In the six years since Win Dinn and her husband John moved to the Creston Valley, she has been a gallery owner, an artist and a teacher. And she has become known for her fascination — no, let’s call it obsession — with colour.
Looking through Dinn’s paintings and multi-media creations, scrolling through her Internet blog and perusing her Facebook posts, it quickly becomes apparent that she sees, and appreciates, colour in a distinct and highly developed way.
The human eye has three different types of cones, or photoreceptors, that allow us to distinguish red, blue and green colour wavelengths. Pigeons and butterflies are pentachromats — they can distinguish five colours. But the queens of colour vision are the stomatopods, including the peacock mantis shrimp, which have 16 different photoreceptor pigments that allow them to see a range of colours that puts humans to shame. Think of Dinn as the human equivalent of the peacock mantis shrimp.
Surprisingly, she wasn’t especially artistic as a child.
“I didn’t get into doing art until I started colouring mandalas as an adult,” she says.
Colouring mandalas? It was a therapeutic approach to working through a family tragedy, one that eventually led her to designing mandalas and then painting them.
Definitions of the word mandala usually include references to designs, usually circular, that symbolize the universe or express a personal striving for unity of the self.
“The mandala is a classic concept that shows up in cultures throughout history,” Dinn says. “The shape and design is meditative and invites focus — they are a very therapeutic form. I start painting them intuitively, then became fascinated when I found that they appear in every area of the planet and have their base in nature.
“The planet holds such things as sacred — there is definitely something there.”
She and John came to Creston from Canmore, where both had been active in the arts community, creatively and organizationally. There is a sense of order and purpose to everything the couple does, perhaps as a result of the careers — she was an office manager and John worked as a draftsman in the structural steel industry. He paints and does photography.
When retirement age appeared on the horizon, the couple visited the Okanagan, where they have family. But another family member recommended that they drive through Creston before returning home.
“We fell in love with the area and within about a month we had bought a house,” Dinn says. “The Creston Valley seemed quieter — we liked the lack of craziness that surrounds the Okanagan, which has grown so quickly. We loved the fruit trees and found the people to be very friendly. That there was already a strong arts community was clearly very important to us, too.”
Like many who choose a different area to retire in, they could hardly wait to make the move.
“It was just awful,” she laughs. “We came much earlier than we had planned — there was an almost unbearable pull.”
Knowing that she was unlikely to find work in Creston, she underwent a yearlong planning process that led to the opening of Painted Turtle Gallery in downtown Creston. The gallery was an instant hit with artists, local residents and visitors. It was filled with art in many media, with the emphasis on Kootenay artists.
“It was a fabulous experience and I am so thankful that we actually did it,” she says. “I learned a ton, from a business owner’s point of view and I loved the social aspect of it.”
What appeared to be a fixture on Canyon Street couldn’t survive a sudden downturn in the economy, though.
“I was doing everything right and we just got kicked by the economy. I hear how much the gallery is missed every time I go downtown.”
When one door closes, another often opens, though, and she has used her time to focus on her own creativity and to offer a series of a workshops, too.
Dinn first painted with acrylics and for a while focused on pastels. In recent years, though, she has fallen in love with making multimedia pieces, which might include photographs, as well as objects and paint. They allow her tremendous freedom to explore the use of colour and to use found objects that inspire her on a daily basis. In fact, she collects little objects of interest and when she is looking for a source of inspiration they often give her just what she needs to get started.
“Mixed media allows me to incorporate everything I’ve learned in all different areas. It keeps my interest really engaged.
“Everything is collage fodder. The most mundane thing, like a nut and bolt, can start series of paintings — I’ve even used computer parts.”
“Very strong colours are always inspiring. I take a lot of inspiration from nature, including drawing and pressing leaves.”
On her blog (www.windinnart.blogspot.ca), Dinn recently posted a pastel she did a few years back. Rodgriguez Island Gecko features a blue gecko against blue and orange design that appears to be an extreme close-up of the gecko’s skin. It is from a series she called Vanished from the Pattern. She then goes on to introduce another series, Fading from the Pattern, which uses several photos to explain the process she used to create Hung Out to Dry, which includes a National Geographic photo of a lion against a backdrop of red mountains, with a subtle lion paw print imposed on the surface.
“I find there are subjects and/or issues that will just not leave me alone, and I suspect the destruction of our environment will continue as a theme throughout my artistic life,” she writes.
Asked what direction she would like to take her creative spirit and colour-obsessed eye in the coming years, Dinn’s first thoughts turn to teaching.
“I’d like to be doing workshops across Western Canada and the Northwest United States,” she said, “as well as creating and showing my own work. My art is as much about teaching as it is about painting.”
Dinn’s work is currently on display at Creston Framing and Cherrybrook Farms in Erickson, as well as Fisher Peak Gallery in Cranbrook.