In This Together is an attempt to create a body of work that explores a new iconography—a visual vocabulary—of what ties us together as Canadian Columbia River Basin residents. It started as an attempt to understand and foster connection with the people and places that surround me. Being a member of a semi-rural community, I experience the impacts of living in a kind of cultural isolation, not just from larger centers, but also from my neighbouring towns. My goal was to visit other communities to paint, to listen, to learn about what makes us unique, and what binds us together. The seed of this show was borne out of the Fernie Mural Project in 2019, well before Covid-19 was on our radar, and acting as a greater community has only become increasingly important since then.
On the journey of painting this show I pored over photographs and historic records, leaned on friends and strangers to tell me about their homes, and let my mind soak up what knowledge I could from all the corners of the Canadian Columbia River Basin. I camped when I could, and engaged social media when I couldn’t. What I thought I would find was a land with distinct geographical areas, diverse colour palettes, and incisive insights into each place. What I ended up finding was a whimsical, colourful, subjective wander through a world of trees, bright bodies of water, and bunches of homes nestled among the hills. Accompanying me on my wanderings were a cast of characters: osprey, fish, squirrels and bears—the beings whose homes we actually inhabit—and a lingering understanding that above all it is nature that connects us. I feel now more fully that we are part of nature, not above or outside it, and our world includes the trees and the snakes and the herons. We cannot live here without them.
The joy of my discoveries were tempered at times by the (literal) unearthing of some of the darker parts of our human history. As a European descendent, my complicity in the colonization of the beautiful people, rivers, and stories of the Ktunaxa people, and my benefit of a system that oppressed and killed their children in the place I now live weighed heavily on me and brought out darker colours and sombre scenes—they are hard to face, but important to acknowledge because moving forward means a long, level look at myself and a willingness to listen and learn.
I started off looking to create an iconography, but what I ended up doing was creating a visual alphabet. As I continue to explore this new language, I’ve found ways of combining this alphabet into words and worlds, sentences and stories that are less anchored to geographic places than to a way of understanding our place here in the natural Kootenays.
In the end my hope is that the viewer will find a bit of themselves somewhere in this show, as well as a bit of something new or surprising. This series of paintings and limited edition prints is purposefully accessible as it explores the universal parts of the Kootenays in an attempt to show that while there are things we disagree on, and values we don’t share, we need each other to preserve and protect this place we live. We are truly in this together, and to move forward we must find ways to act in each others’ interests. We are colourful, we are imperfect, but we have each other and we have hope.