Breaking The Surface With Artist Jeremy Vaughan

Breaking The Surface With Artist Jeremy Vaughan

By Anna Horsnell

 In exclusive conversations with the artists from The Prow Gallery, Breaking the Surface delves deeper into the personalities and passion behind the artistry. Our sincere thanks go out to each artist for graciously sharing from the heart.

Jeremy Vaughan


You were raised in an artistic family and subsequently studied at NSCAD. What pulled you creatively from the camera to canvas?
Through high school, I drew when I wanted to express myself artistically. I had a moment in my early 20s when I wanted to take a small drawing that I had made and enlarge it. I remember making a canvas for that project and having a go at it. My first attempt was pretty exciting. I liked the scale of painting and the vivid colours, as well as the texture. I felt an excitement from the get-go. There was a lot of room to expand in the medium.

Artists seem to see things differently, to look more deeply or with different eyes. How does that apply in your life or work?
Through my photography practice and translating the photos into paintings, over time I've developed an ability to spot design elements in landscapes that work to make balanced paintings that draw the viewer in. I think of the painting as a window. There has to be something in the painting that draws you in, that resonates or calls you, something that makes the viewer linger, that hopefully strikes a chord, reminds them of some landscape that they know themselves. So, as I revisit places that I'm very familiar with, finding those design elements has become a search that I really enjoy. As well, something that I have mentioned to a lot of other artists over the last several years is the more deeply you're able to give your attention to the land in front of you and the beauty of the nature around you, the more it gives back. Every time I go out looking with real appreciation and a longing to connect with places, I find a beautiful gift is waiting for me in some form. 


Water has a special hold on many Maritimers, and you are certainly no exception. Is it simply proximity, or what do you see behind that fascination?
As a kid, I was afraid of water because I had ear infections and I was never allowed to get my head wet. But I've learned to love kayaking, paddle boarding, swimming, and beach walks immensely. I watch the waves for hours sometimes, and I take a ridiculous number of photos of the ocean beaches, rocks and waves, always hoping to catch some intangible beautiful moment. Water has an amazing magnetic pull. It's soothing, I love the sound, the smell, the ever-changing beach and wave conditions. It feels healing just to be near water. I love it so

You’ve mentioned you like revisiting some sites to capture the varying moods and weather conditions. One particular favourite seems to be the Herring Cove trail. What is it about that particular landscape that keeps pulling you back?
The Look Off hike, or the Herring Cove hike, is one that I've been going on since I was a teenager. The hike starts off with some modest coastline but leads to some really dramatic hills and cliffs, especially the large granite hill at the end with the cairn of rocks on top. I've walked with my daughter on that hike ever since she was a toddler. When family from Ontario visit, I take them there. I love the large waves there after storms, and I love the scale of the wind-blown spruce trees and the bushes that grow right next to the coast. I've heard friends call that area the dragon's back, and it's amazing how little dirt there is on top of the granite for all those trees and bushes to grow. Being able to see the white granite winding through red bushes in the fall, where walking has worn away all the dirt, makes for a striking otherworldly landscape.

Some of your paintings are quite large in dimension. Does this make your job easier or more challenging, and in what way?
I love making large paintings. I find it liberating, enjoyable, and addictive. I like the physicality of the huge brushstrokes and the large brushes needed for that scale. Working on a large painting, I like how your entire peripheral vision is taken up sometimes. It's like you're right in the painting. Painting on really large canvases feels like it involves elements of dance.

What landscapes or seascapes have you yet to explore that you hope to not only visit one day, but to share through your artwork?
I want to visit many more coastal islands and lake islands around Nova Scotia. There’s something so endearing and ticklishly delightful about the balance that nature strikes in a very, very limited space. Encircled in water, they totally intrigue me. An island covered in trees seems like a community of trees out for a quick row in a boat. Tiny islands powerfully remind me of Bill Reid's wonderful sculptures where all kinds of creatures are coming out of a small clamshell or are huddled in a canoe together. I have a new kayaking friend who I am hoping to travel with to lots of new places this summer. It's exciting to think about.

Whether hiking or kayaking, you have visited and seen many of these wild landscapes from every angle. You are also active in the protection of our natural areas in Nova Scotia. What concerns you personally, and what advances bring you particular satisfaction?
Halifax is blessed with so many lakes, trails, and naturally beautiful wild places in and on the outskirts of the city. It would be such a gift to future residents of Halifax, and our kids, to protect as many wonderful, wild places as possible. With the rapid growth currently, beautiful places like the land around Sandy Lake Park near Bedford are being threatened. I love the idea of a group of dedicated people, including artists, getting together to try to educate politicians and others about the value of wilderness for our health, for the health of the city. We can make the city a wonderful example of a place that has protected and valued wild places really well. One example of this, Crystal Crescent Beach, was threatened with development 50 years ago and was saved by the dedicated effort of some professors at Dalhousie University and other activists. It is now considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and it would've been turned into a sand and gravel quarry if economic development had been chosen over protecting a beautiful place.

Is art for the artist or the viewer?
When I make paintings, I have a brief infatuation with them if they've turned out well. I try then to forget about it as quickly as I can and move on to the next effort. The process of searching for inspiration and trying to render nature in a joyful energetic way excites me. I think that nature and the living land is the real potent gifted artist. I feel like I'm just on the road as a bumbling apprentice, trying to put a little bit of grace into my work.


You’ve expressed your admiration for the work of Georgia O’Keefe and Emily Carr. If you could have a conversation with either of them, what would you most like to ask about their work or life?

Emily Carr and Georgia O'Keefe both seemed to be in love with wild places. The Ghost Ranch, where Georgia O'Keefe lived for decades, inspired her to discover, perhaps, a simplicity of design that came from the land. I have a romantic view that they both had their ear pressed closely to the land and heard wonderful stories, secrets, and inspirations. Emily Carr famously lived for extended periods of time in a converted railway car far out in the forest. When I see her paintings of the land, especially those from her later years, it seems to me that she was painting the energy of a living forest rather than just trees or landscapes. When I go out looking for inspiration in local places, I try to soak in all I can and lose myself in appreciation for the land around me. I think that gratitude is a muscle, and the more we exercise it the better we get at seeing what's good around us. When you see how good nature is, how beautiful and, in places, how seemingly perfect, I think it leads a person to form a different kind of relationship with the natural world. I think that it would be healthy for people to think of the living, natural world as a part of their family and to mourn the loss of wild ecosystems and special places as we would the loss of a family member.

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very interesting.
Thank you Jeremy !!!

Claude-Paul Chaloux

Wonderful interview! Have always admired Jeremy’s work. Really enjoyed the write up!

Mary Spurr

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