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Randolph Parker’s Islands: Lake of the Woods

By Madison Beale

Upon discovering an island that came to be known between the two of them as ‘Phillips Island’, Randolph Parker and Bill Mayberry set out on a project no artist had hitherto completed. Together, they ventured out on an odyssey that would take them through the 14,000 islands in Lake of the Woods, Ontario and render its landscapes in paint with site-specific GPS coordinates accompanying the paintings.

A woodblock print by the esteemed Walter Joseph Phillips inspired Bill to locate the island many years ago. However, Sunset, Lake of the Woods (1927) featured a south-setting sun, so finding the island had been initially challenging. Looking off to the horizon, watching the waves brush ‘Phillips’ Island’, the two friends thought to themselves: what if paintings had precise GPS coordinates that one could trace back to the artist’s location as he painted? It was at that moment that Islands: Lake of the Woods came to be. 

“Let’s get to work”, Bill said.

The two friends had set out on their voyage across Lake of the Woods, and much like Odysseus, Bill and Randolph would also encounter something that would stall their journey: a global pandemic. After COVID-19 temporarily paused the series, what seemed to be a setback only propelled the project further. The exhibition was able to grow over time, which allowed for more reflection.

Bill and Randolph bore witness to some of nature’s greatest wonders out on the lake, from a mother bear and her cubs swimming between islands to snapping turtles emerging from the lake as they ate breakfast on the shore. There was no shortage of inspiration. Some nights they even slept under the stars on the boat! Together, they travelled 3000 kilometers over the course of 5 years. Bill attributes the unwavering trust he and Randolph share that has led to this feat of
artistic accomplishment.

Randolph Parker had completed a number of series for Mayberry Fine Art in the past, and after that day
on the boat he began another. He completed sketches of the locations and took photos
for reference while on the water. Back at his studio on Salt Spring Island, canvases
surrounded the artist as he immortalised the geography as he found it.

Randolph Parker’s command of colour is evident in both what meets the eye and the layers of
paint washes underneath the final piece that complement the overall composition. His seamless brushwork captures the islands in all their glory. Subtle green hues bring dimension to the expansive horizons and complement the gentle leaves on the trees. Whispers of red disguise themselves amongst snow-topped evergreens, deepening the landscape.

Even as Edmund Burke distinguished the beautiful and sublime, such
distinctions can be found in Parker’s latest oeuvre. The viewer is captivated by an oncoming
storm in Whitefish Bay, South East (2021); the heavens part, illuminating the island anticipating a storm. The viewer feels their boat rock over the water as waves churn around them, and the wine-dark water evokes the awe and terror of a Homeric tempest.

As the storm passes, the summer fades and the lake freezes over, Parker transports the viewer to a new region of Lake of the Woods. In Sunset Channel, Moskahossi Passage (2021), Parker places the viewer amongst absolute tranquility. The wind rustles through the leaves and ushers fresh fallen snow to cascade from the tree branches onto the frozen floor. A soft padding of footsteps might gently echo around your pink ears as the wind summons a soft flush to the cheeks. The snow packs under your boots as you wander, wondering where the snow below you ends and the ice begins. The sky, cloudless and serene, is absolutely beautiful.

There is an assuredness in Parker’s panels that marries both the fluidity of the impressionists
and the incorporation of negative space from the Chinese and Japanese printmakers that
inspired W.J. Phillips. Parker refrains from overworking the panels, preferring to leave glimpses of the birch underneath the paint. The negative space in the panel becomes part of the composition as much as the paint that has been applied to it, resulting in an almost imperceptible raised texture in the painting.

The Exhibition

Randolph arrived in Winnipeg with his family in late November, bringing the warmer weather
from BC with him. Together, Bill and Randolph, alongside co-owners Shaun and Ryan Mayberry,
discussed the Islands: Lake of the Woods exhibition with both local and national CTV news, CBC and the Winnipeg Free Press.

Image of people in a gallery talking and looking at paintings from the Islands: Lake of the Woods series by Randolph Parker.

There was a buzz in the air that Thursday. The long-anticipated opening of Islands: Lake of the
Woods
had arrived! The weather was pleasant and all the lights in the Exchange led the way to the Mayberry Fine Art gallery. A steady flow of people from across the city and the country at large gathered to hear Bill Mayberry, Randolph Parker, and David Malaher, a local Lake of the Woods historian, talk about the exhibition and accompanying book. The striking canvases and panels hung triumphantly across the two floors of the gallery, standing testament to the artist’s achievement. Bill had decided a salon-style would best showcase the colossal effort that was Islands: Lake of the Woods, and he was right. The panels hung in rows offering glimpses of different locations across the lakes as those in attendance hopped from one island to the next. Viewers could also move around the area virtually with the Parker Islands Digital Map created by Mayberry Fine Art. The website allows individuals to see the locations depicted in the paintings, using the coordinates accompanying the paintings.

Laughs and joyous conversations filled the gallery downtown, which had at one point been the location for the Lake of the Woods Milling Company. Stories were shared by all of the fond memories at the Lake, each painting conjuring a new anecdote. Perhaps the most poignant statement of the evening had been obvious: this would likely be the only time to see the series in its entirety. After the show closed, the paintings would be whisked away to their new homes, but for now they were here, and the islands would stay where they had been for time immemorial.

The weekend following the opening saw a steady crowd of people head to both Winnipeg locations of Mayberry Fine Art, as Randolph Parker was signing copies of the accompanying book to the exhibition. Red stickers began to appear across the gallery, many of which were in succession for the limited edition print of Upper Corkscrew Channel (2022), benefitting Cancer Care Manitoba. An anonymous donor matched the proceeds for each print sold.

The show closed on the 24th of December 2022. Randolph Parker plans to expand the series for private commissions and continue painting in the new year, with a show of Islands: Lake of the Woods to open on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, in the spring of 2023. 

View the full series here.

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