Joan Larson in her studio with her first painting of the series Musical Ride I. Larson said she wanted to capture the drama, the energy and the pagentry of the parade as the musical ride enters the ring. — Lauren Collins photo

VIDEO: Coombs artist to unveil final painting in 24-part series

The RCMP Musical Ride is performed by a full troop of 32 riders and their horses

After nearly a decade of work, Coombs artist Joan Larson will be unveiling her final painting in the RCMP Musical Ride series.

Larson will unveil the 24th painting in the series at this weekend’s Coombs Fair, which runs Aug. 12-13 at the Coombs Fairground. Larson said the piece was created to celebrate Canada 150 and honour the historical roots of the RCMP.

Larson said she approached the Arrowsmith Agricultural Association, which hosts the fair, about unveiling the piece.

“This is my hometown; let’s make it special,” she said.

Larson said she got the idea for the musical ride series after her husband Paul Smith was talking to a woman who owned an RCMP outpost store in Gastown and asked if the owner had any artwork — which she did not.

When Smith suggested to Larson that she make something, she said she knew without a doubt she would create a series.

“I had one of those light-bulb moments and went, ‘Oh my God.’ I swear that I saw 24 pieces… I knew there were going to be 24 pieces in the series,” Larson said.

“Working on something like this — where you have a really comprehensive link that ties absolutely everything together — I just loved it. And I loved knowing there was going to be 20 or 30 pieces and they were all going to have this commonality to them.”

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The RCMP Musical Ride is performed by a full troop of 32 riders and their horses. The ride, a musical performance, consists of intricate figures and drills choreographed to music, according to the RCMP’s website.

The musical ride performs in up to 50 communities across the country between May and October. It also helps raise thousands of dollars for local charities and non-profit organizations.

Back in 2013, the musical ride made a stop at Arbutus Meadows in Nanoose Bay. It was then that Larson unveiled the 23rd painting which was of Supt. Marty Chesser at the head of his troop, leading his officers toward the performance ring.

This year, the RCMP Musical Ride will be making two stops on the Island; one at Topaz Park in Victoria on Aug. 26 and a second stop at Royal Roads University in Colwood on Aug. 27. Both performances start at 2:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.victoriamilitarymusic.ca.

Larson said she didn’t know much about the ride before taking on the series, but she said the bulk of her learning came from going to see the ride. Over the years, Larson said, she has taken trips to see the ride and go behind the scenes to get inspiration for the pieces. Larson said she even went to the breeding centre.

“That sort of started the whole ball rolling and, I guess, over the next three years that’s when the bulk of the series was produced,” said Larson.

Larson said her process is to shoot lots of pictures, adding she probably has close to 1,000 photographs that she’s printed.

“Then I deal them out like a deck of cards, and I don’t think about it. I just literally deal them out; ‘yep, nope, nope, yep, nope, maybe,” said Larson, adding that once the photos are separated into three piles, she then narrows them down even more.

“It’s the ones you look at and there’s just a spark.”

She said some pieces were added into the story because they told a good story. Painting Musical Ride IV, Larson said, shows an officer washing the legs of the horse.

“It’s behind-the-scenes, and anybody that owns horses, knows that you don’t just take them out of their stall and dust them off,” she said. “I think that’s really important too, so I tried to show bits of the musical ride that weren’t just about the performance, but about the amount of work involved in looking after the horses.”

Other pieces show close-up details, such as the medallions on the horse and kids giving a horse a pat.

The response and reaction to the series, Larson said, is powerful.

“We see an awful lot of people come into the hall — wherever we’re set up — and you see them stop and actually take a step back. It’s kind of like they’re a little bowled-over by it,” she said.

Larson said most artists are pretty hard on their work, adding that she’s no different.

“I will say that when you see all 24 of them set up — OK, well I’ve never seen all 24 of them set up; I’ve seen 23 — it is impressive. I look at it and I go, ‘Did I do that?’” Larson said.

“It is a significant accomplishment. I’ll also say that doing a series like this is timing… so maybe 20 years ago, or 30 years ago, I would not have had the confidence to tackle a series like this because when you do something like this, you put yourself in the public eye and therefore open (yourself) to a huge amount of acclaim and criticism. It’s a double-edged sword.”

Larson said she’s hoping the series can be sold as a whole, although she did sell paintings one, two and five in the beginning.

“It’s time for this series to have a life of its own. Ideally, I would love to see the artwork in a permanent collection that’s available for everyone to see.”

For more information on Larson and her work, visit www.canadarides.ca.

lauren.collins@pqbnews.com

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