There’s an “art-quake” going on in Squamish.
The Inspired Squamish gallery started out as a pop-up for the Christmas season late last year. It was so successful, that it is now a full-time gallery.
Curator Nathan French is the ground shaker. He’s a tall, gangly guy with the kind of kinetic energy that makes things happen. Focused blue eyes and hands like a concert pianist, the pop-up gallery nucleus gathered him in and the chemical reaction has been sending waves through the burgeoning Squamish arts community.
Inspired Squamish was a nugget of an idea that began with InBiz’s Sheri Lee. Nathan’s dad, Doug French, was brought in for a brainstorm about it in late November. It’s the kind of rarefied beginning that turns into legend.
Lee, a long time friend of Doug, knew that he had gotten back to painting after a hiatus. Art-lover and designer, Lee had some space beside her busy InBiz shop on Cleveland Avenue downtown and floated an idea with Doug and her partner in a late-night meeting.
Doug reached out to his son – an artist with business experience – the next day and shortly after the Inspired Squamish pop-up gallery was up and running.
The power of word-of-mouth between local artists filled the space with head-spinning speed. The long, bright gallery is set up salon style, in which there is an eclectic mix on every wall of painting, photography, fabric art and sculpture.
The gallery has had a huge response from the community. January, when most galleries sales are flat, had some big sales that let French know that they had really tapped into something.
“Squamish is known for being into outdoor recreational activities. There’s enough talent from the art side of things that we can also be known as an art destination,” says French.
The following three artists are currently featured at Inspired Squamish:
Freedom of expression
Hands down the community fan favourite and the most collected artist showing at Inspired Squamish is Michelle Henderson-Topp.
Her frenetic, impressionist pieces show a bold humanity, in all life forms, with a wicked sense of humour. Self-taught as an artist, Henderson-Topp found the freedom of expression that she was looking for.
“I think you have an advantage because there’s a lot of rules and I think there’s some stuff you could do experimentally… a formal training in art could be a real disability.”
Engaging and energetic, Henderson-Topp relays the story of when her sister, a medical empath, passed on a message to her from a Native American shaman she was with in the U.S. She should begin painting. The shaman said she was to begin with the energy of the diva of fertility and go from there. That was 17 years ago.
Having lived in Banff for years before moving to Squamish, Henderson-Topp created her own niche of devoted buyers through a small artists collective she began. These were really the grassroots of the independent art shows in Banff.
Overshadowed for years by the international talent constantly on display at the Banff Centre, at her first one-woman show, she sold 90 per cent of her work. There followed 11 one-woman shows for the next 11 years.
To keep herself on her toes artistically, Henderson-Topp attends in-person and online progressive art workshops with the likes of Robert Burridge and Robert Joiner. Her abstract, character-infused work has recently been created by photographing the nuances of the sensitive charcoal drawing, printing it off and embellishing with acrylic paints.
Her incredibly fun “Motley Crudites” can be seen on regular display at The Green Moustache, located a couple minutes away. With names like “Turnip Tango,” “Broccoli Brothers” and “The Beet Queen,” Henderson-Topps uncanny ability to anthropomorphise underground veggies is indicative of her soulful vision of the world we inhabit.
Another self-taught artist, Jenna Robinson is fast becoming a Squamish landscape painter of note.
She was contacted by Lee and French to add some of her pieces to Inspired Squamish in early December. It was a few large paintings of Robinson’s that marked the first big sales for the gallery to an independent collector.
Soft-spoken and fiercely independent, her powerful landscapes invite the viewer to step right into her vision on the canvas. Her keen ability to capture the specific drama of the effect of light on her landscapes is informed by her upbringing in the country.
This is what makes Robinson’s work so vivid.
Her “Black Birch Eyes in the Shadows” reveals a mastery of chiaroscuro that makes the viewer almost squint for the bright sunlight playing on the trees.
“As I create these landscapes, I’m aware of how they’re changing and settling. I’m painting the Tantalus Range and the snow and glaciers up there are changing so much every year,” she says. “The paintings are not going to look the same in 10 years and that’s scary.”
Dabbling with fire
Mark Appelman is a big man who creates big works of art; A gentle giant with a powerful art style that juxtaposes rainbow colours on a black-and-smokey background.
New to the art world, Appelman wasn’t a part of the initial Inspired Squamish pop-up show, but found his way to French by word-of-mouth in January and now has a handful of pieces hanging in the gallery.
Appelman comes from a varied background of firefighting, heavy civil construction and some time as a graffiti spray paint artist in Alberta.
As a father and recent divorcee, he uses his painting as a form of therapy for self-reflection and expression.
“It’s like my yoga. People go to yoga to stretch it out – I go to my art board to stretch it out,” he says.
His current series, “Matchstick,” is an exploration of dabbling with fire and complex emotions. He uses a spray paint technique with matte black to create dark smoke and thick, fat acrylic paint in bright colours for contrast and light.
In re-focusing his life, he has taken on a shorter work week and makes more time for his kids and his art. He uses a big metal drafting table from the ’60s as his canvas holder that he can raise up to match his height.
Look for more pieces to be added to this series as Appelman works through his personal journey of self-reflection and blasts it out on a big canvas.