SIDNEY BY THE SEA is an idyllic place on a warm summer day. Out on the Salish Sea, there are kayakers and sailboats, a glimpse of Mount Baker amid puffy white clouds, and off-shore islands. Along the seaside sculpture walk there are green parks and flower gardens. If we walk to the end of Sidney Pier, perhaps a seal will surface or an octopus slither past.
The long pier brings us to the Fish Market and Pier Bistro, popular places with locals and tourists. Visual artist Eunmi Conacher captured this vista at Sidney Pier. She worked for three hours on her plein air painting, sometimes with a curious passerby peering over her shoulder. Glancing back and forth, the person might have pondered the difference between the real-life scene and the one unfolding on the easel. This is because imagination rules in Conacher’s 16-by-10-inch, acrylic-on-paper artwork.
“Sidney Pier” 16 x 10 inches, acrylic on paper
It’s an expressionistic interpretation of Sidney Pier. The composition dances with abstracted shapes and explosive splashes of colour. Loose liquid brushstrokes combine with dry sketchy areas, applied with skill and confidence. The market and bistro buildings are loosely sketched, defined mainly by stark white angular roofs. Thin white lines hint at rickety railings. Tilted upwards and foreshortened, the pier lies parallel to the picture plane. The tilted pier is represented by vertical bands of colour that plunge down like a cascading waterfall. These riotous bands of aqua-blue and green are interwoven with crimson, orange and blue-gray. Saturated colours of red, blue, purple and orange pile one atop the other in a shape at bottom left. A low horizon line suggests a watery pool with white splashes of water.
I query Eunmi Conacher about the magical transformations in her piece. Why does she do it? “Because I love to paint!” she says. “I’m energized by the vibrant colours and flowing brushwork as I work.” Conacher creates imaginary landscapes that people can interpret and enjoy. It’s important to her that the feeling of the place is communicated, moreso than the physical reality. She strives to make a painting from the heart that resonates with viewers.
Eunmi Conacher with “The Westerlies” 60 x 20 inches, acrylic on panel
How does she do it? “My use of colour, form and texture is intuitive,” says Conacher. The artist works with colour values (the light and dark of tones) to define areas of positive and negative space, and add a sense of depth. Her under-paintings are washes of acrylic with predominantly warm tones. On this ground, she sketches out the major shapes with pencil or charcoal. In Sidney Pier, for example, she made the roofs a focal point, suggesting the dazzle of bright sunlight with white paint.
At first, she paints quickly, with spontaneous pleasure. When the painting is about one-third completed, she takes a more analytical approach, checking shapes and colours, and making changes. Tweaks continue to happen, until she decides a painting is finished. “A successful composition has no sags or lags,” she says. There should be movement, an emotional charge, and room for the viewers’ imagination to roam freely.
Conacher, along with other skilled and accomplished West Coast artists, will be exhibiting works at the Avenue Gallery October 17-27, 2019. The group show is called “Our Coast” and features Gaye Adams, Mary-Jean Butler, Susie Cipolla, Lorna Dockstader, Rob Elphinstone, Maria Josenhans, Brent Lynch and Philip Mix.
Gallery owner Heather Wheeler describes these coastal paintings as having “illuminated skies, fog-bound coves, and sun-dappled forests.” Conacher really appreciates the chance to show with other artists from the area. She was thrilled two years ago when Avenue Gallery invited her to join their talented team of contemporary fine artists. “Now my artwork is seen by many people,” she says, “and selling a painting makes everyone happy.”
Conacher was born in Seoul, Korea, the youngest of four children. At the time, it was unusual for females to attend university and study abroad. Fortunately, her parents supported her artistic inclinations, and she graduated in Seoul with a Batchelor of Fine Arts degree. Moving to Australia, she attended the University of Sydney, earning a post-graduate Diploma in Visual Arts. More studies followed, during a ceramics research program at Tsukuba University in Japan. The adventurous woman has travelled widely, savouring cities around the globe with her atmospheric “Cityscapes” series.
Conacher emigrated to Canada in 1996. She and her partner married in Whistler, and the couple moved to Nanaimo in 2004, then to Sooke in 2016. She became an active member of the Federation of Canadian Artists in 2008, and an associate in 2015. She became an elected member of The Society of Canadian Artists in 2013.
While in Nanaimo, Conacher began taking classes at the Old Schoolhouse Arts Centre in Qualicum Beach. Former executive director of the Arts Centre, Corinne James, took note of her promising student. “Eunmi is a very hard worker,” she says, “and I noticed her skills and determination right away.” During her 21-year career, James helped develop the Arts Centre into a vibrant exhibition and teaching space for artists and musicians, retiring in May 2019. She gave Conacher her first solo show within a year, and several more followed. In 2018, a painting by Conacher took second place in a national juried show at the Arts Centre.
"Whispering Wind," 36 x 36 inches, acrylic on canvas
James praises Conacher’s fresh approach to painting West Coast scenery, using a vibrant palette and impressionistic style. “Her colours evoke a mood,” says James; “she paints a familiar scene from a fresh perspective.” For example, in “Whispering Wind,” the artist captures the awe-inspiring scale of our landscapes, within a three-by-three-foot canvas. There are towering mountains in the distance, a rocky shore line, and tall trees swaying in the breeze. The lively brushwork creates movement in the turbulent sky and wind-blown trees. “The viewer is reminded of a time and place when they felt connected to nature,” says James, who praises the quality and variety of Conacher’s mark-making and brushwork, noting that the artist has worked hard to hone her skills and develop her strengths and now produces paintings of consistent quality. “Many artists hope for happy accidents to produce special pieces,” says James, “but Eunmi has total control, and knows exactly what she is doing.”
Conacher is happy to pass on her skills, and offers sold-out workshops several times a year. Her 2019 weekend workshop at Metchosin summer school (MISSA) was titled “Letting it Go! Abstract Painting.” Helping artists find and express their unique voice and vision is her mission. She hopes to teach at Coast Collective this fall and winter.
Her painting “First Glance” received top honours at the 2019 juried “Love Divine” show, co-sponsored by Coast Collective and the West Shore Arts Council. This loosely-painted figural painting of a dancing couple conveys a moment of powerful emotion. Dramatic shifts of dark to light, a lively swirl of brushwork, and saturated colours bring the passionate scene to life. Life, with all its emotional overtones and myriad experiences, continues to intrigue and inspire the brushwork of Eunmi Conacher.
See paintings by Eunmi Conacher and other West Coast artists in the exhibit “Our Coast” at Avenue Gallery, October 17-27, 2019, 2184 Oak Bay Avenue, 250-598-2184, www.theavenuegallery.com.
Kate Cino holds a History of Art degree from the University of Victoria. Her writing about the arts can also be found at www.artopenings.ca.
Edited by admin