As an artist, Symeon makes artwork that strives to connect his audience with their natural surroundings by extracting colourful pigments from soils, rocks, plants, and even bones. Local Colour Portraits showcases the uniqueness of the Canadian landscape.

Each portrait is an artwork of contemplation, reconnecting us to the land and inviting us to experience it. They combine an earth pigment with a natural element, such as water, ice or fire. In each portrait, the significance of these local colours is revealed—challenging us to have a deeper respect for the earth

Major Exhibitions

Earth Colours of Canada Exhibition Announcement

Earth Colours of Canada

Homer Watson Gallery, Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, 2019.

Exhibition Description

Earth Colours of Canada offers a meditation on our connection to the land and what that land embodies and inspires.⁣
⁣One of these meditations in colour is the blue that comes in the foam when aerating the woad plants here in Conestoga. Another is the red found in the frozen landscape along the Dempster Hwy in the Yukon. A more troubling example is the bright, heavy metal ochres left in the burning fields up in Sudbury.⁣
⁣Canadians make extensive use of the land in our farming, energy and mining sectors. Earth Colours of Canada invites us to know the land through story, process, and colour—encouraging us to listen with respect and experience the blessing it offers.⁣

Images from the 2018 Sudbury Earth exhibition at Dynamic Earth.

Sudbury Earth

Dynamic Earth, Sudbury, Ontario, 2018.

Exhibition Description

Some of Canada’s defining characteristics are its soils and minerals. Artist Symeon van Donkelaar strives to connect his audiences with their natural surroundings as he extracts colour pigments from soils, rocks, plants, and even bones. His most recent work Local Colour Portraits showcases the uniqueness of the Canadian landscape.

Each portrait uses a pigment created from the earth and is painted with a natural element such as water, ice or fire. In each portrait, the Canadian landscape that we see and know is displayed in a new way. They are artworks of  contemplation, reconnecting us to the land and challenging us to see the it in a new way.

Toronto’s Nuit Blanche in 2017.

Revealing the Nighttime Local Colours of Ontario

Toronto, Ontario, 2017.

Exhibition Description

Revealing the unseen local colours of Ontario’s landscape, see Symeon’s hieroglyphs and their stories. You’re also invited to draw in the same ochre chalk until the morning dawns, when all the colours will disappear in the sunlight.

Pilgrimage: Finding Canada’s Local Colours

The Craig Gallery, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 2015.

Exhibition Description

This exhibition reveals the land’s potential to inspire how we live and work. Using unique pigment colours made from earth around Dawson City, and a few other significant places across Canada, each of its works invites us to meditate on a community’s connection to the land and what the places where we live embodies.

Since returning to my studio from being one of the Klondike Institute of Art & Culture Artists in Residence in 2016, I have continued to use the rocks, soils, and bones I collected during my time in Dawson. The earth portrait artworks that come out of these fragments of the land encouraging us to ponder the role of the land in our lives.

In these earth portraits, the soils and rocks found at places like St. Mary’s Cemetery, Hunker Creek, or along the Dempster Hwy are rendered as pigment colours and painted in simple, bold forms. The resulting images memorialize each local colour, revealing their inner essence and significance—each manifesting the character and quality of a place. By installing twelve large earth portraits on the walls of the ODD gallery, a meditative space will be created where the local land can be understood in a new way.

This exhibition will show Dawson City as a unique place where the land embodies culture but also has industrial value. On the one hand, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in first nation looks to the land for identity and on the other the local mining community extracts minerals from that same earth. Differing perspectives like these exist in many places across Canada, but in Dawson both coexist. This makes the town an ideal setting for the Earth Portraits of Dawson City exhibition and gives it a chance to use its identity to address a national issue.

As a nation, we continue to make extensive use of the earth in our main industries of farming, energy and mining. Because of this, developing a deep sense of the land is needful in our Canadian culture. This exhibition’s earth portraits from Dawson present the land as uniquely significant, inviting us to listen and respect it in identifying our misuse of the past and prioritizing positive practices for its use in the future.

Sacred Colours of Dawson City

ODD Gallery, Dawson City, The Yukon, 2016.

Project Description

The Sacred Colours of Dawson City project gives the land a role of necessary disclosure, demonstrating how we can know it more fully and experience an encounter that can reveal the divine. Its artwork is based on three traditional ways that mankind has found God in the landscape—by wandering on pilgrimage, by the exploration of the world, and by encountering the divine in specific places on earth. The artwork done for this project rests on the assumption that the natural world is a revelation of God, and even bears the divine spirit. It is this connection that speaks to the sacredness of things and the art draws attention to this reality. Its collections focus on an element of the land which has long been understood all over the world as sacred, the earth’s colour—revealing that the land and its colours may be known in a fuller way.

While certain special places have a cultural history of being sacred in Canada, this exhibition expands that perspective from the Yukon. Colours will be shared from places of traditional pilgrimage by different First Nations, while others will come out of places used for industrial mining. Such sacred colours are full of complex stories. For instance, a bright yellow soil left over from the gold extracted around the town is a beautiful pigment, but harkens back to the processes used mine. But, as author Wendell Berry (b.1934) wrote in his book Given (2005), “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places”. Sacred Colours of Dawson City affirms that sacredness in all environments, and mankind’s need to heal, and create beauty, in all the land.

The artwork of Sacred Colours of Canada is based on different, traditional ways in which people experience God in the landscape, and explores a receptivity to the sacred in a personal, artistic response to the land. The project is arranged around a number of collections, which encapsulate the experience of pilgrimages, exploring the land as colour across the regions around Dawson City.

The resulting collections reference a kind of sacred wunderkammer. They include wooden cabinets, to frame the sacred colour being celebrated and name the place from where it originates. Monoliths of the land from where the colour was collected, as well as maps and diagrams of the area, reveal different pigments related to the process and the resulting colour from specific places. Each collection presents in a different form of disclosure. They reveal the colour’s origins, inviting others to contemplate its story through examples and symbols. All are an important part of the vision given to the land—where colour is something present, but the knowledge of which can be known and unknown.

The community will also have the opportunity to bring their own samples and stories of sacred colours into the collection with the exhibition’s inclusion of three empty cabinets. In this way, inspiration will lead to engagement—allowing people to respond by sharing from their own experience and knowledge of their local land. In Sacred Colours of Georgian Bay a visual challenge to all Canadians is present—to know more of the land, its sacredness, and to keep alive our sense of wonder.

Unterwegs poster web


Open Art Venue, Mitte, Berlin, 2011.

The 100 mile ART Project

Cambridge Centre for the Arts, Cambridge, Ontario, 2008.

Iconographer’s Workshop

University of Toronto’s Art Centre, Toronto, Ontario, 2006.