Story by Savanah Tillberg, Photos by Michael Wooley

Environmental accountability meets art when artist Aaron Veldstra takes his brush to tar. A graduate from Lakehead University’s undergraduate program in visual art and University of Alberta’s Master of Fine Arts program, Veldstra has made a name for himself as an artist and instructor within the community.

Both a labourer and an artist at heart, Veldstra explains that his life has always been about balancing the two and allowing each to work off the other. Tree planting was what initially brought Veldstra to Thunder Bay and he says that the intersection between labouring and environmentalism often inspires his work.

One of the most jarring features of Veldstra’s work is his use of roofing tar as a medium. “We usually talk about paintings on canvas, but you don’t usually hear about people painting on tar,” he says. “I find it really interesting to work with because of its allure and the toxicness of it.” In lieu of using his art to criticize the aspects of life that adversely impact the environment, Veldstra instead aims to try to understand them. His work primarily concerns society’s complacent nature regarding environmental issues. “We can work together to help combat this problem while acknowledging that we ourselves are a part of the problem,” he says.

Veldstra’s most recent show, Tarlacan, was on display this past spring at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery. The series included several paintings that mimic a reflective surface, allowing viewers to see themselves behind an oily barrier. Veldstra explains that Tarlacan pressures viewers to recognize and confront their own participation in petro culture and climate change.

Currently, Veldstra says he is in a “transitionary period.” Although he has new ideas and is developing a new artistic project, Veldstra says the timeline for this new line of work is unknown.

“Can you actually cure the world of its addiction to oil? Probably not,” says Veldstra. However, he is excited to continue interacting with people and sharing stories in order to broaden his understanding of these topics—as well as fuel his art.