British Columbia

Meghan Paterson's paintings of Refuge Cove depict rugged West Coast life

Painter and graphic designer Meghan Paterson used flotsam, old nautical maps, oars and wooden floats as the canvas for her artwork.

Art series painted on flotsam, old nautical maps, oars and wooden floats

It was heartbreak that brought painter and graphic designer Meghan Paterson to Refuge Cove, a small community in B.C.'s Inside Passage whose residents and buildings inspired her art series Safe in Camp.

"I had a terrible break-up in the city, and an old friend of my mum's said, 'Hey, do you want to go to a place called Refuge Cove?'" she told North by Northwest host Grant Lawrence.

"And I said, 'That sounds perfect.'"

Paterson managed to secure a painter-in-residence opportunity in the community, which is only accessible by small boat or floatplane, that summer in 2010.

She was tasked with helping to open an art gallery in the community, and in exchange she got to paint.

Painting on recycled materials

Paterson said at first she didn't know what she wanted to paint.

Then, inspired by the rugged people and buildings in the town and the flotsam brought in by the tide, she came up with an idea for her canvasses.

"I put up a sign at the general store asking for stuff: 'Hey, you guys got any old bits of wood, life jackets, oars, pieces of boats, whatever. I'll take it, I'm Meghan at the gallery.' And people started bringing me stuff," she said.

That has lead to her series of paintings of the residents, buildings, and ships that represent the rugged West Coast community, painted on everything from wooden floats to yellowed pieces of nautical chart.  

Colourful characters

The subject of her first painting was an especially quirky local named Barrie, whom she met while going for a walk.

"I ran into him in the woods and he was literally wearing purple pants tucked into rainboots and a jacket tied like a kimono with pieces of twine," she said.

"He's a loner, and his house looks like a Boston Pizza, it's the weirdest thing ever. He built it, but he has a full welding workshop, and a drawbridge in his house. The drawbridge comes down so at high tide he can load in all his welding gear."

Paterson said she also painted some of the stilt houses and other buildings in the community because, in their varying states of decay or abandonment, they have their own personality as well.

"It's the same thing as painting an old, crazy face," she said.

For Paterson, coming to Refuge Cove has been a return to her roots, having grown up in the Gulf Islands.

"As a teenager I really rebelled against that and hated it, and then I ended up in Refuge Cove, and it was like coming home. I was like, 'Oh, right, I need that ... wearing the same pair of shorts and no make-up for three months, and getting away from the city.'"

Though she's still based in Vancouver, she returns to the small community each summer.

"I'm always inspired by the coast, it's so in my blood. Refuge Cove is so in my heart."

Paterson's series Safe in Camp is on display at the Refuge Cove Gallery, and can also be viewed on her website.

To hear the full interview click on the audio labelled: Artist's paintings depict rugged side of West Coast life