(Above: Robert Canaga’s painting from his Iceland series evokes its mountains, hills, ice and Northern Lights)
By Randi Bjornstad
Eugene artist Robert Canaga is known for painting not only large but also for organizing his efforts in series that explore a particular place or theme.
He recently closed the paint tubes on an extensive series of mostly extremely large works exploring the concept of “terroir” in Willamette Valley wine country — lushly colored paintings of vertical layers of sky, cloud, topography, vegetation and soil — and now is working on another series based on a recent trip he and his wife made to Iceland.
A show of his paintings opens Feb. 11 at Vistra Framing & Gallery, part of a seven-artist exhibit that also includes the work of Lisa Livoni, Diane Lewis, Jacqueline Lukowski, Sadie Smith, Patricia Carroll and JS Bird. There will be an artists’ reception on opening day from noon to 3 p.m.
The Iceland series is much more black-and-white — with jabs of color to treat the eye — reflecting the starker landscape of Iceland in winter.
“This trip was just lucky,” Canaga enthused a few days ago while the show was being organized. “It was only $400 apiece round trip for air fare, the hotels were great, the Northern Lights were great, we saw an amazing ice cave, and it was never less than 30 degrees.”
Then there was the food, which also was great, defying the usual assumption than excellent food is not really a Scandinavian “thing.”
“On the first night we were there, a waiter poured hot fish chowder all over me,” Canaga chuckled. “I got a little bit burned, but it was minor. It was the poor guy’s first day on the job, so I made sure before I left the restaurant that he wouldn’t lose his job because of it. I was promised he wouldn’t.”
The last meal of the trip was equally as memorable, he recalled.
“It was at the Old Iceland Restaurant in downtown Reykjavik — cured salmon, fish of the day and a beautiful wine selection. It was so good, it’s probably one of the top 10 meals I have ever had in my life.”
All that contributed to the sense of well-being on the trip, but the scenery was the star, resulting in a plethora of striking landscapes, many of them involving sky, snow, icy glaciers, water and the interface of all three.
“A lot of my paintings involve waterfalls, and then there were all the geysers,” Canaga said. “Iceland is sitting on volcanoes, so everything there is thermal. The air is cold, but the ground is warm, and there’s so all this steam from all the geysers that erupt everywhere.”
In fact, he said, the thermal heat actually made the hotel room too warm, “and because it’s thermal you can’t turn the heat down, so we had to learn to open our windows.”
Best of all, “From the minute the sun came up the first morning we were there, all I wanted to do was go out and paint.”
He didn’t, though, which Canaga said is often his method when he travels. Nor does he take photographs from which to paint later.
“I see everything, and I soak in all the impressions of what I see, and then when I go away and begin to paint it’s not literally what I saw but the energy and intensity of what I experienced,” he said.
“I appreciate the idea of plein air painting, where everything is changing from minute to minute,” Canaga said. “But personally, I have never understood wanting to paint from a photograph, although I know many people do it and enjoy it.”
For that reason, no one should look at his paintings and then try to go and see the same thing he has portrayed, Canaga cautioned.
“My art recaptures a feeling and an effect, not what I actually saw.”
7-artist show now on display at Vistra Framing & Gallery
When: Opens Feb. 11 with artists’ reception from noon to 3 p.m.
Where: 411 W. Fourth Ave., in Eugene’s Whiteaker neighborhood
What: Show of artwork by Robert Canaga, Lisa Livoni, Diane Lewis, Jacqueline Lukowski, Sadie Smith, Patricia Carroll and JS Bird
Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday