James Trevelyan

James Trevelyan. Frozen Lake, 1986. 27 x 20", mixed media on paperThis drawing came up for auction recently.  There are four large Calgary art auctions a year, each with about 600 lots, maybe 400 of which are paintings of the mountains in landscape format, blue skies, sharp shadows on the peaks, snow at the top, usually a river in the foreground.  The views are often recognisable from the road or from hikes radiating out from the old CPR towns - Banff, Lake Louise, Field, Craigellachie, Glacier, Golden and date from the days when artists came from England or Ontario and Québec via the CPR to Banff to paint.  It established a way of looking at the mountains: from a safe distance, from a valley, in the summer.

Today these same towns are ski centres, contemporary art has long turned away from landscape painting, and although there are some brilliant abstract painters of landscapes across the prairies, few look at the mountains and it is rare indeed to find much work painted from the depths of winter.  The obvious reason is that it is bloody cold in the winter. 

Perhaps a less obvious reason is our fear of winter.  The winter on the prairies and in the mountains is not the cozy Group of Seven kind of winter where snow lies like puffy duvets on everything and shadows are a lovely violet or a deep azure.  This is black and white winter, hard and mean. The frozen lake in James Trevelyan's drawing is scoured clean by a high mountain wind, its ice like basalt.  And yet there is a lovely intimacy in this piece, an ambiguity of surface and light that one never finds in work painted on bright sunny days. 

Like lots of Canadians, lots of Canadian artists go to Mexico for the winter.  I'd take this view of a sere, cold, empty, beautiful winter over the florid landscapes of the south any day.  Visually, I get this climate.