Gazing North

There is a buzz of excitement in the Copper Moon Gallery when I arrive on Friday evening to see the work of Yellowknife artists Jennifer Walden and Rae Braden in the show Elements – Earth, Wind, Fire and Feathers.

The very different styles of Walden and Braden’s work may seem an unlikely pairing at first, but their artistic expressions are ultimately tied together by their sense of place.

That place is, of course, the North. It is their unique experience and individual artistic interpretation of the Canadian North that ultimately give each of their styles very different flavours.

Jennifer Walden’s works are large, boldly painted images of northern wildlife on canvas. Her paint is highly textured with acrylic media, rope and string, which gives these paintings vitality.

It is as if the environment and the animal depicted are expressed as one with the dynamic brush stroke.

In the large paintingTogether We are Strong, two muskox bodies merge. I can almost feel the wind blowing through the creatures in the large sweeping brush strokes that trace their coats of wooly qiviut and coarser guard hairs in flight.

Walden paints the elements of northern nature by forming layers of glazed colour: gold, orange, blues, thin layers of white. The paintings glimmer as the glossy shine of paint catches the light of the room.

In Riders on the Storm, Walden highlights her ability to render fine details.

Riders is a dynamic composition, depicting birds in flight with flapping wings, glistening eyes, bold colour contrast and, as is her style, vivid texture.

Rae Braden’s work, on the other side of the room, is fine, intimate in size and detail. The subtle stories, beauty and detail of nature are found here in her mixed media works on paper.

There is something beautiful and mysterious about an embossed print on crisp white paper. I am enchanted by this in Braden’s exquisite mixed media printOde to an Adventurous Lemming.

The age-old story of the food chain is told in the subtle embossed markings depicting snow that I often behold myself out on wintery walks in the bush.

I enjoy Braden’s sensitive mixed media approach and can totally relate to her instincts to incorporate many mediums to express a feeling of place and location.

She uses watercolour to capture in detail the jewels of colour found in a close-up observation of the land, digital photography to pull back and observe the land with a bird’s eye view, and block printing to create an abstract pattern.

As a mixed media artist I appreciate this work personally because I also enjoy using different mediums to express different responses to place.

Braden takes us on a journey across the North from King William Island to Ivvavik Park; from Ellesmere Island to Gladman Point to Prosperous Shoreline.

She takes us there with a combination of digital prints, block printing of repeated motifs, detailed watercolour sketches and drawings.

Braden’s hand-pulled prints examine the macro and micro views of Earth, an examination of geologic landforms and patterns in the land.

And her watercolours are studies of the details found in nature: lichen, urchins, swirling pools of water and rock, bubbles, shadows.

There are yummy bits of colour that grab my attention out of a chaos of patterns and detail, draw me into her intimate experience and observation of nature.

Two artists, one region, two distinct visions. Walden expresses with wild gestures and dramatic colour, Braden with intimate detail and subtle messages. Together, they offer a view of the North that is individual in expression and exciting to view.

Come out to Copper Moon Gallery in McCrae and have a look at Elements – Earth, Wind, Fire and Feathers before the show closes on March 29.

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