Visits to her sister’s ranch in Lone Butte inspired Vancouver-Island artist Diana Jensen Vestergaard to create an exhibit titled Painting the Cariboo, presently showing at the Station House Gallery in Williams Lake.
“She and her husband introduced me to the Cariboo. I’d never been here before,” Vestergaard says.
During those visits, beginning in 2006 and going as far south as Mile Zero, she saw scenes and “gems” she knew she had to paint.
“I would go out in the area, drive around, and look for picturesque spots that I thought represented the Cariboo. I’d take photographs and then paint them in my studio on Vancouver Island.”
Comparing the experience of painting scenes to that on the West Coast, Vestergaard describes the Cariboo as having a sky that’s ever moving.
“It’s very poetic. You never know what you’re going to get in a day.”
The first painting she created was completed in 2009. It depicts the old homestead on her sister’s ranch.
“I was out for a walk and soaking in the spirit of the place and was so fascinated. The painting shows the spring thaw, the snow is melting and the trees are just about ready to bud. It’s like nature’s just ready to burst.”
Initially she didn’t intend to even show the painting — it was more a case of seeing a landscape and “having to” translate it into paint.
From that first one she began to create more and realized she was developing a collection of Cariboo art and thought maybe she should inquire about a Cariboo venue to show them.
She applied in the summer of 2011 with the Station House Gallery, and once she was granted an exhibit, she ventured out to add more paintings to the collection, with the Cariboo theme in mind.
There are 27 pieces in total and they range from seasonal landscapes, iconic heritage buildings to wildlife and rodeo culture.
Smiling she admits there are another dozen in her studio she has yet to finish; however, she’s put them on hold because she’s working on another show in June in Chemainus, on a Vancouver-Island fee.
Vestergaard loves the old homestead buildings and suggests there’s a “real pioneer” spirit that permeates the region.
“There’s something so fundamentally Canadian about the Cariboo and the draw of nature is so powerful. I find it really raw,” she says, adding she’s tried to create a well-rounded vision of the region.
Her paintings are completed when she reaches a point where she cannot see anything or place that needs attention.
Even in her sleep she finds she’s painting, and when she’s awake she’s mixing colours and deciding what colours the world is around her, even when there’s no paint brush in her hand.
“It’s like the muse continues, whether you like it or not. She’s always there.”
She’s discovered there are definitely “Cariboo colours” that are very different than those she’s using on the West Coast. It’s been an adventure to try and identify them and create.
“There are a lot of Earth colours and these very rich blues. And the yellows, of course. I just can’t keep my eyes off the aspens, they are just so magical.”
For two months she lived at her sister’s while she wrote her masters thesis in art history.
It was during that stint, when she was quietly contemplating, reading and writing, and reflecting that she felt the spirit of the Cariboo.
Born in Port Alberni in 1973, Vestergaard has attended art schools in Frederiksberg, Edmonton, Florence, and most recently Copenhagen.
She has exhibited works in Denmark, Victoria, Edinburgh and St. Louis before Williams Lake.
Her style is to work within the Classical Realist tradition. Over the last few years she has explored the genre of landscape.
“My work aims to penetrate nature’s mysteries, find its essence, compose it, interpret it, and make tangible its reality through art,” she says, adding it’s the viewer that brings meaning to her art and who she creates art for.
The exhibit runs all month at the gallery.