Mountaineer David Pirrie has a different take on the Rocky Mountains than most of us. He sees their characteristics, their stratification and the layering of sediment.

“I treat the mountains like celebrities,” he says. “fashioning larger than life, unattainable, beautiful and mysterious portrayals. I also record their rugged features in detail as they individually assume their own unique personalities.”

Studio shotArtist David Pirrie at his studio

Pirrie’s collection of mountain portraits opens this April in Vancouver. Separating Mt. Assiniboine, Mt. Phillips or Mt. Edith Carvel from their neighbours and others in the specific range  de-contextualizes the mountain, he says, making it symbolic rather than representational.

At first, he thought he’d be an architect but having grown up climbing the mountains of British Columbia and skiing most of them, he went to art school instead, heavily influenced, he says, by his fourth year painting instructor, noted abstract artist Guido Molinari. Recognized for his formal, hard-edge abstraction, Molinari was primarily a colourist, concerned with the interplay and interaction between colours. “There is no such thing as colour, there are only colour harmonies,” he once said.  As a result, Pirrie has created a unique style that combines his interests in architecture, cartography, formalism and of course, the mountain.

He admits the dot overlays may look like Pop Art but says they represent plotting coordinates. Ditto with the longitudinal and latitudinal grids. And if these devices serve to scrutinize the subject even more, so much the better.

Mt Assiniboine Late Summer RockiesMt Assiniboine Late Summer, Rockies

Mt Phillips BC RockiesMt Phillips BC, Rockies

Mt. Edith CavellMt. Edith Cavell

He starts with a photograph. Then the artistic interpretation kicks in. All the prominent features are drawn in. A light coloured ground is applied to the canvas and blocks of colours are created with successive layers of glazes. Pirrie thins the acrylic where necessary to end up with a flat, translucent finish.

Cayley ComplexCayley Complex

Continental DriftContinental Drift

Lost in the Mountains

Lost in the Mountains


His ice field paintings are also drawn from personal experience. “They are contour maps I would have used to navigate the environment,” he says, referring to preparation for the many climbs he has conducted in the past. Reworking and refining them turns them into abstracts.Columbia Icefield BlueColumbia Icefield Blue

Columbia IcefieldColumbia Icefield

Pirrie’s show, “Mapping the Rockies” is on display at Vancouver’s Ian Tan Gallery until the end of the month


Guido Molinari

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