As Ian Tyson says of Charlie Russell, "get her all down before she goes . . . you gotta get her all down cause she's bound to go." A similar sense of urgency underlies Linda Bishop's two dozen paintings in the new Back Room Show. The Rural Life--A Collection of Original Oils Depicting Life in the Country focuses on the creatures with which we live--chickens, sheep, cattle, and horses. There are no barns or factory farms for these animals. They live in a green world where you can see the swish of a long graceful tail, hear the bawl of a protesting cow, the scratch of chickens dancing, the jangle of harness. The cattle portraits especially, groups in a pasture or jostling for winter feed, individuals scratching on a favourite tree or resting in the shade, capture "personality", a "knowing" intelligence, curiosity, the uniqueness of individuals, the way in which they watch us as carefully as we watch them. One Bossie stretches into a welcome scratch behind the ears from a trusted friend who is the only human figure in the show. There are also several landscapes--waterlilies on a creek, a slough, a rippled stream in spring edged with red osier, a mauve sunset. And there is one grouping of still lifes, various arrangements of pieces from a gold-trimmed Blue Mikado-pattern tea set--cups and saucers, creamer, sugar tray and tongs, tea pot, a crumpled table cloth, warm sunlight.
What is the link between an antique tea service, an object not necessarily limited to rural settings, and the cattle, horses, sheep, and chickens in Bishop's countryside? Perhaps it is the celebration of a fragile threatened existence. The joy in hard work and simple pleasures. Taking notice and taking care. Enjoying the beauty in nature and man-made objects. Nurturing. Humour. Respect for each other and for the animate world in which we are set. Respect for tradition. For traditions we inherit. Traditions, like the tea set, like the passion for country living. Values which we inherit from earlier generations, which we choose to inform our lives, when we choose to move to the country, to remain rural, in spite of encroaching development, the houses, golf courses, people crowding agricultural land. These paintings portray things we return to again and again as an antidote to the rush and noise of modern life. Things which give meaning to existence, purpose beyond our self-centred anxieties.
Linda Bishop's paintings of rural beauty inspire thoughts and feelings; they will be in the Back Room of the Hope Arts Gallery until the end of July (2008). Catch them before they go.