The latest work by artist Liz Toohey-Wiese is based on a photo of the bluffs of Zeballos as wildfires began last August. Image of painting courtesy Liz Toohey-Wiese

Vancouver-based artist paints Zeballos wildfires

Paintings by Liz Toohey-Wiese address climate change, effects of economy on physical world

Vancouver-based artist Liz Toohey-Wiese, who completed a month-long artist residency at the Sointula Art Shed today, has wildfires on her mind.

Toohey-Wiese’s recent paintings mix the apocalyptic realities of record-breaking wildfires with dark humour in her series Wildfire Tourism. Before starting her residency in Sointula, she printed postcards that depict a blazing forest with the words “Wish You Were Here!”

Other watercolour paintings completed during the June residency show the phrases “Miss You Already!” and “Come Back Soon!” against a fiery background, creating a spooky effect that raises questions about who is being addressed by the words.

“What does it mean to wish someone into an inferno? That’s kind of bizarre,” she said, explaining that slogans like “Come Back Soon” aren’t necessarily directed towards people, but towards nature itself as the forests burn.

Painting fire presents some interesting challenges.

“You paint the fire last,” she said. “You leave the fire as this negative space because with watercolour, you have to preserve the brightness of the paper for anything you want to be very bright in your painting.”

The artist, a professor of fine art at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, says her work is meant as an intervention on the idea of the landscape she finds herself in and her relationship to place.

That involves meditations on how industry shapes the natural world, including beaches with driftwood originating from log booms.

“Economy physically changes the landscape,” she said. “Logs are not an inherent part of beaches, they are part of the forestry industry that physically changes the landscape.”

Following two consecutive years of record-breaking wildfires, her work involves a kind of grieving for the Earth as the climate rapidly changes.

“I think we’re confronted with numbers and facts and statistics very often in terms of climate change but they’re so abstract that it doesn’t mean anything,” she said.

“I think everyone in B.C. is kind of feeling this sense of loss or sense of grief,” she said. “Even if you live in a place where probably your house isn’t going to be threatened, it still feels like (wildfires are) changing the way we understand the weather and the summer or seasons.”

During her time at the Sointula Art Shed, she also completed a painting for the series Fire Season that depicts Zeballos, the tiny northern Vancouver Island logging village, as smoke pours from the high bluffs.

She was intrigued after locals in Sointula told her about wildfires that began in Zeballos last August, and she found the image compelling partly because of the human presence: a road, telephone wires and vehicles, people’s houses.

It’s also an interesting image because no fire is visible, only smoke.

READ MORE: Evacuation order lifted for most of Zeballos, but five homes still affected

The painting is based on a photo taken on August 14, 2018 as authorities struggled to keep up with wildfires across the province, including 44 reported on Vancouver Island following lightning storms.

(The Zeballos photo was published in an article by this reporter on August 15, 2018 about the Zeballos-area wildfires. The photographer requested anonymity at the time.)

Smoke rises from a wildfire burning just outside of Zeballos in an August 14, 2018 photo. The photographer requested anonymity when the image was published by Black Press. Vancouver-based artist Liz Toohey-Wiese rendered the image in watercolour as part of a series of wildfire paintings. 

Pulling photos from news reports points towards an alienation from the actual events, Toohey-Wiese said. She hasn’t yet witnessed a wildfire.

The painting shows smoke rising above North Maquinna Avenue, which was closed for months due to the risk of falling debris from the torched cliffside.

The risk of landslides also resulted in an eight-month evacuation order lifted at the beginning of May for some 20 properties in the village of about 107 people. Five properties remained under the evacuation order until June 1.

The potential for another intense wildfire season looms amid very dry drought-like conditions throughout large sections of B.C., including all of Vancouver Island as of June 28, despite some rainfall.

Meanwhile, Toohey-Wiese says she’s sure to return to the Sointula, the community on Malcolm Island founded by Finnish utopian socialists northeast of Vancouver Island in 1901. She said it’s a place with a strong sense of community among the residents, many who work in resource industries like logging and fishing.

“I’ve just been here for a month but I’ve gotten really attached to the community here,” she said, adding that she hopes to visit Zeballos before returning home.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A photo of the missing mushroom pickers from the Lil’Wat Nation near Pemberton: River Leo (left) and dad Peter Oleski. Facebook photo/Sea to Sky Road Conditions page
Two Comox Valley-based search organizations assisting in missing Pemberton mushroom pickers

Two members from the Lil’Wat Nation were last seen Oct. 22

Students at Ecole Puntledge Park Elementary kicked off the Everybody Deserves A Smile (EDAS) campaign in 2019. Scott Stanfield photo
Everybody Deserves a Smile campaign adapts to COVID-19 challenges

“We didn’t want to lose our heartfelt hands-on approach.”

Wind and waves were part of the reason why the Sail Canada High Performance Team selected HMCS Quadra as the winter training base for Tokyo 2021. Photo by Ken Dool
National sailing team prepares for Olympics at HMCS Quadra in Comox

HMCS Quadra is serving as the winter training base for the Canadian… Continue reading

Courtenay residents will have a substantial schedule change for curbside trash collection beginning in January 2021. (Ben Lypka/Black Press file)
Courtenay moving to a zone system for curbside trash collection

New system means collection days will change with every statutory holiday

A jubilant Ronna-Rae Leonard salutes the crowd at her victory party at the Avalanche Bar & Grill. (photo by Scott Stanfield)
UPDATE: Leonard declared early winner for Courtenay-Comox

NDP incumbent held similar margin of lead throughout the evening

FILE – Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides the latest update on the COVID-19 pandemic in the province during a press conference in the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, October 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. shatters COVID-19 records with 817 weekend cases; masks now expected indoors

Three people have died over the past three reporting periods

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

RCMP have released more details regarding what led up to an arrest caught on video in Williams Lake Sunday, Oct. 26. (Facebook video screenshot)
Review launched after ‘high-risk, multi-jurisdictional’ chase, arrest in Williams Lake

RCMP launching a full review and code of conduct investigation

Freighter drags anchor towards Boulder Point Oct. 22. It came within 730 metres of the shore, according to maps from the Port of Nanaimo. (Photo submitted)
MacGregor introduces bill to address freighter anchorages along the South Coast

Concerns about the environment, noise, pollution and safety abundant

(Pxfuel)
B.C. limits events in private homes to household, plus ‘safe six’ amid COVID-19 surge

Henry issued a public health order limiting private gatherings to one household, plus a group of ‘safe six’ only

B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson speaks during a drive-in car rally campaign stop at a tour bus operator, in Delta, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Andrew Wilkinson stepping down as B.C. Liberal leader

Will stay on until the next party leader is chosen

Harvesters participating in the extended commercial halibut season will need to land their catch in either Prince Rupert (pictured), Vancouver, or Port Hardy by Dec. 14. (File photo)
B.C.’s commercial halibut season extended three weeks

COVID-19 market disruptions at the root of DFO’s decision

Most Read