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Painter’s heart is in Sea to Sky Country

New technique adds many dimensions to Gildersleeve’s canvasses Sea to Sky Country is Rod Gildersleeve’s "wheelhouse.

New technique adds many dimensions to Gildersleeve’s canvasses

Sea to Sky Country is Rod Gildersleeve’s "wheelhouse."

The North Vancouver artist, who just completed a highly successful show of his paintings, called Sea to Sky, at the Ferry Building Gallery in West Vancouver, spends virtually all of his spare time in the corridor, hiking mountains, walking trails, and exploring the Squamish estuary.

His acrylic paintings reflect what he sees, from the ever-changing beauty of the Pemberton Valley to the tranquil beauty of Copper Cove and the majestic beauty of Brunswick Mountain.

"The corridor is my personal landscape, my touchstone landscape," said Gildersleeve, who was born and raised in West Vancouver. "I’m very loyal to my roots. Anyone who has ever driven the Sea to Sky Highway knows it is never the same drive twice. The different seasons, times of day and weather make me so sensitive to the nuances of that landscape."

Gildersleeve finds many of his subjects through hiking. Over the years, he has trudged up virtually every mountain between North Vancouver and Whistler. And given good health, he plans to continue that pursuit into his 70s and beyond.

"I was hiking up Brunswick Mountain one day, panting and sweating, at the start of the season, and I was just blown away by a hiking party of seniors who were coming down as I was going up. They were in their early to mid-70s, and were laughing and singing, having a great time. I plan to do that."

Climbing Brunswick Mountain has been an annual rite of passage for Gildersleeve for the past 30 years, to see if his legs will still take him to the top.

The sea portion of Gildersleeve’s inspiration comes from his other major pursuit, building landscape features such as fences, gazebos, decks and other structures. He gathers the wood he uses from the beaches of Howe Sound, cutting cedar planks for fences and rails by hand with sledges and froes.

"A lot of the beaches I paint are my wood gathering spots. The cedar is such a beautiful wood. It looks like a big shake but it’s a fencing board. To start with, it’s like an old slab of nothing. But if I see an old stump with 10 feet of good wood in it, I’m all over it like a wet rat. It’s feel-good work, and that’s the kind of experience I want in my paintings. I put paint on the same way I cut and build."

After spending most of the 1970s travelling, painting, writing and exploring his place in the world, Gildersleeve received his degree in art history from UBC in 1984, and earned his professional teaching certificate, also from UBC, the next year. Since 1987 he has had dozens of solo shows throughout the Lower Mainland, including the Foyer Gallery at the Squamish Public Library, and some of his paintings can be found at the Outpost Gallery in Squamish.

"The entire process of painting has been mysterious and elusive for me," said Gildersleeve. "I have been unable to clone my successes, let alone working efficiently, systematically or consistently. I have questioned the relationship from the beginning. It often feels that what I wish to communicate cannot be painted, but not for lack of effort or spent canvasses.

"Why I feel compelled to paint the things I see around me – sky, clouds, trees, water, mountains – I can’t say, other than as a spillover from my joyful response to the natural world. I’m an outdoors guy and always have to be in my landscape. I always have my camera with me at any job I go to, and my customers are very forgiving about my cloud and mountain gazing."

Over the years, Gildersleeve has developed an affinity for Squamish, exploring the estuary and meeting many of the people who have an understanding of what could be done in the community.

"I love having my paintings for sale at the Outpost Gallery. The town has given me a lot over the years, so I like to give back. I do a lot of my shopping there, clothes and Christmas gifts, because it doesn’t look anything like West Van."

In recent years, Gildersleeve has also done a lot of painting around Pemberton, D’Arcy, Gates Lake, Mt. Currie and along the Duffey Lake Road.

So far, he has not exhibited in Whistler, but hopes to soon explore the gallery scene in the resort community, and perhaps find one that will carry his work.

"My son, the marketer, has told me that Whistler is ‘hot’ in so many ways, so I will get on it," Gildersleeve said. "The act of painting is primary for me. I have to be learning and growing, the selling part, that is absolutely secondary for me. The process of painting is demanding and devoid of certainties. I’m always relieved and grateful when this effort yields a finished piece. I paint in a frenzy, and overpaint a lot. I throw a lot of paint on the canvas. I can blow four or five canvasses before I finally get on track, that’s part of the process. The painting itself has to be engaging, it has to be meaningful and it has to be enjoyable. I have a lot of respect for someone who wants to give me money for a painting, so I want it to be a fair exchange of value for value."

For his most recent show, Gildersleeve has tried a new technique of adding texture to the surface by attaching small squares of newspaper to the canvas with an acrylic medium, to break up the surface.

"Once the image went on I became really aware of the edges, and that was exciting because it broke up the surface. I want people to see the work as a painting. By breaking the surface up that way, people have to look at each section and how they relate to each other. They suddenly see it as a painting, not a postcard."

Some visitors to the Sea to Sky show asked Gildersleeve if the new direction marked an end to his representative painting, but he maintains it is simply an end to his postcard painting.

"I want to be more and more of a painter foremost. The representative aspect is secondary, but there will be a continued exploration of the same landscapes," he said.

"There will still be the landscapes that people will recognize, because that is my roots."

Roots which go deep into the heart of Sea to Sky Country.