– Story by Lin Stranberg Photography by Lia Crowe
Elizabeth Cross is inspired by love, passion, art and the environment.
“This may sound cheesy, but I believe love is the ultimate thing in life,” she says.
It’s quickly apparent that for Cross, a free-spirited and prolific painter, serious businesswoman and busy mother of three teenage girls, painting itself is a great love affair and grand passion.
Cross has been painting for 30 years, but she held back on exhibiting her work publicly until 2018. It has taken off like a rocket ever since, and eliminated her reluctance for good. She has produced probably 200 paintings for exhibit and sale, and has shown in both Vancouver and Seattle at Art Vancouver, Lillian Gallery and Lynn Hanson Gallery, among other venues. She has also participated in “live” painting competitions throughout Vancouver. Her work is currently showing in Kitsilano at Stock Home Design and at Art Downtown, Vancouver’s newest outdoor art exhibition.
Her art is mainly abstract: she loves to paint flowers and faces in bold, bright acrylic colours that just explode off the canvases—bright reds, pinks, yellows and greens, plus black and white for special high-contrast pieces. She makes her paintings more textural with gels, glitter, sparkles and, unusually, bits of used fabric from clothing.
“It adds quite a bit of interest and texture and also helps to save the material from going to landfill,” she says.
Her deep feeling for sustainability and the environment is authentic—it’s part of her background as a bio-resource engineer and environmental specialist.
After earning her master’s degree in bio-resource engineering from UBC, she worked as an environmental advisor in Vancouver for corporations like Telus and YVR. Now she runs her own start-up, Moda Circolare, a consulting agency for new and existing brands of sustainable fashion. The way she sees it, it’s a natural offshoot of her environmental advisory.
“The issues are the same: social and environmental issues, governance and so on. The difference is that in the case of Telus, for example, the issue may have been electronic waste, while with fashion it’s about things like fabric waste or solvents.”
As much as she helps people with her environmental expertise, her real ambition is to feel and communicate joy through the paintings she make and sells. Earning money through her paintings keeps the whole thing going.
“I love to paint big pieces and I can go a little crazy with paint,” she says.
She always paints outside, often under a big patio umbrella in the rain: “The cold and rain don’t bother me, but some days my hands feel like they’re freezing.”
She has no set plan when she begins a canvas. She never paints from nature, models or photographs.
“I paint it all from my head,” she says. “I paint whatever I feel that day, in the colours I feel like using. If I’m in a yellow mood, I’ll paint in that colour that day.”
She spends an average of four to eight hours on a painting, frequently returning to them.
“Sometimes they’re hard to leave alone—I’m always trying to improve them.”
She describes herself as a “hopeless, dreamy, ridiculously loving” romantic, and the titles of many of her paintings are overt references to her belief in the appeal of romantic love. “My Lover’s Last Kiss,” “I Am So Attracted to You,” “Falling in Love For the First Time” and “Love Shines Brighter When You Are Near” are typical titles for both the flowers and faces she likes to paint. The colours all speak of passion. But some of the flowers have a darker aspect and some faces, while abstract, have a feeling of sadness about them that may speak to the mysteries and potential heartaches of love as well.
There are a pair of dress shoes on her website (elizabethcross.ca) that she has painted in orange, purple, blue and green that “represent the treadmill of daily life, the running out of time and that life is so very precious.”
But this romantic can be a sentimentalist too. As both a scientist and an artist, she lives in a left brain/right brain duality that is both charismatic and rare.
When she was completing her first degree (in agriculture) at UBC, she took some art courses and picked up the basics of drawing, mixed media, acrylic and oil painting. During that period, she had the pleasure of meeting Zbigniew Kupczynski, a Polish-Canadian abstract expressionist, at a South Granville art store. Kupczynski’s wildly colourful portraits of children and celebrities made a lasting impression of her. As a young student, she could only afford his prints and bought two of them. Kupczynski, in turn, was impressed that a student was buying his work.
“I loved the vibrant colours he used and the expression of his work. I loved how he geometrically broke down the faces,” she said.
She took metalwork courses at Van Tech while studying for her master’s degree at UBC, and again at BCIT more than 10 years later.
“Welding’s very therapeutic. I used to make tables, beds, candleholders and mirrors and sell them at craft fairs,” she says, adding that her teenage daughters learned to weld in high school.
Cross, originally from Ontario, travelled extensively as a child. Her father, a geologist, had a career that took him all over the globe, and he moved his family wherever he went. When Elizabeth was 12, they came back to Canada and settled in Vancouver, where she’s lived ever since.
She recently moved from the modern house she and her husband built in Dunbar into “a big old yellow house” in Kerrisdale. It’s a family home, full of love and artwork. One of her daughters’ larger-than life metal sculptures welcomes you at the door, making it clear that it’s occupied by a very creative family.