Haley Lewis has spent her life painting the world around her.
Her fine brush strokes have captured figures and landscapes as well as still life and songbirds.
So, when the P.E.I. artist went to Beijing to teach English in 2004 it was only natural to pack her sketchbook, paints and brushes in her carry-on bag.
“It was a great place to be in China. And the teaching was amazing. But, one of the reasons I went there was to travel and, of course, paint,” says the Charlottetown native.
Lewis taught classes each week, and during her free time on weekends and school breaks she travelled to some “really remote” areas.
Now she is giving Prince Edward Islanders a small glimpse into some of the places she visited through a new series of paintings. Entitled, “A Pilgrim’s Passage: Images of the Himalayas & Beyond”. Lewis’ artwork will be on display at The Gallery @ the Guild art in Charlottetown until July 9.
One of her first trips was to Gansu, a province in China’s northwest.
“I went alone. I didn’t know much Chinese at all. I found myself going to all the different caves and I was amazed with how much Buddhist art was inside,” says Lewis, who took photographs to make sketches of the frescos that she discovered.
Was she afraid of travelling alone?
“I’m a fearless traveller. I was super careful and didn’t take a lot of risks. I was more afraid of bus crashes.”
Another time when she visited a martial arts academy in the Wudang Mountains she painted on location.
“I just sat in the forest and painted this picture, using a smaller canvas. It’s the home of a 1,000-year incense burner that has been lit for that long,” says Lewis, pointing to the colourful work.
Living in China for many years gave the Charlottetown native the opportunity to not only travel through that vast country but also to other neighbouring nations.
Of the Asian countries that Lewis spent time in, she was especially drawn to Mongolia, Burma, Nepal and northern India.
“I guess my work is about Tibetan-Buddhist culture, its mysteries and magical beauty.”
Each of her paintings comes with a story.
“Over the Pass” is a painting of a man with flowing hair, travelling with his dog. Lewis met him when she volunteered as an English teacher in Dharamsala, North India.
“His amazing story of crossing the Himalayas on foot, from Tibet to India, really moved me. He represents 150,000 other Tibetans who have made that dangerous trek to follow their spiritual leader, his Holiness, the Dalai Lama.”
“Cham Dance”, with its colourful costumes and masks, depicts a sacred dance performance, held in most Himalayan Buddhist monasteries, dating back to the sixth century.
“Tibetan Prayers” is a painting of colourful, silk brocade cases containing little slips of paper – scripts that are chanted.
While the walls of the gallery are filled these colourful images, there are more in Lewis’ mind.
“If I had the time, I would keep making more paintings….Although this collection isn’t complete, I hope it will help people to see what a colourful, mysterious place it is.”