Phyllis Starling’s large-scale mural work at Sobey’s parking lot is a scene immortalized not only by the water-loving subjects but just by the sheer brilliance of how it has been executed.
To paint the observation of a landscape with care is to evoke tenderness, but to assume a posture of humbleness about one’s relationship to that subject as well is another story, and Starling’s paintings are made up of such moments.
When Starling moved her creative medium from pottery to painting, it was a seamless transition.
In the painting of the granaries, taut linework with bold colours create both tension and resolution, a celebration, as it were, of something that is transient.
Starling’s canvases celebrate the beauty of nature through different seasons, among other things.
“When I see something I want to paint, I get involved in it,” said Starling, and it is this immersion in her medium which makes her work stand out from some of her peers.
Although Starling has been painting for decades now, she is a member of the artists’ group in Stettler, which was started by Joan Baltimore about nine years back, and she regularly shows up at the weekly sessions that are held out of the Stettler United Church.
“I enjoy the company of other painters and the opportunity of being surrounded by so much creativity,” added Starling.
Growing up in a house of creative people, Starling was never at a loss to pursue what she wanted, all her siblings have been firmly a part of the arts and creative industry.
Starling’s brother was a journalist and photographer, one of her three sisters is a painter and sculptor, another sister is a painter, while her deceased sister Joyce was a photographer, but it is easy to see why.
“My mum would go down to Arizona with my dad and took china painting, and would bring her paints back to Canada and continue to work on them,” said Starling. “Even when my dad died and she retired, she would enroll herself for courses in different communities and drive herself.”
Starling has preserved her mother’s first water colour painting that she did when she was 80.
“The talent is there, or the desire is there, and all we have to do is give it wings,” said Starling. “I recall I would draw at school, in fact all my workbooks had margins full of drawings.”
At 19 when Starling got married and moved to Stettler from Calgary she started taking various courses at the Stettler Adult Learning, from water colours to acrylic to oil.
But somehow Starling’s path of creativity took a turn into the world of pottery and for 25 years she ran a successful pottery business in partnership with one of her close friends.
“I took a pottery course at the adult learning centre and I met my partner there and said to her, aren’t we going to do this together someday and she said “why not?” and soon we were exploring every medium, each type of clay and tried everything we could to revolutionize pottery,” said Starling. “We had different types of kilns and we went the whole nine yards.”
Till Starling was in her 60s, she did pottery but soon her partner’s back gave out and Starling decided to pursue her original love for painting.
She also started giving painting lessons, teaching water colours from Botha School and other spaces, which would allow her to hold classes.
Starling’s paintings deal with the everyday and are less about epic themes.
Moments of subtle and not-so-subtle ambiguity occurs in nearly all of the paintings alongside the reality of the surroundings in harmony with, and in conflict with, the bright colours of the paintings.
“I try and explore the scene and then put colours from my imagination,” said Starling. “Keeping them bright is how I like it.”
The huge mural painting that has become a part of the Stettler landscape is testimony to the Starling’s talent and the wealth of imagination that she draws from.
“When I paint it is not only about what I’m seeing but also about what I would like people to experience,” added Starling.
Layers of paint make birch trees tangible from a vibrant green forest, and as in Starling’s many paintings, speaks of discovery rather than demonstration.