Kyle Scheurmann Studio

Our “Artist Spotlight” series focuses on the lives Canadian Artists: their aspirations, influences, and creative challenges.

Kyle Scheurmann spoke to me about his path to contemporary art making and the curiosity that continues to drive his work. Scheurmann’s art practice is contingent upon extensive travel, relying on experiential research of the earth’s diverse ecosystems.

Can you tell me about the process of making your work?

Since moving my studio to Shawnigan Lake, BC, all my paintings start as field studies made out on the water. My canoe has become my most important painting tool, not only because it gives me access to places I can’t get to on foot, but also because it forces chance into the process. When I start a painting on the canoe, I’ll point the nose of the boat in a particular direction, either at a tree or an island or something, but over the duration of the painting, the composition continually changes as the canoe slowly moves. In this way, I am in constant collaboration with the environment. The wind and the water are making aesthetic choices on my behalf, showing me perspectives of the land I couldn’t have found on my own. There are basic compositional tricks I’m using in my paintings more frequently for things like proportion and space building, but this is just to give some structure for the shoreline to change as my canoe moves the painting up the lake. The compositions from these canoe studies become the framework for the larger paintings on canvas when I get back in the studio.

“I’ve always had one colour at any given time that I think of as the backbone of my palette, maybe kind of like the drum-kit in the painting, omnipresent without being obvious.”

If the compositions are planned in collaboration with your canoe, how do you make material and colour choices when you’re working in the studio?

Over the years I’ve practiced a lot of trial and error with paint. I’ve made a lot of bad paintings in the process – the act of painting was the only way I was ever able to learn. Now I feel lucky to have a catalogue of all those material attempts to reference while making new paintings. I’m still constantly adding to this catalogue, making new tests and experiments while painting. I increasingly have more ways to assign texture or lustre or opacity to different elements of the composition. As for colour, well there’s been a lot of trial and error with colour too. I’ve always had one colour at any given time that I think of as the backbone of my palette, maybe kind of like the drum-kit in the painting, omnipresent without being obvious. It gets mixed into both the warm and cool colours and all incremental colour decisions are based off it. Right now, that colour is indantherene blue, but I can feel that changing. In the past, that colour has been sap green, radiant blue, winsor gold – it’s been lots of colours over the years. Whatever that backbone colour is, all other colour choices slowly grow from it over the course of several paintings until the backbone colour itself changes too.

Kyle Scheurmann, Georgian Bay, oil on canvas, 36x48 inches

Kyle Scheurmann, “Moon Island”, 2020, oil on canvas, 36″ x 48″

Why do you choose to paint landscapes?

I’ve always felt most at home when out in the woods. My earliest memories in life are camping as a child around Manitoba and Ontario with my family. I feel comfortable and in control when in the woods, even when alone. When I was first learning to paint, right through my undergraduate degree, I painted cityscapes. I was looking for home in those early paintings and assumed home could be found in a painting of a building or skyline – I was wrong. Shortly after I turned 20, I moved to Toronto to go to OCADU (Ontario College of Art +Design University). I had six different studios in the seven years I lived there and never really felt grounded in any of them. My family had since moved from Winnipeg to Victoria, then from Victoria to Australia and even with my best attempts to paint myself a home, I was increasingly feeling like a nomad. So I moved to Amsterdam to try something completely different for a while. In that difference, I began to really miss the woods. Instead of painting my new Dutch surrounding, I began to make small paintings from old photographs of those days camping with my family. I only lasted a year in Europe before I knew it was time to come back to Canada, submerge myself in the woods and make the landscape paintings that had been building up in my mind.

“I hope my most recent paintings are seen as a practice in documenting the ever-changing state of the earth, as I respectfully enter each new encounter with the land as a guest and student.”

What brought you to the West Coast when returning to Canada?

Two things; Emily Carr University and the proximity to nature. I’d idolized Emily Carr (the person) for as long as I could remember and felt that spark was enough to do my masters studies at the university sharing her name. As for the nature, although I’d only visited British Columbia a couple of times before moving here, my perception was that BC was a part of Canada so it had to be familiar and that I had seen the land depicted in some of my favourite paintings. I realized quickly that the construct of home which I was searching for in my paintings was not only unobtainable, but also insensitive as I attempted to graft my own narrative onto contentious land. I hope my most recent paintings are seen as a practice in documenting the ever-changing state of the earth, as I respectfully enter each new encounter with the land as a guest and student. At this stage in my career, I have found a home for myself in the act of painting – in long days where I lose track of time, painting in my canoe or in the studio.

Kyle Scheurmann, Vancouver Island, oil on canvas, 48" x 36", Elissa Cristall Gallery

Kyle Scheurmann, “I’ll Fly Away”, 2020, oil on canvas, 48″ x 36″

You have done lots of travelling over the last few years for both residencies and exhibitions. Are there any lessons you’ve learned from studying the land in other parts of the world that are applicable to where you live and work now on Vancouver Island?

When travelling outside of Canada, I always start out with the intention of bringing home something new to add to my paintings. Maybe that’s a colour, or a texture, or the shape of a tree. But in my experience, I always come back to Canada feeling starved of the land I live on. During a long trip to a residency in Germany in 2018, I assumed that living in the Black Forest would provide all kinds of new ways to paint. The history there was so specific and well-known, I let myself believe it would be easy to get inspired. However, what I encountered was land with a very obvious human presence. All the trees have been logged or burned down because of industry or war several times over. The trees currently standing in the large part of the Black Forest I explored were – for the most part – thin, young and in straight rows. I think the most important thing I’ve learned is that you cannot escape history.

Is this why you have focused most of your travelling in recent years around Canada?

After several years of almost exclusively planning international painting trips, it felt natural to put that same energy into Canadian locations. This is how I ended up as the artist in residence for both Falcon Lake in Manitoba and for the Georgian Bay Land Trust in Ontario. My Dad grew up close to Falcon Lake so I went there specifically to chase history for the sake of painting. This is where most of the field studies were made in anticipation of my first exhibition with your gallery that opened last May. While I was at Falcon Lake, there was heavy snow and thick ice on the lake that became the literal grounding for all the new compositions I was working on.

The Georgian Bay residency is still ongoing and I am lucky that it will extend to summer 2021 – a full 2-year cycle. I had been equally interested in the Group of Seven as I had been with Emily Carr growing up, so I’ve used this residency to test some of the things I learned in grad school of a new Canadian location where the Group of Seven most famously worked. My conversations with locals around Georgian Bay have been insightful for finding things to add to my paintings based on the area’s unique history. This is the first place I painted a sunken tree, something now present in most of my newest paintings. It’s been exciting to track down Canadian art history along Georgian Bay’s islands, visiting sites such as Pine Island where Tom Thomson painted, or the rock where Frederick Varley sat to paint “Stormy Weather”. There’s apparently a rock – that I haven’t found yet – with a big splash of dried paint on it from where Varley dropped his palette. This is what I’ll be searching for next time I visit.

Kyle Scheurmann, Lake, oil on canvas 20"x 16", Elissa Cristall Gallery

Kyle Scheurmann, “Waters of March”, 2020, oil on canvas, 20″ x 16″

In reflecting on your career so far, what is the most useful advice you’ve received?

Make more paintings. Every practising artist I have gotten to know has given me this advice in one form or another. Just make more things and do your best to trust the work. If the intention and approach to the work is honest and well informed, the real secret is to just make as much as you can.

For information on purchasing or learning about new work by Kyle Scheurmann please contact the Gallery at 604 730-9611 or click the INQUIRE button. 

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