Chili Thom cares about British Columbia’s wild beauty. It is the primary inspiration for not only his stunning artwork, but also his everyday life. “From the rugged West Coast of Vancouver Island to the high summits in the B.C. Coastal Range…the outdoors continuously inspire me,”says Thom. This past June, Chili was chosen as one of 50 of Canada’s most celebrated artists to take part in Art for an Oil Free Coast. We had a chat with Chili to see what taking a stance against the Enbridge pipeline means to him.
ML: How did you become invlolved in the project?
“I was invited into the project by the organizer/artist Mark Hobson and invited to join the Expedition aboard ‘Maple Leaf’ a 92′ wooden tall ship by it’s Captain Kevin Smith. I had been aboard that vessel in Haida Gwaii last summer for another inspirational trip to experience that area for an underwater piece and the connection between my art, the area and the ship had been formed. So it seemed a perfect fit for me to join the effort in this project.”
ML: Being an outdoor soul, most of your stuff is inspired by nature. Did going to the Great Bear Rainforest light a fire in your creativity in terms of looking a nature with new eyes with what could potentially happen to this landscape and to the people that live here?
“The whole purpose of the expeditions to take the artists to the Great Bear was so that we all developed a personal connection to the area so that we would be able to express that connection through our art. In the hopes of showing the public how incredibly diverse and extremely fragile the area is. Being on the trip with an extremely knowledgeable crew and a Naturalist we learned about the whole interconnectedness of the habitat and all the species living within it as we were looking at it first hand. Once we learned more about how devastating and irreparable the damage would be from a spill all the artists really poured their heart and souls into their pieces to help protect the area that we were so blessed to have had an opportunity to experience.”
ML: How did it feel to be surrounded by so many other artists?
“It was really enjoyable being on the trip with the other artists for a week. We all had discussions about what we were looking for on the trip to get inspired for our pieces and what we had in mind for them. One by one as we found what we were looking for along the way we were able to share in each others ‘Ureeka moments’ when inspiration finally hit. That point of total excitement for an artist when it all comes together in your mind and it’s ready to be translated through your art. Mine actually wasn’t until the last possible second on our way back to port. I found a perfect bed of bull kelp with clear water so I jumped in and snorkeled around for as long as I could handle the cold. Then came back beaming with that feeling of pure inspiration.”
ML: There’s going to be a book published to help raise money to stop the pipeline, in which all of the 50 artists have donated a piece of work for free. How did you decide what painting you wanted to include to help spead the anti-Enbridge message?
“There is going to be a beautiful coffee table book which will include all 50 artists work, field notes and sketches as well as great photos and information on the area and whats at risk. Then all of the pieces the artists have donated are going to be in a traveling art show that will be showing in Victoria, Vancouver, Salt Spring Island, Naniamo and possibly somewhere in the States. The pieces will be auctioned off at the end and all of the proceeds go the The Raincoast Conservation Foundation. I decided to do a piece that focused on the thin veil between the water and the surface to show both worlds that would be destroyed by a spill. There is so much more to the story of what is affected by a spill than just the visible sludge you see floating on the surface and sticking to the rocks. All of the species that rely on edge habitat for their food sources, both above and below water would be seriously, if not fatally affected.”
ML:And how long did it take you to complete the piece?
“The piece itself took about 3 weeks to finish, but hopefully that helps to prevent what could be destroyed in 3 seconds with a tanker spill.”
ML: What did you learn from the First Nations artists during your time there?
“On our expedition we had Ben Davidson, a Native from Haida Gwaii, who was the only Native that I got to interact with on the project. We talked a lot about how reliant on the land the natives in the area are and how their entire way of life would be wiped out and they would be forced to leave the lands that their ancestors settled on 15,000 years ago. To me it seems ludicrous to think that actions for the financial gains of a few has the authority to put at risk not only the lively hood of entire communities, but their ancestral way of life as well.”
Thanks a lot for your time Chili, is there anything else you’d like to say to all the Mountain Lifers and anyone else reading out there?
“I have spent most of my life in the outdoors enjoying the wild landscapes of BC, but this trip really helped to solidify a deep personal connection to our natural environment and especially to the magically unique area of TheGreat Bear Rain forest. I believe it is extremely important for every human being to spend time in nature and develop a personal bond of their own to the planet. Be it in a park, on the ocean or in the mountains, in order for them to really become conscious of what is truly at stake if this project is allowed to go forth. And unfortunately this is only one of the many environmental issues the planet is currently facing. Luckily with every campaign that is launched to protect it we are raising more and more awareness within the general public that our collective voice is becoming loud enough that the powers that be have no choice but to hear it.”
This past summer, fifty of BCs most celebrated artists took a journey up the coast, into the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest. Five-hundred kilometres north of Vancouver is a wild coastline: home to the Spirit Bear and whales, wolf packs and grizzlies, First Nations and coastal communities. With the looming threat of a proposed oil pipeline and hundreds of oil tankers a year, it is a magical place on edge.
This is the film trailer for the 22 min documentary, REFLECTIONS: Art for an Oil-Free Coast. The film shares the story of a Raincoast Conservation Foundation expedition into a stunning and remote landscape, weaving together the artists’ work and their emotional response to a people and a region at risk.
Art for an Oil Free Coast (22 min. 2012. Canadian doc.)
Produced by Raincoast Conservation Society & StrongHeart Productions
With Robert Bateman, Ian Reid, Raincoast & friends.
World Premiere Announced:
Vancouver International Film Festival, October 3rd 2012
Art for an Oil- Free Coast Exhibitions:
Tuesday, Nov 27th – Saturday, Dec 1st, 2012.
Performance Works Theatre
1398 Cartwright Street
Granville Island, Vancouver, B.C.
Tuesday, Dec 4th – Sunday, Dec 9th, 2012.
1150 Douglas Street
Salt Spring Island
Tuesday, Dec 11th – Sunday, Dec 16th, 2012.
Art Spring Theatre
100 Jackson Avenue,
Ganges, Salt Spring Island, B.C.
Thursday, Dec 20th 2012 – Saturday, Jan. 5th 2013.
Nanaimo Art Gallery
150 Commercial Street,