By: Abeera Shahid

A painter’s lens can provide new insight into familiar landscapes, even if that landscape is your own backyard.

On Oct. 14, James Gummerson debuted his Cootes collection at the Focus Gallery in downtown Hamilton. The intimate venue featured paintings that highlighted the various aspects of Cootes Paradise, the famed nature sanctuary adjacent to McMaster University and a key part of the Hamilton ecosystem.

Gummerson has been a professional painter for over 20 years and creates pieces that are detailed and representational; in previous work, he has spent six to 12 months on one painting. However, this time Gummerson took a new approach.

“I needed a way to paint faster and express myself faster, almost like a thought,” said Gummerson. “Instead of one major thought, it’s small little thoughts and the whole painting is one moment. The paintings are done relatively quickly, that means around a day or two to do a piece,” he said.

As part of the Hamilton community and connected to McMaster, many students have visited Cootes and experienced its beauty, but Gummerson provides a unique interpretation.

“I tried to embody what Cootes really is as opposed to the romanticized version of it: this beautiful nature beside the city. Although it is that, it is also many other things. It has a past. Over the years it has gone through a lot of changes, pollution. There is rejuvenation but also struggle,” explained Gummerson.

One of Gummerson’s paintings reflects this struggle by showing a wired fence next to a marsh. He brings in elements of the urban life that is situated around Cootes to provoke reflection on the landscape’s interactions with human structures. Since he spent significant time painting Cootes, he noticed a broadening of his view over the painting process.

“Over that period of painting, the paintings got a little brighter and tended to have a more playful mood… There is a lot of muted, deep tones, grays and I saw all the dead branches [in the beginning] and by the end of it I saw a lot more colour. I saw it more beautiful than when I started.”

A brighter painting featured in the collection was captioned “The House That Cootes Built” and displays a lilac tree around a house. The colours consisted of a lighter palette, with various shades of pink and purple.

He touches on elements from the seasons throughout his collection and shared his insight on how he sees the current fall scenery.

“I don’t like fall because of just the reds, oranges and trees. I like fall because of the deep tones and contrast that you get. I wouldn’t say I love dead things but I love the interesting sort of patterns it creates when things are in a decay period,” said Gummerson.

The sight of a landscape is only one factor that influences an artist’s interpretation. Gummerson addressed how his work is influenced by other senses, specifically sound. Another one of his paintings is titled “The crunching beneath my feet was the only sound I heard” and showcases the marsh’s ground in the winter, with plant life fighting its way through the snow.

The paintings in the Cootes collection connect and demonstrate nature’s interaction with Hamilton. However, appreciating the depth of his work is only possible by seeing it for oneself. The Cootes display will be on at the Focus Gallery until Nov. 12.

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