Local artist renews her connection with nature through art

·5 min read

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Eganville -- Rocks and lakes. Hills and trees.

Eganville painter Kathy Haycock has created art from the landscapes in the high Arctic to the mesas and canyons of the American southwest. But it was the familiar wilderness topography of home that provided solace, challenge and inspiration for the artist during the long lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although she has travelled extensively from the frigid Arctic to the scorching deserts of Arizona, the Ottawa Valley is home.

“Back in 1970 I came to the Lake Clear area as part of the ‘back to the land’ movement. I immediately felt welcome in the community and discovered there was a much simpler and more meaningful connection with nature here than I had experienced anywhere else.”

Inspired by her father, Arctic artist Maurice Haycock who painted with AY Jackson, part of the Group of Seven, Kathy accompanied her father and Mr. Jackson on trips North where she fell under the spell of the vast Canadian wilderness. She initially translated that into her work with fibre and fabric. But a chance encounter with painting inspired a self-taught learning process.

“I didn’t start painting until 1998 which was already kind of late to start. But I had been a textile artist for many years before that, weaving tapestries inspired by the Lake Clear area, so it was more of a transition than a totally new thing to change to oil paints.

“When I began to paint, all of a sudden everything looked more colourful and more beautiful. I noticed the shapes, highlights and shadows, compositions… colours everywhere. Every outing is still much more enjoyable and interesting to this day. An artistic eye for one’s surroundings certainly enhances everyday experiences.”

Even though self-taught, she won Best of Show and Honourable Mention in the first two shows she entered. Animated with weather, wind, light, rhythmic movement and sound, her landscapes are often seen from a canoe or a rock outcropping in Algonquin, where she now often paints as part of the artistic trio, The Wild Women. With Wilno’s Joyce Burkholder and Linda Sorensen, the trio began exhibiting their plein air (outdoors) landscapes since 2006, sharing canoe and camping expeditions into the wilderness, as well as doing presentations, exhibitions and demonstrations together. Their combined work led to a very popular book ‘Wild Women, Painters of the Wilderness’ which featured artwork, biographies, interviews and discussion on their painting processes, painting trips and conservation messages. The book and its message of the importance of conserving our vanishing wilderness has almost sold out of its second printing but is still available in a few area shops and galleries.

Kathy believes that art has a vital role to play in wilderness conservation in a modern world where the internet and virtual ways of communicating, travelling and sharing experiences are taking over from actually being there.

“A connection to the natural world is so important, especially as the world removes itself yet another step away from experiencing nature firsthand. We are losing our natural grounding. I strive to share a feeling of ‘being there’ through my art, so that people can feel a connection, respect and appreciation of nature each time they look at the artwork.

“I love to paint anywhere, anytime on-site. I love spring thaw, fall colours, the Arctic, the desert, painting shorelines from the canoe, looking up at the sky from a valley, looking down from a cliff… I’ve been on painting trips to the high Arctic ever since I started painting and have been returning to the NWT, Yukon and Alaska since 2009. The northern landscape reveals the bare honest truth about the land, without the adornment of foliage. I do feel close to the elements there.”

Years of motorcycle trips to the American southwest with her husband, Tom Flegal, led to her love of painting the desert.

“The last 20 years I’ve also been travelling throughout the southwestern states painting. Again, the desert reveals the basic elements of that landscape, and a surprising similarity with the Arctic.

“COVID-19 isolation suited my art, with more focus, introspective thought and time to paint. Over the winter I began to notice all my work was about bedrock, water and wind. I was using rock in my work to maintain a solid grounding…and water to cleanse away worries…and the wind to blow in a promise of better times to come! I believe my art helped me through the pandemic.”

But COVID-19 did not help with exposure and sales. Galleries closed. People couldn’t visit studios but there was a lot of new interest and online sales, which is encouraging for the future. For Kathy and other area artists, the internet has opened a new door.

“More and more people are mentioning they ‘discovered’ me online. I’m glad there’s a new way to share my art. I hope it results in more people connecting with me, sharing my art, and using my art to also get back to nature.”

As part of her commitment to wilderness conservation, Kathy has been contributing a cottage portrait commission to the Lake Clear Conservancy fundraising auction for almost a decade. The highest bidder gets an original 24 x 30 cm oil painting (valued at $1,200) of their cottage or a favourite scene on Lake Clear. This year’s online auction runs for one week, beginning on Aug 14. https://www.lakeclearconservancy.ca/

Kathy is an elected member of the Society of Canadian Artists, Artists For Conservation, the Ontario Society of Artists and a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society which she supports in their fundraising efforts. Her work is in international private and corporate collections and galleries and this summer she is exhibiting at the Friends of the Park gallery at the Algonquin Visitors Centre and at the Annex in Bancroft until August 30. Her website at www.kmhaycock.com showcases her work and links to exhibitions and galleries.

Kathy says, “After 22 years I’m still absolutely thrilled by the process of painting. Long after I’m finished painting, I’d like to think my artwork will be on many walls, still bringing pleasure to future generations.”

With original oils and acrylics or high-quality reproductions, including limited editions signed Giclee prints and affordable giftware, including mugs, totes and a huge selection of cards, Kathy Haycock’s distinctive work will certainly become part of the legacy of Ottawa Valley art.

Johanna Zomers, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader

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