Painting bears wasn’t always Louise Nicholson’s passion, but after being commissioned to paint a portrait of one of the brilliant bruins she felt a spark light up inside her that made her want to do more.“I enjoy capturing expressions,” the North Vancouver artist said. “So, I was focusing more on people. But when I was commissioned to paint the bear, it was a very close up shot and the eyes were penetrating, and I could feel the connection, I just all of a sudden felt my heart go: ‘Oh, wow.’”
Her artworks of bears with people in peculiar places or situations are a mix of inspiration from stunning images snapped by photographers in “extravagantly wild places” and her own creativity and love for wildlife and nature.
“I've been painting more and more [bears] but as I'm growing as an artist I'm wanting to go beyond just reproducing their photos and create stories that will engage people and hopefully make people as interested in bears as I am,” said Nicholson.
“I just think it's an important animal in our world and we need to think more about it.”
Nicholson’s stunning acrylic and oil paintings make viewers stop and ponder as to what the meaning behind the artwork might be.
One of her artworks, titled ‘Friendship is the Key,’ inspired by photographer Christian Core, shows a little boy walking down a Downtown Eastside alleyway with a black bear by his side.
“There are so many different ways you can read into that painting too, you know. It could be looked at that the bear is there protecting the boy who clearly doesn't belong in that Downtown Eastside alleyway either, or that together they will navigate bumps in the road,” said Nicholson.
Another painting named ‘A Likely Story’ places a grizzly bear on a raft next to a musician who seems blissfully unaware of the large bear as the raft is about to go over a waterfall. While in another painting a bear is hidden on a salmon fishing boat.
The 57-year-old, who’s been painting since 2003, said she hoped her paintings would inspire people to think about how animals and humans are connected, as well as being more bear aware and conscious of attractants.
“They [animals] are not the enemy,” she said.
“They're not something that are an inconvenience, that should be trapped and carted away. We need to have some sort of an agreement as to how we're going to live together.
“So, I guess by putting the bears into situations with people [in the paintings], I'm hoping to give pause to consider that story and how we can be together.”
Nicholson said focusing on bears has also inspired her to want to do more and she was in the early stages of looking into how she could help the North Shore Black Bear Society through her art. The non-profit organization works in partnership with local and regional governments and other groups involved with black bears and bear attractant issues and educates the community about wildlife.
“I do very much want to start to participate on some level, but I'd still like it to be within the realm of my artwork,” she said.
“I have in the past donated portions of the sales of bear paintings to bear related rescue efforts. They haven't been in North Shore rescue efforts, just because that's not where the photographer's photo references came from, but I think I would like to get involved with the North Shore society just because it is local.”
Nicholson hopes her artworks will continue to spark discussions about bear conservation and safety. To learn more about bears in North Vancouver take a look at the North Shore Black Bear Society.
More of Nicholson’s work can be found at Louise Nicholson Fine Art and on her Instagram page.
Elisia Seeber is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.