Art, nature, and religion come together in Rosemary Scanlon’s exhibit, Animal Icons.

The show opens July 11 at the Rah Rah Gallery and features several new watercolours as well as pieces exhibited at Northern Scene in Ottawa this spring and the 2012 show, Sleep of Reason, at the Yukon Arts Centre.

Scanlon’s work is characterized by spidery and portentous watercolour images, rich in detail and texture and judiciously embellished with gold leaf. Her images are primarily of animals, which contain small, stylized worlds within them.

“I’d always been interested in religious iconography, like Madonna and Child and I had always thought that the owl’s elongated face was like Mary,” Scanlon says.

She points to a sketch in her studio, a classic posture of a long-necked Madonna cradling her child, except that Madonna is actually an owl.

“I think people are looking for spiritual figures and maybe are replacing spiritual figures with nature and animals,” Scanlon says.

This may resonate with those who have felt awe at their close proximity to nature.

“It can happen when you’re walking and you see a fox and you have that moment when you look at each other and you wonder to yourself if something just happened,” she says.

The longing to connect with the spiritual is reflected in her paintings. Human hands reach to touch the owl. A hand is laid casually – and even possessively – over a bear’s great shoulder.

Though Scanlon’s paintings are distinctive, she borrows from artistic themes that inspire her.

“I was interested in looking at different representations of nature and different artistic styles,” she says.

She points to the stylized image of a rose within a bear.

“This one has some of the Arts and Crafts movement in it,” she explains, referring to an artistic style of the late 1800s characterized by simple, solid representations of flora and fauna.

Scanlon is preparing for a 6-week residency at the Banff Centre later this year. She has proposed to do a series of larger format pieces that build on the techniques she has been working on in her current practice.

“The paintings that I’m proposing to make there will push my materials and work,” she says. “They’ll be larger landscapes, hopefully, that I can use for an upcoming show at the (Yukon) Arts Centre.”

For now, she is pleased with the opportunity to experiment, and to share the results with a Whitehorse audience.

“For me they are really fun paintings to do, I get to play around stylistically and get a chance to experiment with different watercolour techniques such as marbling,” says Scanlon. “It’s giving me a chance to play around with techniques and materials before I move on to bigger pieces that are more of a commitment.”

The opening reception for Whitehorse artist Rosemary Scanlon’s show Animal Icons takes place Thursday, July 11 at 5 p.m. at the Rah Rah Gallery, located at 6159 6th Avenue in Whitehorse. The show is up until August 3. The gallery is open Tuesday to Friday from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., and on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.