For Peter Harris, the heart of Canadian beauty extends beyond mountain ranges, rugged coastlines, and sprawling prairies–when asked to define the quintessential Canadian landscape, his mind’s eye drifts away from familiar areas like Lake Louise or Peggy’s Cove.
instead of it, Ontario born oil painter He takes inspiration from urban areas that others might consider ordinary or fail to notice entirely.
“I’m an urban person,” Harris told CTV News Toronto from a makeshift studio in Spain on Friday. “I love the city. That’s what gets me excited.”
His art reflects this feeling—his hyper-realistic paintings depict TTC stations, dimly lit parking lots, gas pumps, local restaurants, and just about anything a city dweller might encounter on their daily commute. The final products rarely feature any natural lighting, with car headlights, neon signs, or overhead fluorescent lights guiding the viewer’s eye.
“The challenge is to take something really mundane, like an escalator in a subway station, and turn it into an interesting painting,” said Harris.
Escalator to Line 1, 24″ x 32″, oil on canvas, 2022, by Peter Harris (peterharris.ca)
The art of landscape painting was passed on to Harris during childhood visits with his grandmother.
“She would set the dining room table with her watercolors and pastels, and I’d sit after school and work on little mountain landscapes — not that we could see any mountains, but we worked from pictures in books,” he explained.
Today, he still sees those early sessions reflected in his work.
“I suspect [the hyper-realistic urban style] In fact, it is somehow related to those early mountain landscapes.”
Night Vision 10:45, oil on canvas, 30 x 60″, 2006, by Peter Harris (peterharris.ca)
Within his art, Harris works to challenge viewers’ ideas of Canada’s beauty and how it should be represented. extending into the nineteenth century, such as artists Ann SavageAnd Emily CarrAnd G-7 and Tom Thompson You have always taken over this world with detailed landscapes featuring forests, rivers, glaciers, and more.
Harris takes a different approach.
“I’ve been thinking about what exactly is the perfect landscape that represents Canada,” he said. Most people live in cities, [..] And so I’m just starting to think more and more about what the “real” Canadian scene is. “
“For me, it’s the city, the streets, even the suburban parking lots. That’s what I see on a daily basis, and so I really wanted to paint things that I’ve seen in my daily life, but it’s also a different way of seeing the Canadian landscape.”
One of the paintings Harris holds closest to his heart is of an old Toronto culinary establishment — Okonomi House, a small Japanese restaurant tucked away on Charles St. In the heart of the city centre.
“It’s just like this weird little glowing beacon among all these high-altitudes—it draws you in, it’s evocative.”
Okonomi House, 8pm, Oil on Canvas, 26″ x 36″, 2021, by Peter Harris. (peterharris.ca)
He is also particularly interested in frontier spaces.
“A lot of my work lives in the kind of weird transitional spaces we find ourselves in, like a subway station, or an elevator, or an escalator — a space that you occupy for 30 seconds,” he said. “Spaces like this represent one aspect of impermanence in these landscapes that we travel through all the time, yet never stop and reflect.”
Level 3 (Icebergs), 24×34, 2017, by Peter Harris (peterharris.ca)
In Harris’s latest work for the Dufferin TTC, enter Lawren Harris’ painting where advertising can naturally be found—a juxtaposition of the many everyday Canadian landscapes and landscapes that Canada chooses to announce to the world.
“Again, I wanted this idea of these two different Canadian landscapes — one is Lawren’s version of it and then this really modern version of Canada, my version, which is Dufferin Station with its architecture, the tiles, and a little bit of dirt in there,” he explained.
“It’s kind of ironic because here’s the station – my version of Canada – and there’s something to advertise abroad [Canada to be]. “
Harris traveled to Spain, more than two years into the pandemic, as a way to reset and “find new inspiration”. He says he plans to spend the next two months learning new technologies and working on new projects abroad.
Despite the change of scenery, Harris says his art will remain a center for all things urban.
“I really don’t know which direction [my upcoming projects] I’m going in, but I can assure you it’s going to be more urban landscapes, subway cars, things like that. “
Harris’s paintings can be viewed at Mira Godard Galleryat 22 Hazelton Street in Toronto.
Streetcar 11:15pm, oil on canvas, 20″ x 36″, 2010, by Peter Harris (peterharris.ca)