Culture & Conversation

Beauty In Chaos

“Do you know the world is beautiful?” reads the artist statement for Wilderness 2, at the Centre St-Ambroise where Canadian painter Eliane Smith presents her second show, a collection of 10 paintings. In a style Smith calls ‘Expressionist Nature’, the paintings capture the chaos and depth of nature.
Paintings alternately portray leaves askew, branches strewn about, layers of foliage on the ground, and a life-like sense of depth. Think Jackson Pollock meets the Group of Seven.

Smith’s inspiration comes from an abandoned farm in Northern Gatineau, purchased by her husband, where she escapes to explore and paint. An idyllic locale, and ideal for an artist, she recounts spending days at a time wrapped up in her work. “Sometimes I just close myself off for two days … At the end of it, I just desperately needed to call someone and go for a beer,” she says laughing.

Smith’s process is to work from photographs taken around the farm and she approaches painting as an exercise in disorder. She throws paint at the canvas, recreates the scene without an initial sketch, and takes liberties where she feels the inspiration, throwing in a flower or other element.

“I’ll take a photo, focus in on it as I’m painting, and then sort of defocus the result,” Smith explains. Though Smith hesitates to qualify her work as environmental or political, she emphasizes the importance of looking after the environment, and uses recycled paint materials. For her, using recycled materials is less of a commentary than a means of expressing that care for nature. The paint is recuperated at EcoCenters, where artists can bring old paint that is reprocessed and refined. An added layer of varnish on the paintings protects against wear and UV damage.

One piece, The Road, stands out. At 48”x48”, it depicts a wide path disappearing into the distance, the trees leaning in on each side as though beckoning one another across the divide. “It captures the imagination,” Smith muses. “It’s nice to see what other people think when they see it.” Indeed, the viewer is encouraged to envision what lies at the end of the road. Another painting, Precious At My Feet, portrays a yellow flower peeking out amidst a mess of grass, a tiny accent of colour in a sea of green. “It’s not a dandelion,” Smith says. “I’m not sure what kind it is.”

There is charm Smith’s simple philosophy. The name of a flower is irrelevant. Her paintings are sensory, and devoid of politics. Many lack a central point of focus. The eye wanders across each canvas, absorbing the interplay of elements. The result induces a meditative state. “Although we face our own chaos in daily life, within this there is an astounding beauty,” her website reads. “Just as beauty arises in the wild, a sense of peace within one’s self can develop with the simple acts of letting go, being free, and trusting the universe.”

Without a doubt, Eliane Smith knows the world is beautiful.

The vernissage of Wilderness 2 will be held tonight, September 3rd, from 5 pm to 8 pm, at the Centre St-Ambroise, located at 5080-A St-Ambroise in St-Henri. Viewing appointments with the artist can be made until September 6th. Contact or call 514-588-8224. You can also check out Eliane Smith’s site for more images.

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