Other Name: Josy Hilkes Britton
Through Artist Eyes
Josy Britton knew she was an artist in Kindergarten, when she was looking at her assignment of a Fall tree hanging amongst the efforts of her classmates and decided hers was unique. Every Christmas and birthday thereafter answered the wish for art supplies. In Grade 7, when Britton’s homeroom teacher told her parents that she should have painting lessons, they responded with oil painting lessons and a studio in the furnace room. Her high school art teacher, Doris McCarthy, was also very encouraging. All Britton’s summer holidays as a child were spent camping, where nature became essential for her soul.
Britton went on to study art, her first year at Western University, and then, after marrying her high school sweetheart Gordon Britton, transferred to the University of Waterloo to study under Tony Urquhart, Don McKay, Art Green, Nancy Lou Patterson, and Anne Roberts. For her fourth year of study, she chose to create 12 watercolours of close-up views of trees in four seasons, two measuring 122.0 cm. x 168.0 cm. Britton’s graduating class of just eight students had an exhibition at Gallery Stratford, and there she had her first two professional sales. She graduated with a BA (Hons.) in Fine Arts in 1979.
In 1980, Britton earned her B.Ed. from Western University and taught art and mathematics for three years, paying off University debts and imparting her passion for both subjects to her students. She then retired from teaching to build a family and an art career, painting exclusively in watercolours with 16 solo and over 100 group exhibitions in Ontario.
The Canadian landscape has profoundly impacted Britton’s life and work. She turns to nature for rejuvenation, inspiration, and invigoration, living in an oak savannah forest beside the Pinery Provincial Park in Ontario. The “Look Way Up” series was conceived on a wilderness canoe trip in Temagami, Ontario. The paintings in this series involve looking up at trees in all seasons, but sunlight is Britton’s primary subject, as she sees light as the unifying force that connects us all. For this series, Britton divided the paper’s surface into overlapping jewels of transparent watercolour, realistic from a distance and impressionistic up close.
While suffering from whiplash, Britton was unable to look down for a year and so could not paint watercolours. But for Britton, painting is as important as breathing, so she took up oils, using an easel and looking straight ahead, creating the flowing strokes of a hand that has most often held a watercolour brush. After successful physiotherapy she could again paint watercolours, but the year of oils made her open to other medium and to experimentation. Britton has since invented a subtractive technique for painting watercolours on yupo paper.
Britton’s “Water” series was inspired by long days of paddling, gazing in the water at the reflections, and ahead at the shore in hopes of glimpsing a moose, or even more elusive, a bear. Canoe tripping in Algonquin Park started a fascination with water, the major constituent of life. Britton and her husband break camp in the early morning, when the lakes are still smooth as glass. It is in this stillness that the lucid water creates mirror-like images of the land and sky. Paddling makes concentric circles form. The ripples change the reflections. The adaptability and playfulness of water is a profound metaphor for the fluidity of life. In these moments, Britton realizes the freedom and imaginative depth inherent in the artistic exploration of water.
Britton’s “Water Lilies” series celebrates a chapter of artistic transformation. After more than 30 years of painting almost exclusively in watercolour and then oils, the brush had become an extension of her hand, and she found she could picture the end result before beginning. However, one morning while paddling her canoe, she noticed the sunlight’s dance of light and shadow on lily pads and was struck by their waxy appearance, which inspired a change of medium to encaustics. The challenge of a new medium kept her in the present moment, asking new questions.
Britton was then inspired by the lily ponds of the Van Dusen Botanical Gardens in Vancouver, British Columbia, conceiving a number of works in the close-up point of view she loves. The “game-changer” was a visit to New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). She explains: “while standing awe-struck before Monet’s mural-sized triptych, Water Lilies, I felt compelled to work bigger and to fill a gallery with this series.” Following her trip, Britton added four encaustics to her “Water Lilies” series, each measuring 213.0 cm. x 122.0 cm. or larger. Stepping back reveals a landscape of great depth, rich with details inviting close up examination. Close up one realizes that much of the paint is fragmented jewels of colour, which one’s eyes transform into unified identifiable objects.
Britton served six years on the board of directors for the Society of Canadian Artists (SCA), the last two years as president, and is now on the SCA board as communications director. She is also an elected member of the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour, and in 2010 won their top honour, the A.J. Casson Award. In 2018, Britton became an elected member of the Ontario Society of Artists.
Josy Britton has been part of two shows in regional galleries, “Fluid Explorations” at the Judith and Norman ALIX Art Gallery in Sarnia, Ontario, and “Inventive Women,
Re-Interpreting the Canadian Landscape” at the Woodstock Art Gallery in Woodstock, Ontario. She has just begun an encaustic series inspired by a recent visit to the Muir Woods in San Francisco, California, spending 900 hours per a painting building up layers of wax.
Biography Courtesy of Josy Britton
“Look Way Up” Series
The Canadian landscape has profoundly impacted my life and work. I turn to nature for rejuvenation, inspiration, and invigoration. The “Look Way Up Series” was originally conceived on a wilderness canoe trip in Temagami, Ontario after an intense portage. Carrying my canoe overhead forced my gaze downwards, to focus on the path just ahead. As I gently lay my canoe down at the water’s edge, I was free to look up, as if for the first time. Humbled by the majestic beauty of an old-growth tree, I felt connected with my purpose. My paintings capture the physical and spiritual essence of the natural world. Witnessing its complex interdependence, simultaneously fragile and robust, I am called to my studio to mirror how this reality of unity and harmony can exist within us. The paintings in this series involve looking up at trees in all seasons, but sunlight is my primary subject, as light and shadow reveal the infinite nuances of colour. After finishing my “Water Lilies” series in encaustics with four works measuring 213.0 cm. x 122.0 cm. or more, I returned to my “Look Way Up” series, painting comparably large encaustics, rich in texture, perhaps realistic from a distance and abstracted close up. My hope is that my paintings will change the way you see the forest, perhaps glimpsing the innate harmony possible in the world.
Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour
Society of Canadian Artists
Ontario Society of Artists
Artist’s Statement Courtesy of Josy Britton
CV Courtesy of Josy Britton
Biography Profile Photo: Gordon Britton
Josy Britton with her work:
Grabbing Life (from the “Look Way Up” series) 2001
encaustic painting, 182.9 x 91.4 cm.
Courtesy of Josy Britton