From motorcycles, to Emily Carr and onto Leonardo da Vinci

For over two decades, I was a visual artist who specialized in painting oil on canvas portraits and motorcycle art. In 2000, I read The Book of Small and was instantly captivated by Emily Carr’s writing. Her poignant descriptions compelled me to paint a portait of her. Black and white photos housed at the Royal BC Archives and Victoria City Hall inspired yet more paintings. I chose to focus on the girl rather than the woman. Ten years and twenty-seven canvases later, my project entitled The Other Emily came to fruition.

Filmmaker Kristina Campbell created a documentary, Searching for Emily, recording my painting process of the final canvases, as well as our journey to Haida Gwaii to visit the sites that inspired many of Carr’s canvases.  In 2011, these efforts culminated with an exhibition at The Royal BC Museum showcasing Emily Carr’s works hanging beside my own, something I never dreamed could happen.

To resume my life of writing and researching which had now become an engrained habit, I returned to University. For the next three years, a vigourous student life culminated with a Bachelor and a Master’s of Education. Then my curiosity led me to Leonardo da Vinci. There is also one particular article that provides helpful tips for writing art essays, which can be found at sites like

I sought non-fiction articles on his studies in engineering, anatomy, and the nature of water, delving deep into Leonardo’s notebooks, which provided a rich catalogue of his observations and conclusions. Biographies from scholars who interpreted his paintings, examined his relationship with his father, and recorded his patronage from kings, dukes, and religious orders also caught my attention. His personal life was obscure as he wrote in code and rarely revealed how he felt. Leonardo was an artist, inventor, scientist, and genius. But who was Leonardo, the man? Was he merely the sum of his achievements, or did his personal struggles and triumphs shape his legacy? These questions drove me further into the depths of his life and work, prompting me to explore every available avenue, even delving into obscure topics such as crafting paystubs, to uncover the true essence of this enigmatic figure.

That question prompted me to begin a work of fiction whereby research prods speculation, and spurs me to imagine what Leonardo might have thought, said and done with those closest to him.


‘Olympio’ going to Yale

When Manet’s Olympia was unveiled in 1863 it caused quite a stir. The model for Manet’s painting, Victorine Meurent, was adorned with accessories linked to the courtesan and she was staring straight at the viewer with a neutral expression. Paris society found this all abhorent. I asked myself the question: What would be controversial in today’s society?

The response to that self-posed question is responsible for my painting Olympio. I painted it the exact size of Manet’s Olympia, 51.3″ x 74.8″ and included all other elements to scale. Looking five years to find the right model who chooses to remain anonymous, and studying Manet’s original at the Musee d’Orsay, allowed me to realize my idea to fruition.

Olympio will be seen for the first time at Yale University when the exhibition Lunch with Olympia celebrates the 150th anniversary of Manet’s iconic painting.  The exhibition opens Friday, September 20th at the Edgewood Gallery.

Portrait of Mary Pratt at the Museum of Civilization:Mar-Oct 2013

The exhibition Double Take: Portraits of Intriguing Canadians has left its showing at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection and will open at the Museum of Civization on March 22nd. 59 personalities are captured in 100 works of art. One of them is the portrait of Mary Pratt from my High Tea series and it has the distinction of being the only headless portrait in the Portrait Gallery of Canada.

The Master’s

This is my second year of doing my Master’s during the summer months. I am being introduced to the all-inclusive world of PhotoShop. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever really think that I would be capable of being in PhotoShop. That was for teckies. But behold, I am getting my brain stretched daily and wonders are not ceasing.

For the realist, representational artist this is the tool akin to the fairy godmother’s wand. A wave of the cursor opens the whole new world and I am so not kidding. For me, PhotoShop is the invention of the century.

Empress Hotel- Morisot

The painting that seered my mind while in Europe was Berthe Morisot’s ‘Jeune Fille en Gris’. This is a small painting size-wise. But it is a huge painting in terms of what Morisot acheived. The subject matter is of a woman lounging on a chaise lounge. She is wearing a grey dress and the chaise is grey as well. Almost exactly the same color of grey. Being almost the same color would normally mean that one form would meld into the other. And this happens except for the fact that the form of the woman can be utterly discerned. Her bust, her waist, her hips- the viewer can sense the form, the youth and suppleness of limb. Plus the details of the dress. I stood in awe and asked myself, “How the heck did she do it?”.
I stood and dissected. I went away and came back. After all thought and examination, I feel she did it through brushstroke. The brushstrokes of the dress are different ever so slightly, but enough to make a difference as how the brain perceives the line and the form. I have never seen another painter acheive this feat and I am in awe of Berthe Morisot.
The painting was at the Musee Marmottan in Paris. It houses a huge collection of Monet’s work donated by his son. The bulk of the remainder of the collection was donated by the daughter of Georges de Bellio, doctor to many of the Impressionists.

This is Morisot’s first retrospective and here again is yet another turn in the wheel of patterns. In writing this, I was checking on the Grammar Check of Morisot’s name only to discover that she died, not in the same year, but on the same date as Emily Carr- March 2nd.

Live from the Empress Hotel

I have been gone away for 3 weeks visiting Paris, Barcelona and Ireland. An amazing trip for sure but what is burning on my mind to relate is the official announcement that the exhibition entitled ‘Double Take’, will open at the McMichael Art Gallery in September, 2012. It is an exhibition of almost 100 original works of over 50 Canadians from the collection of The Portrait Gallery of Canada. The portrait of artist Mary Pratt that I painted for my ‘High Tea’ series is owned by the Portrait Gallery and was chosen to be part of this show. “Double Take: Portraits of Intriguing Canadians”, spans over 400 years of portraiture.
For me, this is yet again another lesson in ‘you never know what can happen’. I received a phone call almost 3 years ago asking my permission to include the Pratt portrait in this new exhibiton curated by Carolyn Cook. The show would open in 2012 in Charlottetown, PEI and then tour for 2 years but showing at the McMichael was never mentioned at the time. My friend Lawrie emailed me this past April, to say she had just seen the exhibition in PEI and had no idea that my work would be included. Seeing my work there, altered her perception of me.
So it is important to exhibit. It is important to let the work leave the studio. And it is wonderful to feel grateful when something turns out to be bigger than initially imagined.

Live from the Empress hotel

Some days, it is not about the act of painting, and today was one of those days.
I emailed a public art gallery in London, England attaching two paintings of a young Emily Carr that I had based on two works in their collection by Renoir and Manet. I asked them to think of me if they ever create an exhibition showing how contemporary artists springboard from works of the past. A longshot for sure and that longshot took me 3 hours to figure out who owned these Manet/Renoir works, and the address to send my email of hope. What a coincidence that both works are owned by the same institution.
Someone has brought my work to the attention of a major Canadian art institution and I wrote of my gratitude to her for doing so. Another longshot, but having The Other Emily exhibit at the Royal BC Museum was also a longshot.
Somedays, sometimes, it is about taking the time to see if a longshot can win.

Live from the Empress

Today I started the painting for Gina, the Co-ordinator for South Carolina’s HOG State Rally occurring this October. I am painting Gina’s Harley from a side-view and there is no mercy at this angle. All of the lines of the engine, every nut and bolt, every line and spoke is there to be seen….and therefore painted. I have started with the deep indigo base from which the color and chrome will pop from. The sunset sky and smooth beach are something to look forward to as I will paint them smooth and watery-looking. But I am a long way from there and that is the way it is.
I just finished the flower painting so I can tell the difference in the body language. The paint has flowed and the mind has floated while painting the flowers. The breathing has stopped to keep a straight line moving straight and the eyes have strained for the details in the motorcycle painting.

Ocean at the Empress Hotel

I was painting wild roses when I met Ocean.
“Short for Oceania”, she told me.
She watched me for so long.
Then I turned to her and asked, “What have you learned so far?”
“You press hard and then you press light”, she said in summary of her observations.
“That is exactly what I have been doing. Good for you”.
I painted some more and thought about this nine-year old girl who had figured it out so quickly.
“Come and paint this leaf for me”, I said. This time I was inviting someone to paint.
“I don’t know how to hold the brush”. But Ocean learns fast and she soon felt comfortable with the brush. Even though she was unsure of her ability to paint, her curiousity and yearning won the day.
“Just this leaf,” I said as she worked with trepidation and care. She put on the paint, she blended the paint and when it was done, it was a great leaf.
“I will finish the painting, but I won’t touch your leaf”, I assured her.
Her parents took a picture of Ocean and I holding either end of the painting, the next morning.
“We are going to sign her up for art lessons”, they told me.
I finished the painting during the sumptuous Easter Sunday Brunch in the Empress’ Crystal Ballroom. And Ocean’s leaf is still all her own doing.

Live from the Empress Hotel

I am now painting the portrait of a tree with limbs stetching out in all directions. This big leaf maple looming on Hobbs St. is cited in the District of Saanich’s list of Significant Trees. The tree has a condition which makes it have a huge skirt at its base. My daughter Sage and I, would drive by it every week for years on our way to her ballet class, so I always felt the tree was wearing a tutu.
My canvas size is almost 6′ long by almost 3′ wide. For some reason, children are very drawn to my painting of this tree and they have been stopping all day long. “It’s a tree”, they confirm.
One Mother stopped to show her son how carefully, I was applying the paint. The stage in which a putty knife had laid paths of paint, had already been done. I turned to look at them and she continued.
“He mixes up all his colors together and makes brown. Everything he paints is brown”.
The boy looked at me and wondered what I would say. He was about 4 years old.
I knelt down and showed him the photograph of this basically brown tree and then showed him the areas where there was red and blue in the bark of the tree.
“And there is green in the bark of the tree. The green isn’t just in the leaves”. He looked where my fingers pointed and never said a word. But he was listening.

© Manon Elder Inc. | Website by Caprina Designs | Powered by Wordpress | xHTML | CSS >