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David Pirrie works his way through the Rockies

Artist goes from peak to peak in new exhibit at Ian Tan Gallery
David Pirrie
David Pirrie shows 20 new pieces based on his explorations of the Canadian Rockies in a solo exhibit, entitled Mapping the Rockies, April 9 to 30 at the Ian Tan Gallery in Vancouver.

Mapping the Rockies, new works by David Pirrie, April 9 to 30 at the Ian Tan Gallery, 2321 Granville St., Vancouver. iantangallery.com.

Much like the curious bear in the children's song who went over the mountain to see what he could see, David Pirrie wondered from an early age what lay beyond the towering rock formations in his backyard.

"I would ask people, 'What's on the other side of the mountains?'" the North Vancouver resident recalls, "and no one could ever tell me, so I had to find out for myself."

Pirrie started hiking the North Shore mountains as a young teenager. When he got older, he joined mountaineering and alpine clubs and embarked on more and more adventurous expeditions. He quickly learned what was behind those snow-capped peaks his younger self could only gaze up at.

"Well, it turns out, a lot more mountains," he says with a laugh.

An avid outdoorsman and artist, Pirrie got a diploma of studio arts from Capilano College in 1988 and earned his bachelor of fine arts from Concordia University in 1993.

During his career as professional artist, he's explored many subjects, but it wasn't until about 10 years ago that he considered landscapes.

"I love mountains and I also love cartography - I've always been one to study maps," he says, noting he also has a keen interest in architecture and design.

By painting mountains, Pirrie found a way to combine all those personal passions. Far from traditional landscape art, his contemporary paintings use bright, monochromatic colours and have a pop art feel.

"They're very minimalist in a lot of ways. They're very isolated on the picture plane - cut out," he explains of his rugged subjects.

Pirrie has painted peaks in the Coast Mountains of B.C. and the Teton Range of Wyoming, almost all of which he has climbed, or climbed in the vicinity of. Coming up next, 20 new pieces based on his explorations of the Canadian Rockies will be on display in a solo exhibit, entitled Mapping the Rockies, April 9 to 30 at the Ian Tan Gallery in Vancouver.

This new body of work features three different series. Mountain Series Grids are portraits of mountains Pirrie has skied or climbed with grid overlays. Mountain Series Dots are portraits of mountains with dot overlays, which represent co-ordinate plotting. And the Map Series depicts abstract-quality contour maps of the ice fields Pirrie has consulted to navigate complicated terrains.

"I've taken actual contour maps that I've used to explore the area and exploded them into large-scale paintings," he says.

His grid and dot overlays point to the way people increasingly employ technological filters, such as GPS or Google Maps, to shape their perception of wild landscapes, he says. The crisscrossing lines and coloured spots on the canvas create almost an optical illusion for the viewer.

"Your eye is constantly vacillating between the foreground and background and it almost forces you to view the mountain even more."

In each Rockies-inspired work, Pirrie isolates one peak from its range: Mt. Robson, Mt. Columbia, Mt. Alberta, to name a few.

"It's like a study of that particular mountain and its variances and its erosions and its glaciers."

Those geographical details - sediment stratifications, eroded areas, glacial systems - are all things Pirrie is intimately familiar with having mapped out safe routes up each mountain.

"I'm studying its contours, I'm studying the ways up and ways back down," he says. "I work out those complexities in the paintings."

While Pirrie hopes viewers of his work are struck by the grandeur of the mountains, the dangers they impose, and the humility one feels in their presence, he also wants people to see the evidence of their ever-changing nature.

"They rise and fall. They look permanent, but they're not. They're slowly crumbling away or slowly rising, and as they slowly rise, they crumble, and the glaciers keep carving away or receding," he says.

When he's not painting in his Westlynn neighbourhood home studio or travelling to summits across North America, Pirrie can often be found exploring the same North Shore mountains he grew up in.

"I'm always tromping around up in behind Seymour and in behind Cypress mountain area," he says.

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