The world is her oyster

Artist Anne Hansen sits surrounded by her paintings in her home studio in James Bay. There is a familiar theme to her paintings of the local waterfront.

Artist Anne Hansen sits surrounded by her paintings in her home studio in James Bay. There is a familiar theme to her paintings of the local waterfront.

Specific species of seabirds feature in Hansen’s artwork

On a grey January day, Anne Hansen headed down to Holland Point with her camera.

“An average person would think it was a fairly colourless day, but I looked down to all this kelp on the ground and the colour was incredible,” she said.

The greens, pinks, blues and wine shades of sea and plant life inspired her.

“It’s amazing what colour there is out there. Even though it seems monochromatic, it’s not if you have your eyes open.”

For the past three years, Hansen, a self-taught artist, has painted what she sees at the water’s edge. And in every one of the 230 acrylic paintings she’s included her favorite shore bird: the oystercatcher.

About the size of a plump crow, oystercatchers have amused and fascinated the artist since she first spotted them after moving to Victoria from Ontario three and a half years ago.

“It was in November and the sun was setting behind them. Their beaks were brilliant red, lit up by the sun. They had this brilliant, green seaweed just kind of flopping around in their beaks and it totally captivated me.”

In her Niagara Street apartment cum studio in James Bay, Hansen gives a tour of the paintings which cover every wall space and are stacked four deep on the floor. Black and chocolate oystercatchers, in pairs or groups, are the touchstone in every painting, but they are surrounded by burgundy sea stars, sage green kelp, steel blue rocks or mountains and moss green forests.

The paintings are showstoppers for Oak Bay library patrons, says the branch’s head librarian, Neil McAllister. The branch has featured Hansen’s work in two month-long shows in the past year and is bringing her work back for a six-month stint on the library’s freshly painted walls.

“A lot of people, you just see them standing there with a smile on their face,” McAllister said. “They don’t say anything, but it’s obvious they’re enjoying them.”

Jacques Sirois is one of those people. The former Canadian Wildlife Service officer retired to Oak Bay two years ago and has been entranced by Hansen’s work.

“I see through her paintings my profound love of Mother Nature,” he said.

Hansen has painted for much of her life, but only sporadically, as she worked full-time at the University of Toronto. She moved to Victoria in 2005 following the death of her husband, noted horticulturalist Henry Kock.

She paints at night, often churning out works until 3 a.m. “I’m a little obsessed, but not too much,” she said.

She admits, though, now it may be time to move on to a different bird subject, perhaps stellar jays, hooded mergansers or varied thrush.

Oystercatchers will never be far from her paintbrush, however. “I think of myself as the Maud Lewis of oystercatchers.”

vmoreau@oakbaynews.com