Not content with shaping Iqaluit, Michele Bertol captures the city in a series of stunning canvases

Planner's day job becomes her muse


As you enter Nunavut's legislative assembly, the first thing you notice are Michèle Bertol's giant paintings, each resembling a huge window offering a fresh view of Iqaluit.

The paintings, with their brighter-than-life colours, depict Iqaluit throughout the year, in all seasons with the sky dominating every scene.

"Sun setting on a cold March day" is marked by flamboyant orange clouds, while "Rust coloured hills in September" shows a chilly, end-of-summer blue sky.

Each painting also features typical Iqaluit buildings, notable for their size, shape or history, like the Baffin Gas Bar, originally a government-issued house from the 1960s.

"My eyes are always attuned to the various types of buildings in Iqaluit," says Bertol, who is Iqaluit's city planner.

To capture how a place looks, Bertol takes photos before she paints. And to get the colours just right, she sometimes spends days applying layers of paint.

Painted in a hyper-realistic style, Bertol's scenes are meticulously detailed, creating the illusion of a new reality not usually seen in photographs.

The resulting textures, surfaces, lighting and shadows make the scenes clearer and more distinct.

The seven paintings at the legislative assembly are part of a series of 12 – one for every month of the year, starting in January when the sky looks pink and the moon often rises just as the sun is going down.

The entire series of 12 won't be finished until next year. That's because finishing a single painting can take Bertol three or more months.

"If there's a word to describe me, it's patient," she says.

Originally from Haiti, Bertol has lived in the North for 18 years, working as Iqaluit's city planner for the past four and a half years.

Although Bertol studied art when she was younger, she says she never felt she could learn a living from it, so she continued her career in other directions.

But one day a few years ago, she remembers waking up and feeling like painting. She hasn't stopped since.

So Bertol now spends her week days mulling over development plans for Nunavut's capital city, but during her free time Bertol listens to music and paints – for at least two hours on weeknights and up to eight hours on Saturday and Sunday.

The results of her passion for painting and Iqaluit remain on display at the legislative assembly building in Iqaluit until Aug. 20.

Bertol hopes visitors who are in Iqaluit next week for a climate change conference will stop by to see the exhibition.

The four-day conference, organized by the city of Iqaluit, the Canadian Institute of Planners and the Alberta Association of Planners, focuses on municipal planning for climate change.

And its program includes guided bus tours around Iqaluit to visit the city's new sustainable Plateau subdivision and to see the evolution of building designs around the town.

Iqaluit is still a bit of a work in progress, Bertol admits.

But she's proud of the recent improvements to Iqaluit's downtown, such as the walkways, sculpture garden, Iqaluit square and the new Nunavut square under construction near the legislature.

"Every year it's getting better. Iqaluit has just been created – it's a very, very young city. It will get better," Bertol says.

Through her paintings, Bertol says she tries to coax out the beauty she already sees everywhere in the city, no matter what the time of year.

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