest.
“Usually when a painting is finished I like it right away or not,” de Repentigny says about his works. When I ask which paintings are his favourites, he replies that they are all his favourite.
“If I don’t like [a painting] I usually destroy it … I am very picky about the process,” he explains. His decisiveness is part of how he creates the paintings.
“It has to be genuine to work!”
You may wonder, as I did, about what de Repentigny’s influences are.
“Classics, Impressionists and Symbolists,” he says, providing a long varied list that includes poet and illustrator William Blake, sculptor Auguste Rodin, the French Impressionist painters, Post-Impressionist painter Émile Bernard (who was a friend of Van Gogh), several Symbolist painters, Pablo Picasso and more.
His enthusiastic reply reaches back into the 18th century and the range of influences reveals a little more about a painter who absorbs many styles with his curiosity and transforms them with his own energy.
What’s next for the passionate painter?
“Minimizing, leaning toward abstraction and symbolic,” de Repentigny says thoughtfully. “The truth is I really don’t know what to call it until it is born.”
Copper Moon’s spacious gallery is an ideal setting to show off de Repentigny’s large canvases. I recommend that you get down to see Bi-Polar before it closes on March 1.
As a side note, the opening for Bi-Polar was particularly exciting because it also marked the second anniversary of the Copper Moon Gallery and featured Brenda Lee on guitar and vocals. Don’t miss Copper Moon’s next concert, a Yukon Women in Music event, featuring Kate Weekes and Keitha Clarke, this coming Sunday, February 27.