Painting a sense of place

Local artist brings shared experience of the Flin Flon area to life on paper

For the past four and a half years, Matthew Enns has been bringing his experience of the local landscape to life on the page through charcoal, watercolour and graphite renderings.

His pieces are familiar to and coveted by Flin Flonners. They hang on the walls at the NorVA Centre, and comfortably grace the living rooms and hallways of local homes. His pieces have compelling stories, and the people who own Enns’ art all have unique tales about how the pieces came into their possession and why.

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It’s that sense of place – where his audience is – that Enns hopes to imbue on those who see his work.

Enns’ work has been well received at previous One Square Foot fundraisers – a Culture Days event that acts as a fundraiser for the NorVA Centre, in which participants pay for a square foot canvas, create, and enter their work for auction during Culture Days. This year, Enns will enter five pieces in the auction.

While Enns has made a name for himself by creating renderings of well-known spots in town and pieces that reflect the area’s rugged landscape, his first foray into drawing was an attempt to design graffiti for model trains he was working on.

“I think I’ve always kind of had a creative side to me, but I only really started taking drawing seriously four and a half years ago, maybe,” said Enns.

“I was up in The Pas for my apprenticeship training, and there was nothing to do there. I bought a sketchbook … I just started sketching one weekend, got kind of lucky, did okay, and I thought maybe I could do some more. I haven’t stopped since, really.”

Enns first began drawing with graphite, before discovering charcoal, which he found easier because it could be erased and allowed him to practise hand control. When he wanted to move into colour, he first tried acrylic but found it uncomfortable.

“There’s something about acrylic and oil paint that I just don’t feel quite comfortable with. Creating something like this is a very intimate experience for me, but an oil painting – I feel like there’s something between me and the work, which I don’t like.”

Enns later picked up watercolour, and learned over time from a YouTube channel.

Having grown up in Winkler, Man., Enns moved north of 53 to work as a millwright. The uniqueness of the area has inspired him.

“I kind of find Flin Flon a little bit magical,” he said.

“Maybe because I’m from a place that’s so very different, geologically, and so everything kind of appeals to me. There’s no uniformity or anything about the town, so there’s always something interesting to see and discover.”

Enns said he feels most comfortable working in his studio – a large room in his apartment in which he has built most of the furniture himself, save for a large drawing table he received from another artist in the community. But when he leaves his studio to sketch, he does it intentionally.

“Once I’m out of that room, I feel somewhat uncomfortable, so I kind of have to force myself to do it. It doesn’t really feel totally natural,” he said.

Despite this, Enns said he feels compelled to create, and that working on his art is simply fun.

“I kind of have to get the things out of my head. I think it helps me process things that I’m going through, or to remember things. I do try to sketch outside, or when I go on trips. When I see a little sketch that I did that brings back not just the place where I was, but the whole feeling of that time in my life.”

It’s those feelings – the shared human experience that can be portrayed through art – which Enns has been working on injecting into his work.

“There’s a lot of things we share, so I think visual art allows us to connect in that way,” said Enns.

“What I’m trying to do more and more is not just make something good, technically, but also to create something that people can understand. Once you feel like you understand it, you have a connection to a piece that I’ve created and that helps you like it more and you feel somewhat involved in the work itself.”

One of the ways Enns does this is through creating paintings that flow out of their frames. Enns said these paintings represent a thought or a memory.

“Our memories aren’t solid or anything – they shift and change over time, because we experience new things and it gets all blended together. So it’s kind of like a thought or memory that was solid at one point and now it’s kind of evolved.”

When anyone looks at Enns’ work, he hopes they find inspiration in it.

“Maybe just a sense of where they are would be the biggest thing. And hopefully these inspire something in them – not necessarily to paint or draw or whatever, but to just enjoy the outside and do what they’re passionate about.”

The NorVA One Square Foot fundraiser takes place during Culture Days, Sept. 28 to 30.

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