“Nature is my teacher”: in memory of Catherine Gibbon, extraordinary landscape painter
Drawing one night by the Desjardins Canal, Catherine Gibbon heard a bird call repeatedly from trees across the water. Then, a second bird responded.
“I put away my drawing and listened to those precious, primitive songs of nostalgia seeking solace in the night.”
Gibbon, one of the most prominent landscape painters in this region, was working on a series of nightscapes at the time.
“Where you live is what you understand best,” she said in one of our many conversations. She was a dear friend.
“Working very close to home in Dundas allowed me to be spontaneous in my work. If I saw something interesting while I was mowing the grass or going about my daily activities, I could be there in minutes.
“Light and Shadow”, an exhibition at the Carnegie Gallery, pays tribute to Gibbon, who died suddenly in December at age 72. Among her many accomplishments, she was a beloved art teacher and a passionate environmentalist. She co-founded On the Edge, a 1990s project that drew attention, through exhibits and a book, to the fragile state of nature in this region.
Gibbon always adopted a loosely representational style, which focused on broad views and evolved into the most bare landscapes. She never stopped looking for new ways to approach her subject, whether through the different seasons or times of day. She also created a series on the 1990 Hagersville Tire Fire, juxtaposing the brightness of the fast-moving flames with the eerie darkness of the smoke.
“For me, exploring is looking and feeling without expectation of what I will find. It is a process of absorbing something that attracts you. I do this by writing, by drawing, sometimes just by looking.
In “City Night Lights” (2013), it offers a view of Hamilton. The sky, filled with softly contoured shapes and squiggles, dominates. The thin strip of land below is filled with streaks and touches of rich blue, turquoise, orange, and yellow.
“The night was an entirely new field of exploration for me and it required some adaptation and experimentation in my working methods before finding a way to deal with it. In the night light, the human and natural landscape become compatible and beautiful together.
In “Summer Sky Series III” (2017), another minimalist landscape, Gibbon dramatizes the sky by adding orange and red clouds swirling above the land.
“In my favorite works, the landscape under the sky dissolves into space with just a few lines to indicate detail,” she told me.
“The Bush Garden” (2014) is a more complex composition in which earth and sky compete for attention. Nature sparkles with the strongest of pinks and yellows. The nebulous forms and the most bare lines suggest rather than describe the view. Chalk pastel on paper, Gibbon’s favorite medium, allowed him to indulge in color. She layered and blended colors in some places and exposed bits of underlying color in others.
“Over the years I have come to better appreciate the portability, flexibility and speed of execution of this pastel medium. It suits my working process, which involves minimal planning initially and continuing to develop the work finding my way until the work has a life of its own and speaks its own voice I never know what a finished work will look like until it tells me it’s done.
In “Agawa River Bluffs” (2020), she bathes the Algoma landscape in sumptuous blues and greens. This work belongs to one of his last series of paintings.
“Nature is my teacher,” Gibbon once said. “I find a parallel in nature with my own life experiences with the cycles of life, death, renewal, constancy, change, order, chance.”
What: Light and shadow
Where: Carnegie Gallery, 10 King St. W., Dundas
When: until September 4