Canadian Artist Maureen Enns
1949 - Investigative Artist and Conservationist
Alberta artist Maureen Enns, is renown for her conservation related work in Canada and abroad. Her work exists in significant public and private collections. She is the recipient of over 30 regional and national art grants and close to a million dollars of sponsorship assistance for her research.
Series: Sky Boxes -Flying Cubes 1981-1982
“The Cube engages. But it can also lead us to syntheses of place, space, season, mind and feeling that we had not heretofore felt.”
-The late John White for Vanguard Magazine, 1983
The series began with my sculptural mirrored cubes which I conned friends into holding high in the sky for photography near my new studio on the Ghost River. The set of reflections included sky and flowers of the understory. The series marked the entry point into my fascination with the use of photography to create Illusion upon metaphysical complexity. Mirrored cubes gave way to floating appaloosa horses such as “Apply Days” which was part of the “Appy in the Sky with Mountains” Series. Space had become my game!
Series: Beauty Pageant
At my foothills studio/ranch I was training for dressage competition on a gelding of no known pedigree. While competing at Spruce Meadows, my horse, Sky, was the winning underdog. I was struck by the negative attitude to color and low breeding and completed a series of paintings, one of which is “Travers,” where the paint horse enters the dressage arena. Using my photographs of horses of varied colorations and my winning ribbons strung out on the clothes line, I assembled maquettes from which my larger canvases were drawn.
“Line Up” was included in “Beauty pageant”, curated by Elizabeth Kidd and was toured by the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies to museums across Canada.
Series: Back of Beyond
Back of Beyond, curated by Donna McAlear, was the first opportunity for the Nickle Art Museum to produce an exhibition by a Calgary artist that embarked on a tour outside of Canada. It was made possible with assistance from the Canadian Department of External Affairs, Canadian Airlines, the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, Alberta Culture and Multiculturalism, the Canadian Consulate-General, Sydney and Ansette Airlines.
I spent 3 months during the summer of 1986 based at Rainbow Beach recording my impressions of the lush tropical jungle, the patterns and colors of Queensland. During that time period, I travelled by camel from a point south of Ayer’s Rock towards Adelaide. I found the camel a misunderstood animal; marking the beginning of my fascination with the misunderstood of wild animals as well as my amalgamation of figurative and abstract styles with actual photographs included.
Series: Games End Africa
Maureen was awarded a Canada Council Exploration Grant in 1989 to document from an artist’s perspective, the plight of the African elephant and returned to Kenya. The resulting documentary “Game’s End, an African Encounter” was produced by Joanne Levy, Director of Scorpio Productions, Calgary.
After returning Australia, I continued on to Kenya to ride horseback across the Masai Mara photographing elephant, zebra, giraffe, and other amazing animals of Africa. I canoed a portion of the Zambezi River and will never forget encountering a charging bull elephant while we were in a shallow estuary. Feeling helpless, I froze. My guide banged the side of the canoe with his paddle and the bull stopped and reared before leaving. I was keen to get some photos of rhino alongside the Zambezi and followed the guide through the thorny bush, following rhino track. A shot rang out and the armed Park guide ran off shouting “there are many of you in the world and few rhino!”
The abstract coloration of the zebras, the jewellery of the Masai and the plight of the elephant being slaughtered for its ivory caught my attention the most. This was the era when Cynthia Moss studied and wrote about the matriarchal elephant herds. The elephant had been misunderstood until her work and that of Ian Douglas Hamilton. I was hooked on the misunderstood and the concept of art research happening alongside high adventure.
Series: Grizzly Kingdom
Grizzly Kingdom is a story of Maureen’s struggle to find bears in the wild, and to reveal on canvas and film this majestic symbol of a fragile wilderness.
Grizzly Kingdom, An Artist’s Encounter, became a book. A TV documentary titled The Grizzly and the Artist was co-produced by Joanne Levy and the CBC. An art exhibition that included both paintings and multimedia drawings on primed paper were shown at both the Triangle Gallery and Masters Gallery in Calgary.
My research and photography was supported by Banff National Park with a lot of help from the head wildlife warden, Rick Kunelius. My early paintings and drawings reflected my fear of the bear with red and black geometric interfaces and an ominous white outline. I gradually discovered, riding my horse, Spud with my packhorse along, that the grizzly is not necessarily the dangerous creature of popular myth. In one pivotal encounter my two horses and I stopped by a mother grizzly and her cubs who peacefully continued to graze only a few feet away. Consequently the bears in my art appeared less confrontational, exhibiting a curious countenance rather than a menacing one. My horse, showed me when to trust a grizzly and only later in Kamchatka did I realize he understood body language that took me many years to unravel and put to use.
Series: Grizzly Heart Seasons Kamchatka
By 1994, wilderness experiences had become fundamental to my artistic practice alongside immersion into the lives of my subjects, the cubs Chico, Biscuit and Rosie. My fascination of the misunderstood grizzly took me to the southern tip of the Kamchatka Peninsula. My goal in teaming up with Charlie Russell in what was to become a 10-year odyssey, was to unravel peaceful possibilities in human-bear relationships.
I built a photographic dark room and a miniscule painting studio in the small cabin at the foot of the Kambalnoe volcano. As fast as I photographed the bears, I was printing their images and creating the drawings and paintings of this series on location. I cast the grizzly tracks in plaster not far from the small cabin on Kambalnoe Lake. Back in Canada, I translated the plaster into concrete tablets believing that only by walking in the footprint of the bears, could one understand their lives. The plaster imprints added a tangible tactile element to my paintings and were focal to the paintings in A Testament which opened Wendy Wacko’s new exhibition space of the Mountain Galleries at Whistler.
The project garnered a front-page story with the Los Angeles Times. Walking with Giants, a TV documentary was translated into many languages. I co-authored two books, Grizzly Heart followed by Grizzly Seasons. Both include my artwork of that period as well as my photography. I was beginning to realize my potential as a photographer but the written word continued to fill me with terror.
The work was exhibited between 1995 and 2003 in Alberta and was concluded when the Epitaph Series was displayed at Masters Gallery after the tragic death of my Kamchatka bears.
My solo art exhibition Through the Eyes of the Bear opened the new Art Gallery of Calgary in 2000 and continued to Slovenia, France and in Moscow in 2001, where with the generous support of the Canadian Embassy and private sponsors, I became one of the first foreign artist to exhibit in the City since the end of communism.
Series: Equestrian Heroes
Exerpts from catalogue By Lisa Christianson, Former Curator of Art, Whyte Museum, Banff, Alberta, Canada
“The life of Maureen Enns has been remarkable. She has compressed more experience into the last decade than most of us would dream to have in a lifetime. Her British Columbia childhood was shaped by horses and a love of riding. It was then that she began to develop her sensitivity to large, powerful animals, and an innate understanding of the relationship of the human animal to the horse began to grow in her. The people that she worked with while learning to saddle a horse, to ride, and to handle horse equipment, have shaped this sensitivity. On a more basic level, her relationships to horses, a sensory relationship of touch, movement, smell, feel, and mutual cooperation, began through the gear she and others used, and as a result, the tack; spurs, bridles, girth straps, bits and boots, have become a focal point in her new work.”
“Now Enns has returned to her roots with horses in rural Alberta……She is exploring another intimate relationship to a highly intelligent large animal (the horse)……She draws upon her past, recalling the methods of teachers, friends and family whom she admires for their horsemanship. Pieces of their tack, cast in plaster and applied to her painted canvases …..are homages to her mentors…..The images are painted in and the casts of spurs and other tack composed into the image. Colored with powder pigment mixed into the raw casting plaster, the casts are so like the real thing, so much like silver, leather and metal patinaed by use."
"Maureen feels privileged to have been allowed to borrow the tools of horse people she respects: their snaffles and bits, spurs and cinches pay homage to individuals such as the cowboy who taught her to throw a diamond hitch and gave her packing lessons ……and a ranch-woman who has demonstrated respect for the horse and a custodial love of ranchlands.”
Series: Inca Cave Drawings 2006-2007
I was thinking of the wild horses of Alberta’s Ghost Forest, Alberta when I travelled to Argentina to travel by horseback high up into the Alto Plano of the Salta Region. The guide showed us some remote caves seldom visited by tourists where drawings made by Incas of the 16th Century had been preserved. Drawings in powdered pigments of llamas, and other worldly creatures of mythical origin spread across the rooves of the caves. The Incas were wiped out by Spanish conquistadores and largely dismissed. I saw parallels with the plight of wild horses in America. It seemed to me that like the Incas whose numbers reached into the millions and were deemed useless, so the thousands of wild horses of the plains of North America were slaughtered. Only in history is value assigned.
Series: The Last Wild Horses 2009-2013
For 6 years, I hiked and rode my horse into a small pocked of wilderness in the Ghost Forest that slid under the radar of study and control. In this beautiful marshland, I discovered the wild horses and their special relationship with the wolves. These horses are wild animals interacting with deer and moose for their mutual survival. They have evolved past their “feral” status; having re-wilded. Using both long lenses and hidden motion sensitive cameras, I captured the unique beauty of the wild equine herds, translating my heartfelt vision onto canvas and paper. After much trepidation, I decided to write a book, solo this time, completing the rough draft in 4 months! Wild Horses, Wild Wolves – Legends at Risk as the Foot of the Canadian Rockies was released in 2013 by Rocky Mountain Books.
Wild Horses of the Canadian Rockies was filmed by Pyramid Productions, Calgary
Wild Horses and the Art of Conservation, Lyndsie Bougon, Galleries West, Fall/Winter 2013
Wild Horses, Wild Wolves, Nancy Townshend, Alberta Views, September 2013
Series: Prayer Flags in The Canadian Rockies
On a trek through the Upper Langtang area of Nepal in 2010, I was overwhelmed by the quiet spirituality of the prayer flags that were strung across valleys, on top of mountains or on rooftops. I photographed many in Nepal as well as an installation at a Tibetan refugee site in Kerela, India. Prayer flags are not just pretty pieces of cloth with funny writing on them. The ancient Buddhist prayers and the wind horse produce a spiritual vibration once activated, is carried by the wind across the mountains. Each color corresponds to a different element – earth, water, fire, wood and metal – the fundamental building blocks of man and the environment.
In the paintings of this collection, prayer flags were initially digitally strung from my favorite high vistas and later translated onto canvas. They pay homage to my love of mountains and my lifetime commitment to harmony between man and nature.
This series was Exhibited by Mountain Galleries at the Fairmont at the Banff Mountain Book and Festival in 2012. It continued on to be exhibited at the Edge Gallery, Canmore in conjunction with a fundraising effort for Core International, Nepal.
Series: Mysterious Monarchs 2011
I have travelled the world as an environmental artist focusing on the plight of misunderstood endangered species. I have long been fascinated by the unexplained ability of the Monarch butterflies to travel from their wintering ground in the Mexican state of Michoacán as far north as Pt. Pelee National Park in Canada. It takes 3-4 generations of adults to make the journey with not one having flown the route previously.
Riding on horseback up into the Sierra Madre to the wintering ground of thousands of Monarchs was ethereal in the spiritual sense. At first glance, I thought I was seeing piles of dead leaves until they started to move. Monarchs landed on my clothing, my hands, hat and then clouds of them blocked out the noon day sun. The paintings completed in 2011 pay homage to the Mariposas Monarchas! Their future is uncertain due to the use of pesticides that kill weeds; one being the essential diet of the Monarch – milkweed.