‘Inspired by the landscape’

Joan Sullivan
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Peter Jackson brings interaction between land and architecture into focus

Peter Jackson is an architectural intern who studied at TUNS (now part of Dalhousie) in Halifax before moving to Vancouver, San Francisco, and then back to Vancouver again. After a while he felt the siren call of home — he’s originally from Dartmouth — but he didn’t want to head back there. “I missed the east coast, but I wanted an adventure.”

He had been to Newfoundland once, for one day, 20 years before, but it must have made an impression — that and the award-winning Tourism ads were enough to lure him. And the reality hasn’t disappointed him. “Newfoundland has been good to me.”

His current architectural projects include work on multi-family residencies. He admires the designs of Barton Myers and Mies van de Rohe: “simple and elegant and muted.”

He has a few steps before he is a full fledged architect, as he left his studies for a while. “I moved to Newfoundland not knowing what to do.” He bought a place in Bay Roberts, and called it Watershed Studio. He also met, and started working with, visual artist Kathleen Knowling.

At that point, he’d only painted a couple of times, and in architecture school “hardly picked up a pencil and sketchbook. But I was inspired by the landscape.”

Even with a studio, he didn’t find himself creating artwork full time. “There’s maintaining and restoring the old house, cutting wood, grounding stuff.” He mixes time in the studio with being “industrious” around the place.

But he got some drawings and painting done. Random people would drop by to see what he was doing. And he saw what elicited the strongest responses — pen and ink.

“I’m fascinated with pen and ink, there’s something about the ink, that infinite variation of tone.”

Jackson works from photographs and sketches made en plein air, selecting elements for emphasis, and removing and adding colour.

Pieces in the Leyton Gallery’s upcoming group show include “Rainy Day on George”, a full colour pencil and watercolour piece, subtly toned.

“Brigus”, showing “one of my favourite little houses” is mostly ink.

Blind contours

There are two blind contours, both from Newtown. These are done by making the first foundational drawing without looking at the paper. One is done in waterproof ink, which Jackson doesn’t always use, “and the lines are distinct, they are not disturbed by bringing in the colour. With this I was trying to figure out the rule of painting, I’m used to a more rigid geometry. The most definite colours are in the areas most fully enclosed.”

The second, “Blind Barbour”, was started with water-soluble ink, “and I initially thought it was too crazy, too busy.” But it was anchored when he filled in the vibrant orangey-yellow of the building. Successful contour pieces like these have a nice loose grasp of the essentials.

Another work, “Newtown” began as a photo of a house digitally altered (by an iPhone app) into a black and white image of maximum contrast. The image is cropped so the house fills the frame. “I wanted to capture its strength. It’s large, an imposing structure.”

One very recent piece is “Coley’s Point”, a slim vertical view. Jackson explains that his moleskin sketchbook is formatted into long panoramic pages. He was taken with the landscape, “the long linear quality of it. It was impossible to photograph it but you can sketch it.”

He introduced bold colour to the two houses that possess it, and the rest is rendered in black, white and grey.

Two other pieces are from Tilting on Fogo, again from sketches (“It was cold that day so I was sparing with the details”) and build up with black, white, and carefully doled out reds. In any case, this calibrated palette is what meets, and pleases, his eye. “One of the things I find with Newfoundland, very often to me the sky is white and the water is white while the buildings are bright and the landscape is bright.” Thus his focus is on “the interaction of the land and the built environment.”

And generally, he has learned, the houses, the living quarters, are white, and the sheds and stages, the working spaces, are red. (In Bay Roberts, he painted his house blue, but when he went to paint his shed the same colour, he was kindly informed of this general rule.)

There is a minimalism to Jackson’s work, in the sense that “there are a lot of painters out there doing beautiful realistic painting. That’s not my forte. I do much more editing, and picking out details. (My paintings) have a strength, but they’re quiet. And they’re very architectural. I love old architecture.”

And there’s lots of old vernacular architecture he looks forward to seeing — for example, Jackson hasn’t made it to the west coast yet. That’s on a to-do list.

Jackson’s work will be among that featured in The Leyton Gallery’s “Annual Christmas Show”, along with submissions of new work from 17 other artists. The exhibition runs until Christmas Eve.

Organizations: TUNS

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Vancouver, Bay Roberts Halifax San Francisco Dartmouth

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