Robert Jenkins has created a unique study of nature showcasing Okanagan Mountain Park as seen from the vast expanse of pavement in the Walmart parking lot on the other side of the lake.

Anti-commercialism from a physicist who loves nature

When Robert Jenkins stopped doing satellite research, he started producing amazing artistic depictions of nature.

  • Dec. 7, 2011 2:00 p.m.

On first blush, Robert Jenkins chalk pastel landscapes of Okanagan Mountain Park seem as far removed from edgy, alternative and youthful as heirloom pearls and cameo pendants in a trendy jewelry shop.

Yet, just as the odd antique adds its kitsch appeal to a hipster, the bold vision and extraordinary colour palette Jenkins displays in 27 snippets of a hilly Okanagan view adds a certain breath of fresh air to the Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art’s final show of the year: The Members’ Show.

“When you’re looking at this, you’re doing exactly what your eye does internally when it looks at any kind of scene,” said Jenkins. “You see little bits of the scene and its your brain that actually puts it together.”

The way Jenkins’ brain puts things together is what really makes his work interesting. Once a physicist for Communications Research Centre Canada in Ottawa, he spent the bulk of his life doing satellite research, looking at pictures of the world quite differently.

“I thought with doing art I was going to have to give up science and leave science behind. This was going to be a totally new phase of my life,” he said. “Oddly enough, science sort of sneaks back in. There’s certainly a lot of analysis that goes on in doing this and it’s empirical too. I’ll put a mark on the paper and I’ll put another mark from there. So I’m drawing information and using it to make my next step. It’s experimenting.”

The way he chooses his subjects is more precision than experimentation, though. Okanagan Mountain Park caught his eye in the Walmart parking lot in West Kelowna and he proceeded to document nature from this most unusual perch.

“That’s our situation around here. Here we are in this brand new metropolis, all shopping centres and stuff like that, all this commercialism, and yet these mountains surround us,” he explained.

Finding beauty in the most unusual of spaces has long been the milieu of the art world, and so he took the camera back to that spot in the parking lot, shot a series of images and then started to blow them up.

Stand back and you’ll see that each of the three sets of views looks very similar to what you would see looking at the park during any of the given seasons he’s documented—spring, winter, fall. Move in a little closer and you find the unexpected—colours of shadow and light so diverse there’s room for peacock blue in with the deep mauve and kelly greens.

“We always think of green as the standard colour landscape, but they’re not,” he said. “Sometimes purple will be there. Sometimes blue. Sometimes green. Sometimes orange even in there too.”

Using multiple images as he’s done, Jenkins is able to “get big” while still keeping the chalk pastel under glass. And this piece does pack a punch.

The members’ exhibit at the gallery is the last show of the year and it comes down this Saturday, Dec. 10; but it’s really the first in a string of displays from locally-based artists on the way for the New Year, artistic and administrative director Lorna McParland said.

The New Year will kick off in the gallery with a daring show open to anyone in the public who wants to participate. Entitled Family Secrets, the gallery invites submissions (through Jan. 6) from Okanagan residents who want to air their family secrets anonymously. Dropboxes will be set up at several locations in Kelowna where blank postcards can be picked up and finished artworks deposited—all unsigned.

For information or to volunteer to help contact Kylie Millar, project curator, and the Alternator’s current intern at

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