For artist Bryan Wilson there’s a direct line between his love of the outdoors, and his passion to create art, and it shows up on his canvases. “I fish lots, I love my boating,” he said. “Any time I go out and do the things I love, I’m always thinking about my art.” And gathering inspiration in notebooks, video clips and photos.
But his experiences as an avid angler, who has trekked into BC’s wilderness and travelled to tropical climes in pursuit of a catch, aren’t depicted representationally. Wilson meticulously renders his images in pen and ink drawings, and if you look closely, you will almost always find there’s whitespace between the thousands of elements that come together in his works like an unimaginably complex puzzle.
Even an image as dense and busy as The Fall of Autumn, which offers an aerial perspective of the season’s splendours, and appears at first glance to be an impenetrable forest canopy, reveals a continuum of white space between all the vivid colours, right down to individual leaves. Or as you approach the tangled West Coast panorama of Nitinat Lake Beware, again you will find ‘negative space’ between and even through the abstract representations of ferns, trees, and an ominous red sky in the distance.
It’s a technique he’s been fascinated with since high school, and one that has become his hallmark. “I could draw a tree as perfect as you wanted with a pencil or something,” he said. “I could paint it too, but I just love the ink. For me it makes it my own.”
For the viewer, far from isolating the elements of Wilson’s works into micro-spaces, the white ground creates a kind of unity you may not be consciously aware of, but which runs through the composition. Wilson laughs, but perhaps thoughtfully, when an inquisitive interviewer describes this sensation as: ‘seeing the forest through the trees.’
There are other characteristics to Wilson’s art that viewers might not be aware of, but which influence their experience of the scenes. The flow of many drawings, particularly images like Golden Autumn, is patterned by the same underlying structure that guided compositions by artists like Leonardo da Vinci. It’s called the Fibonacci sequence, a widening spiral that duplicates the elegant swirl of a conch shell.
Because his work is abstract, Wilson explained, he has to ‘plan it out ahead’. That plus his fascination with numbers, make organizing principles like the Fibonacci sequence appealing. “It’s a very broad subject, but the basis of it is… it’s just a number sequence that helps be pleasing to the eye.”
You don’t need a manual to appreciate Wilson’s art. The images convey motion and a certain type of visual electricity that zaps you at first sight. But a few tips about how to approach them might make the experience even more enjoyable.
“I find when you look at my work, step back,” Wilson said. “Even go 15, 20 feet back, and then you’ll get a much different look.” From that vantage layers ‘pop out’, like distinctions between water, land and sky. “Then, as you step toward the picture, you’ll notice that, wow!, there’s a lot of things going on.” Fish materialize through schools of smaller fish; owls appear in the branches of trees; whole new perspectives materialize as you zoom in. “Just the amount of fauna and flora that I put into the pictures, then that pops out.”
Wilson’s work will be featured at the Rainforest Arts gallery in Chemainus September and October. On Sept. 8 & 22 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. he will be demonstrating how he works and talking to gallery visitors about his art. You can also find out more about him at BryanWilsonArt.com.