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Okanagan artist showing in Coors Western Art Exhibition

Ice Fishing on Christmas Evening, an oil painting by Jerry Markham, 35, who works out of his studio in Fintry. - Contributed
Ice Fishing on Christmas Evening, an oil painting by Jerry Markham, 35, who works out of his studio in Fintry.
— image credit: Contributed

There are 1000 people willing to pay $200 to walk through the doors at the show where Jerry Markham's work is being shown and sold this month.

It's been several years since the Fintry-based landscape painter first shipped off the originals required to land a coveted spot in the Coors Western Art Exhibition and Show in Colorado.

"It took two years. We had to send originals to Denver. We didn't get in, but then they said to ship them some more," he says in interview from Giobean Coffee, having made the 45 minute drive from his home and studio with his wife, Leah.

Leah has refined the business side of his career with the same precision he's used to cultivate the brush strokes that somehow give his mountains a contemporary feel. This quality is as mysterious as his ultimate message and purpose for working as a painter, but he does think about it a fair bit and he certainly does work. Together they've sold over 1000 of his paintings, carefully cataloguing his progression as they enter new shows and source new galleries around the world.

"He's very quality control oriented," says Leah. "He doesn't want to put anything out that isn't…

"The best I can do at that time," he says, finishing her sentence.

Where some artists sell everything in order to earn a living, even practice sketches, Markham steadfastly refuses to release imperfection.

Jerry MarkhamThis means the door to his 600-square foot studio, a standalone building on the young couple's remote property, is locked, even to Leah, throughout his twelve hour work day and when he shuts it down at night.

He's taken to having art burnings as well. To do a large canvass he typically works out the details with smaller paintings and many projects he simply loses interest in, so they're thrown on the fire.

"Seeing the artist's work…I think is really interesting, but there's a different appreciation for it than a finished work," he says. "Do you buy the blueprints to your house?"

While few things in the studio may be salient, there are those images he doesn't forgive or forget. One painting has been in there for 10 years and it may be 10 more before it's done for all he knows. It's still there and he still pulls it out to keep at it.

This open-ended style is one very noticeable and endearing quality about Markham. He repeatedly grins and says "I don't know" when asked about the 'how's and 'why's in his world.

He can't tell you what the first painting he ever sold is—the couple think it might be one to NHL hockey player Félix Potvin. He was trying to get an autograph.

He can't tell you what it is that typically strikes him about the images he paints. He went to Italy last year and found he really couldn't "get it," art history or no art history.

Jerry MarkhamSome 13 years into his painting career, his seminal motivation for picking up the brush seems to be this process of discovering his own take on what may or may not be waiting around the next corner.

"I don't think it's enough to just (paint). It's just a craft. What you say with your craft is really what makes it relevant or not," he explains.

And then there's the other big questions: Is it relevant? In an era where digital photography puts the ability to capture a moment into everyone's hand with a cell phone, is painting even needed anymore? He may have dropped out of art school, but the quandary seems to haunt him as much as the academics.

"I hope to be able to convey an idea that's too big to expression in another medium because it's my form of expression…

"I guess my biggest fear is that it's superficial. I just don't want it to be a pretty picture," he explains.

Asked what he's interested in right now, the north comes to mind.

"Icebergs. I was watching a video of Greenland and there's all these icebergs floating by and it was so interesting," he says.

The couple are also going to take another crack at Italy.

"There's got to be something there. It's just so pretty. I don't know. We went in the spring last time. Maybe we'll try the fall?"

Markham likes the mountains and southern Ontario, Mennonite country. He's partial to the Russian impressionists and American painter John Singer Sargent, though he notes he actually wasn't born in the United States.

Like many a curious mind, he's up on the news headlines and admits he's enjoying painting Vancouver, where his brother lives; he doesn't like the city.

The Markhams fled Calgary's urban jungle thinking they might land up on the island, but picked the Okanagan. As Leah put it, "it has everything."

Narrowing down what everything might be to an artist who finds the backs of two cabbies hovering over a broken vehicle as intriguing as the sweep of power lines and snow-covered slopes is impossible.

It would seem, at this stage in the adventure, 35 years into his life, this might just be the point.

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