Massive Creekside mural brings the alpine to the underground 

Artist Jessa Gilbert's 2,400-sq.-ft. piece depicts Sea to Sky's iconic mountain ranges

click to enlarge PHOTO BY WARWICK GOW - PEAK TO VALLEY Jessa Gilbert's RMOW-commissioned mural mimics the experience of travelling through the Sea to Sky's iconic peaks.
  • Photo by Warwick Gow
  • PEAK TO VALLEY Jessa Gilbert's RMOW-commissioned mural mimics the experience of travelling through the Sea to Sky's iconic peaks.

For much of Jessa Gilbert's life, her twin passions of snowboarding and art existed largely in silos. It's a divide not unique to the Squamish resident, of course. We learn from a young age that the jocks sit over here, the artsy types over here, and nary the two shall meet.

It wasn't until the 28-year-old Upstate New York native relocated to B.C. four years ago from Vermont, where she was attending college and competing on the international snowboard circuit, that those lines started to blur together.

"I was under this impression that I could either do snowboarding or I could do artwork, so I would constantly bounce back and forth," she says.

"It wasn't until moving out here and reimagining and reinvesting in the artwork that I realized I can take (art) with me on these experiences. In the artwork, I can play with what it feels like to be in the mountains. By allowing myself to go down that avenue, they both started to exist in tandem."

Suddenly, Gilbert would notice how the light bounced off the snow as she zoomed down a run, and she would incorporate it into her painting. She quickly realized that her dual pursuits were complementary, and both became enriched by the other's influence. Gilbert's been living at the intersection of art and adventure ever since, culminating with her most significant project to date: a massive, 2,400-square-foot (223-sq.-m.) mural splashed onto the Creekside underpass. The RMOW-commissioned work saw painter Gilbert, with a little help from local graffiti artist Kris "Kups" Kupskay, mimic the experience of travelling through the iconic peaks of the Sea to Sky, with the Spearhead Traverse stretching from one side to the Tantalus Range on the other.

"It's playing with the idea of going on adventures, when you're seeing all this alpenglow and the day is passing by both in terms of the landscape but also in the shifting of colours," Gilbert explains.

"It's giving the passerby the experience of being in wilderness even though they're stuck in an underpass."

It was the accessibility of the project that really appealed to Gilbert, the idea that anyone could experience the beauty and wonder of the wild without having to leave the Valley Trail.

"It's amazing that we actually have that kind of access here, so to be able to not only bring the alpine down to the valley, where some people may not be able to get into the mountains, but also to bring artwork to the everyday passerby, that's a really rewarding opportunity for me," she says. "It's engagement on all levels. It belongs to everyone. It belongs to the community. It's reactivating that space."

A self-described "experiential landscape artist," Gilbert often creates en plein air right alongside the vistas she's painting, striving to recreate the sensory pleasures of the vast outdoors.

"It's not necessarily about painting mountains or a riverbed like the original, traditional landscape painters would do. For them it was about articulating what people owned... These artists would be contracted to paint the landscapes that these wealthy elites had purchased; 'Look at my farmland!'" she says.

"What I find exciting here is you can create an experience. These paintings are about celebrating how it feels to be within nature, and we all own it here. It's free, this wilderness is accessible to anyone, and that's worth celebrating."

The community will have the chance to celebrate alongside Gilbert at the official unveiling of her mural on Saturday, Oct. 21 in Creekside from 1 to 3 p.m. Visit www.facebook.com/creeksideunderpassmural to learn more.

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