New Brunswick·Feature

From Irving gas bars to Tim's, painter honours Maritime sprawl

From Tim Hortons to Zellers to tractor trailers carrying Doritos, Saint John-born artist Jack Bishop isn't your usual landscape painter.

Saint John-born Jack Bishop celebrates landscapes most Maritimers take for granted

">>>>>>>>>", 2017 Oil & acrylic. 72x96. One of Jack Bishop's sprawling "brandscape"—or branded landscape—depicts the sprawl around McAllister Place in east Saint John combined with elements from elsewhere in the Maritimes. The painting, which took months to complete, is a detail of a large work called "Costco Mountain." The name of this painting, ">>>>>>>>>," comes from the fact that "there’s a small section in the painting that’s a turnaround area," said Bishop. "I was using a visual representation of that as the title."

"Inspiring" isn't the word most folks would use for navigating the maze of malls, fast-food restaurants and highways that border nearly every urban centre in the Maritimes. 

But for Saint John-born painter Jack Bishop, 34, those landscapes say a lot about life on the East Coast.

"[As a teenager] I did a lot of driving around just 'cause there was nothing else to do," said Bishop, who grew up in Quispamsis. "Hanging out in parking lots, watching the storefronts change. I grew up on Tim Hortons."

Since moving to Halifax, he said, "every time I come back, [Saint John] changes. The malls that are open, the new businesses moving in and going under. Even McAllister, to see where Sobeys used to be kind of this hub and it's almost dying now. It's pretty crazy."

Bishop's colourful oil and acrylic paintings of malls and fast-food restaurants — which he sometimes refers to as "brandscapes", or branded landscapes — involve a three-step process. First, he photographs dense clusters of Irving stations, McDonald's, highways and Dollar Stores between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. 

"A lot of the time I'll have to climb up on big hills and fight through the brush and foliage to get good aerial shots," he said. He cuts and pastes the photos into perspective-skewing collages, and finally paints the collage. The resulting works capture the vibe of familiar retail haunts across the region.

"People like to recognize things that reflect their own experience," he said. "I think a lot of people from New Brunswick are proud to be from New Brunswick. That's where I'm coming from."

Bishop is represented by Gallery on Queen in Fredericton, the Buckland Merrifield Gallery in Saint John (which will host a solo exhibition of his work in spring 2018) and at Division Gallery in Montreal. 

He spoke with CBC reporter Julia Wright about the paintings in this photo essay. 

Coffee & a Danish, 2017. Acrylic and oil 15x20''

Coffee & a Danish stemmed from Bishop's "love of billboards," he said. In this work, he said, he wanted to see how many he could wedge into a small painting of the Kempt Road commercial district in Halifax.

His series of billboard paintings, he said, is "ongoing, since every few months all the billboards get new campaigns and new marketing. I could paint the same landscape, but it could be different every time."

Nor'easter Over Gas Bar, 2017. Oil & acrylic 20x20" Collection of NS Art Bank

Nor'easter Over Gas Bar depicts the McDonald's and Irving station near Magnetic Hill in Moncton. The painting was recently purchased by the province of Nova Scotia for its permanent art collection.

"In the history of painting, nature has been a huge driving force," said Bishop, who counts the Group of Seven and particularly Tom Thomson as a major inspiration. "Now, there isn't anywhere on the planet that hasn't been touched by humans in some way."

"I like to think about a juxtaposition of nature and a [fast food restaurant] beside it. That interests me."

Road to Nowhere, 2017. Oil & acrylic. 36x42"

"I was in Fredericton for the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival and [this painting is] a documentation of the trip from Saint John to Fredericton, and the back roads in all the hills through Welsford changing colour," Bishop said of his painting Road to Nowhere. 

He collaged into the highway scene "the Staples and the Dollar Store in Quispamsis that you can see from the highway," he said. The Irving to the left of the frame is also from Quispamsis.

Summer Drinks, 2017. Acrylic & oil. 12x13"

Summer Drinks, which is based on a photo Bishop took underneath the MacKay Bridge in Halifax, "is meant to to anywhere," he said. 

Snowbank glare, 2017. Oil & acrylic. 10x12"

"A lot of people see our province from the highway, which is a funny thing," he said.

"People talk about New Brunswick like there's nothing to see here, so you just drive through. I paint the spots from the highway that everyone recognizes." 

The Streets Have No Name, 2017. Acrylic & oil. 8x10"

A small work titled The Streets Have No Name plays on the 1987 U2 song, Where the Streets Have No Name, and the No Name line of generic grocery and household products sold by Loblaws. "I had the idea for this one before I painted it," he said. It's part of a series of paintings of tractor trailers featuring brands ranging from Doritos to the Decadent Chocolate Chip Cookies.  

"I like putting Doritos in paintings, people get a kick out of it," he said. "Recently I did one that's just got a Doritos truck with snowflakes, and I titled it Storm Chips — another Maritime phenomena.

"I like to feel like my paintings could be anywhere, but also stay true to Maritimisms. I like to have some humour in them and not take it too seriously."

Ultramar, 2017. Oil & acrylic. 16x20"

"When I finished school, my wife and I were living at her dad's in Nauwigewauk [a rural community in Kings County] out by Hammond River," said Bishop. "That was the local store, the Ultramar, on this road that overlooks the water. The painting was an homage to that time: one road, receding into the background."

Lake, 2016. Oil & acrylic. 48x72"

A collage of images from Dartmouth Crossing outside of Halifax. "Dartmouth Crossing has been a place that I've explored several times and made very different paintings every time," he said. After photographing the retail hub several times from a small wooded area, he said, he was surprised to return one day and find crews clear-cutting it to make room for the new Ikea. 

"It's tongue-in-cheek, having this lake in the middle of the clear-cut, a Tim Hortons and a McDonald's," he said. "I included an active construction zone in a small segment of the painting, capturing the transformation of the landscape."

A&W, 2014. Oil. 8x10"

"Everyone has their own guilty pleasure," Bishop said. "I guess I really love A&W."

Autumn Glow, 2017. Oil & acrylic. 28x33"

Autumn Glow, completed in December 2017, mashes up several highway shots taken along the route from Fredericton to Halifax.

Zellers at Dusk, 2017. Oil & acrylic. 12x12". Collection of NS Art Bank

Zellers at Dusk, a small work also purchased by the province of Nova Scotia for its public art collection, is based on an old photo of the old Zellers in McAllister Place, "back when Zellers was still a thing," said Bishop. 

Zellers closed in 2012, and its former location in McAllister Place briefly became a Target, and in 2017 is home to an H&M — illustrating the rapid evolution of retail landscapes that inspires Bishop's work. 

Plaza Place, 2008. Oil & canvas. 12x16"

Part of a series of paintings of cars and parking lots Bishop completed while living in Hampton, Plaza Place illustrates the love-hate relationship many Maritimers have with their cars and consumerism. While huge parking lots and giant stores can be "so dirty and gross," Bishop said, "I always refer back to them as a source of inspiration for my paintings."

Immortalizing landscapes that most Maritimers take for granted, Bishop said, is a way of expressing respect for his home province.

"I try not to paint them in a negative light," he said. "I try to be true to the subject."