Each spring, peaking in March, the Pacific Herring return to protected inlets on the east coast of Vancouver Island to spawn. The event draws thousands of marine birds and mammals to feed on this bounty, and some of the best viewing opportunities are right here on our Oceanside beaches.
Two artists well associated with The Old School House Arts Centre (TOSH) stood on those beaches to document the occasion and will be displaying their work at the TOSH Gallery until October 8.
TOSH Executive Director Corrine James said after some conversations with the artists she realized that it would be a very good idea to present their work as a joint exhibition in TOSH’s Brown and Volunteer galleries.
“When each of them separately spoke to me of this new adventure, it was clear that neither knew that the other had been similarly inspired by this herring frenzy,” said James.
One of the artists is Dan Gray, who is accustomed to battling natural elements to paint en plein air (a French expression which means “in the open air” and is used to describe the act of painting outdoors) and is well known in the Oceanside area as a dedicated and inspired pastel artist. Dan is the originator of TOSH’s Grand Prix d’Art painting race that is the highlight of the Qualicum Beach summer calendar, and his recent collaboration with TOSH, Pastel by Invite, drew over a thousand visitors to view and purchase renowned Canadian historical and contemporary pastel pieces.
Gray’s images depict blustery winds, squalls of rain, the lion of March, high winter tides, fresh flotsum, fresh jetsam, slippery rocks covered in eggs, uncountable seabirds, sea lions laying about, a smelly wrack line and smelly boots.
Gray told a small gathering on hand for the opening reception of the exhibition that the spawn is his favorite time of the year when it is cold and wet and the gulf is alive.
“I cannot sit at home while everything is blowing around with so much movement, so much energy and so much food laid out for our bird life and mammals for the life that the herring leave us for the rest of the year,” he said.
Gray referred to the March herring spawn as a banquet on the shoreline and one of the wonders of the world.
“To be a painter on the shoreline this is the best place on earth. Sometimes it is snowing and the wind is blowing over your easel and your fingers are numb and your pastels are wet but it is still the most brilliant time of the year. It is over and I miss the smell,” he admitted.
The other artist is photographer Roger Moore, who is as comfortable on a photo shoot in the wilds of British Columbia as on the plains of Africa.
In the latter part of 2010 Moore spoke to James about his project to chronicle the herring run on the east coast of Vancouver Island.
“I knew this would result in a superb show. In his stunning photographs Roger has used his extensive, global visual documentary background to tell the story of our herring run. He has captured the seemingly eternal wait for that moment when the winter waters come alive with seiners and gillnetters jockeying for position on the spawning grounds and he shows us the miraculous beauty of that timeless turquoise glow as the spawn is released,” said James.
Moore said he couldn’t have done this project without the help of many of his friends in the community and the support of local fishermen.
“I am no fisherman. I am a photographer, so all of this was new to me. The first thing I learned was that fishing is not a job. It is not a business. Fishing is a way of life — it is a culture all unto itself. Of course, men and women make a living fishing (at least in some years), but more importantly, these bold and adventuresome men and women are making a life. And a fine life, I might add.”
Moore said he was guided by local fishermen and many people helped him through all of it. Those wonderful people helped make the project happen.
He admitted the vision he first had which was all black and white was quickly dashed.
“I attempted to do black and white but after the first day of rain and gale force winds when everything was grey I took my work home and they just screamed to me ‘it has to be color.’ I haven’t made color photographs in five years and I couldn’t even force it to black and white so I said just go with the flow. I was blessed to have been able to do this,” he admitted.
Moore has also published a book that contains the images and others he has done.
Concurrently, in the Dorothy Francis Gallery the outstanding work of Irish/ Canadian painter Bill McKibbin is being featured. McKibbin worked within the challenges and limitations of commercial pressure for many years in Belfast, Toronto, New York and Edmonton, but now retirement has afforded him the time to relax and reflect on the scenes from his childhood growing up in Ireland.
The oil and watercolour landscape paintings of quaint country cottages are delightful and McKibbin admits it is sad that many of the cottages from his homeland in Ireland are disappearing every year.
“I grew up in a little seaside village called Annalong in Northern Ireland. It means the Port of Little Ships. We go back every year and the cottages have disappeared,” he said.
McKibbin said his childhood is very vivid in his imagination today and he paints from those precious memories and images that remind him of those days that are past.
You can view the artwork at TOSH at 122 Fern Road West in Qualicum Beach until October 8.