environmental art

The Art of Terraforms: Casting the Ground in Paint


I live directly below the Niagara Escarpment, on the down slope of the sharp-edged ridge that forms a 700-kilometre spine across southern Ontario. UNESCO has designated the escarpment a World Biosphere Reserve.  The marsh at the base of one of its rock layered cliffs (above) is a few minutes walk from my home. It is easy to understand why so many here share the will to preserve this gift.  That’s why artist Jim Reid made me catch my breath.  He actually casts the ground of the escarpment  for his works.


His ‘terraforms’ are tributes to Reid’s environmental lobbying for preservation in the face of massive development encroaching on the escarpment and the Canadian Shield.  After casting the ground (above) Reid works into the surfaces with paint, mixed media and found natural elements, creating what curator Ihor Holubizky has called a “hybrid amalgam where toxic material and waste combine to create new typography. Reid’s landscape is a means of mapping a surface in a poetic fashion.”


But this remarkable process continues into a long, second phase.  Transported to sites of personal significance to Reid, the terraform bases are left to the elements. allowing nature to take its course over many months. Reid says “the surfaces are built up and gouged, the elements take their toll and gradually, earlier layers are obliterated as the painting repeatedly transforms, becoming a metaphor for the natural cycles of growth and decay.”

reid-terraform-landscapePlywood base, fiberglass casts & collage for “Landscape”


Above: terraform “Landscape,” Mixed media on plywood; 96″ x 192″ / Below: Installation view, University of Waterloo


His forest and other landscape paintings are also done on site and in the studio over many months. He applies acrylic paint in a layered “visceral” way reminiscent of Abstract Expressionism.



A selection of Reid’s completed paintings illustrates his technique – a plein air style “filtered through ideas relating to modernism, neo-expressionism, biology and environmentalism,” he says.

Today no corner of the earth is unaltered by technology, yet nature remains beyond our control, infinitely complex and enigmatic. The fragility and resilience of nature, its exquisite order and chaotic unruliness fascinate me.

Jim Reid lives and works in Caledon, Ontario. He received his BFA from Mount Allison University in 1982 and holds a BSc from McMaster University in Hamilton. His work has been widely collected and exhibited across Canada.

Jim Reid’s website, here.

Flickr images of the Niagara Escarpment along its entire length, here.

Credits: Kerncliff Marsh, top of post, from CartNova Design on Flickr / Other images, Jim Reid, Rockside Studios

8 replies »

  1. I love the Niagara Escarpment. Great wineries, hiking and biking trails, caves and amazing scenery. Beautiful art inspired by a priceless and thank goodness, protected region in southern Ontario.


  2. At first I had a hard time understanding what was going on here, but I think I get it – the fifth photo is stunning to me. You are lucky to live near such a place!


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