An exhibition at the Gibsons Public Market by two local artists whose works depict B.C.’s natural majesty also reveals influences of their unique backgrounds.
Cambria Logan, who lives and works in Roberts Creek, uses crisp lines on birch and pine panels to depict the dynamic play of waves and wildlife in liminal places. Gibsons-based painter Paula O’Brien represents lush West Coast locales in oils, evoking depth and dimensionality through rain-dappled perspectives.
Logan is the daughter of acclaimed carver Anna Hanson, who died in 2018. “I never really thought that my work was like hers at all,” said Logan, “But I was just going through her sketchbooks and I was like, our styles are actually identical. In her sketches she draws split cedar as lines, lots of close-together straight lines. And I realized, wow, that’s exactly what I do.”
The geometric precision of Logan’s designs is no coincidence. She is a mechanical engineer—a graduate of the University of Victoria who spent a decade in California working for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a NASA-owned research and development centre.
In 2017, pregnant with her first child, she returned to her Roberts Creek hometown. She has worked for JPL remotely since her return. Logan’s Instagram account provides a succinct biography: “Rocket scientist by day, artist by night, exhausted mom 24/7.”
In pieces like Sun & Shade and Beyond the Foxgloves, black acrylic on blond wood panels depicts headland-studded seascapes. Orcas surface behind a latticework of leaves and fine-tipped ferns. Leaves set in shadow are inverted, their voids penetrating dusky vistas. Birch grain gleams through the gaps.
In addition to her acrylic designs, Logan also chisels linoleum blocks to create linocut pressings for panels and art cards.
“There’s a lot of complexity in nature and I try and take and distill it down to the essence,” Logan said. “I’m trying to capture one little slice of the essence of the Sunshine Coast.”
In contrast to Logan’s austere strokes, colour bleeds from every shape in the oil paintings of Paula O’Brien. The Montreal-born artist and entrepreneur left home aged 19 to take a four-month trip with a girlfriend. “But we never came home,” she said. “We both embarked on long careers on charter sailboats.” Her travels—and education in textiles as a fine art medium at Goldsmiths’ College in London—led her through Europe and the Caribbean before she transplanted her family to Gibsons in 1989.
Nautical references are abundant in O’Brien’s works like Shinglemill Tugboat and Trawlers, Alert Bay, in which stolid vessels are infused with the sea’s shapeshifting character. She practices plein air painting, planting her easel at coastal sites from Steveston Village to Alert Bay’s Cormorant Island.
The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted her regular painting expeditions. “It was a real hiatus for me, actually,” said O’Brien. “I found it very difficult, in the studio during those two years, to not feel the joy and dance that I feel when I’m creating. But this year I’m released. I’m ready to turn the corner.”
On many of her canvases, quaint cottages shimmer behind a curtain of motley raindrops. The dominance of precipitation is appropriate, given O’Brien’s preference for the alla prima style. “You don’t wait for one layer to dry to put the next one over,” she said. “Everything is wet. Many alla prima [paintings] are done in one massive session. It’s dynamic and explosive.”
O’Brien uses a combination of brushes and palette knives. She mixes paint with the butter knife-sized blade before using it to apply wide swaths and fine edges. “It’s very direct and it lets the paint be a participant. You want to move with the paint,” she said. “Moving into painting again after two years of dormancy and COVID fatigue, I really let the paint lead me where it wanted to go.”
Artworks by Cambria Logan and Paula O’Brien remain on display at the Gibsons Public Market until May 15.