Georgia O’Keefe once said, “I have been absolutely terrified my whole life and I have never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”
On a Friday evening in a gallery, glass of red in hand, it might be quite relaxing to contemplate a painting of a thunderstorm from the top of a mountain, or the northern lights on a cold winter’s eve.
For the artist who created it, however, the experience may have been slightly more breathtaking.
In the summer of 2017 two Yukon artists embarked on a collaborative project to explore the relationship between creative process and the fear that they have experienced in nature. Dee Bailey and Jackie Dowell-Irvine have created a body of work to explore this theme.
Dee Bailey moved to the Yukon in 2010 for a wilderness guiding job. Being drawn to wild places, Bailey has had many moments where she has been challenged by fear. She is also lucky enough to have experienced some interesting encounters with animals in the wild:
“During a multi-day backpacking trip we stopped for our first lunch at a small summit lake. It was a glorious day and we sat to take-in the view.
“As we were eating, we noticed a small black ball that was moving closer to the shoreline of the lake, directly across from us. The black bear moved closer to the shore and stood to sniff the air. Realising that our lunch was perhaps more appetizing than we wanted, we quickly packed it away and began to talk in loud voices.
“We watched with wide eyes as the bear began running along the shore of the lake towards us. I can’t say I remember what we talked about, but the conversation sure got louder! What I do remember was the gripping realisation of just how fast bears can run.
“We frantically closed our backpacks, without a thought of snapping a photo to record the majesty of nature.
“With bear spray in hand we set-off nervously. We watched the bear coming towards us, and then, as if suddenly struck by a better idea, the bear came to a halt by a patch of alpine flowers and decided to have a roll instead. We laughed with heightened relief as we watched the bear munch on some flowers instead of our lunch…. Or us!
“After a tense journey to camp with the bear following in our footsteps, we eventually settled in for a cold dinner and a sleepless night.
“The sun brought a new day, and our comfort rose with it. The bear had moved on and we completed our trek with great content.”
Jackie Dowell-Irvine was born and raised in Nova Scotia and has been a proud Yukoner for 20 years. Dowell-Irvine lives with her family on a semi remote, off-grid acreage four hours northeast of Whitehorse.
When Dowell-Irvine arrived in the north, she struggled with her fear of bears in the wilderness. Inspired by her desire to overcome this fear, she has ventured into remote places and documented this journey:
“The Yukon landscape is now a constant source of peace and inspiration for me. This presence in nature along the Canol Road and the Pelly Mountains has been the greatest gift to me and I want to share this gift with others.”
Together, Dowell-Irvine and Bailey have created one collaborative piece for their upcoming exhibition, Fearless in Nature. Dowell-Irvine painted the light on the Magundy River trail near her home and Bailey added “2.5 dimensional elements” of detail in modelling clay on top of the acrylic paint. The piece represents a memory and a common fear of surprising animals on remote trails.
“Creating art related to our fears has helped us work though some of those apprehensions and rediscover the joy to be felt in Yukon’s wild places” Dowell-Irvine said.
Through this body of work Dowell-Irvine and Bailey hope to encourage others to enjoy, appreciate, and perhaps even protect, the beauty of the Yukon.
You don’t have the search far in the Yukon Territory to find inspiring stories of overcoming fear. The territory seems to boast a large proportion of courageous souls who have the good sense to smile and carry on – albeit cautiously – in the face of their own fear.
Fearless in Nature, opens at Yukon Artists at Work Gallery on Friday, April 6 with a reception from 5 p.m. to 8 pm. The gallery is located at 4th Avenue and Wood Street in downtown Whitehorse. The exhibit runs until April 28.