Catch and Release: The paintings of Lil Chrzan
Lil Chrzan invitation
At the first and last light of day, early morning and late afternoon, there are a few moments when the light lingers on the horizon in what might be described as an incandescent glow suspended between the earth and sky. The fleeting light may be captured by the clouds, a golden filament held along their periphery, or reflected off the mirrored surfaces of ocean and lakes, or in the play of light amongst the trees and long grass, even the pebbles on the beach and the rock faces, as if they too had captured the light and come to life. For those few moments of stillness, the turbulence of the world is held at bay and the promise of life asserts itself. This is not the pale winter light that is reluctantly given then weakly taken away. This is the exuberance of spring and autumn, when the seasons of change are revealed in their boldest light, and yet, in these particular moments of the day, also their most fleeting. This is the domain of Lil Chrzan and her work, where she too captures the light, only to release it once again through her paintings.
Her work begins early each day in her studio in Horseshoe Bay, a contained loft space with a peaked roof, a plank-wood and paint-spattered floor, and filled with the jumble of works in progress, canvases leaning on the walls, sketches and photographs pinned above them, wire-mesh drawers spilling with tubes of oil paint, the entire space permeated with the pungent smell of turpentine. The studio is in a separate building behind her home, looking out on the bustling community and crowded marina nestled next to the ocean and beneath a dramatic corridor of steep-sided mountains. Having grown up in Toronto, she was immediately taken with this location on her arrival in Vancouver. She still possesses the first photograph she took of the bay, never dreaming that she would one day live here, as she has for the past two decades.
Lil Chrzan portrait
She had always been drawn to nature and takes full advantage of the wildness found on the West Coast through hiking and camping trips. As a teenager she read the works of Henry David Thoreau, an early inspiration for the freedom found in nature. In fact, she was so inspired by Thoreau’s writing that she hand-sewed the initials “H.D.T.” on her clothes, a secret talisman of a way of life she hoped to find, at least it was secret until a friend noticed the initials and thought it read “H.O.T.” Lil pursued a career as a nurse and then, after moving to the West Coast, enrolled in the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in the 1980s, graduating with honours. Her influences would now extend to the Luminists, the American landscape artists from the same period as Thoreau, the mid- to late-1800s. Like the French Impressionists, the Luminists concerned themselves with the effects of light, although their brushwork tended to be less emphatic and more subtle. Indeed, the emphasis would be less on effect and more on tranquility, those moments of calm within nature, offering reflection in both its external form and its inner spirituality. She would also find inspiration in the work of Mark Tobey and Morris Graves, both of whom worked in Abstract Expressionism, their artistic pursuits distinguished by the influence of Asian philosophy and !2 mysticism, leading to the label of “mystical painting.” The abstract and Expressionist components are not a stylistic component in Lil’s landscape work, although the mystical or transcendental aspects are certainly addressed as external form through luminescence, color and the carefully composed compositions of shadow and reflection. A suggestion of inner reflection also appears in the titles that she gives her paintings. The titles come to her during the work, as if the painting had named itself, sometimes as matter of fact – “Late October,” “A Bright Golden Haze,” “Fall Evening on the Chuckanut” - and sometimes poetic – “The Lake had a Cloud in her Lap,” “As if the World held its Breath,” “Did You Whisper My Name?” Here we find the influence of Thoreau has returned once more in all his intuitive wisdom, merging inner and outer reflection with the forms of nature.
Over the years she has endeavoured to develop not only her technique but the process of the work itself. She paints every day and usually works on three paintings at a time, each in a different stage of development. Each work begins with an experience of the moment in nature, sometimes captured in a photographic likeness, sometimes rendered as a sketch. Photographs are cropped, sketches adjusted, sometimes both photograph and sketch are merged into a single study. The next stage will involve the mixing of paint in order to address the problems of color and tone, sometimes applied directly to the study in progress. During an earlier period of work she focused exclusively on still life painting in order to develop the technical dimension of the mixing of colors so crucial to bringing out the impact of light. Once satisfied, the work of painting actually begins, where oil paint is applied to canvas and the study is realized in its final form. However, the technical work will continue even after the painting is completed. The final phase is one of glazing, important when working in oils, a process that is not unlike that found in stained glass, whereby the light is not contained but released through the colours, adding further complexity and finalizing the texture of the surface.
The West Coast landscape may be familiar to many of us and yet Lil Chrzan’s paintings are distinguished by a certain clarity of purpose that is revealed through the content, composition and luminescence of her work. It is not simply a matter of capturing of the light on the horizon but it is the release of that light, a movement of bringing forward within those moments of stillness, where the light is brought to you!.
Dr. Michael Thoma Faculty , School of Motion Picture Arts Capilano University