I live in an artists colony in O. Not suprising as O. is such a beautiful place nestled on the shores of Lake Ontario. Pathways wind along the lake sheltered by willow trees whose long mane-like branches and massive trunks straddle and blur the boundary between parkland and private gardens. In a lakeside park an old fashioned bandshell is the site of concerts for events such as the annual “Mayor’s Picnic”. On other days children play make believe castle in it while adults enjoy the view and seek shelter from sun and rain. Manicured green spaces like the former “village green” of historic Old O. were long ago transformed into their current use as the Oakville Lawn Bowling Club which is enclosed by a white picket fence.
Large Maple and Oak trees form canopies across roadways creating welcome shade from the summer sun and serving as overpasses for busy squirrels. Sailboats, kayaks, and canoes float in Sixteen Mile Creek. Olympians practice their paddling in the creek for future competitions. Come winter the creek freezes and skaters, skiers, and snowshoers make their tracks beside animal prints on the frozen snow covered creek. This is O; a place of stunning beauty that many artists call home.
Don Morrison an Oakville resident and an acclaimed artist appreciates the natural beauty of O. and elsewhere. Mary Lennox Hourd the renowned Canadian portrait artist and Michael Thompson one of Canada’s leading realist artists also reside here. There is a vibrant artist community in O. One can only guess they were drawn to this once small town and now almost city-size suburb for reasons of water, light, space, nature and history which define the origins of O.
Artist Don Morrison discovered a passion for art as a child. We recently spent a morning together. We chatted about art. Don painted. It was magical. Don started painting his watercolours on canoe trips. He quickly asked me if I had a credit card and traced the outline of the card on his preferred 300lb “arches rough” paper that he paints on.
As a young man on his frequent canoe trips, where gear is kept light and artist’s supplies minimal, Don began bringing these small size paper shapes on trips to use for his sketching and painting. His art has grown from this simple form to a lifetime love of painting and creating. He has been an artist in residence at the McMichael Gallery, taught numerous art classes and holds an annual art show of his work.
When Don paints in nature he paddles solo into the lake or sits quietly on a rock and captures a scene from a remote spot. His watercolours are images from trips to the interior of Algonquin Park, the shores and islands of Georgian Bay, The West Coast of Vancouver Island, and The Nahanni River to name a few.
As we talked Don sketched a scene and started creating a painting . He talked of visiting the Art Gallery of Ontario as a child. Don was in awe of and remembers well the overwhelming impression of a Van Gogh exhibit at the AGO. He says, “Van Gogh’s body of work, the intensity of the paintings and how the theme and style were evident throughout all of Van Gogh’s paintings” captured his attention and imagination. He names the Group of Seven artists as amongst his favourites. American Andrew Wyeth is another artist he holds in high regard.
Don says when he paints, “it is like the holiday that keeps on giving”. He sometimes paints a scene from a wilderness trip when he is back in O. recalling a lake from a recent Algonquin Park trip and painting it from memory, “It gives me pleasure to revisit a scene in my mind and paint it – transporting me back to the place as I paint”. On trips, “I paint in the quiet of the early morning light” before fellow campers are out of their sleeping bags and tents. “My art is a souvenir from a remote location and gives me great enjoyment”. “I also paint in the early evening as the sun is setting” like he did on the west coast of Vancouver Island. He recalls the “evening mist” created by the ocean set against the densely forested coastline.
Don paints in watercolour. Watercolours are very unforgiving. An artist cannot go back and paint over a mistake in watercolours as one can in oils. There is a ” glow and transparency” that Don finds very appealing by painting in watercolour. He is able to capture the “light” as he sees it. As the interview continues Don is creating a piece of art before my eyes.
Don names local O. and surrounding spots where he and others have gone to paint. Cross Avenue and the 16 Mile Creek or Lions’ Valley come to mind. The Bruce Trail and Hilton Falls are also favourite painting locations. He has painted in groups where one discusses a painting with fellow artists as the work is being created, sharing suggestions and ideas. Don is a member of the Oakville Art Society. We talk about the Oakville art scene. Art exhibits and classes are flourishing at the newly opened Queen Elizabeth Park Community and Cultural Centre. He says the Joshua Creek Heritage Arts Centre on Burnhamthorpe Rd. is a must visit place.
As he paints I share my own love of nature. We discuss a nearby path down into the creek. Our shared sense of adventure.
As the conversation draws to a close the small watercolour that Don has been creating is placed beside a finished and framed piece of Don’s. I am in awe of his artistry and skill.
Don Morrison is holding his annual art show “Mostly Minatures”, at Sovereign House in Bronte, 7 West River Street, Bronte Village on Sunday December 1 from 1-5pm. Illustrated talks at 2pm and 4pm. Everyone is welcome.