Michael Hepher’s Backroads BC a fresh look at the road less travelled

The exhibit features art from a 2017 trip Hepher took with his family in their 1971 Volkswagen van.

Growing up in a family that had five separate Volkswagen vans, it’s safe to say that Michael Hepher knows a thing or two about the vehicle that arguably has become the quintessential representation of hippie-meets-long-haul-camper.

“Its kind of been a family affair, we’re like OG van-lifers,” said Hepher in an interview with The Interior News.

It’s not surprising then that Hepher, the man behind an exhibit currently on display at Smithers Art Gallery that is a culmination of paintings from a seven-week 2017 road trip from home (Fernie, B.C.) all the way to Prince Rupert, took his family in a 1971 Volkswagen Westfalia that was eerily similar to the very same cars he camped in as a kid.

Backroads BC, as Hepher explains, was a chance for him to try a technique that he said has been used by those like the Group of Seven, where painters would go into nature, sometimes for weeks at a time, with their paint and miniature canvases and paint small, incomplete canvasses.

They would then take these canvasses home and try to replicate that raw inspiration from being out in nature back into larger, studio pieces.

But beyond the artistic methods he explored in the exhibition, Hepher also said there was a very family-oriented element to the trip.

“Our kids were getting to be moving towards teenagerhood and we could see the writing on the wall … and so we were looking to do something really significant as a family together to really kind of solidify those bonds and to just have a shared experience.”

While they were initially thinking of a trip to Europe or something along those lines, they settled on something very different.

“We actually realized we really haven’t seen a lot of our own province and we wanted to show our kids the place where they lived so they could feel more connected to … our part of the world here.”

He said that they intentionally planned the trip to be the length it was so that he had the time to stop for at least a few hours every day and paint various moments that spoke to him along the way.

Finding those moments proved hard too, Hepher said.

“The scenes that you see from the highway or the roads are … the ones people see every day — and what I want to do is show people the parts you don’t necessarily see — the parts you have to pull off or wander a bit to see or go into the forest or hike a bit or you know those little bit more out of the way places.”

He said he hopes the exhibit gives people a glimpse into the Canada they know and love but from the perspective of the road less travelled.

“I was just trying to take these snapshots and give people a slightly different look at their province from an investigation of the off-highway views rather than the on-highway views.”

It’s not a coincidence that the exhibit is in Smithers either.

Hepher noted that, as a tribute to the trip itself, he has tried to showcase the exhibit along galleries that are situated along the same route he took for the trip (last summer the exhibit ran in Fernie).

He said that a common piece of feedback he heard from people who have seen the exhibit was that they felt inspired by his trip to go on similar ones of their own.

“I had one family in Fernie bring their Dutch relatives to see the show and then [their relatives] rented an RV and travelled that same route, so that’s the best feedback, [that] it really is inspiring people to go out and do the same thing.”

In the end, however, Hepher said one of the best things about B.C. is it doesn’t matter what route you take.

“Each area has so much to offer, there is so much different geography and so much different terrain of beautiful things to look at — there’s really no way to capture it all.”

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