Artists Glenn Clark (left) and Peter Corbett have been touring along the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline route and painting the landscapes.

Painting the pipeline

Two artists visited Fort St. James recently as part of trips they are doing along the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline route.

Just a line on the map.

This is what the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline route might be to people not familiar with the parts of northern British Columbia where the 1,177 kilometre-long project would be built, according to Pete Corbett and Glenn Clark.

So the artists from southern B.C. decided they needed to bring those landscapes to life for people across B.C. and Canada who might be hearing about the project, but may not know much about B.C.’s north.

“I think it’s really important for people to see what the big issues are and just the diversity, the number of ecosystems it goes through,” said Corbett.

Corbett is from the Slocan Valley, and Glenn Clark of Penticton, have travelled across the B.C. section of the route through all seasons, conducting plein air (in the open air) location sketch paintings.

The pair have an agenda, they are both opposed to the pipeline, but they are not preaching or trying to tell people what to think, according to Corbett.

“We really want the paintings to speak for themselves,” he said, explaining how he hopes the images can make some of the landscapes become more accessible for a wider audience trying to decide what they think about the proposed pipeline.

“We’re trying to bring the whole project into context for everybody,” he said.

The artists, who have been doing outdoor painting trips together for years, came up with the idea as a way to get beyond the approach many opponents of the pipeline might be taking and which might turn many undecided people away or be viewed as more radical.

“You put on an art show and that’s easy for anyone to go to,” said Corbett, who is also a fish biologist, which is part of his own interest in the project.

“As a scientist, I’ve just felt that over the last number of years we’ve just been silenced,” said Corbett.

“This is about democracy as much as it really is about: Is this a valid project or not,” said Corbett. “Because I think we all realize that we need oil, but it’s how we do these things.”

Specifically, Corbett said he is concerned with the lack of independent management and oversite of industry, likening the situation to the “fox watching the henhouse.”

The project was made possible by a BC Arts Council grant, which helped fund trips through the spring, summer, fall and winter, in their 1984 grey Chevy van – affectionately nicknamed the Great Grey Whale, which the two artists painted a mural on at Arts Wells.

The painted van helps attract attention to the pair, with one side a painted landscape, the other a collection of signatures of people opposed to the proposed pipeline.

Corbett said it is a conversation-starter everywhere they go and Fort St. James was no exception, with a cashier at Petro Canada asking about the van and wanting to sign it when she found out. Two older men outside the gas station then asked her what she was doing, and they had her sign their names to the van as well.

Starting in Kitimat, the pair have painted extensively across the route, including the Kitimat Valley, Kispiox, Houston, Smithers, Burns Lake, Tumbler Ridge, the Alberta border and also included were two trips to paint in and around Fort St. James.

The pair painted the Necoslie River area, Stuart Lake and in and around the Stuart River, which they saw as a focus point.

“Being a salmon-bearing river, it’s kind of a big issue,” said Corbett. He also said the pair did not get everywhere they hoped while in the community, so they hope to come back.

So far, each artist has produced around 150 sketches each, some of which the artists will then translate into larger canvas works, of which so far they have produced about 10 each.

The art shows of their work will begin in May in Williams Lake at the Stationhouse Gallery and from there will move to Nelson for the summer.

Corbett said the artists are hoping to get the show up north and are going to try and organize a show in Fort St. James, possibly as soon as this fall.