Inspired by biology – Local artist paints a picture of the natural world

With the “curious mind of a scientist” local painter Tamara Phillips’ work is inspired by the natural world

Tamara Phillips with “Phthalo’s Lake,” a 40” x 30” watercolour

With the “curious mind of a scientist and the reckless abandon of an artist,” local painter (and this issue’s Monday cover artist) Tamara Phillips’ work is inspired by the natural world — fitting then, that she chose UVic as the perfect place to study biology.

After starting an environmental science degree in Montreal, she decided to move back to the rugged West Coast where she was born.

“The ocean called me home,” she says. “The Island, with all its forests and coastline, lent a perfect paradise for a budding naturalist, and so Victoria once again became my home. The proximity to wild space is what I love most.”

And Phillips says the time she spent studying science shaped the artist she’s become today.

“While pursuing my science degree I would carve models and figures out of plasticine, chopsticks, napkins, and far too many abandoned odds and ends. I built intricate hanging mobiles of every species of insect and fungus imaginable. I would literally paint my notes: objects, equations, and words, on paper, all this to help my visual memory retain the multitude of information it was being thrown. It took a lot of art making to obtain one science degree.”

The more she learned about ecology, environmental issues, and the effects humans have on the planet, the more she realized that “there was not much I was going to be able to do if I didn’t understand the root of these situations,” says Phillips.

Her gorgeous watercolour paintings feature the plants, animals and scenic landscapes of the West Coast — sometimes painting with salt water directly out of the ocean.

“I have played in many mediums throughout my creative life, but watercolour is my favourite. The pigment is rich, compact and malleable, and water is such a fitting substance for narrating the natural world,” says Phillips.

“Most of my paintings are spontaneously produced, meaning I don’t thoroughly plan the composition. Instead, I let the pigment and water lead the way: when the paint smears, smudges, pools, or runs into an unplanned place, instead of cursing the mistake, I am thankful for the spontaneous initiative and work it into the piece. In essence, my paintings are a cohesion of mistakes.”

Phillips recently relocated to Vancouver and has an upcoming show at Arts off Main Gallery (216 East 28 Ave). Her art is also available for viewing or purchase on her website tamaraphillips.ca and on Etsy (deepcolouredwater). M

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