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Algonquin Artist David Kay. Photo by  Liz ClarkThe Natural World through the eyes of artist David Kay

by Liz Clark

Like a ribbon of rainbow, the drive across Highway 60 west of Whitney to Huntsville offers a beautiful glimpse of Algonquin Provincial Park, a 7,725 square kilometre wonderland of native forest and crystal-clear waterways. From his home in the Village of Whitney, artist David Kay captures photographic images of wildlife and paints the natural world in Algonquin that few of us could ever hope to see.

In wintertime David snowshoes up icy creeks, rivers, and across lakes, hoping to literally stumble across a special spot to paint. When breakup comes, he’ll canoe in, or ride over rough trails on his mountain bike. At times he’ll bushwhack to a new location found on his topographical map.

“I’ll pick a place on the map I’ve not been to before and hike to the spot. If I’m moved by it, I’ll begin painting directly, mostly out of an emotional response to what I’m seeing,” David says. He explains the importance of quickly capturing the light before it changes. “Then back at the studio I’ll review the composition from an intellectual point of view.”

A beautiful winter landscape, on display at the Algonquin Park Visitor Centre last October during the East Central Ontario Art Association’s Annual Exhibition, exemplifies this emotion.

Algonquin Waters by David Kay“I named the painting ‘Algonquin Waters’ for one of many rivers originating in Algonquin’s highlands that eventually finds its way through the bush, over the Canadian Shield, and down into the St. Lawrence River en route to the Atlantic.”

Bordered on one side by vertical lines of a still-bare deciduous tree, the scene is softened on the other by the textural quality of evergreen boughs. Warming rays of sunshine begin to melt the icy river and its course quickens between the snow-crested rocky shores. In the middle ground, light and shadow contrasts play across the bend in the river adding depth and illumination to this focal point. And in the foreground, the play of light and shadow across snow-capped river rocks creates a dynamic three-dimensional effect. Well deserved, “Algonquin Waters” took the red ribbon as “Best of Show.”

Now in his mid-forties, David takes time to reflect on his past. As a child in Picton then in Newmarket, Ontario, he remembers a time of daydreaming in school like many other boys.

“My mind was off in a space, filled with line and colour, shapes and forms that found their way onto sheets of paper of all sorts,” David says and admits the compulsion to collect natural objects and create was far stronger than his interest in academic subjects at the time.

In a 1937 article entitled “The Sculptor Speaks,” noted sculptor Henry Moore’s response to form-interest reassured David of his own fascination with the shapes of stones, skulls and bones: “There are universal shapes to which everybody is subconsciously conditioned and to which they can respond if their conscious control does not shut them off…natural forms, such as bones, shells, and pebbles, etc.”

David studied close to home at the former Schneider School of Fine Art in Actinolite, Ontario, then farther afield at the famed Instituto d’Allende in San Miguel, Mexico. The brilliant colours, rich culture, and pungent aromas of highly spiced foods sparked alight a more emotive element in his painting.

“But I love painting around Algonquin Park,” David says. “Here the natural shape of the landscape is unaltered by human hands.”

Whitney has been David’s home for the past sixteen years. The Kay family bought the Algonquin East Gate Motel and the artist established the David Kay Art Gallery and Studio alongside the motel. Although David says the village may seem somewhat isolated, its location at the eastern access to the Algonquin Provincial Park draws people to the region from all corners of the world.

“This motel business is not nine-to-five, so it has worked quite well for me,” David explains. “But when my father died seven years ago, it was a great loss.”

Although Mary Kay is in retirement now, David’s mother often sits on the verandah on a sunny afternoon, welcoming visitors to the motel and gallery. Friend Morris Cameron, who helps David run the motel during busy times, is a great booster of David’s work as well, encouraging visitors to leaf through the wildlife photo albums in the breakfast room and if they have time, to tour the gallery and studio.

David and his wife, Diane, make time to travel and enjoy visiting places where the culture, language and religion is different from their own.

“Even in such places as Borneo, Thailand, Myanmar, and most recently cruising among Indonesia’s Komodo Islands, Diane always manages to find an English language book to read on location while I paint direct with watercolours for an hour or two—just about the same time I take with oils back home.”

And back home in Whitney, David’s brightly lit one-room studio and gallery is a welcoming place. Wood smoke, turpentine and the rich, aromatic scent of oils once confined in colourful tubes seems to have seeped into every nook and cranny.

Various sizes of framed woodland images hang on the walls and rest against table-top easels. A triptych in progress of Whitney, with a well-known old-timer in one scene, stands stacked with many more paintings along the walls on the floor. “Madawaska River,” a 24” x 36” work-in-progress, stands on a large floor easel in the centre of the room.

While two-dimensional oils on masonite board predominate, a three-dimensional piece called, “Colour Covering”—a mixture of expelled paint tubes in riotous colours, a couple of frazzled paint brushes, a few long shafts of horse hair and small paint-spattered boards set askew—is taking on a life of its own on a table top. A clipping from a newspaper, “Brushes with adventure,” looks like the next item to find a home in this creative, three-D work-in-progress.

“Colour has always been important to me,” David says as he looks out his window on a winter’s morning. “It looks drab now, but when you really look, there are some interesting colours. When you have one colour beside another it looks different somehow, like the use of complementary colours (orange and blue, yellow and violet, red and green) as opposed to two colours that are similar. Then as the light changes you see just a hint of a vivid hue that punches right out at you. Sometimes I ask myself ‘why did I stop to consider this view.’ Very often that little splash of colour is the reason.”

It has been said that David’s paintings reflect the ruggedness and freedom of the environment as he perceives it. Whenever a bog, a river or a creek within a secluded corner of this vast northern forest captures David’s imagination, he’ll begin again to paint another inspiring interpretation of the natural world.

David Kay Art Gallery and Studio
P. O. Box 193, Whitney ON K0J 2M0
Phone: 613-637-2652

This is an original story, first published in The Country Connection Magazine, Issue 50, Summer 2005. Copyright Liz Clark.



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