William Matthews' paintings debut at Fort Berens

Painter William Matthews was cool, calm and collected on the eve of his first-ever art show in Lillooet. It was also his first art show anywhere.

“People have said, ‘Aren’t you excited?’ And I’ve said, ‘Not really, I’m at peace with this,’” said Matthews. “It’s a very calm process because I’ve done what I need to do and I’m pleased with the work.”

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The show made its debut Friday, July 31 at Fort Berens Estate Winery and runs for the entire month of August. It features approximately 15 oil paintings depicting Matthews’ love of Lillooet-area landscapes.

His paintings include a dramatic vista of the Fraser River from Fountain Flats; storm clouds gathering in an unmistakable Lillooet sky; the “deer on the mountain” on Mt. Brew; intensely-coloured green fields sweeping towards the river; a Lillooet sunrise, views of Gun Lake; and a scene of the flats by the bridge at Carpenter Lake. There are also evocative depictions of the abandoned church at Leon Creek and the graveyard at the Rancherie at Xwisten,

Matthews had a long career as a couture goldsmith, designing luxury jewellery for 35 years. He ended his career as the senior goldsmith at Brinkhaus, now a luxury division of Birks.

As a goldsmith, he’s always been interested in art, aesthetics and beauty, but nothing has captured his imagination and his soul like painting.

“Since I was a child, all I wanted to do was paint,” he told the News. “I had a recurring dream as a child of something going up and down, but I couldn’t really tell what it was.”

Was it the undulation of the mountains? Was it a paintbrush steadily moving back and forth across a board, creating a landscape?

He replies: “When I first saw the mountains at Gun Lake, I knew I had to paint them and I knew I was coming home.”

Matthews took a mid-life sabbatical to learn the established rules of painting. Then, in the words of his mentor Kamloops painter Sonia Cornwall, “You forget them and just paint.”

In 2006, his life’s focus became “painting the landscapes and life of this region and capturing the spirit of the place.”

He continues, “You can feel the spiritualism of the area in the landscape. I feel at peace; when I’m outdoors, I disappear. I’m always amazed at the painting that comes out of it, because I’m not aware of it. For me, when I see something beautiful, I feel at home. I feel a strong connection to nature and for me, this represents the spirit.”

Although he is not of First Nations ancestry, he has friends who are. “I’m realizing that their spiritual outlook is similar to what I’m feeling. For me, it’s about peace and the spirit of the place.”

Matthews frequently uses a process that differs from other painters’ creative processes. He takes photos of a scene, digitally manipulates the photos, then does drawings based on the photos. Only then does he begin to paint.

He said the Lillooet area is blessed with artists who aren’t well-known, just as the area is not well-known in art circles.

“This area is just magnificent and it needs to be captured,” says Matthews.

With that goal in mind, he has invited painters in the Western Plein Air Society to visit Lillooet next year to paint here.

“The year before last, the Victoria contingent of plein air painters came through, spent the night at a hotel and then went out painting. I would like to bring more artists here to see the beauty of the area and to come together to celebrate the beauty of this area.”

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