The artist, the scientist, and the bears 

Gambier Island painter Gloria Masse will be the first person to tell you she isn’t much of a scientist.

Whistler bear researcher Michael Allen freely admits to not knowing the first thing about art.

Nevertheless, the two have found each other to be kindred spirits after collaborating on a unique project, the first results of which will be unveiled this Saturday at Art Junction@Function Gallery and Frame Studio’s grand reopening reception.

Seasoned wildlife painter Masse’s Whistler Bears collection is based directly on the extensive research Allen has conducted in the Whistler area for the past decade. Her expressionist-style pieces are not just images of the ursine form, but actual portraits of the bears on which Allen keeps tabs and knows by affectionate pet names: Jeanie, Alice, the list goes on.

The result is an intriguing blurring of the lines between art and science. Masse eschews realism, yet Allen commends her accuracy in anatomy. And Allen has begun to realize that art can capture what the scientific method can not, the soul and essence of each of the animals he studies, loves and strives to protect.

The desire to do some general research on the ursine form led Masse to Allen last summer when she first joined him on a bear-observation outing.

Though unfamiliar with Masse’s work, Allen was impressed with the artist’s sensibilities – her strong convictions on conservation issues and her innate appreciation for his life’s work.

"I’ve had lots of wildlife photographers and the occasional artist that’s approached me before," he commented, "but I never got the sense they were sincere. Gloria seemed more seasoned. Her connection to the environment seemed a lot more real. She seemed more down to earth."

The outing was fruitful for Masse. When she returned to Gambier the Whistler bears came with her in spirit.

Inspired by Allen’s personal attachment to each animal and a sense of urgency that the Whistler bears be protected, Masse decided to paint a series based on Allen’s research with the intention of donating a portion of sales to further bear research and conservation initiatives.

"It just seemed the bears were so immediate, so relevant, and if I could influence anyone to care about them or to think about them or even just to share my love for them then it seemed something worthwhile," Masse explained.

With samples of her previous work in tow Masse reconnected with Allen over the winter and requested access to his photo archives.

Despite the initial gelling of their personalities and ideals, it was in no way an easy pitch. Allen was discerning based on prior dissatisfaction with other bear artwork.

"My feeling was that he really wanted somebody who painted real bears. Not Walt Disney or cutesy things, but real bears," she said. "I showed him a bunch of my past paintings and he agreed to do it."


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