It is always special to have mutual appreciation between artists when they show together in a gallery space. James Wilson and Cathy Ross are longtime friends and admirers of each other’s work, each one felt most fortunate to be showing at the same time as the other.

People often say that it is a small world, but in New Brunswick, that is particularly true. Wilson Photography Studio was initially on Charlotte Street in Saint John, in a spacious third floor, north-facing room with tall windows. In 1963, the studio moved to Union Street, and in this former Charlotte Street space, Fred Ross worked until 1980. Fred, of course, was Cathy’s father.

On display at Gallery 78 until October 22, 2022, are two new exhibitions featuring artists with deep connections to Saint John: Ethereal Landscapes by James Wilson, and Ocean Journal & Recent Work by Cathy Ross.

James Wilson comes from a long line of photography history in Saint John. Pursuing photography in the footsteps of his father Lewis Wilson who had acquired the two-generation Isaac Erb Photography Studio (established in 1877) in Saint John in 1939, James has had—and continues to have—an illustrious career which has brought him all over the world, and spanned more than four decades.

Photographing wide, sweeping landscapes; still lifes of flowers and fruits; culture, architecture, and everyday life in Japan, Mexico, and urban centres around the world; musicians and dancers in vast, open spaces; and intimate portraits of New Brunswickers from all walks of life, James is fascinated by a multitude of subjects. He captures the true essence of nature, objects, and people with great thought and care.

In this exhibition, James takes a closer look at familiar landscapes. He writes: “In this body of work, I am compelled to see not just the large landscape, but to explore the subtleties in nature. This shift in my art looks more at the delicate beauty that is often overlooked.” A number of his pieces portray a slice of a scene: a close examination of tree tops in mist, half-frozen blueberry fields, flurries of snow in the forest, and trees with fresh buds on their branches.

All in all, it is a brilliant display of nature’s unassuming beauty—no filters and no photoshop. James is a truly dedicated artist, whose determination to capture scenes at exactly the right time pays off in his sublime, almost otherworldly images. But for James, the emphasis lies in noticing surroundings and cherishing them. “This ethereal landscape is our home,” he muses, “our place to reflect on its beauty and its fragility.”

Cathy Ross was born in Saint John, and she remembers her father painting in the city, as well as teaching classes and workshops for many summers at Sunbury Shores Arts and Nature Centre in St. Andrews. Following in her father’s footsteps, Cathy returns nearly every summer without fail, painting supplies in hand, to take takes advantage of time to paint. She keeps a studio space at Covenhoven House on Ministers Island (which the keepers of the Van Horne Estate kindly offered her in 2016), and her previous body of work focused on worn and well-loved artifacts in the house.

In this exhibition, Cathy presents new watercolours painted in her studio in Kitchener, ON, and in St. Andrews, NB. It is a harmonious mix of still lifes of her favourite subjects, namely fish, fruit, flowers, and beloved vintage objects in her home, and studies reminiscent of classic botanical illustrations. Cathy gets the opportunity to see the changing seasons, and she writes, “as painting nature is part of my practice, I wanted to document what I encountered each day. As such, much of my subject matter resulted from the bike path, public gardens I travelled through, and the wild growth around my studio.”

Even during her time in St. Andrews this past summer, she continued biking back and forth to her studio space on Ministers Island, following the tides. The title piece, Ocean Journal, was the result of her keen observations each day of what the ocean revealed to her.

Her thoughtful record-keeping through meticulous watercolours demonstrates just how attuned she is to her surroundings, akin to James. Together, these exhibitions are a breathtaking must-see!

By Véronique Thériault, Gallery 78

These exhibitions were on display at Gallery 78 from September 30 - October 22, 2022.