Art exhibit shows off local scenes, aims to hit road

Wild and water – that’s what a pair of Flin Flon artists hope to share with the world about the region they call home.

Painter Ron Watt and photographer Randy Whitbread are the names behind the art show “Water and the Wild by Whitbread and Watt”, which will debut as part of Culture Days this week at City Hall. Each piece showcases wilderness and wildlife scenes from around northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

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The two artists have similar backgrounds. Both grew up in Flin Flon, both worked in the mine and both pursued a creative hobby in their time on the surface. Now that both Whitbread and Watt have retired, their motivation behind their work is similar – each feels compelled to create based on the things they see around them.

“The inspiration for painting comes, from a large extent, where I am. When I’m in the area, I like to do things associated with the area. Recently, a lot of my inspiration for painting has come from Randy – I guess that’s where the inspiration for the show came from,” Watt said.

“You want to paint something that inspires you, something you’re interested in. I’m born and raised here. It’s one of the most scenic areas you’re going to find anywhere, with great people – why would you ever want to leave it?”

The inspiration to add in Flin Flon’s place branding came after Watt saw an article in The Reminder about the community’s branding and logo through Travel Manitoba – “The Water and the Wild.” After reaching out to regional representatives, Watt and Whitbread were on track to organize the show. Watt began canvassing local businesses to raise awareness and funds to cover expenses with framing and printmaking. The idea sprung up from a small show to a larger scale production, then to a travelling exhibition with other aspects of northern life, including northern music and verse.

“We’ve got a number of people who are writing poems and stories to go with each of these prints or paintings on display,” said Watt, adding that people like Gerry Clark, Ken Pawlachuk and the Flin Flon Writers’ Guild are involved with writing, adding in anecdotes about the town and region’s history.

“We want to make a mood to go along with it, storytelling – it’s all an important part of it.”

Each artist contributed ten pieces of art to the show – six pieces each based on the other artists’ work and four original, separate pieces. Watt, inspired by Whitbread’s original work, adds small flourishes to the existing picture.

Both artists heaped praise on the other one’s abilities. While both are settled well into retirement, the duo still hopes to grow their own art, seeing the others' talents as a way to do just that.

“I think Randy is a real artist. Anybody can take a picture of something, but not everybody can capture a moment. In a certain scene, I can use it as an example,” said Watt.

“He can put a couple of small islands or something in that weren’t there before. There’s a few paintings of his that I’ve seen that made me go, ‘Holy, man!’ It’s different from what I took it as, there’s a different perspective when I look at it,” Whitbread said.

The show debuted at Flin Flon City Hall Sept. 23. Following that, the exhibit will be shown at the NorVA Centre for a month.

What comes next is up in the air, but Watt has big plans to take the show on the road.

“We’re in negotiations with Travel Manitoba to set up somewhere in 2020. In November, we’re going to make an application to Arts Manitoba to do tours in 2021 and perhaps in 2022. If you get on their approved list, galleries in Manitoba and northwestern Ontario can select from these shows and fill up. We’re hopeful we’ll get on that tour,” Watt said.

The artists also hope to expand the show even further, outside Manitoba’s borders.

“I’d love to get into Regina or Saskatoon or Moose Jaw or something like that,” Watt said.

No official discussions about that have taken place, but Watt remains hopeful.

“Right now, our focus is getting the show hung up at the council chambers and focusing on this show. In the background, we’ll be focusing on getting the show out to the public.”

The biggest thing the artists hope to show through the exhibition is the natural beauty of the north.

“We have lakes, but we’re more than just lakes. The rocks, the wildlife, there’s everything,” Whitbread said.

“It’s natural beauty. It’s an opportunity, even for local people, to see things they might not normally see. I’m hoping it will not only create awareness, but it will create an opportunity for other artists and people to get their stories out and get the community known for what’s possible,” Watt added.

“Too many people just see us as a mining town. It’s only a mining town for the people who work there still – we’re retired. When I drive around the Perimeter now, I don’t even look up,” joked Whitbread.

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