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Spud Valley artists get some time in the Whistler spotlight with Picturing Pemberton

Ron and Heidi Denessen reflect on full-circle journey with Arts Whistler’s latest exhibit 

It would be understandable if Heidi and Ron Denessen had a case of déjà vu.

Nearly 20 years ago, the artist couple were living in Pemberton and preparing to exhibit at one of the first-ever shows at (what’s now called) The Maury Young Arts Centre. 

While they’ve lived a whole lot of life in between—marriage, kids, several moves around the Lower Mainland—at the end of 2019, they built a house, complete with two studios, and moved from Whistler back to Pemberton once again. 

On top of that, they’re two of four Spud Valley artists featured in Picturing Pemberton, a new exhibit at The Gallery. 

“We haven’t done many shows together,” Heidi says. “We’ve been so busy. Our kids are teenagers now. In all those years, we were in the thick of chasing after little kids and focused on making a living. We both always made a living related to our art practices, but one thing we didn’t have a lot of time for was producing whole shows. We’re now in a place where we’re able to make a return to that. Now that we have this studio space, we’re settled.”

For Ron, who dug up an old article from The Whistler Question on that first exhibit, it was interesting to see how his style has both progressed, but remained the same over two decades.

“The style I was doing then was quite similar,” he says. “It’s developed, but I was doing the same thing, just through minimal means, trying to portray a landscape through colour and form.” 

Likewise, Heidi says she’s gone “full circle.”

“I’m returning back to what I was always doing when I first started out as an artist,” she adds. “I’ve been exploring landscapes as a way to express feelings of a sense of wonder and joy and peace, using the landscape as a jumping-off point. I think I was doing that back then too.”

Both have two pieces featured in the new Arts Whistler show. Heidi’s include Listening and Learning, featuring Mount Currie, but with a deeper theme of reflecting on the Black Lives Matter movement, and Arthur’s Choice, inspired by the ski run on Blackcomb. Both are large, acrylic paintings on wood panels. 

“I’m exploring how colour and light communicate,” she says of the latter piece. “I really want to just focus on communicating joy right now. I think we all need it.” 

Ron’s contributions to the show, meanwhile, are called Alpenglow and 30 cm Day

“It’s of Wedge and it’s a morning feeling painting,” he says, describing 30 cm Day. “It’s inspired by a big snow day—when you wake up in the morning, look outside, and you’re instantly excited because there’s so much snow. It’s going to be a good day on the mountain.” 

The show, which, alongside the Denessens, also features well-known artist Karen Love and established photographer Simon Bedford, aims to shine a light on the talent that abounds in Whistler’s neighbouring community—and the beauty that valley inspires. 

“[Pemberton] has inspired us a lot—especially because of where we moved,” Ron says. “We have a Mount Currie view right in front of us. It’s been ridiculously inspiring to look at it every day.”

The exhibit officially opened on Jan. 22 and runs until March 7 during opening hours at The Gallery. While it might have been sad to have to forgo an opening party due to the pandemic, the couple says they’re just happy for what has become a rare chance to exhibit publicly during this time. 

“I’m so grateful for the opportunity to get out of the house, drive somewhere, and drop off a painting,” Heidi says, with a laugh. “If you’re wandering through the village right now, we have this space for us to go, which is cool … Everyone is missing doing things, and this is such an awesome thing for the community to do. You can go in a safe way and see a show.” 

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