Between Two Coasts: Painting Canada and Belgium

My Canada Series started with a request from my grandmother (“Granny”). Granny grew up in the small village of Jacquet River, now part of the Belledune municipality, located in northern New Brunswick, Canada. The village is coastal, and the beach holds a special place in my grandmother’s memory. I visited a number of times when I was little and when I think of Jacquet River, for me too, the beach is central. When Granny asked me to paint the coast, based on a photograph taken by my aunt, I was happy to oblige.

I painted “Granny’s Turvey’s Rock” during the late spring of 2020. This was a time when I was largely focused on painting the scenes of another coast—the Belgian coast, specifically of De Haan—where I was staying temporarily. I was often walking on the De Haan beach then, and at times found myself looking out at the waves and thinking of New Brunswick beaches. Crashing waves, light sand and summers spent with best friends played like film before my eyes and were collaged together with the beach in front of me.

As I considered Granny’s completed commissioned painting next to my Sea and Forest Series paintings inspired by De Haan, I reflected on what both coasts mean to me. Painting scenes of the Belgian coast was rooting me in my everyday present. At the same time, there was, and will always be, the presence of my other home in my mind and heart: Canada’s east coast. In painting the coast of northern New Brunswick for Granny, I felt connected to home. This was especially meaningful since during any other year but 2020, I would have been on route to visit Canada during the summer. I wanted to hold on to that sense of connection and, before I knew it, I had painted my sister’s farm, a scene of rugged cliffs and a trail on the Fundy Bay and, most recently, a scene from a 2019 trip to Mary’s Point bird sanctuary (a detail of this last painting is the featured image above). My Canada Series developed alongside my Sea and Forest (Belgian) Series.

I appreciate that painting requires attention and patience. Through painting, I get to know the Belgian landscape by engaging with what is in front of me, in the here and now. During the 2020 summer, I was captivated by the dunes, trails, and sunsets of the Belgian coast. Through painting scenes of Canada, I try to express what those times and places mean to me, still today, while I’m away. The emotional intensity I feel about these places often comes out in my use of vivid colours.

Sometimes I feel as though I have a foot in both places, like my mind and heart are divided between here and there, between different places and times. These are times that I feel a palpable loss and a general nostalgia. At the same time, however, I feel that I am very fortunate to have not one but two wonderful homes; that is, two families, two endlessly inspiring landscapes, two coasts to paint.

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