Before he met his wife, Simon Gilpin’s paintings were dreary — depicting cloudfilled skies. After, he created wide-open, blue-skied paintings.
“I only just realized I did that.” Gilpin used to destroy work he didn’t like. Now, “it’s not fair for me to judge.” Paintings he doesn’t like move others to tears. He lets his paintings be. They never turn out as he initially intends. But, when he looks back, he forgets the original idea, and sees his work in new light. He says this is comparable to life.
Gilpin is the fine art manager at the North End Gallery; he has an exhibit opening in “what we affectionately refer to as ‘the Space’” — around the corner from the North End Gallery. It displays original art. The Space can be modified to suit an artist’s prolificacy. “It’s good for me because I didn’t know how much I would have. “It’s been hard to produce.”
At one time Gilpin had the luxury of months to devote to one painting. He works with oil on canvas; his paintings are chunky, with texture “building up layers of paint.” One layer has to dry before another can be added, or the colours will smear.
Gilpin’s son, Owen, just turned one. Gilpin slips away to work in his studio in drips and drabs, depending on Owen’s sleep schedule. He started using a pallet knife, “which is like a wallpaper scraper”, to add dimension to his work. Before, he’d “flick or drizzle a line”, but this takes longer. With the pallet knife, “you just scrape it across the surface and it causes the same effect.”
Owen was prenatally diagnosed with Spina Bifida, a “failure of the spine to close fully.” The severity varies — the higher on the spine, the worse the prognosis. “Obviously it was very worrisome to get diagnosed with,” says Gilpin. But Owen’s was a few vertebrae further down than expected, and now he’s crawling and standing up. “There will be effects later on. But nothing we can’t handle,” he says.
Gilpin and his wife, Jean, went to Vancouver before the due date, because Owen required surgery upon birth. Gilpin didn’t paint, then. He sketched, and took pictures. “There was a beautiful pond with pink lilies, and trees dripping down into it,” he says. “I thought it would be fun to do an homage to Monet. I have that style anyway, very French. “That idea of building up layers and dragging them out, letting it catch where it catches. “I want it to be fascinating as a surface, as well as an image.”
It’s common for painters to draw inspiration from other painters. “Normally a desire to paint comes from a fascination with painting,” he says. Gilpin’s work has been called “a cross between The Group of Seven and Jackson Pollock.” I’ll have to look up Jackson Pollock. “He was the first impressionist,” he says. “He’d drill holes in the bottom of paint cans and drizzle them on canvas. “It was emotional work. He was painting his feelings. “But for me it looked like tangled up forests.”
So inspired, Gilpin intentionally painted forests with an abstract twinge. “It’s been difficult,” he says. To find time. With his family came an influx of ideas, but no time to paint them. When he could, he painted pathways. “It’s subliminal,” says Gilpin. “The past 18 months have felt like walking down a pathway that went in a certain direction.”
It’s literal, too. Gilpin indicates a new piece depicting a mother and child under the aurora borealis. The bond between mother and child has inspired art for thousands of years: “I always wanted to play around with that, but I wanted to wait until it was mine.”
He painted it when Owen was three-months-old. There were spectacular lights one night. “In the Yukon, you get a lot of really good light effects,” says Gilpin. “Especially in the winter, with sun dogs, and the way sun bounds off mounds of ice. “And in the summer, there’s so much light. “And in the fall, so much colour, and we get the blue sky. It’s kind of a painter’s paradise.”
Gilpin’s new show is a compilation of recent experiences; it’s called Mother Earth. Not just for the literal reason. “Having a family ties you to the earth in a different way,” he says. “Getting out there on a hike, seeing wildlife, forest, plants. People. It’s all kind of the same thing. I never saw that before I had a family. “It all kind of ties together.”
Mother Earth opens at The Space on March 6, and runs till the end of the month. The opening reception is from 5 to 7 pm.