Dusty Glacier

More and more artists are working to help preserve open land, but few run the risk of death — or at least a bad sunburn on the roof of their mouth — when doing so. But then there’s Cory Trepanier

Donjek Glacier

Trepanier, whom some readers will remember from his presentation on his expeditions to the Arctic at the 2012 Plein Air Convention & Expo, spent a month this year exploring the Kluane National Park Reserve, in Northwest Canada. The outing was part of a new project the Canadian painter has launched called TrueWild. Each year through 2018, Trepanier plans to spend a month in a different wilderness area, painting and shooting film. The rest of the year, he plans to edit the footage into documentaries (his previous documentaries have appeared on Canadian public television) and paint an 8- or 10-foot canvas of an iconic scene from the trip. All of it is to raise awareness about the beauty and importance of Canada’s undeveloped wilderness. “If I can inspire other people to fall in love with these places, it might inspire them to take care of them, too,” he says. “The necessity to preserve and take care of these areas has become very important to me.”

“From the Edge of Dusty,” plein air sketch by Cory Trepanier

For his trip to Kluane, Trepanier was told he must have a certified mountain guide. He had to fly one in. Crossing an ice field, he found out why. “There is no way I would have had any idea how close I could get to this big curving slope of snow and ice,” recalls the painter. “He was poking the ice here and there, and I was telling him to take me as far as he could. Using his judgment and experience, he got me as far as I did.” 

Trepanier paints at Lowell Lake

The expedition was rigorous. At times, he was carrying a 90-pound pack. “I’m still nursing my left ankle from the torque put on it coming down the scree slope,” Trepanier says. “I guess we knew we were in for some work, but the challenge was more than we expected.” On the ice field, the snow was 12 feet deep, but the sun was reflecting off every surface and sunburning Trepanier and his crew in places one wouldn’t imagine. Opening your mouth due to exertion could get you a sunburn on the roof of your mouth. A cameraman burnt the underside of his nose. On at least one night, Trepanier had to be tied to the guide to make sure no one fell off the edge of a crevasse. On his last night in Kluane, he finally got the calm weather he had been waiting for, and he took a boat out to paint an imposing iceberg. And then … well, watch the video.

Trepanier took 24 colors in a French half-easel and 10 12 x 16-inch panels on which he painted two scenes each, dividing the panels with a painted line. The artist said one of the biggest problems he faced was “trying to wrap my head around the view and deciding what to paint.” That will undoubtedly sound familiar to any plein air painter, but as one can see from photos of the trip, Trepanier’s choices were more extreme.

“Painting in a big land,” comments Trepanier. A certified mountain guide helped Trepanier be sure he would be safe that far out on the ice field.

Trepanier’s tentative schedule is to visit the Torngat and Mealy Mountains in 2014; the Nahanni National Park Reserve in 2015; Pukaskwa, Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area, and the Georgian Bay Islands, in 2016; Aulavik, Ukkusiksalik, and Bathurst Island in 2017; and Banff, Jasper, and Glacier national parks in 2018. If that sounds rigorous, consider what the painter will do during the rest of those years. “I don’t sleep a whole lot,” he says with a wry chuckle. “I have edited all my films so far. If I want to do this, I have to do this myself. But it is my story, and by doing it myself, I get to say it the way I want to. Plus, it’s a very creative process. I get to relive the experience of going to all these places. And that undoubtedly feeds back into the big paintings.”

For more information on Trepanier’s TrueWild project, visit the website.


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