Ignited by Passion
Words by Deena Dolan
As a kid, Peter Taylor’s love of nature was influenced and enhanced when he was introduced to the world of summer camp. From the age of eight, July was lived at Kilcoo Camp, on the shores of Haliburton’s Gull Lake. There he was encouraged to participate in all areas of outdoor activities and serious challenges. A portion of the camp’s philosophy states, “The evolution of skills is important as a camper grows older and looks for new challenges within the framework of summer camp.” Canoeing and hiking for several weeks along world-famous rivers that few people have experienced—ruggedly existing within the incredible geography of the Adirondacks, Frontenac, Algonquin and Killarney regions. His passion for the land’s geography, history, flora and fauna was ignited and over time spilled onto his canvases in vividly representational colour.
It was a grade 13 decision that pivoted Peter Taylor towards the world of art as his career. A love of drawing was something he’d fostered growing up, encouraged by his parents and most especially by his grandparents who were artists. Looking to his future, he produced a portfolio of his work and entered Art Fundamentals at Sheridan College, which guided him towards a Bachelor of Illustration.
“I was mediocre,” claims Peter when thinking about his first year in the program. “I struggled and worked really hard but most students were doing comic book illustrations which didn’t interest me.” Peter describes himself as having always been more of a romantic, after the style of masters like Monet. “I became more confident by third year however and as a result, continued on for a fourth year. I wanted to learn more about life drawing, painting and the human figure.” Peter explains that it was drawing and painting the figure in college that progressed his art. “One had to work fast when drawing a timed gesture plus really focus on extended poses.”
Following graduation, Peter spent 10 years deeply immersed in Toronto’s fast-paced commercial art world. He learned a lot of valuable technique and his skills developed immensely but pounding the pavement and drawing conceptually for corporations, while at the same time holding down a part-time job, gradually lost their lustre. “My heart was just not into that. My heart was into getting into a canoe and painting.” Ultimately, Peter decided he’d had enough—I couldn’t do the city, the hectic pace, the cost, the everything.” That was 16 years ago.
Inspired always by natural surroundings Peter looked north and while meandering the countryside around Creemore, discovered the stunning, almost-secret little community of Dunedin. Property was purchased and Peter finally fully embraced his love of painting morphing it into his fulltime endeavour. “It was really scary but I’d always wanted to be up here.”
Chatting with Peter at his Dunedin studio, I am struck with the organization of his space while, at the same time picturing my own cluttered studio. “This is a tidy as you’re going to see me,” smiles Peter, admitting he cleaned up in advance of my visit. As it happens, Peter is never static when working. He’s always standing, pacing, moving. He describes his style as getting into a zone and music plays an integral part in his creative process. It’s an ever-changing variety of moods and performers that flow from haunting keyboard interpretations of Glen Gould to raucous, aggressive musicianship of Metallica. Learning this I better understand how Peter’s canvases contain so much mesmerizing variety. Unlike a lot of artists, he constantly changes up his palette and doesn’t simply repeat something he’s already done successfully over and over. His work is fresh. It evolves. In referring to his choice of hues, Peter explains, “Something’s going to happen new because you’ve changed up your habit.”
It’s fascinating to hear Peter describe how he attacks his work. “I mix and blend and sometimes, I don’t even know what I’ve got. Sometimes my paintings have many layers, working with thin transparency building thin to fat, others I work directly using thick impasto.” As I listen to his explanation, I’m reminded that this is precisely how nature operates. Peter’s simplistic while at the same time bold and rhythmic brushstrokes mimic nature’s patterns and transport one into the scene, capturing the mood and the spirit of the moment.
Drawing is still a critical part of his process, “Drawing helps your painting and painting improves your drawing. I think taking the time to do a preliminary drawing changes your approach to your painting. I’m also starting to draw a lot more on my canvases with my brush before I fill in with colour. I feel it helps give a more dynamic result because my drawing is the blue print for my colour. I’m a big believer in learning the fundamentals even if some of the exercises are monotonous.”
Another of Peter’s passions is running. “I am equally an introvert as an extrovert. Every once in a while, I need to go away and fill up.” For many years he participated in ultra running—a footrace longer than the traditional marathon length of 42.195 kilometres (26 mi 385 yds.). Some ultras are road races, but many take place on trails and at significant elevations. “When I have my doubts I remind myself that doing really hard things comes with great satisfaction. Plus spending time outside doing something as simple and raw as trail running gives me a feeling of freedom in this crazy world.” Naturally, his passions became intertwined. Being obsessed with the mountains Peter decided to pick up a few pencils and began sketching some of the places where he’d be running. “Drawing always seems to bring back my momentum. I feel like it connects me to why I started to paint and when my painting feels contrived or stale it’s the drawing I return to.” It’s no surprise that mountains have been a focus in much of what he has produced over his years of creating art. “Generally what I paint is something I really enjoy.”
Forging strong friendships with several local, like-minded artists has been a hugely important component in Peter’s creative development. In the fall of 2021, he joined six others and travelled north in order to trace the footsteps of The Group of Seven and capture the same imposing vistas with plein air sketches and paintings. In Peter’s words, “You have to work fast to capture the most important elements interwoven with your emotion and experience.” (If you missed Escarpment magazine’s feature on this adventure in the Summer 2022 issue—Into Plein Air—you can find it online.) The resulting finished pieces were exhibited at The Coventry Art Gallery & Studio in the newly renovated Nottawa General. The entire venture was incredibly successful and another show is planned for this coming December that will exhibit the group’s upcoming work resulting from a trip this fall to the Mink Islands, Georgian Bay and Lake Superior.
After 32 years of actively exhibiting his work in group and solo shows, Peter is represented in private and corporate collections across Canada, the United States and the UK.“I love painting and I know all too well that really when it comes down to it you just have to put the work in. That said I also want to work at something that excites me and I connect to. Like planting and eating a vegetable garden, there’s a connection to weather, planting, weeding, and harvesting. Food just tastes better when you’ve put the time in the dirt.”
As a representational artist who’s not simply copying a photograph, Peter wants his work to make a lasting and soulful impact. To that end, working with clients on commissions is an absolute favourite part of Peter’s workload. “When viewing my work, I want people to become connected to that moment, to smell the air, see the wind and experience the emotion in my work.”