Meritt, Collected

Hornby Island, furtherest north of British Columbia’s gulf islands, is not only an almost annual visit of rest and vacation, but thanks to its outstanding beauty, it is also a place of almost annual artistic inspiration. In the dreary winter, as I was looking forward to the vacation, I read an essay in Image Journal on the artist Gala Bent. The writer mentioned that the illustrator regularly brings 

“natural objects—rocks, pinecones—into her studio, not to draw them directly, but to feed her creative process by using them as objects for study. She sometimes contemplates them for years: one pinecone with two heads she’s kept since her time in Indiana. They are present in her studio as she draws, and also somehow present in her inner landscape. “I have a nutritional need to be outside,” she says. “So then when I go back to the studio, I feel similar in a strange way to the Song dynasty painters, where I feel like I’ve internalized the natural world and I’m bringing it back in my body.”

Her story of the two-headed pinecone recalled a beautiful black rock that I collected on a beach at Hornby the first time I visited, eight years ago. I picked it up because its colour, its smooth texture, and because the form of it in my hand pleased me. That rock has been a proud feature of my dresser ever since. Reflecting on this an idea struck me: what would it look like to daily collect such an object on my vacation and photograph it against the natural wood and light of our rented vacation home? There were so many interesting natural objects to be found on the beaches and in the forests of Hornby, so I would be sure to have plenty of inspiration. And the fixed limitations of the form would offer some sort of consistency to my endeavours. 

Six months later, my ideas took form. My initial idea of shooting against the dark wood of the house proved challenging. The camera revealed flaws in the wood or glass that became distracting. A visit to the only art shop on the island yielded some expensive art paper, an extravagant purchase that worked well and resulted in what I consider to be the best of the series. 

A quick note about the last three photos. Taking apart an arbutus branch was a fun challenge, especially as I added a new element one at a time. While colourful, the photo with the leaves and branch looked too much like a hipster’s outfit photo. I ended up posting the photo of the bark elegantly laid out, but looking back, I prefer the raw, wild texture of the piece of curling bark. Which is your favourite? Let me know in the comments below.