Vimy Jam – A Serendipitous Painting Experience

Serendipity is defined as; the phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for, meaning something beautiful coming together, that was not forced or planned in advance that put smiles on the faces of all affected and in doing so alters future events.

In the past few weeks, serendipity found it’s way into my art, through a portrait project I began over four years ago, thanks to a very enthusiastic Canadian.

The People of Canada Portrait Project is a crowd-sourced, collaborative art project, where I ask Canadians to send in photos of themselves and share a bit about their ‘Canadian’ perspective. Initially this project came with a very ambitious goal of completing 20-25 painted portraits for Canada 150. This could have happened had I not been called on to exhibit solo exhibitions in public galleries in Alberta for Canada150. As the project is completely self-funded, and with me being the only artist painting the portraits, I decided to extend my deadline and allow the project to unfold more authentically. I wanted to take my time to paint these portraits and honour the stories of the people who had taken the time to send me creative snapshots of themselves. A new plan emerged and I included one of the portraits in my travelling exhibitions in 2017, and used these shows as an opportunity to spread the word about the project.

Fast forward to June 2018, now ten portraits towards my goal. I had a window of time in my studio schedule, an opportunity to paint more People of Canada portraits. Feeling the energy of Canada Day coming around the corner I looked through the submitted photos and felt a good story, energy, and message emanating from one photo. Submitted by an enthusiastic piper hailing from Sherwood Park Alberta, RCMP Pipes & Drums ambassador Bridgette Hardy-Crytes. The photo features the piper caught by surprise by the brush of eagle feathers to the head by Jeff Ward, an Indigenous performer with the Sons of Membertou, from Cape Breton. The photo was taken at Vimy 100 celebrations in Vimy, France where the two were brought together by the events of the day and their musical talents.

I began to sketch out the painting and think about creating a unique background to capture the day and place. The painting began, I emailed Bridgette to let her know I was working on the piece and that I had some questions for her to answer, I also asked about the man in the photo and if I could contact him for his perspective on the day.

So, here comes the serendipity. Bridgette tracked down Jeff and spoke with him on the phone after not seeing him since Vimy. The call lead to Jeff sharing a video of the day that had been uploaded to YouTube, and Bridgette sharing this information with me, now I was able to enjoy the mood of the day and story behind the photo, as if I had been there myself. What happened that day the photo was taken was an impromptu ‘jam session’ while Indigenous performers and the RCMP Pipes & Drums band were waiting in the wings to perform. Vimy was a pivotal battle which saw Canada and the Allies, including Mi’kmaq soldiers, win an important battle of World War I. This video shows musical artists collaborating, it conveys the spirit of coming together. A coming together on what once was a battlefield, where many lost their lives. A coming together that symbolizes the spirit of reconciliation, likes and not differences, the spirit of love.

The tone of that day was the tone in my studio, and I listened to the ‘jam session’ on loop as I finished the painting. From my studio on Vancouver Island to Sherwood Park, to Cape Breton, to Vimy Ridge in France; thanks to the Internet and technology our miles apart were erased, allowing me to capture the emotion of the day on canvas.

There will be more to this serendipitous story as I work to compile the answers to my questions from both Bridgette and Jeff.

For now, you can enjoy the painting, a little video of my process in creating the painting

and this fantastic video of the ‘jam session’ that inspired ‘Vimy Jam’.

It was a celebratory Canada 151 indeed! And a great contrast to my experiences painting Canada over the last decade. A new chapter in this serendipitous story influenced by my travels across Canada. For more about the People of Canada Portrait Project visit http://www.peopleofcanada.ca