Meeting Trevor McKinven
When it comes to being picturesque, the Eastern Townships are basically the Christie Brinkley of Quebec regions. There’s rolling hills, sparkling lakes, wee villages and a veritable feast of cows lolling in verdant fields – the sort of bucolic splendor that local artist Trevor McKinven has been capturing on canvas since childhood.
McKinven’s paintings are undeniably impressive, executed with a technical expertise that combines sure-handed brushwork with fine detail and colour. But there is a realism to this artist’s work that reaches past a simple postcard-perfect scene to capture the unique spirit of l’Estrie.
“The thing that I want people to feel when they look at one of my paintings is the sensation of standing there on the spot,” McKinven says. “I have this obsession with transporting people there, to know exactly what time of day it is, to instinctively know what it would smell like, even if it’s cow poop.”
Indeed, cows have played a large part in the artist’s development over the years. A quick glance through McKinven’s online portfolio reveals a number of bovine subjects, and he credits an early commission to paint a prize-winning Jersey as the beginning of his professional aspirations.
“Until then I’d done some town signs and things like that, but when I was 17 or 18 I was asked to paint this Jersey cow that had won the Royal Winter Fair several times. They ended up auctioning it off for $1500 or something, and that kind of opened my eyes to the possibilities.”
His first official show followed, an exhibition at the Piggery Theatre where his parents are long-time volunteers. “It was just a bunch of stuff I dabbled at, really: cows, Mount Orford, things that were familiar to the area. But people were just really encouraging.”
Given the detail of his work, it’s hard to believe that McKinven has no formal training as an artist. Certainly his parents’ early encouragement helped him develop his craft, as did the support of local Art Naïf master Ann Mitchell, who was impressed by the young artist’s renderings of – you guessed it, cows.
“When I was ten or twelve, Ann saw a few paintings I had done of some jersey cows. My stuff was more naïve art at that point, and she liked them and really encouraged me. That kind of thing was re- ally important to me.”
Despite these early successes, painting fell by the wayside when McKinven left to study geography and topography at the University of Ottawa. It wasn’t until after graduation and a move to bonny Scotland that his passion returned.
“I spent a lot of time immersing myself in the aesthetic beauty of Scotland, then in Switzerland and Italy after that. I went everywhere with a sketchpad, and I started doing caricatures at hostels that I sold to people.”
His time in Scotland also nudged a latent interest in theatre into full bloom. McKinven arrived in Glasgow on September 11th, 2001 – the day when terrorists hijacked four planes, flying two into New York’s Twin Towers. He was particularly moved by news of thirty-eight International flights being diverted to Gander, Newfoundland, stranding more than 6,500 passengers for five days in the small town.
“I wrote twenty-six, two-page monologues in one weekend,” McKinven recalls. “They were for twenty-six different people from twenty-six places around the world. It was what being stranded in Gander for a week would feel like to a person from Honduras, or Japan or Italy. I still have no clue why I did that.”
Although conceived as an ensemble piece, They Came from Far Away ended up as a one-man show with McKinven performing the monologues. Originally booked for just two nights at the Piggery in 2010, it was extended to a ten night run. Five years later, McKinven has toured the show across Ontario, the Maritimes and Quebec.
“It’s really just a surprise that I’m still doing it,” he confesses. “I’ve even been talking to a guy that’s got an Off-Broadway theatre in New York. It’s crazy.”
Now settled in Montreal, McKinven still visits his family’s farm regularly. He can occasionally be found doing caricatures or selling his paintings at local events, and also has a new 2016 calendar showcasing his beautiful paintings of the Eastern Townships. And yes, a few truly picturesque cows. Trevor McKinven accepts commissions for paintings and caricatures through his Facebook page (search Trevor McKinven). His 2016 calendar is available through Facebook, the Townshippers’ Association and a few local businesses.