Painter of Wild Places
I first saw a painting by Laura Adams on a Facebook post two years ago and I was startled by its gorgeous, bold, autumn colours and the effect it had on me. It was a work that depicted the Greenlandic world heritage site called, Ilulissat Icefjord. What was it in this impressionist painting that so enchanted me? Like many of us, I am often drawn to paintings where I have been and this one captivated me on an emotional level which I rarely experience. It literally tugged at my heart and I wanted to own it! Her composition was from a perspective where I often photographed from and I found myself — suddenly transported back to this enchanting site — literally living in Laura’s painting.
Laura Adams is new to the Arctic realm. She first traveled there in 2017 while working for Adventure Canada on an expeditionary ship. The Arctic has captured her heart and she has been focusing on creating large oils of the Canadian Eastern Arctic. The landscapes of Baffin, Devon and Ellesmere have captivated her creative energies.
Recently she produced several superb large oil paintings entitled, “The Arctic: a delicate balance of strength and fragility” for an exhibit at the Langham gallery in Kaslo near her home in Nelson, British Columbia.
Laura’s mentor and veteran painter Pat McGoey expresses his admiration for her work:
“I am amazed at Laura’s works. When she paints, Laura is not painting a photograph from one of her expeditions, she is painting a place she has experienced and observed deeply. Her paintings take you there — through remarkable depth and composition. Laura’s paintings come from an inner dialogue about this place, its elements and her feelings, and move you to respect nature and all of its beauty.”
Laura Adams is in her early 50s and she maintains an exhausting pace with her fascinating lifestyle. She is a very fit, dynamic woman and an exceptional multi-tasker. She excels in many fields outside her painting pursuits. These include champion kite boarder, 5th woman to become a certified mountain guide in Canada, avalanche forecaster, heli-ski guide, mother, guitar playing coastal skipper, speaker/presenter and mentor to many.
As we discuss Laura’s evolution as a painter, she talks of her close relationship with her father. “The biggest effect on me has been the loss of my father who I was very close to. He painted all his life consistently and inspired me to paint. I often feel like he is with me while I am in the wilderness and as I paint.” Her fathers’ pursuits were climbing, skiing and sailing and they shared many adventures together. When we talk about her future and themes for her art, she shares her hopes to go to the Arctic to solely focus on her painting.
Laura’s impressionistic oil technique uses palette knives, some of which belonged to her grandfather. So, there is a heart-warming tradition of three generations using these creative tools to make masterful works. She mixes her own colours of rich, lustrous oils on large sheets of glass and uses an Impasto style, meticulously applying dense layers of colour and texture onto large 48” by 36” canvases.
She points out that what is critical to a great painting is the composition. “I paint the painting three times. Initially with Gesso, then I create an acrylic under painting and complete the work with oil. No other painting method gives such remarkable depth.”
I ask her how she reaches her Inner Landscape as she immerses herself deeply in the act of painting and if she listens to music or the news? She says she loves to listen to classical music and often to some singer/songwriters but at other times she craves total silence. “When I paint, I feel such a wonderful sense of contentment and creativity. Painting for me has always been deeply personal and my best painting is done in total solitude, but I also love painting with some colleagues and sharing time with them.”
We talk about our favourite painter, Lawren Harris and AY Jackson who were travelling buddies. I recall an anecdote about AY and his frustration with a piece that was not working. He would solve the problem by breaking it apart and burning it! I ask her if she does anything as dramatic as that and she says no! However, when it feels like a painting is “going south,” she stops painting and revisits her composition plan, which she completes before commencing each work.
When we discuss love for the landscape she says, “I feel humility as a mindful observer within these natural ecosystems, and ‘awe’ of the inter – dependent parts and processes that are constantly in flux adapting and shifting each moment.”
When discussing the message she wants to convey to her viewer, she explains, “I strive to evoke that sense of place through the shape of the landscapes and the light moving through it. It is about reliving that sense of place.
The challenge is how to create that sense of vastness. It is not only the aesthetic beauty but the powerful feeling that the landscape instills within me. For example, on Baffin Island the ancient stone, billions of years old, and the light is unlike anything I have seen before.”
In May of this year we went to the national gallery to take in the Group of Seven. This was a day after we had returned from leading a ski trip through one of the most stunning landscapes on north east Baffin Island. It was her first time to the gallery. I could feel her excitement, reverence and joy at absorbing these works and she explained many technical aspects of how these masters made their marks on the canvas. We took in the Tom Thompson’s and the AY Jackson’s and the Carmichael’s, but the most awesome of all were the works of our hero, Lawren Harris. His Arctic series left us breathless and they were made more poignant as we had just spent two weeks near the region where he had painted these masterpieces in the ’30s. One piece entitled Bylot Island has tremendous resonance.
Then it was on to the Firestone Collection at the Ottawa Art Gallery where we absorbed Lawren Harris’ Mount Thule, Bylot Island 1930 with the gallery all to ourselves.
Laura was awestruck by this exquisitely lit Lawren Harris and she expressed feeling deeply moved. “I was so impressed with his beautiful marks and elegant simplicity. He is a brilliant master of that.”
As I spend time with Laura Adams and think about her prodigious talent, I cannot help but muse about the possibility that she will one day be represented in the National Gallery. Her powerful works inspire the viewer and reach out and grab us viscerally.
Her paintings make us yearn to see these wondrous parts of our country. However, they also give us pause to consider the impacts of climate change and the alarmingly swift changes that are happening to the landscapes and seascapes of the Arctic world and to the people who inhabit them. Laura Adams is a master of silent poetry that speaks directly to our hearts and then weaves its way to our minds. She has returned to Canada after a decade, living in New Zealand. We are fortunate as Canadians that she is back to share her visionary art and talents in our great country.