Though she’s lived away from St. John’s since she was a university student, it’s where artist Sarah Jane Conklin’s heart has always remained.
By the look of her pieces included in “River Ballads,” being held at the Peter Lewis Gallery on Church Hill, it’s where much of her inspiration lies, as well.
Conklin grew up next to Rennie’s River, counting the concrete blocks that lined the trail and fishing many a tennis ball out of the water. For “River Ballads,” her first exhibit in this province, Conklin created a series on the river landscapes, particularly the stretch between Rennie’s Mill Road and Elizabeth Avenue.
Conklin, who now lives in Nova Scotia, has produced 13 vibrant pieces depicting the river and its banks in mostly fall colours, using oil paint almost to mould and sculpt the landscapes on canvas.
“I like fall colours and the crispness of the air. I’ve always been fond of that time of year, and it’s just conducive to my style of painting and my love of colour, light and texture. You don’t know where your inspiration comes from at the time, but when you reflect on your childhood and where you grew up, it makes sense,” Conklin explained, adding she prefers to paint from photographs rather than plein-air.
“I personally like to finish a painting in a sitting when I start,” she said. “I paint very intuitively and very immediately; I like the freshness of it. I may go back after a day or two to fine-tune it, but other than that, I don’t normally go back and do anything major.”
“I personally like to finish a painting in a sitting when I start. I paint very intuitively and very immediately; I like the freshness of it. I may go back after a day or two to fine-tune it, but other than that, I don’t normally go back and do anything major.” - Sarah Jane Conklin
Conklin has given her pieces names like “As Time Goes By” and “Heart of Gold”— titles inspired by songs by English singer Dame Vera Lynn, her late father’s favourite musician.
“My father was a Second World War veteran, and he was enamored with Dame Vera Lynn. About 30 years ago there was an army reunion and Dame Vera was invited to sing. She actually came to our house for dinner, and my father thought the sun rose and fell around her,” Conklin said with a laugh.
Conklin’s had a successful show so far, selling a number of the pieces, and hopes to return with other exhibits in the future. She’s hoping to continue the Rennie’s River series, painting the section above Elizabeth Avenue, and is considering including parts of the Waterford River, since she also spent time around Bowring Park as a child.
“I’m just delighted to have a showing in St. John’s, because that’s where my heart is, for sure,” she said. “That’s where I feel I belong.”
“River Ballads,” also featuring the work of Peter Lewis and Michael Kilburn, runs until Saturday.