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The Columbia Basin in bright, bold colour: Fernie artist paints the region

Michael Hepher’s solo exhibit ‘All in this together’ will appear at the Fernie Museum gallery from next month
Fernie artist Michael Hepher working on yet another new addition to his solo exhibition, ‘All in this together’, which will go on display at the Fernie Museum gallery from July 1. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

From July 1, fans of Fernie artist Michael Hepher’s mural creation in town will be able to see more of a similar style of work, at the solo exhibition “All in this together” at the Fernie Museum gallery.

On through the summer, the art on display is a subjective look at what binds the Columbia Basin together – like the wildlife, trees, communities, geography and lifestyle, portrated through bright, geometric shapes and colours.

“Part of the reason people live here rather than Calgary or Vancouver or Kelowna is because the veil between civilization and nature is thin,” said Hepher.

“We appreciate getting out there, even though there’s bears wandering along the trails. We want to be near enough to walk out the front door and into the forest.We build these walls and heat our houses to survive through the winter, but ultimately most of us just want a chance to get outside.”

The art project that would become the exhibition was originally approved for funding from the Columbia Basin Trust back at the start of 2020, but since then the pandemic changed some things about how Hepher went about creating the art. Originally, he had hoped to travel around the Columbia Basin to recreate the experience he had creating the mural in Fernie – which he said had been almost unanimously supported by passers by and the wider community, but without travel, that hadn’t been possible.

“That idea, ‘In This Together’ has really evolved as the show has been shown and as I’ve been painting it. In part because there were times because we really felt together, and some times when we really felt torn asunder and divided through the pandemic,” he said.

“I’ve been thinking about this for almost three years, and what I’m finding now is the first pieces were quite literal in a geographic sense – what makes Trail, Trail, what makes Nelson Nelson? What’s distinctive about those places? I was painting them in a representational way even though the style wasn’t representational at all. What happened over time was I found the paintings of those places and the elements I was incorporating evolved as if I was building an alphabet, and that alphabet became a series of words, and the series of words evolved into an understanding of that language.

“It’s a new poem composed with words from this language I’ve created. It’s more alive in that way, instead of an exploration of actual geographic areas in the Columbia Basin, it’s become a real artistic subjective exploration of the language of the Columbia Basin in a visual way.”

Hepher’s exhibit, “All in this together” will be on display at the Fernie Museum from July 1 to September 4, and will be the final exhibition of the collection after appearances in Kimberley, Cranbrook and Golden. Pieces from the exhibition will be for sale.

READ MORE: Fernie artist celebrates completion of downtown mural
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