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One big backyard

“My father built a huge trestle system that we had around the living room in the house,  and my father and his friend used to play with my trains and I would sit in the middle drawing.”

Butler moved to Canada in 1973, but it wasn’t until 1978 that he and his wife moved to Jasper. Butler got a job at the Jasper Park Lodge as an industrial mechanic.

“Driving  to the Lodge everyday for the last 28 years, I see the mountains everyday and they’re never the same. They always change and it’s inspiring for me. I’ve always been intrigued with light and colour, the combination of those has helped me a great deal to develop the style that I have. Being mechanically inclined it’s taken me a long time to get away from drawing that way, which is the way I used to draw. The style that I have now is more impressionistic.”

Butler doesn’t draw from photographs but from sketches he creates on location, which includes using pencil, a favourite of his.

Greg Johnson, an Edmonton artist who comes to Jasper to do workshops, had some influence on Butler’s work during a time when his father was ill and passed away in 2002.

“I got to Greg Johnson’s workshop on a regular basis, and I always got to the fall sessions. I’d already signed up earlier in the year for Greg’s workshop but I hadn’t done any painting at all that year because of my father’s problem. When I went to Greg’s workshop — he was also interested in trains because his son works for CN and has an interest in trains — I pulled out this full-sheet watercolour of a unit on the Yellowhead Pass. It kind of triggered me and I started to think about my father, the railways and my models and that’s what started me on the two-year odyssey of painting trains.”

Marianne Garrah, from Digital Time Machine Inc., organized a centennial show for May 2005 to display Butler’s train collection, “Train Suite,” and some of those pieces are carried over into his new collection.

“I have known Alan for over 10 years now. I have seen both his subject matter and colour palette evolve,” said Garrah.

Garrah added what has remained constant is Butler’s passion for painting. 

“This man spends hours a week outdoors looking for new subjects or just a new angle on an old subject, sketching on site, before even heading into the studio.”

He doesn’t do the standard ‘tourist’ views of the mountains, she said, but instead will get down to creek bed level – often resulting in an unrecognizable non-traditional view of some of the most recognizable peaks.

“What I personally find enticing about his evolution and what really demonstrates his wonderful use of colour is his paintings inside of paintings – you can take any one of his pieces, isolate two or three square inches and those isolated pieces speak on their own.”

As for his train pieces, Garrah said he has taken them from large dirty industrial machines to elements you find in the mountains, giving them a sense of belonging by surrounding them with nature.

“As much as is possible his trains entice the viewer to contemplate them with as much respect as you would his wilderness pieces. Not a subject matter for all, but a reality of life in Jasper.”

Butler’s artwork is now on display at the Jasper Yellowhead Museum Showcase Gallery. It is the first in a series of five presented by the Jasper Artists’ Guild in conjunction with the Jasper Yellowhead Museum and Archives’ 2006 Showcase Gallery Project.

Butler’s “My Back Yard” solo watercolours continue to be displayed at the Museum’s Showcase Gallery until Jan. 29. 

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