Artist employs ‘warrior’s mentality’ in her work

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Peter Mallett, The Lookout

To glance at acclaimed artist Silvia Pecota’s paintings one would think they are photos, moments captured in a war-torn country, detailing the story of Canada’s military.

The realism is breath-taking. The subjects hauntingly genuine.

Thirteen years ago, during the early stages of the Canadian Army’s deployment in Afghanistan, Pecota was embedded with the soldiers on the front line to document their experience through art. By doing so, she joined a long legacy of painters, illustrators and photographers chosen for the Canadian Forces Artist Program.

She drew further inspiration from time spent with the International Security Assistance Force in Haiti in 2004, and her travels to military bases across Canada to see how soldiers train and live.

“Knowing what our soldiers have endured has become my inspiration,” said Pecota, 58. “There is an inherent desire in me to express the compassionate side of them in a beautiful way. I want to make people pause and think when they see my work.”

She took thousands of photos while out with the troops, and these were the basis for her artwork, created upon her return to her Kingston, ON, studio. Since 2002, she has generated over 50 compositions dedicated to the Afghanistan mission, as well as more than 20 representing the history of the Canadian Army from the War of 1812 to the Second World War.

Many compositions are dedicated to the fallen; she published them in Remembering our Fallen, a 72-page book of poetry and artwork in 2015.

Still images are the building blocks for her creative process. They remind, they inspire, and they are a much-needed reference to ensure the accuracy of the realism of her work. Using Photoshop, and later in the process oil paints, she meshes the artwork, often having over 100 layers that are blended seamlessly to produce a realistic representation of a scene.

Her tenacity to get to the front line, and not be deterred by military leaders who wanted to keep her far from harm’s way, paid off as each painting has an intimacy that can only be attained through experience.

“The only way I could understand it, as an artist, was to get there on the battlefield and feel it,” she said. “This was not some hypothetical video game; I needed to know how cold it was at night sleeping outside in a ‘hooch’ or know that this might be someone’s last day as many didn’t come back from a patrol.”

Initially, it took time to earn the trust of the men and women in uniform as she pointed her camera and clicked the shutter. It was only when they realized she was an artist there to capture their experience in art form that the barriers came down.

“For me it was all about understanding the warrior mentality and gaining their trust,” she explains.

Beyond being an accomplished photographer and artist, she is also a sculptor. In 2008, she sculpted a relief dedicated to the fallen that was bronzed and then displayed in the Royal Canadian Air Force Museum in Trenton, ON; a second version was displayed at the Canadian cenotaph in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and a third will be unveiled this May in Ottawa at NDHQ Carling.

Her work doesn’t just focus on military life. During her career, Pecota has travelled across Canada and other parts of the world, taking photos of famous people and places. She was commissioned by the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry for a portrait of their Colonel-In-Chief, Lady Patricia Countess Mountbatten of Burma. She travelled to Canada’s far north where her experience inspired her to illustrate her first children’s book Hockey Across Canada and a series of artwork for the 2007 Canada Winter Games. Since 2014, she has been commissioned by the Royal Canadian Mint to design a series of commemorative coins.

But the military is stoking her creativity again. Lately, she is kept busy with her next project, a series of Second World War portraits and designing a medallion for this year’s 75th anniversary of D-Day.

To view her work, and buy prints, go to www.silviapecota.com

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