Nature has long been a universally present theme in art, inspiring visual and performing art forms over several centuries. Its presence has been so deeply entrenched that the Greek philosopher Aristotle is famously quoted as saying, “Art not only imitates nature, but it also completes its deficiencies.” The close connection between art and nature encourages a deep bond between the two, giving artists infinite inspiration to channel in their works.
Saskatoon-based artist Geoff Phillips focuses his work on the Canadian environment and wildlife, spotlighting the unique landscape of the country. Using large-format oil paintings for his artwork, Phillips aims to foster the learning and interconnectivity of species and ecosystems through art.
In 2017, Phillips honoured his province through his project Plantscapes of the Prairies, a series of 12 oil paintings that depict the wildflowers, grasslands, and flora that represent Saskatchewan’s natural heritage. To find inspiration for his celebrated series, Phillips biked his way across the province’s southwest, visiting areas such as Grasslands National Park and Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. The resulting paintings are a rendition of the area’s most protected, endangered plants and flowers—a reminder of the country’s depleting environmental endowment.
“I realized you’re not going to find interesting plants and things growing that aren’t in protected areas,” Phillips said in a statement to the Canadian Geographic.
Through his dedicated work towards Canada’s landscapes and nature, Phillips echoes the values of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal for Life on Land. His art is devoted to highlighting the interconnectivity and codependence of humans and nature, promoting the protection of flora and fauna, and halting biodiversity loss.
In a statement to the Organization of Saskatchewan Arts Council, Phillips said the purpose of his project is to “bring awareness to the unique landscape in south-western Saskatchewan.” He also reiterated the importance of working closely with nature, especially in Saskatchewan’s conservation parks. He said that through the project he became “interested in conservation, the parks' role in South Western Saskatchewan, and what they were preserving.”
For Plantscapes of the Prairies, Phillips described the process as intricately indulgent with nature. After mountain biking across the province with rolled canvas in his knapsack, the artist would find a section of land that intrigued him, sketching the plants that caught his attention and then finally converting them into an oil painting in his studio.
“The series was made to challenge people to look closer at their environment, to see it in new ways and to challenge myself to learn about the different species found in South Western Saskatchewan landscape,” Phillips said.
In addition to beautifully recreating nature on his canvas, Phillips and his wife Connie also own an art business, called The Art House in Saskatchewan’s Maple Creek. The couple is dedicated to promoting art in their community and planned nine Living Heritage Art Workshops to run once a month, from September 2018 to June 2019. The workshops targeted students, along with the general public and aimed to foster appreciation for visual art.
“Participants studied the artifacts and archival material identified by the museum and listened to stories about the heritage theme to be explored. Then, the participants shared their own stories and created art with us,” Phillips said in a 2019 interview with SaskCulture.
Phillips’ dedication to visual arts and his belief in its ability to bring together communities and bridge the gap between humanity and nature is remarkably unshook. Artists hold the ability to cultivate sensitivity in people by exposing them to the intricacies of art and nature - Phillips, unarguably, is strengthening the bond between his community and the environment that surrounds them. Consideration of nature is the most significant initial step toward the harmonious existence of humanity and other life forms on Earth.