Meet Plein Air Artist – Patrice Stephens-Bourgeault
As a teen in France, I gained the skill of painting plein-air Impressionism with speed, movement, colour and form. Living on Baffin Island in the late 1960’s, introduced me to the Inuit aboriginal arts and culture. And upon returning to Toronto, with its new influx of multiculturalism, I taught figure drawing and painted portraiture from a diversity of ethnic backgrounds. But, these former personal experiences in painting became focused and pulled together while working with a microscope for seventeen years at the Royal Ontario Museum’s Dept. of Entomology. As an artist of biodiversity and conservation for the science curators, I painted and illustrated insects from observation under a microscope.
Working as a natural science artist with insects and having to explore their contours and draw them free hand, while observing them under a microscope, was a mind changing experience. I learned to understand their biological functions and to map out, like a cartographer, their captivating structural forms. But, it was the painting in colour of their morphological shapes, pigments, and patterns that really brought me into a world seldom seen by others, except scientists. Literally, with the microscope, I had entered into the heart of an entirely ‘New World’ of the insect, which is within every person’s reach, but primarily unseen.
This insect world with its diversity of species has become my world of fantasy and reality. And inadvertently, the microscope has become my mode of transportation, which relocates me into this ‘Insect World’, and assists me in seeing, which enables me to paint their innovative social assemblages. This ‘New World’ has colonies of homes, implements of war, necessities of reproduction and survival, sexual and culinary preferences, and incredible new coloured patterns and forms used for attraction or repulsion. And above all of these entomological identities, I also see and visualize new landscape paintings created from the morphology of their body shapes, which are seldom seen by others except scientists. In my imagination these microscopic landscape forms. But, despite their extremely small size, in some cases only .1 mm in dimension, with my artistic imagination, I create a coup d’oeil. Imagery is painted to create surreal insects’ forms. Their forms are given the appearance of being the size of mountains and valleys. My painted ‘perceptions’ of new biodiversity forms, may then help determine what people understand and believe, by magnifying their imagination.