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Wylie: Hartman includes human imprint in his landscapes

John Hartman, Layer Cake Mountain, Kelowna, 2011, watercolour, 28.5 x 35.5 cm, 11 ¼ x 14 in. Collection of the artist. - Yuri Akuney, Digital Perfections
John Hartman, Layer Cake Mountain, Kelowna, 2011, watercolour, 28.5 x 35.5 cm, 11 ¼ x 14 in. Collection of the artist.
— image credit: Yuri Akuney, Digital Perfections

If you happened to be driving in the Kootenays last year or in 2010 you might have seen Ontario-based artist John Hartman standing at the side of the road painting one of his watercolours.

However, on really cold days, the artist stayed inside his rental car to paint, in which case, you would have just sped on by him parked in the pull-over spot at the lookout.

For anyone who likes this part of B.C., the current exhibition at the Kelowna Art Gallery of 30 small watercolours by John Hartman, painted en plein air on-site as he followed the meandering and bizarre path of the Columbia River, will be a visual treat. Even some scenes of Kelowna—Layer Cake Mountain, for example—are included, as our waterways here are part of the Columbia’s drainage basin, which covers an area about the size of France.

A nationally-known landscape artist, Hartman happened to be visiting B.C. for family reasons when he began this series of work. He had wound up his major Cities cluster of paintings, which had been on a national tour, and had not yet begun his two new explorations in large-scale painting.

As he visited the towns in southeastern B.C. he thought it would be nice if gallery goers there could see his watercolours of their region. We are pleased at the Kelowna Art Gallery, therefore, that this exhibition will tour to the Kootenay Gallery in Castlegar in the spring of 2013.

Accompanying the exhibition, in our hallway space, is a short video shot by the artist’s son David Hartman, of the artist both on the road and painting the works. It is exciting to see footage of some of the pictures in the show in the process of being painted before our very eyes. Not that if we tried it at home we could get decent results. Hartman makes it look so easy, having internalized over many years of working all the looking and thinking necessary to create such pieces so that they seem to just flow automatically from his fingers as he rapidly moves the brush this way and that over the sheets of paper.

For anyone who works with watercolours or just likes looking at them, this show is a must.

The colours in the watercolours range from cool blues and violets in the depictions of the snowy mountain passes, to bright oranges and deep blacks of views painted of communities down in the river valleys and their associated industrial installations. Hartman does not seek to paint only non-populated spots; he has a great interest in the human element within the landscape. He favours a lofty viewpoint and sometimes the works look as though they were painted from an airplane.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue that reproduces each work in colour. As well as a curatorial essay, the catalogue contains a text by award-winning writer and cultural geographer, Sarah de Leeuw. This essay gives an account of the history of the river, including its First Nations’ creation story.

The John Hartman exhibition is on at the Kelowna Art Gallery until Jan. 20.

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