Sep. 4, 2006. 12:02 PM
DAVIS STRAIT, off Baffin
Island—It's a typical 7 a.m. on the cruise ship Akademik Ioffe, carrying 25
artists, mainly from Toronto, through Canada's High Arctic.
Most of the group, and the 80 other passengers, have just stumbled into
the third-deck lounge for coffee.
First desperate gulps are barely down the hatch when the outer door opens
and John Joy bursts in on a cool breeze with his first completed painting of the
It's a large watercolour that, because Joy paints only in the open air
and never from photos, depicts whatever he's just seen across the ship's rail.
On this trip, that's usually bare, jagged mountains or fantastically sculpted
icebergs, set off by washes of sea and sky that perfectly capture the light and
Joy, 81, is the oldest of the veteran artists who this summer spent
nearly two weeks on the gleaming white Ioffe — originally a Russian science
research vessel, now chartered by a tour company.
For the group, which went under the name Arctic Quest, the voyage was
primarily a chance to observe, paint and celebrate the North. It took them from
Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, to three communities in Greenland, then back to
Canada and through Lancaster Sound, the entrance to the Northwest Passage.
The results will be on display starting Saturday at the Win Henstock
Gallery in downtown Oakville. The exhibition showcases several dozen skilful
representations of a part of the country that's unknown to most Canadians, and
its impact on these experienced, successful artists.
All the artists were enthralled by the stark, vivid vistas; brilliantly
lit, most of the time, by 24-hour-a-day sunlight.
"I never realized how many icebergs there are, the forms they take and
the magnificence of them," says Joy, who produced 48 pieces during the voyage:
While he works quickly, his paintings are nuanced and complex.
Most of the group sketched or painted studies, or took photos, for works
to complete back home.
RoseMarie Condon estimates she and husband Paul Gauthier shot about 2,500
digital images. She combines elements from several to compose paintings:
"Lighting from one, subject matter from another."
The High Arctic lends itself to abstraction. Unobstructed by trees,
shrubs or buildings, and illuminated by clear, dry air, shapes and colours
"With all this powerful landscape, you have no choice but to go for it,"
says Sandra Henderson.
"It alters how you see things — the simplicity. You see the skeleton of
the Earth," says Condon, who was on her second Arctic painting trip.
It was also a second time north for David Ward, who for years has created
exquisitely detailed works. This trip, he says, helped him to see through new
"It's a different landscape," he says. "It's primeval. Everything is
reduced to its bare essentials."
The stripped-down vistas reveal "the power of the painting is not in the
detail; it's in those larger qualities: the basic composition, tonal qualities
and basic colours."
Or, as Joy puts it: "It's a whole new ballgame. Look at the contours of
Arctic Quest was conceived by Toronto artist Linda Mackey along with
Kathy Haycock, of Eganville, northwest of Ottawa, and Bonnie Levinthal, of
Philadelphia. Participants were chosen from a long list of applicants, Mackey
says. They paid for the trip themselves with help from corporate sponsors and a
Renowned Toronto painter Doris McCarthy and Canadian astronaut and
photographer Roberta Bondar attended the official launch, in January 2005.
McCarthy donated one of her works to the auction, even though — after 16
journeys north — at age 96 she couldn't join the tour.
The Ioffe is one of a handful of commercial tour boats in the Arctic. On
board, the artists often worked under the curious eyes of the other passengers,
mainly from the U.S., Europe and Australia. Even the captain showed up for an
exhibition of their work, eight days into the voyage.
For some on Arctic Quest, the trip had additional purposes.
It was, for a start, timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the
first successful navigation of the Northwest Passage, by Norwegian Roald
Amundsen. Organizers aimed to forge a link with the artists who accompanied
early Arctic explorers, and with members of the Group of Seven and the handful
of more recent painters who have worked in the North.
They also hope the Oakville show, and others to follow, will draw
attention to northern issues such as climate change and sovereignty.
Haycock and her sister, Karole Pitman, of Rocky Harbour, Nfld., wanted to
celebrate their father, Maurice Haycock, who painted in the Arctic with Group of
Seven stalwart A.Y. Jackson.
Maurice Haycock was one of many talented Canadian artists who painted in
relative obscurity because the media and gallery spotlight rarely veered from
those who'd been part of the famous Group. Trained as a geologist, he first went
to the Arctic in 1926, working for a year with the Canadian Geological Survey.
Most of that time, he lived in a small house in Pangnirtung, on the east cost of
On that trip he met Jackson. They reunited 10 years later, and travelled
to the Arctic together many times to paint.
His daughters are raising money to refurbish the decaying house in
Mackey and group member Ana Jurpik are trying to establish links between
Arctic Quest and residents of the Eastern Arctic, and to encourage young Inuit
to become involved in art.
They gave art supplies donated by Elmer Products Inc. to a school
official in Resolute Bay, the Central Arctic village of 240 where the trip
ended. Other materials were to go to nearby Pond Inlet when ice conditions
allowed, and there's much more available if they can find transportation, Jurpik
The Oakville show — which includes Inuit sculptures and works by Maurice
Haycock and Jackson — opens at 1 p.m. Saturday and runs until Sept. 21. Other
exhibitions are planned for Sutton, Toronto, Waterloo, Iqaluit and Philadelphia,
with more in the works, says group member Lynn Soehner, past president of the
Society of Canadian Artists.