Daphne Mennell wants people to share her enjoyment of footpaths.
To encourage them, the Carcross Road artist has assembled an exhibit of 12 new paintings grouped under the show title, Come for a Walk.
“In some areas, including Carcross, I feel that footpaths are being endangered by motor vehicle traffic,” Mennell says.
“So before they’re totally lost, I just hope to bring more of an appreciation for the magic and some of the wonderful things that do happen when you go for a walk, and make it as enticing an invitation as I can for others to check out those places.”
The versatile artist recently gained widespread public attention for her life-sized sculpture of a horse made from thousands of donated metal items, which now overlooks Whitehorse from atop Two Mile Hill.
Her current exhibit at the Copper Moon Gallery represents a return to one of her favourite mediums—oil on canvas—as well as what she hopes will be seen as a progression.
“I continue to try to stretch myself and learn more and study about colours and composition and layering paint,” she says.
“With each one, I feel there were lessons learned and tried.”
Painting a scene from the Seduction Trail in Alaska’s Chilkat State Park, for example, taught her a new way to capture movement on canvas.
That trail through the coastal forest near Haines is an easy one, she says, but a treat for inlanders especially.
“Initially you go through this glum, dark, black moss hanging off these things, and you think that the bad wolf can be hanging around anywhere,” she says.
Before long, though, the trail breaks into an area of lush foliage, including thimbleberries, devil’s club and skunk cabbage.
“Especially on a day when it’s sunny, it can be just glorious.”
The richness of the vegetation posed its own challenges for the painter.
“There’s so much foliage and the trees are so big you don’t get them all in one page. But I really wanted to try it, and also to capture that feeling of dappled light in a coastal forest.”
It was while contemplating how to render a “screen” of foliage realistically and bring movement to the painting that Mennell did something she often does when she’s in the outdoors.
She began to think about “speeding up” what she was looking at, like a time-lapse series of photos.
“All of a sudden, I saw a school of green and blue fish” in the foliage, she says.
“It just became really playful, and you can imagine the forest is actually a sea. Once I saw that, it became very easy to paint it.”
The result, “The School of Green and Blue Fish”, is almost photo-realistic seen from a distance. Up close, it clearly reveals a moving wave of small fish in the foliage at the base of the trees.
Another work, “Esker Between Two Lakes”, evokes a sense of constant winds buffeting a high stand of brightly-coloured, lollipop-like poplars from more than one direction.
If that painting and others depicting the Sam McGee Trail near Carcross remind viewers of the famous Group of Seven, it’s not a coincidence.
“I can’t look at them without being refreshed. I do study a lot of their paintings,” Mennell admits.
“With this one, I was trying to simplify the movement and the shape.”
Other pieces, such as “First Resting Spot on Sam McGee Trail”, display the same bright, autumnal palette.
“The neat thing about this trail along Windy Arm is that this one little area is not affected by the leaf miner that is affecting most of the poplars around the Yukon right now and turning them brown. In this one area, they aren’t affected,” Mennell says.
“Not only that, because of the minerals in the mountain, it also causes a lot of the poplars to go very orange and red. So it’s very simplified, but in some ways I couldn’t even pull up how bright those colours are.”
Mennell admits she sometimes exaggerates her colours, but not by much.
Part of Mennell’s aim with the exhibit is to summon up the feeling of being in the landscape at the ‘golden hour’ before sunset, when “the colours often become exaggerated and they become really warm.”
That’s true even in winter, as the painting “Romance of Winter White” demonstrates.
“When you’re out in it and sort of tuning in to what’s going on, you don’t necessarily have these bright colours, although sometimes you do start to see neat colours. But you have all the other senses, so you have a very rich experience,” she says.
“And so by exaggerating colour, I’m trying to get across some of that richness.”
Come for a Walk is on display until the end of May. It is the last exhibit in Copper Moon’s present location in the MacRae area.
The gallery will re-open soon at the corner of Strickland Street and 6th Avenue.