For those of us living in the Pacific Northwest, it’s easy to take water for granted. But when your subject is Vancouver, water becomes a way of seeing and depicting the world on canvas.
In a new series of paintings, David Wilson takes for his subjects the natural watery surroundings and rain-soaked city streets of his hometown. Fans of the artist’s work will recognize not just familiar streets and harbours of Vancouver but also motifs like rainy downtown nights. But the paintings move toward a more realistic depiction of scenes than he has evoked in the past—even while relying on memory. Instead of aiming for literal accuracy, he has painted his subjects in a way that suits his vision.
Water, or fluidity, is a pervasive theme that runs through Wilson’s work. In many of his paintings, rain-spattered cabs, penumbras of headlights, and slick, reflective streets embrace the idea of a city in a rainforest. Water is identified either through subject or in the way the paint lies on the surface. Under Wilson’s brush, water becomes a natural kaleidoscope of light and colour infused with what we know and what we think we know, or remember.
“Rain-soaked city streets evoke something entirely visceral,” Wilson says. “So often you find this in the film industry, which goes to great lengths to recreate that saturated-with-rain aesthetic—and for good reason. Those streets reflect so much of ourselves back at us. It’s like peering in a distorted mirror that reminds us of places we inhabit, both imaginary and real.”
Moving away from abstraction, and using representation as a starting point, the new work aligns colour and movement with more realistic depictions of a scene. Smaller and more detailed marks create what appears to be a sharply rendered image but upon closer examination reveals the looseness of the paint. Less interpretation is required, giving the viewer a more immediate and relatable experience.
“The annual precipitation we endure has created a sort of gloomy identity associated with living on the Coast,” Wilson says. “But if one lives here for an extended period of time one can, and often will, develop an affinity for it. The cycle of renewal and growth that we see, as the rain waters the earth and feeds the lakes and rivers, deepens our relationship with the world. The smell of new rain, the scent of the ocean and the fecund soil saturated with moisture inherently tie us to a place that solidifies our identities as West Coasters."