Awash in tones of blue, white, yellow, and millennial pink, the scenes depicted in Petra Giffard’s canvases aren’t immediately discernible to the naked eye. But take a step back, cock your head to the side—for that serious-museum-goer look, of course—and peer closely, and you’ll be able to make out Vancouver’s skyscraper-studded skyline, the majestic North Shore mountains, and the calm water that lies between.
Giffard produced these impressionistic paintings, which are presented as part of a collection titled “The Vancouver Series”, as a way of acquainting herself with new surroundings following a move from her hometown of Brighton, England, to Vancouver last fall. “It’s a physical and emotional response to arriving here, not really knowing anybody, not really knowing Vancouver,” the artist tells the Straight by phone. “And just sort of exploring and developing in confidence both in my artwork and as a person as well.”
Although Giffard has always had a passion for painting, the British artist studied psychology before becoming an art teacher. For more than a decade, she taught high-schoolers mediums such as photography, sculpture, and textiles, but it wasn’t until a job opportunity led her and her partner to Vancouver that she began pursuing painting more seriously. “Teaching is an amazing career and I loved it,” she says. “But…you don’t have much time to think about yourself; it’s always about the students. So I think this has been a really interesting opportunity to go back to me and my paintings, my practice, and my emotions.”
Drawing inspiration from B.C.’s natural environment, Giffard experiments with multiple hues in each piece—often letting one colour drip into the other—creating calming vistas that blend together mountains, land, and ocean. A West End resident who commutes regularly to her 9-to-5 at the Polygon Gallery, Giffard says she’s “captivated” by the view of the city’s downtown core from the SeaBus. “I feel like every time I think I’m done with that particular scene, the weather or the lighting changes,” the artist explains, “and I get inspired again to do something different.”
At the third annual Art! Vancouver, Western Canada’s only international fine-arts fair, Giffard will be showcasing 27 paintings. During the four-day fete, which will feature works from over 70 local and international artists and galleries, she’ll also be conducting a workshop in which she’ll teach budding artists the basics of acrylic painting. Attendees will leave the session with their own depiction of a heron.
“When I first started painting over here, I was really inspired by all the birds and nature in Stanley Park and the heron really captivated me,” notes Giffard.
As for her “Vancouver Series”, Giffard hopes that her canvases will strike a chord with locals. “Although they’re quite abstract, I feel like you can identify these important landscapes in them,” she says of her works. “So, hopefully, people can connect and that emotional reaction to the landscape will resonate with people.”
Art! Vancouver takes place from Thursday to Sunday (April 19 to 22) at the Vancouver Convention Centre.