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A Tree of the Twelve Fruits, Matt Bahen, 2024

Article by Rebeccah Love

Chuck Beamish’s mid February exhibition opening for “The Poetics of Water” at the United Contemporary Galley made for a busy afternoon - it was hard to work one’s way around the room, there were so many eager guests packed into the intimate gallery, one tucked just off Dupont Street. In a spare moment between conversations with patrons, the friendly artist points to one of his smaller pieces, 'Petawawa Falls in July', announcing in a quiet voice that the vista of choice was also painted by Tom Thompson in 'Log Chute' painting from 1915.

Petawawa Falls In July, Chuck Beamish, 2023

The end of winter is a sluggish time for Toronto’s arts communities,  but a small community of like minded painters have been busy showing their canvases around town, breathing life into a historic genre. Showcasing a diverse collection of images with some similarities in approach and process, I believe a new energy for Canadian landscape painting has been unleashed in the private galleries of downtown Toronto. Chuck Beamish, Stefan Berg and Matt Bahen each foster a unique lens and practice, but their commitment to mapping out real and fictitious spaces through observation and imagination has led them to the creation of striking images that absolutely need to be seen in person.

In a moment where young undergrad students whisper between classes, wondering if the medium of painting has exhausted all its possibilities, and several prominent art critics have asserted that the era of the painted canvas is over, the choice to pursue not just painting but landscape painting is a radical act. If we are to consider landscape painting as a visual mapping of both real and fictitious spaces, whose origins date back to the surveying of alluvial, hydraulic societies or else the military cartographies and histories commissioned by kings, todays canvases are meant to explore spiritual ideas that reach far beyond the practical pre-occupations of the prehistoric engineer or Renaissance war-correspondent. While these three artists draw in some ways from the Western canon, including celebrated Canadian outdoorsman painters, they have each managed to carve out their own unique spatial representation, engaging in a carefully crafted process. Encouraged by the warmth and enthusiasm from their galleries, and from each other, these talented landscape painters are remarkable in their output and in the philosophies informing their processes. They each discredit the demise of the genre.

An architect by training, Chuck Beamish’s interest in painting the outdoors was born out of his love of camping and canoe tripping in Northern Ontario. Originally focusing on form, structure and scale in abstract works, Beamish soon transitioned into plein-air landscape painting. This style of painting offered Beamish the opportunity to “slow down and focus on the ancillary elements contributing to the phenomena of place.” Taking with him nothing more than a paint box with oil paints and Masonite panels out into the bush, Beamish would return to his studio with a few resolved sketches, which he would then translate into large-scale paintings. Capturing the raw untouched beauty of Northern Ontario’s forests, rivers and lakes, Beamish has mastered the wind’s pattern on water  and golden borders of a sun’s rays lining summer clouds. His images force the viewer to consider questions relating to the divine. Thinking about the importance of painting, Beamish notes that he finds the practice a meaningful way to express a connection to the places he has valued throughout his life. To him, painting “records the physical presence of the artist and can preserve an instance indefinitely.”

Smoke and Clouds Cedar Lake, Chuck Beamish 2024

A slightly different approach but similar painting process and philosophy can be found within the practice of Beamish’s close friend Stefan Berg, (another artist who shows at the United Contemporary Gallery). Berg’s interest in painting landscapes began at an early age, painting the fields of Bruce County with his father. Berg’s process is also similar to Beamish's, but his location is the city; fascinated by the interplay between architecture and nature, Berg will produce small works in the landscape, bringing them into his studio to translate these images onto a larger canvas. Deeply invested in the idea of location, Berg emphasizes the power of “being there”, chronicling the changes of weather and light: “Working outside involves responding to the moment in flux, painting a landscape in motion. It is literally the opposite of painting from a photographic reference in a controlled environment like a studio.”

Twin Tunnels, Stefan Berg, 2023

 Berg’s subject matter is diverse - he might, in one show, depict industrial buildings and civic architecture alongside domestic homes, nestled cozily between snowy evergreens. What stands out about Berg’s work is not only his dedication to observation, but the very honest depiction of first hand experience, the feeling evoked through being there. Even within the confines of a subtle palette, Berg’s paintbrush pushes us into new dimensions of feeling when confronted with some of  Toronto’s most iconic cityscapes.

Leslie Street Spit Expansion, Stefan Berg, 2022

Both Beamish and Berg have found a true champion in the owner of the United Contemporary Gallery, Burke Paterson. When planning the operations of his gallery, Paterson took inspiration from the film studio ‘United Artists’, which sought to offer its artists control over their creative work. Paterson describes his gallery as a “dynamic space created to support the visions of its artists, and reflect the ever-evolving shape of contemporary art.” When asked about his artists, Paterson is beaming with pride, excitement and warmth, it is so clear that he cares deeply about the talents he promotes: “Both artists are observational painters who use their incredible spatial and painterly skills to capture the truth of what they see. They don't overstate scale or oversaturate colours in their attempt to record the true nature of the scenes they describe with brushes and oil pigments. They both consciously practice restraint, and do the hard work of making a scene sing through the power of subtlety. I love the moody moments Chuck has captured...the darkness of an Algonquin Park lake, the eerie mystery of a marsh, the wildfire smoke that adds a tinge of modern crisis to the iconic pine tree clinging to a rocky island. As for Stefan's recent work, I love how he is making visible the idea that Toronto is a city in a forest. I love how he used compositional devices to frame the images: an underpass, a window, trees.”

A week later, over on the other side of town, at the Nicholas Metivier Gallery, a third painter hosted an opening of his extraordinary landscape paintings in a show called “Was Once Only Imagined”. Matt Bahen, friend of Stefan Berg, also witnessed a packed house at his Saturday afternoon launch, suggesting to this writer that our city’s collective enthusiasm for a good landscape painting show continues to overflow in Toronto’s most exciting private galleries. 

Bahen’s paintings are enormous, taking up all the gallery’s wallspace. Working with a recurring motif of a small stream winding its way into a torrent. Bahen took part in an artist’s talk towards the beginning of the afternoon with Art Canada Institute's Sara Angel, offering to his public a deeper dive into his process and philosophy. He spoke about painting in relation to photography: "if photography represents journalistic truth, then painting is all artifice, allegorical." In this sense, Bahen’s works stray from Beamish and Berg: Bahen’s paintings represent works of fiction, borne out of his imagination if not compositions of photographs of various existing landscapes. Within his images can be found fire, rivers, horses, dogs, stone, trees, flowers, citing Biblical and literary works in a cryptic visual language. His paintings are sculptural, making use of a thick impasto technique in order to capture the movement of water or fire or the lushness of foliage. Enchanted but dystopian, Bahen has fun examining his rich curiosities. Delighted by his gallery’s community, referencing the “professional and supportive” staff at Nicholas Metivier’s esteemed company, Bahen acknowledges the luminary talents that display alongside him in this highly regarded institution.

All Thing Are Fragile And Must Be Cared For, Matt Bahen, 2023

Berg references the importance of Bahen’s scale and texture as a reason why his incredible works need to be seen in person. "The complexity of the mark making is lost when you see the images on a cell phone at a reduced scale. The texture and scale is what gives his work a strong physical impact. You enter a room with a Matt Bahen piece and it's impossible to ignore it, it has a real presence.” 

Each of the painters pays close attention to one another's work   - in following their instagram stories, its’ common to see these three artists attending each other’s shows, quietly showing solidarity through the casual sharing of each other’s images in votes of confidence and admiration:

Berg, who acts as a link between the three, speaks with such warmth and generosity about his two friends. “Chuck is astonishingly good at capturing winter light, and the isolation and immense beauty of the North. I admire the structure he uses to underpin his compositions, something that comes from his interest in abstraction, as well as working as an architect.” As for Bahen, Berg admires his touch: “He puts the paint down in a thrilling way. The mark is bold but the layering of colour is subtle. The colours optically mix at a distance, they come together to make big forms, and yet up close the marks are quite varied and abstract, which sustains a liveliness in the work."

Beamish admires Berg’s “quiet, and controlled approach to colour and value to express a psychological identity to the subjects he paints. These works reveal themselves slowly and extend far beyond the picturesque.” While Beamish and Bahen do not know each other super well, they pay attention to each other’s works and offer rich insight into each other’s canvases. Beamish says that Bahen’s work is “alive and vibrant. He seems to use paint and texture to convey multiple notions of plasticity. To me his works are painterly and sculptural and offer a highly personal and deeply considered approach to landscape.”

The Gardener's Plot Bears The Fruit Of Intention, Matt Bahen, 2023

Bahen offers his thoughts on the artworks of his two peers: “I think Chuck, Stefan and I are doing different things with landscape. Chuck I don’t personally know but I admire his work and think he’s a real good painter. Stefan whom I do know and also admire his work, is also an incredibly strong painter.” Their styles are all incredibly different, but the three artists offer some suggestions of the thematic and stylistic links that connect their unique vision. Bahen wonders if it might be their intensity of gaze: “for Chuck it is “place“ (Algonquin) for Stefan it is rendering a personal experience of painting plein air and the paying of very close attention to detail that gives the work an intensity, and I think for me it is the attention to the entire surface of the canvas where one section is not favoured over another that gives the work its intensity.” Berg points to their collective emphasis on observation: they each “observe in order to invent”.

All three painters think deeply about the past and the Western painterly narrative to which they are each contributing. Berg states this directly: “I specifically like painting for its dialogue with the past.” Beamish comments that “it is hard for an Ontario based landscape painter to escape a comparison to the Group of Seven,” Bahen echoes the thought: “If one is going to have landscape as one’s subject in Canada one needs to position oneself in relation to the Group of Seven.” But reference is made to a number of other artists: both Beamish and Berg are drawn to David Milne, Berg maintains a deep connection to Lucian Freud, Bahen references are more literary: he translates the words of Cormac McCarthy, Eliot and Conrad. The canvases of these three artists are breathing new life into the idea of landscape, creating powerful new depictions of nature that are accessible to a modern audience.

But each is also considering the future of landscape painting. When asked about the emergence of Artificial Intelligence, none seems threatened. Berg declares that “Social Media is terribly unmatched for art. Paintings are contemplative and should be approached in that way, meaning they grow out of a process of looking and are generally not fast images where you get the impact immediately. They are the opposite, accretions, rewarding in how they slowly reveal and unfold. Beamish seems intrigued by the possibilities of new technologies: “Landscape painting will not be fatally threatened by screen culture or artificial intelligence, but it will be influenced by it. All these technologies are new tools, like the invention of paint tubes during the industrial revolution, that will enhance the opportunities of where, when, what and how we paint.” Bahen states with confidence that he is not worried about “AI jamming up the supposed authentic voice of the artist.” All three voices are committed to the importance of the artist’s hand, the artist’s paint strokes that cannot be replicated by a computer, reminding us all of the importance of seeing their works, and other artist’s works, in person instead of on a screen.

Meadow, Port Hope, Stefan Berg, 2023

United Contemporary Gallery owner Burke Paterson summarizes the importance of landscape painting: “I believe that the expression "I'm stuck in traffic" should better reflect the actual circumstance of the driver in this scenario: "I am traffic". In this manner of thinking, I believe that we are the landscape, and therefore a landscape painting is a picture of us.” In an era where so many of us are glued to our screens, how refreshing it is to spend time amongst these artists eyes and visions, these thinkers who have committed their lives to capturing the feelings of both real and fictitious space, creating worlds in their canvases that invite their viewers into moments of contemplation and imagination.  Beamish, Berg and Bahen have delivered rare gifts to our city’s arts community, their works are certainly worth leaving the house in pursuit of excitement, beauty, quiet reflection and gratitude for the experience of looking.

Chuck Beamish's 'Poetics of Water' is on at the United Contemporary Gallery until March 30th. For more information visit

Matt Bahen's 'Was Once Only Imagined' is on at the Nicholas Metivier Gallery until March 28th. For more information visit


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