Canadian artist Steve Driscoll explores the unpredictability of water as a metaphor for the pandemic in his newest exhibit, Steve Driscoll: River Rising at Peter Robertson Gallery. The collection also explores how technology can aid in the creation of art and provide new perspectives.
“Around three or four years ago, I started putting the GoPro on a little tripod on my inflatable pillow that I would take camping with me, and set it off at a time lapse of every half second,” says Driscoll. “The images were super fascinating for me.”
Driscoll used the same process to capture the images used in the exhibit. He had no control over the lens — it was spontaneous like the water in which it was submerged. The goal was to capture the essence of what it would be like to be underwater and the perspective of the landscape from that vantage point. Driscoll compiled footage from about 20 different trips to lakes across Ontario and British Columbia. He then chose stills from the footage to create the large paintings for the exhibit, which he created by mixing vibrant oil paints with urethane.
The inspiration for the body of work came from a long history of artists being one with nature. Driscoll names Tom Thomson, a member of the iconic Group of Seven and Canadian artist best known for his landscape pieces, as an example. Thomson disappeared on a canoeing trip in 1917 and his body was found eight days later. The cause of death was drowning, but there was widespread speculation of the cause of death in popular culture.
Driscoll often thinks about cases like Thomson’s, and wanted to further explore his own feelings and connection to nature, specifically the movement of water. However, the body of work took on a new metaphor as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the world.
“I realized that the images were actually telling this tale of what’s essentially a lack of control,” says Driscoll. “The camera was being dragged down by the current, toppling upside down, and it became very apparent that the camera was pulled. It felt so familiar sitting in my studio, not being able to have shows, and not being able to talk to anyone.”
Looking at the paintings, Driscoll realized that the collection was a metaphor for the pandemic and the loss of control that people feel. The exhibit includes eight large-scale paintings and seven small paintings, and is what Driscoll describes as immersive. Video footage from the rivers is projected in the exhibit and the audio of the rushing river fills the gallery.
“I wanted to give people a feeling of something that hopefully they never feel in real life, but I wanted to capture that feeling within this series,” says Driscoll. “I think that often landscape paintings have this great stillness, and I wanted to involve some of the action packed moments within landscapes.”
Discover Steve Driscoll: River Rising until October 16 at Peter Robertson Gallery, located at 12323 104 Ave NW. The gallery is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Wednesday to Saturday.