Nelson, B.C.-based artist Jim Holyoak has lived around the world, but he grew up in the Fraser Valley and says the forests of British Columbia have always lived in his imagination.
“Even when I was living abroad, if somebody asked me where I was from I’d close my eyes and I’d immediately see fir trees in the fog,” he says. “I feel like I’ve carried that part of my home in B.C. with me everywhere I’ve gone.”
Through April 9, Holyoak’s forest-themed exhibition Arborescence comes to Vancouver Island University’s View Gallery.
The exhibition, Holyoak’s first in Nanaimo, features two large ink paintings depicting maze-like forests wrapping nearly 114 feet around the 11-foot walls of the gallery, as well as a collection of 100 smaller drawings and an atmospheric soundscape. There will also be spaces where visitors can sit and read books about trees.
“I think the sensations that you would get when you walk into the gallery is this sense of immersive entanglement of arboreal branches, roots and vines all around the gallery,” Holyoak says.
The two large works, Thicket and Energy, were created in Iceland, Quebec and B.C. He says the forest landscapes are drawn from his imagination and his experience hiking the West Coast Trail in Vancouver Island’s Pacific Rim National Park. Small, observational drawings made on those hikes will also be presented in the show.
Holyoak is a student of Chinese ink painting, so most of the work is done using Chinese brushes, but he also turned to brooms to create “nervous, scratchy” lines. He says he painted the works while his canvases were rightside-up, upside-down, diagonal and on the floor to allow the ink to flow in different directions. He said those techniques are used to depict hanging moss and vines crawling up and down.
“I can flood areas on the floor where you would use a brush to pool ink and water and then let it dry, or use gravity to create that sense of either drooping and melting or precipitation,” he explains.
Holyoak says the soundscape will flood the gallery with forest sounds like drips and bird calls. He describes a forest as a place that is both indoor and outdoor, and as one enters, “there’s this strong sense of being in a tangled, hidden, darkened place that’s teeming with life and secret, hidden things everywhere you look.”
“I’m hoping my drawings will evoke that sensation, too, that as you travel around with your feet though the gallery, you’ll also travel around with your eyes,” he says. “That’s the labyrinthine, maze-like sensation. A sense of movement and metamorphosis and change and transformation everywhere you look.”