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Oct 2001 show page

Article by Richard Waugh
Magazin Art
(Fall 2001)
Courtesy of the publisher

Philip Buytendorp: Third Generation Artist

When describing our experiences with nature, most of us would have to admit that our encounters with the environment consist primarily of such detached and superficial activities as pulling the car off the highway long enough to take photographs of wildlife rummaging for food or of spectacular landscapes.  Philip Buytendorp is not most of us.  His exaggerated depictions of moody West Coast landscapes, brooding southern Alberta Foothills and scenes from Algonquin Park, resplendent with the brilliant and changing colours of autumn, are representations of an artist who expresses with the uncanny vividness of one who is intimately familiar with the shapes and forms of our natural environment.

Buytendorp's one-man show at the White Rock Gallery in White Rock, British Columbia on October 19 will feature over 50  new paintings (ranging in size from 5 x 7 board panels to 40 x 60 inches canvasses) that represent his experiences as an avid outdoorsman and rugged adventurer prone to traversing rivers and streams, navigating the Southern Inside Passage and hiking along abandoned wilderness trails and logging roads in search of his subject matter.

Philip Buytendorp was born in Brandon, Manitoba in 1961 into a family of artists.  His mother is a potter and his father George is a renowned Dutch-born Canadian painter and fine art restorer.  Like Philip's grandfather, George Buytendorp also was educated and received his formal artistic training at the Academy of Fine Arts and Related Sciences in The Hague, Netherlands.  George Buytendorp immigrated to Canada in 1951, settled in Southern Manitoba and began working immediately as an artist and a teacher.  Philip's childhood memories are filled with fond recollections of weekend outings with his father to sketch and paint the landscapes of the southern Manitoba countryside.  According to Buytendorp, "Having grown up in a creative family, support and encouragement were plentiful.  Having had access to a considerable library of art literature and images at home, and regularly attending exhibitions further added to the stewing pot of my inspiration."

Buytendorp obtained his formal training in art theory at the Brandon Arts Centre in 1978-1979.  Although he spent most of the next 20 years in various construction trades -- mostly as a cement finisher -- he found time to sketch scenes from the Southern Alberta Foothills when he lived in Calgary in the early 1980s.  However, it was not until he moved to the Fraser Valley (Abbotsford) in 1987 that Buytendorp began painting in earnest under his father's tutelage.  George Buytendorp's knowledge and experience were his son's base for "jumping off" into the world of art, where he continues to weave through his own development as an artist.

After Buytendorp moved to Piers Island in the Southern Gulf Islands in 1997, he began to paint coastal landscapes in oils from the sketches and photos of his numerous boat trips through the Southern Inside Passage.  "I love water because I love the perspective of exposed rugged rock from my boat or canoe," he says. "The shoreline is not composed of randomly scattered pieces of rock, but rather beautiful banks of submerged natural masonry that demonstrate how the crust of the earth fits together.  There is a certain kind of music to that."  He pauses for a moment, as if sensing the need to elaborate on his poetic description, "Beauty doesn't always hit you on the forehead, you know; sometimes you have to go looking for it."

Buytendorp made the decision to devote himself to painting as a full-time occupation in 1997, when, he says "A lifetime of experiences while exploring the wilderness resurfaced at my wife's bidding.  An opportunity availed itself while living on Piers Island on Canada's West Coast, to present some of my recent work to a local gallery.  Sales were immediate and regular.  Within two years, three galleries were carrying my work with excellent recognition."

He moved back to the Fraser Valley (this time to Chilliwack) in 1999, where he and his father (now 79) still paint together at his studio once a week and where he continues to derive inspiration from the numerous sketches and panels from his wilderness experiences.

While Buytendorp is understandably reluctant to settle into an established label from himself so early in his career, he agrees that his style is influenced by Impressionism and Expressionism.  His landscapes, for example, demonstrate a brilliant use of colour and line to depict exaggerated contours, while his use of colour and tone also signify the shape and form of a distorted and exaggerated style.

Moreover, he makes broad use of colour, shape and light to set the mood for his paintings, and in capturing the natural play of light and colours he is able to paint movement and the fleeting moment.  Equally important are the powerful, dramatic palette knife and brush strokes that give a visceral muscularity to the shapes and forms -- brawny trees, gloomy skies, jagged shorelines and wind-stirred waters -- that comprise his subject matter.

Along with his father, Buytendorp continues to be influenced most by Group of Seven artists Tom Thomson and A.Y. Jackson, as well as Carl Rungius, the German-born American painter of wildlife and landscapes.  For example, Buytendorp sees a truthfulness and beauty -- a beauty of colour feeling and emotion -- in Thomson's paintings and admires the "gall" Thomson displayed in his use of colour and in his completely honest and straightforward reproduction of what he saw in the moment.  He credits Jackson, on the other hand, as the inspiration for helping him to "loosen up," while Rungius, he says "was a master at handling the delicacies of colour while maintaining the strength of his bold brushstrokes."  In Buytendorp's words, "There exists a challenge in achieving a healthy balance between artistic freedom and technical control.  I believe this to be of paramount importance in the artist's mind.  Freedom allows for creativity and emotion in the rendering of a piece, but applied control keeps communication lines open between artist and viewer."

Painting allows Buytendorp to share a particular moment with the viewer and to communicate through vivid detail an explicit idea and emotion.  "Perhaps I could be called emotional as a portrayer, though [I'm] not usually described as an emotional person."  He points to the 5 x 7 and 8 x 10 inch panels, which, he says, capture most honestly what he is feeling at the moment he is painting them.

They demand a quick decision in composition, an ability either to ignore or summarize much of the detail and a skilful use of colour applied in such a way that must be truthful, both to the natural environment and the mood of his experience.

"Painting is a recreation of what I felt when I saw it," he says, "and the changing moods of my paintings reflect what is happening outside.  They are very weather dependent. The same landscape appears completely different depending on the weather, the season and the time of day."

Philip Buytendorp lives in Chilliwack, British Columbia, with his wife Jacquie and their two children, Kirsten and Eric.  His work is exhibited in galleries in White Rock, the Fraser Valley and on Vancouver Island and in private collections across North America.