At times the light hits the broad face of Old Woman's sheer bluffs. With fluid brush strokes wielded by a fingerless glove-clad hand, Trepanier deftly cap-tures the essence of the scene.
The Caledon artist's introduction to the rugged scenery of the coast of Superior's and Huron's north shore came a few years ago when commissioned by the Ontario government to do a painting depicting the beauty and diversity of the newly christened Great Lakes Heritage Coast. Trepanier spent two weeks gathering reference for the painting that would be reproduced as a poster promoting the coast. The commission would have a profound effect on the artist who divides his time between commercial and fine art. "I've painted in Gros Morne National Park and the mountains of northern B.C. And to find this in our back yard is a revelation that took way too long to happen," says Trepanier.
This revelation came at an opportune time for an artist hoping to do less commercial art in favour of concentrating on fine art. As a professional artist and astute businessman, Trepanier realized the publicity around Great Lakes Heritage Coast, designated as a fea-tured area, through Ontario's l.iving Legacy exercise, would mesh well with his desire to paint it. And the Coast to Canvas Project was born. Trepanier says recent years have seen his income from fine art exceeding that of his commercial work. "I realized that if I spend the rest of my time doing fine art instead of commercial, perhaps there's an opportunity to really pursue my real passion which is getting out and painting all the time."
The project will see Trepanier spend at least one month in each season painting the coast. It will culminate in a Coast to Canvas theme exhibition as well as the sale of limited reproductions, and the original works. An artist heading into the wilderness to paint for an extended period is not unusual, but Trepanier is accompanied by his wife Janet and their daughters, Andie 7, and Sydney 3.
Trepanier admits that he could get more work done on his own but decreased production is worth it. "One of the most frustrating things is coming back from a trip and saying 'Oh you should have seen this, you should have seen that.' and now I don't need to do that."
The family did their first stint on the coast last September covering several points from Superior's Neys Provincial Park to Twelve Mile Bay in Georgian Bay. Trepanier said the girls adapted well to paddling in a canoe and seemed to have more fun the rougher it got.
"It wasn't a week after we got back from the trip and Andie begged me to sleep out in the tent with her. It really made me realize that, as young as they are, these trips are having an impact on them."
Now on the winter leg of the project, the family just returned from a week at a cabin on the remote Slate Islands. Trepanier says the difficulties of seeing the coast in winter have been made easier by companies like Wilderness Helicopters, who flew them to the Slates, and Naturally Superior Adventures, where they are staying while exploring the coast of Superior near Wawa.
The fact that ours is an excursion that will stretch into evening keeps Janet and the children at the lodge.
Good thing too. At the pinnacle of the Nokomis Trail, it's hovering around -20 C, colder than I would have expected for early April. With the breeze off the Lake and the descent of the sun, it feels even chillier. I wonder what effect uncontrolled shivering would have on a painting but Trepanier seems imper-vious to the cold. I decide to build a fire anyway, if not for him, for me.
It's apparent Trepanier is suited to this sort of work.
A passion for the outdoors and un-deniable talent as an artist is coupled with the stamina, perseverance and fitness level that might leave other artists puffing at the base of the long climb up or fleeing with frozen digits to the warmth of the fire.
By the time Trepanier ambles stiffly over to the fire, the sun has disappeared but dancing flames illuminate fresh paint on canvas.
Now shrouded in darkness, the scene has been transposed to canvas in perfect perspective, including some initial accents of shade and colour. Already it surpasses anything the layman could render but he also has photographs and digital video to help capture the scene when finishing the piece back at the tent, cabin, lodge or home studio.
Trepanier's highly accessible wilderness landscapes hover closer to realism than impressionism. "If you look closely at any of the paintings they are not as tight as they might seem from a distance away. But my goal in the painting is to create an atmosphere and mood that represents the place I was at. Some of the pieces I leave a little looser if they accomplish the goal I want," he said.
Huddled close to the fire, Trepanier says staying warm is one of the challenges of painting in the field in winter.
It's also tough to find areas with snowshoe access to interesting spots, he says. Especially along Superior where the coast is only accessible by boat in summer and winter's severe weather often rules out travelling by canoe.
"But you get to enjoy and paint scenery that few people have. And there's a lot of beauty in the winter time that many people overlook," he says.
After packing our gear and donning our head lamps we make our way down the trail. Obstacles like massive deadfalls and steep inclines waxed with rippling ice make it as challenging to descend as it was to climb. The lack of tracks along the trail show that few have witnessed the winter sunset over Old Woman Bay from the Nokomis Trail Lookout. After soaking it in myself, I look forward to seeing Trepanier's interpretation.
The Trepaniers are now planning their month-long spring and summer excursions to the coast to complete the field work for the four-seasons glance at the Great Lakes Heritage Coast.
Between painting, Trepanier is talking with several galleries in hope of bringing the Coast to Canvas exhibit to southern and Northern Ontario centres starting in spring 2003.
Reprinted from the Sault Star Weekender, May 4, 2002 issue.
Story by James Smedley (to contact James via email, click his name).