PROFILES: Arctic inspires new art by Leslie Reid

PROFILES: Arctic inspires new art by Leslie Reid

This article first appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of Ottawa Magazine, as part of a series of stories about Ottawa’s connections to the Far North .


Ottawa artist Leslie Reid is pictured with one of the first works, Llwewellyn 59°05’N; 133°56’W, which is based on her photo of the terminus, or tongue, of the Llewellyn Glacier in the Juneau Icefield. Photo by Dwayne Brown

Leslie Reid’s paintings, whether of pastoral Calumet Island or foggy Newfoundland, have always been more about emotion than landscape. That is to say, the sense of loss or tranquility or mortality is more important than the hazy images of lakes and trees the Ottawa artist harvests from photographs.

“Although she has always worked from photographs, her intention has never been photographic objectivity,” says Diana Nemiroff, who curated a Reid retrospective at Carleton University Art Gallery in 2011. “What interests her are the perceptual and psychological sensations provoked by the experience of a particular place.”

So when Reid spent nearly three weeks in August 2013 hopscotching around the Arctic with the military, the retired University of Ottawa art professor was, in essence, seeking emotions provoked by aerial views of glaciers, mountains, rivers — not to mention the effects of climate change on these landscape features — that she could put on canvas. Those Arctic scenes and emotions culled from 11,400 kilometres of air travel will form a body of work called Mapping Time for exhibitions next year in Ottawa and Montreal.

Reid on a walk to the shore of the Northwest Passage at Resolute on Cornwallis Island. Photo courtesy Leslie Reid
Reid on a walk to the shore of the Northwest Passage at Resolute on Cornwallis Island. Photo courtesy Leslie Reid

Some of those emotions provoked by the North are the “psychological sensations,” to use Nemiroff’s term, derived from Reid’s appreciation of the experiences of her late father, an air force pilot. She had a “difficult” relationship with her father, who died at 44 — half a century ago, when Leslie was still a teenager — their differences unresolved.

Squadron Leader John “Jack” Reid flew DC-3s around the Arctic in the 1940s while a military photographer captured the scenes below. The nine-by-nine-inch prints from those forays are stored in the National Air Photo Library on Booth Street. Reid, the daughter, is using those old photos, as well as her own, to help craft the paintings in Mapping Time. In many ways, Reid was following in her late father’s footsteps last year courtesy of the Canadian Forces Artists Program, which allows artists to have ringside seats at military activities for a few weeks at a time. She said she was not expecting the trip to “resolve” the troubled relationship with her father but that she hoped “family history” would be one of the lenses through which she viewed the Arctic. Reid seems reluctant to say much about her “mercurial” father but offered this: “When he was away, he loved me dearly. It’s when he was at home I wasn’t so sure.”

After her trip, Reid fed dozens of her digital photographs into a Flickr website as a gift of sorts to the pilots, rangers, and other military personnel who facilitated her magical mystery tour. Nancy Baele, former art critic for the Ottawa Citizen, saw the Flickr images and sent Reid an email. “They are amazing,” wrote Baele. “Some of the landscapes seem as though they are paintings you have done. But what kept going through my mind was the question: How will you distil the human and landscape, both so haunting, so inextricably intertwined, sublime, so earthly, so earthy? … It is the artist’s task to give all these sensations, thoughts, and intimations form … Lucky we have you.” (more…)