Peter Farmer fills the outline of a woman on a canvas, using quick, thick brush strokes of caramel, chocolate, rust and cobalt to paint her skin. The subject is a high jumper, her back arched over the bar, sternum facing skyward, fingers splayed.
Across the field from where he paints, beyond the concrete bleachers at the University of Manitoba Stadium, the women's high jump final at the 2017 Canada Summer Games is underway. Quebec's Mikella Lefebvre-Oatis would later earn her province a gold medal.
Farmer, 38, is a prolific Montreal-based artist who has been comissioned by National Leasing to do a live painting series at this year's games. Each original work he'll create at different sporting events during the games will be auctioned off at the Closing Ceremonies VIP reception, with all proceeds going to KidSport, a not-for-profit organization that provides financial assistance to kids so they can participate in organized sport.
He uses acrylic paint, and generally takes two hours to create a work from start to finish. He sometimes references an inspirational photograph pulled from the web for a general outline, but the energy of the events he attends informs the art on the canvas. He's mulling over how he might fill the white space below his high jumper. He might paint a track, or he might go more fanciful, having her vault over a Winnipeg skyline.
It's fitting that Farmer is back at University of Manitoba, painting athletes. Originally from the U.K, Farmer studied anatomy and physiology at the U of M, with the intention of becoming a doctor. "My dad's a doctor, so it was kind of... pressure," he says with a laugh.
He used drawing as a way to study the human form and understand how it works. "My girlfriend's mother saw me drawing, and she said I should look into it," he says, adding that he closed his medical textbooks right there and then and never opened them again. (For the record, his dad is still very proud of him.)
Farmer withdrew from U of M and enrolled in the graphic design program at Red River College, graduating in 2003. He worked in art direction for about a decade after graduation, but he always painted on the side, drawing inspiration from Henri Matisse and the other colour-confident artists of the fauvism movement. He did his first live painting event as a way to promote another art event when he was new to Montreal, loved it, and never stopped.
Creating a work of art from scratch in public comes with a unique set of challenges each time he does it. "Today it's the wind," he says. "I've done hundreds of these so it comes very natually to me. I can pace as I go.
"But this is a giant sail," he says of his canvas. "It pushes boats across water."
The Art of the Games series isn't the first time Farmer has worked with National Leasing. Two years ago, the company comissioned a 168-by-8-foot mural depicting Canada from coast to coast for its largest boardroom, which Farmer live-painted in front of the National Leasing staff.
"When we first thought of the idea for Art of the Games, we knew we had to get Peter Farmer back here," says Janet Seniuk, public relations coordinator for National Leasing.
Those who want to catch Farmer in action will have one more chance to do so. He'll be painting at Pan Am Pool on Tuesday, Aug. 8 at 6 p.m.
Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.
Updated on Wednesday, August 2, 2017 at 11:46 AM CDT: Adds photo, adds video