When she was living in Ontario some years ago completing her schooling, artist Angela Muellers had the same reaction every time the distinct landscape of the Sea to Sky came into view on her flight here.
“When I was living in Toronto and I was on that plane coming home and I would see the mountains, I would cry every time,” says the 63-year-old Brackendale painter. “I’ve always lived near mountains and they’re just such a blessing. We’re so lucky to live in the Sea to Sky. They give you joy, they give you hope, they give you a break from the world, especially this last year and a half. It’s kind of like a place of worship.”
Mountains form the centrepiece of much of Mueller’s work, as well as a new exhibit at The Artisan Gallery in Squamish, including several pieces depicting the Whistler backcountry—although dogs, another beloved element of the Sea to Sky lifestyle, also feature in the show.
A classically trained portrait and landscape artist, Muellers grew up surrounded by mountains in her native Alberta, and they’ve always held a certain sway over her. Primarily painting in a realist style based on photos, Muellers mostly stayed out of the backcountry over the past three years after she broke her leg in a nasty fall on Blackcomb Mountain. That is until this winter.
“I had a little fear after breaking my leg on the hill; I was in so much pain I could not move, so it kind of put a lot of fear in my head about going into the backcountry,” she says. “But I had a great experience, went out with friends, and we didn’t try anything crazy. Just kept it mellow and went up to Flute Bowl. Just had a great time and you can always get such good photos back there. The clouds are just amazing.”
Muellers first got hooked on painting in childhood, learning from her grandfather. But, with the traditional French Academy system out of favour at the time, she struggled to find a school that suited her needs. She learned abstract painting in her 20s at a school in Victoria, but soon realized the realist style was more up her alley. Eventually she connected with New York Academy of Art-trained instructor Michael Britton, who taught her a system of watercolour painting of large, life-sized figures. Muellers also wanted to hone her oil painting skills, but it wasn’t until a life-threatening car accident in 2001 that she took the leap to enrol in a four-year program in Toronto.
“I think anytime you have gone through a real dark night of the soul, which it really was, you’re definitely going to come out transformed on the other end,” she says. “It made me really want to achieve something with my art because it was really the thing I loved so much. It was like, ‘Well, you’ve got to do it now.’”
How Muellers found her way to dog portraits was something of an accident. After a friends’ beloved dog was hit by a car and killed, she wracked her brain to figure out something she could do for them.
“I thought, ‘I’ll give them a painting of their dog,’” she recalls. “A close friend of mine in Squamish is an incredible photographer, Roberta Holden, and she had taken a photo of the dog, so I did it and gave the painting to them and they were crying and so happy.”
Muellers enjoyed the process of painting pooches so much, that she began offering commissions of man’s best friend, which she found a welcome change of pace from painting the rugged landscapes of the corridor.
“They’re actually a lot of fun because every dog breed has such a different character, different look, different fur—everything,” Muellers says. “I did this portrait of this little French bulldog and he looks like Winston Churchill. He’s just hilarious. He’s got this black face and the rest of him is quite a gold colour. His face is just hilarious.”
Muellers latest exhibit features 15 pieces, both original and prints, and runs until Oct. 6. Her work on copper is also regularly featured at the Britannia Mine Museum’s gift shop, and will be on display for the Copper and Fire event on Sept. 18.
To learn more, visit angelamuellers.com.