Lake Itasca: True Source of My Inspiration
Gillian Bedford, Plein Air Painter

Lakeview Gallery

RECEPTION Friday December 1  Read the transcript →
EXHIBIT December 1, 2023 – March 9, 2024 (extended)

LISTEN: Gillian interview with Northern Community Radio’s Andrew Dziengel →

Gillian Bedford’s paintings, full of color and emotion, have an expressive quality and also an abstract nature, yet refer to an image or scene from her new home in the North Woods of Minnesota.

She is an artist who has deftly described the loud and quiet passion of the lakes, trees, and bogs of the North and has developed her own style and original body of work.

Artist Website →

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Artist Statement

Color is what inspires me to paint. Over the last few years I have challenged myself to paint with a limited palette built from five or six colors. I used these practices when creating this body of work about Lake Itasca. 

This last year I painted Plein Air at Lake Itasca often. Other times I paint from images of Lake Itasca while working from my studio in Bemidji, MN. In my studio I have also created small studies on 5”x7” pieces of watercolor paper. These studies have often prepared me for the composition or emotion I want to paint on a larger canvas. 

When I first moved to Minnesota four years ago, I was moved by the significance of living close to the Headwaters of the Mississippi River. Lake Itasca State Park was one of the first places my husband and I visited together after moving here from Pennsylvania. I feel a connection to Lake Itasca State Park because it was here where my husband and I would go for hikes, exploring the trails, and enjoying the view at the southern tip looking north where it funnels through the openings in the trees far off into the distance.

Artist Reception Transcript, December 4, 2023, Gillian Bedford

Thank you to the Watermark Art Center, my friends and supporters, and especially my family for believing in me as an artist. Having a solo show at the Watermark Art Center is a great honor and I am grateful to be here. Thank you to my husband who was supportive when I told him I wanted to become an artist 35 years ago, and who has continued to encourage me with my artistic career.

The title of my show is “Lake Itasca: True Source of my Inspiration.” Painting at Lake Itasca State Park feels like coming home. After moving to Minnesota from  Pennsylvania about 5 years ago, one of the first State Parks my husband and I visited was Lake Itasca State Park.

Prior to moving here, my husband and I had been on Sabbatical and explored New Orleans where the Mississippi River completes its mighty journey to the Gulf of Mexico. At that time neither of us knew that we would be moving to the headwaters in just a year. Like the river, our lives have had their journeys. We have found ourselves in new environments, with new people, and in a new community. But, like the droplet of water, we remember where we come from, we remember our birthing place, our headwaters.

Maybe there’s something about the headwaters at Lake Itasca that reminds me of the source within myself. Who I am. What this journey of being Gillian Bedford means. Maybe it’s for these reasons that I have returned to Lake Itasca State Park again and again, to sit and paint the emotions and feelings of this journey. A journey of self-discovery that we all experience.

Over the span of the last year, I have painted over 30 paintings of Lake Itasca State Park. In the summertime I would paint with my daughter Amara, Plein Air. Plein Air painting is a French term for painting outdoors. A style of painting that is impressionistic with the aim to represent the outdoor light and air. My awareness of this land and this place grew from standing, painting with the sunshine pouring through the trees, while I looked at the sparkles in the water. Each of these paintings hold a different emotion since each day I felt differently, or the weather was different. Each day was a new day full of its own moments.

On colder days I painted from a photograph in the warmth and comfort of my home studio. My husband takes many photographs on our walks and I will often paint from these images. Whenever I paint from a photograph, my aim is to use the photo as a starting place, but carry my emotions of the moment or what the photograph evokes within me. It’s in this way that my final painting often has a life
of its own that is different from the photograph.

Throughout this body of work, I have mostly used the same five colors. I’ve varied these colors a little bit to help me describe warm or cool effects. But as a challenge to myself I’ve explored what it is like to try to use the same colors to convey a wide range of emotions throughout my work. In “Bohall Trail” I used squirts of Australian blue to show the rhythm of a hike in summer. The Australian blue was
used to tie the colors together and make punctuation marks like the “awe” uttered at a beautiful place, as if the painting is saying, “isn’t this an amazingly new scene and culture?”

In this last year I have also thought carefully about the artists who I admire. What was it in their work that brought out an emotion in me so powerfully? Some of the artists that inspire me the most are Monet, the father of Plein Air, Joan Mitchell, Thom Thompson, and David Hockney. Joan Mitchell creates abstract and expressive landscapes filled with emotion. Thom Thompson was a Canadian Plein Air artist from 100 years ago who painted the North Woods of Ontario. I like his sense of movement and composition. David Hockney has a powerful way of creating joy in every piece of art. This is why you will see various paintings in this show that reference these artists in the titles of my paintings.

For me, painting the scenes of Lake Itasca State Park has been a journey. I’ve painted some of the same scenes over and over, and yet each painting is different. First, I might create a more realistic painting, but after painting that scene repeatedly, something shifts in me resulting in a more abstract painting. For example, in “Peace pipe Vista”, the painting no longer emulates that scene, but becomes an emotional depiction that is also influenced by one of my childhood vacation places.

Each one of these paintings describes a different emotion. Some are quiet, joyful, dramatic, soft, eccentric, rhythmic, subdued, thoughtful, passionate, and colorful. I paint many different aspects of my personality with Lake Itasca as my muse. I am inspired by different kinds of beauty, both natural and spiritual, and these North Woods have become the true source of my inspiration.

-Gillian Bedford, December 4, 2023