A&E » Arts

Whistler in broad, bold strokes

Artist Jim Vest explores the local landscape with his latest series of paintings



With bold brush strokes Jim Vest still somehow manages to capture the essence of a character, conveying a furrowed brow, a sense of movement and urgency.

"Wasn't it Van Gogh that said, 'I wish I could express a figure in just a few strokes?'" Vest asked thoughtfully. "I know what he was getting at - the gesture is more important than other things."

Vest has been practising his art form for over half a century, drifting between oil and acrylic and dabbling with new techniques and styles. His specialty, however, is clearly landscape, though not in a conventional sense. Using broad-brush strokes he produces impressions and forms without delving expressly into the finite details of the natural world, a technique that conjures up a captivating sense of emotion and surrealism.

"There are far too many problems to solve and you know there's not enough time to get through them," he reflected.

"Nothing is ever perfect, at all," Vest added. "I think many artists have said they are seeking perfection, but they've never achieved it."

The creative process has also been a constant learning process for this artist.

"I started painting when I was about eight. It became clear that I had some sort of ability to draw characters," he smiled.

This childhood hobby eventually grew into a genuine appreciation for the arts and masters like Van Gogh. Originally from England, Vest went on to study at the prestigious Sunderland College of Art and the Manchester College of Art and Design, which nurtured his own innate talent and prepared him for years of teaching in Edmonton's public school system.

"It's the innocence of the child's drawings that appeal to me," he said. "Many of them were not afraid to just let go."

Vest eventually returned to art on a full-time basis and today is an accomplished and respected Canadian artist who tends to shy away from the spotlight. The soft-spoken artist was once quite a force within the Alberta art world in the '70s but eventually withdrew from the gallery scene. That is, until about 10 years ago, when he agreed to have Mountain Galleries represent his work. So far it's been a fruitful partnership, with the gallery selling over 300 of Vest's pieces in that time.

He has spent a considerable amount of time completing studies of the Yukon and Whitehorse, amassing a sizeable collection of work in the process. Drawn to Western and Northern Canada, he is inspired by a natural awe and respect for the rugged natural surroundings. Most recently, however, it seems that Whistler has played muse for the artist.

Mountain Galleries unveiled a new collection of Vest's work last Saturday which features a range of studies from Whistler Village and the surrounding mountains. The scenes are distinctly Whistler and are bound to strike a chord in any local's heart: crowds of skiers and snowboarders making their way down the stroll, wandering past patios, all in a wash of grey, flat light - "poetry in motion."

But Vest doesn't just paint a scene as he sees it. Rather, he moves objects and forms around to create what he perceives as a sense of balance and composition; a perfectionist, indeed.

"When I'm using figures in studies, I have a heck of a time trying to find the right place to put them - they're forever moving around, obliterating, until the whole thing seems to fit in space it was intended for."

Inspired by just a few visits to the area, Vest's most recent trip to Whistler was the only occasion on which he has seen blue sky and sunshine, which has proven to be an eye-opening experience for the ever-evolving artist.

"My attempts to paint the few Whistler scenes I have in the gallery right now they pale in comparison to what I see today, and I'm bent on improving them!" Vest said. "The light is really inspiring." n