But I knew
That the day and the night must pass and the cold dews
Of another morning before such men unknowing
The ways of mountains could win to the chimney's top.

-Earle Birney, David, in The Poems of Earle Birney, 1969

Mitchell Fenton

In keeping with the strong tradition of landscape painting in Canada, Mitchell Fenton’s enthusiasm for the outdoors is evident in his paintings, particularly those of Western Canada and the Canadian Rockies. Fenton paints plein air, with oil on small wood panels. His set-up is very portable, enabling him to hike into remote areas. Hiking is an integral part of his process; it enables a clearing of the mind, acceleration of the pulse – all in anticipation of stopping to begin a composition, whether it be in small details of the lichen and wildflowers, or cropped abstract patterns of rocks meeting a lake, to the perfect alignment of a grand vista. He searches for the authentic. Back in the studio, some panels are chosen and worked up into larger canvases.

His works are intended to help us identify our connection to the land, which he considers shape our history and influence our lives.

Play on Painting series of paintings.

Think beyond the frame. With the "Play Button" appearing on some of the paintings, viewers are prompted to imagine an adventure of changing landscapes, time-lapse of flowers about to bloom or vintage mountain culture in action.

Whenever I begin to paint, I ask, "What’s next?" With these paintings I am trying something new – introducing a play button on them, a symbol we see a lot of in 2014, just not so much on paintings. As Edith Cavell is quoted as saying (under very difficult circumstances), “Patriotism is not enough”, I feel this could apply to painting. I’d like to raise the bar, take painting to a new level.

This is coming from love of landscape painting and the unavoidable influence of technology on our lives. With anything new, it comes from somewhere and you my wonder where it will go next. With this play button, the viewer is literally encourages to imagine what may happen next? An example is the cowboy in "Riding Old Paint". You know something is about to happen because there is nothing happening (except for a light breeze) right now. It is charged with potential energy.

This new way of approaching painting has allowed me to go places I may not have normally gone. (This was my first brush with painting a cowboy.) I can go back in time to before Van Gogh's Irises have bloomed.

I've had a lot of fun looking at old photos of Banff area history and imagining what could have been. In the Terrace Pool, Lake Louise, I've imagined myself doing a high dive at the old pool at Lake Louise. Another is the Men's Aerial at Lake Minnewanka, a combination of my love of early flight and mountain culture.

All paintings should encourage you to use your imagination. These ones do! Some people wonder what the painting would look like without the play button. I hope to prompt the viewer to smile and imagine what may happen next. I think of it as an imagination button. I look forward to where this may take me next.


Mitchell Fenton was born in Winnipeg in 1962. He attended classes for many years at the Forum Art Institute in Winnipeg. After a brief time at the Clifton Studios in Winnipeg working as a potter, he went on to study at the Ontario College of Art. He graduated from OCAD in 1986.

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.

-John Muir in Footloose in Ranges of Light, 1871