Out of the art and into the Arctic
Max Attwood photo
Cory Trepanier has always had a visceral, even spiritual, connection to the outdoors.
As a landscape painter it’s where he derives his inspiration.
“It’s that moment, that connection that you have with something that’s bigger than you,” he said.
And it doesn’t get much bigger than the North, which has been the focus of Trepanier’s work for the last few years.
Next week, Trepanier will be in Whitehorse where he will be screening Into the Arctic 2, a documentary he made about his quest to paint the remote eastern and central Arctic.
As the name suggests, it’s the second documentary he’s made about the North. The first Into the Arctic was shot in the northern Yukon.
After completing a project in which he packed his family into a canoe and traveled throughout Ontario painting the shores of Georgian Bay and Lake Superior, Trepanier found himself looking for another challenge.
It was then, in 2005, that he found himself drawn to the North.
“As I looked there, I saw a landscape that was so foreign to anything I had painted before. Artistically, it seemed like an incredible challenge, a different pallet to work with,” he said.
It also captured a spirit of adventure. For Trepanier, a member of the Explorers Club, that was irresistible.
“The lure of painting wilderness places that have seldom, if ever, been painted before was a big part of what drove me,” he said. “I don’t know if anyone set out to do a comprehensive collection from one end of the Arctic to the other as far north as we can go.”
In 2006 he packed his two daughters and wife into an RV and started out from their home just north of Toronto.
“That gave us a sense, because we took our time going across the country, of just how big this country is,” said Trepanier. “We’d never done that before, and for myself, as an artist painting the Canadian landscape, it really drives it home.
“You can get on a plane go up and your there, but when you drive it you get to see the landscape change and transform.”
When they arrived in the Yukon, they picked up Marten Berkman, a Whitehorse-based visual artist who traveled with the troop all the way up the Dempster Highway, and then into Ivvavik National Park.
Berkman helped Trepanier film the trip, but he was also working on his own artistic project.
“I have an art project that deals with stereoscopic stills and video instillations to basically try to provide an experiential window into remote places for people,” said Berkman.
While the two artists work in very different mediums, both derive inspiration from the landscape and share a similar philosophy about the natural environment.
“I personally feel connected to the land, so as an artist I’m inspired to share that connection, because I’m very conscious that so much human culture today is profoundly disconnected from it,” said Berkman.
It’s a sentiment that Trepanier agrees with.
“There’s so many people sort of disconnected from the real world,” he said. “The real world for them is concrete and glass and steel in Toronto.”
While Berkman said he only had a small role in the documentary project, he did contribute to both films, traveling to Baffin Island to lend a hand for a couple of weeks filming Into the Arctic 2.
While the film documents some of the hardships, like inclement weather and the ungodly hordes of insects that Trepanier endured while painting the landscape, there were other challenges that aren’t as apparent, said Berkman.
“I’ve seen other film productions go in with helicopters into Baffin Island and just ferry people around to those ideal shot locations, while Cory did everything by foot or by paddle,” he said. “I think that is also where part of the merit in his work can be described, because when we travel somewhere under our own steam, under our own power, I find we are humbled in that process.”
But although traveling by foot may add a cretin authenticity to the work, carrying more than 100 pounds of camping and arts supplies through some of the most rugged terrain in the world was by far the biggest challenge, said Trepanier.
“My knee ligaments were sore for months after, and even now I get a bit of a clicking sound and I have to kind of watch it,” he said.
For the trip to the eastern and central Arctic, Trepanier decided to leave his family at home, something he was glad he did when camped out with a shotgun next to fresh polar bear tracks.
But the bears kept their distance. Wolves were another matter.
One night, three came right into their camp. At the time, Trepanier’s older brother had joined him.
“I won’t over-dramatize it,” he said. “Arctic wolves are not known to attack people. However, when you’re eye to eye with them, the absolute stealth, all of a sudden they’re just there, your heart can’t help but beat.
“I asked my brother to get the tripod because I wanted to film and he said, ‘Shut up, you get the tripod, I’m getting the knife.’ That was a thrilling experience.”
Since 2006, Trepanier has traveled to the Arctic three times, produced two films and has set a goal to complete 50 paintings by the end of the year.
But it’s not just about the art.
“I’m hoping in some capacity that the work I’m doing can connect people in a way that not only creates more appreciation for (the North) but maybe can lend some protection to some of these places as well,” he said.
The film is playing at the Old Fire Hall on Thursday, May 31 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are $20, with $5 going to the Yukon chapter of CPAWS. They can be purchased online at http://www.intothearcticfilm.com
Contact Josh Kerr at