Painter and filmmaker Cory Trenpanier is a member of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and the internationally renowned Explorer’s Club. I spoke with him about his Into The Arctic collection of seventy-five paintings, produced during four expeditions to all seven Canadian arctic National Parks. Cory’s also produced a trilogy of Into the Arctic films documenting his journeys into the remote high arctic. Some of that footage, accompanies this interview. I met with him at his studio, in Caledon, Ontario.
I started painting the arctic about a decade ago in search for the wildest places in Canada. Turns out I found some of the wildest places on our planet.
My process begins in the field when I take my easel with me on location. I set up and paint plein air, the French term that’s been used for years to represent the idea of painting out of doors.
It’s rare that I ever complete a painting on location. But the process of trying to capture a view on site, plein air, just causes me to connect with that landscape in a way that’s so much deeper than just taking a picture and leaving.
Travelling the arctic has allowed me to experience things so different than what I am used to in southern Ontario. First it’s a landscape that’s so grand it’s on a scale that just makes you feel like an ant, I mean. And part of that experience really, sort of, creates a sense of humility and a respect for the land around you to realize that you’re so small and that you’re completely at the whim of nature. It’s kind of like walking into a land that’s been the way it was from the beginning of time.
Sometimes views that present themselves are just overwhelming. And so what I’m feeling out there is a sense of awe. It’s a sense of wonder. It’s a, it’s a sense of the power of nature, ‘cause it’s often changing, and the act of painting will take me often hours. And the beautiful part of that is I don’t just see a moment of time, of the light hitting that mountain, take a picture and I’m done. I’m seeing it unfold before me.
Now that I’ve had a chance to experience myself, it’s been the realization that other people need to experience this somehow.
If there’s a mission that I could apply to what I’m doing now, I guess, it’s—or it’s more of a hope, I suppose, as an artist—is that, in the years to come, through my work, more and more people may feel a greater appreciation for these landscapes. It’s just to see people connect with nature more, with their own passions, and take care of these places.
I started Into the Arctic as a project back in 2006. The goal: to paint the Canadian arctic. Initially, thirty paintings, three expeditions. Little did I know how much this experience of now having done four expeditions and over fifty paintings would impact me. And one of those ways has been to grow the size of my canvases. Ah, it goes back to feeling so small in such a huge land and trying to do justice to these places. And so in some cases I’ve come back and done nine foot paintings, and now the largest painting I’ve ever done is fifteen feet by five and a half feet.
The goal, I figure, if I can do a piece large enough that it can take in someone’s field of view when they’re standing before it, and in some way give them that sense of experience that I had while there in person—well that’s the whole goal of going bigger. Is to really bring the grandness of these places across to people. And I really hope that through it all, people can sense the passion through the brushstrokes.