Phyllis Bryce Ely: A Landscape Revisited

Phyllis Bryce Ely: A Landscape Revisited

A Landscape Revisited: Onaping Falls, Canada

For this “Fifty Landscapes” blog I’ve chosen to share my experience painting “Onaping Falls, Canada” included in this exhibit. This oil painting is an example of how I often paint landscapes multiple times, first en plein air and then again in the studio using my plein air works, sketches, photographs, and memories as references. In all cases, painting from nature is satisfying.

Onaping Falls is near Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. It is known as the “A.Y. Jackson Lookout” in recognition of The Group of Seven founding member Alexander Young Jackson and his 1953 painting “Spring on the Onaping River.” Soon after his death in 1974 the painting was stolen from a school and it hasn’t been recovered.

As a Group of Seven fan, I wanted to visit and paint at the spot when I was up in Sudbury in 2008 for a curling event (yes, curling). My husband and I found the falls, I got out my painting gear and he went fishing.

Phyllis painting in Canada
Phyllis painting in Canada 2008

The Onaping River drops four or five times at this spot. I love the twist and turning action of each drop and the stands of trees witnessing the force of the water as it meets the massive boulders at the base. The colors of the trees and rock on either side of the water are vibrant.

Onaping Falls take one: Plein Air

Onaping Falls, pastel, 2008
Onaping Falls, pastel, 2008

This is my small plein air pastel painting from that day. I worked on Wallis white paper and laid in a quick underpainting using Createx pure liquid pigments to establish my values and color temperatures; you can see some of the underpainting peeking through the pastel surface. Next, I worked with pastels to develop and finish the piece. Because of time and changing weather, that was a fast but satisfying painting session in a special place. I left happy to have been able to sit in that spot for a while, and I had a fresh little painting to show for it.

Onaping Falls take two: Studio

Onaping Falls, Canada, oil, 2014
Onaping Falls, Canada, oil, 2014

I continued to be drawn to the image and energy of Onaping Falls and in 2014 decided to explore the image further as a studio painting. This time I worked much larger in oil using my pastel painting and my memories about the place as references.

Revisiting this landscape in my studio allowed me to indulge in a lingering, almost meditative painting process. Working in oils in a larger format (30×40”) gave me a new scale and medium to explore this scene. I enjoyed moving the paint and working at a slower pace with no concern for changing conditions or time. In the studio, I could define many more major and minor shapes–and develop relationships among those shapes–throughout the painting. (The grouping of trees on the left of the falls feels like a choir to me. I can imagine them singing loudly.) Compared to my pastel painting, this palette is more subtle and nuanced.

Painting the same landscape at different times in different ways keeps me energized. My plein air painting is bold, fresh, and urgent. My studio piece is slow, lingering, and meditative. Both of these paintings take a journey through an exciting place and share my story of how it felt to be there.

Take three?

I am probably not finished painting Onaping Falls. I have recently been working with encaustic wax and would like to revisit this landscape using that medium. I think working with the wax–building, painting, fusing, and scraping away–will give me a more tactile experience with this compelling scene.

Ironically, as I write this on April 5, I just saw a Facebook post from the McMichael Canadian Art Collection remembering A.Y. Jackson on the anniversary of his death on this day in 1974. This must be a good day to be thinking about Onaping Falls.

P.S. for my curling friends…Did you know Onaping Falls was a location in the movie “Men with Brooms”? I will have to somehow work that into my curling art.

Stop by Main Street Arts to see Phyllis’s artwork in our current exhibition, Fifty Landscapes (runs through May 13).

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Closed 7/28 through 8/3:

We will be closed to the public Friday, July 28 through Thursday, August 4 as we install our next exhibition, Inspired By Nature. Please join us for the opening reception on Friday, August 4 from 5 to 8pm!