Kate Zessel’s art is distinctly West Coast Canadian. Each piece exudes her love for the outdoors, the iconic nature that resides here, and the unique mountain culture in Whistler. The subject matter is both playful and beautiful with a detailed and haunting quality that suggests there’s a story hidden just underneath. It’s this evocative Canadiana focus that attracted the eye of Kim Hunt, who founded the Whistler Blackcomb Feature Artist Program last year.
Kim explained to me how she wanted to do something different for their logo-wear line; that would develop a concept that would foster a stronger connection to the mountains. She wanted to create apparel that a visitor and local would be proud to wear and started looking at Whistler artists who were creating work that really celebrated the mountains. The first artist she worked with was Vanessa Stark, and with her designs, Kim created a line of apparel and hardware that would only be available for a year – once it’s gone, it’s gone. They made it a fundraiser for the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation which supports the community in many ways, and last year Kim was able to sign a $4,500 cheque from the five percent that flows to the non-profit from the sales – a resounding success.
Always on the lookout, Kim spotted Kate’s work in the Lift Coffee Company (who are part of Arts Whistler’s We Love Local Art Program) and immediately thought – I want to do something with that. She looked at Kate’s work o and on her website and Instagram and decided to reach out.
When Kate got the email she tells me that she cried. She’s been coming to Whistler since she was born and being asked to showcase her work at the top of the mountain is simply a dream come true.
“Whenever we hit the Tantalus Range my body would relax,” said Kate as we spoke about her childhood trips to Whistler. “It always felt like coming home. When I initially heard from Kim I couldn’t believe she even knew my name, nevermind asking me to work on a project where I would be representing the mountains I love.”
Kim and Kate worked together on three designs, although Kate was given free reign creatively as Kim wanted that distinctive “Kate-style” she’d fallen in love with in the coffee shop. They finalized on a bear, deer, and mountainscape that Kim then placed on a range of t-shirts, sweaters, mugs, and hats using her knowledge of trending styles and colours.
“Kate’s tattoo style artwork really lends itself to apparel,” explained Kim. “She has training as a graphic designer so could visualize what we were after without taking away from her initial artwork. She is incredibly talented, humble, and professional – a dream to work with on this project. The bear is so iconic to Whistler it’s been the top seller, but I love the deer.”
Kate’s artwork can be found in three places, Essentially Blackcomb inside the Carleton Lodge, Roundhouse Traders at the top of Whistler Mountain, and Blackcomb Ski and Sport in the Blackcomb Daylodge. As someone who’s used to letting their art take centre stage it’s been strange for Kate to see her face on a billboard, although she knows the exposure is doing incredible things for her career. She’s certainly right there, Whistler attracts 2.1 million people per year from all over the world and heading up the mountains is the key attraction.
“I didn’t tell my friends and family it was happening,” says Kate with a chuckle. “I just started getting texts and messages when they saw the line and the billboards. My parents friends would be calling them and I think this made them realize the magnitude of the opportunities that I have here in Whistler to showcase my art.”
Kate’s work can also be seen at The North Face store in Whistler where she’s completed a mural, and one of her designs has been used on a Lululemon top and yoga mat that’s been selling this winter. Leveraging this energy Kate has decided to open a store in Function Junction this spring (May 15, 2018) called The Dire Wolf. She describes it as a “gathering all the artistic lone wolves in Whistler and making them a pack”. Her idea is to showcase Whistler artists, she sees it as a place to gather creative minds, run workshops, and offer up a space for people who need it with artist-in-residency programs.
Kim’s also been busy, although she’s not finalized an artist for the 2019 winter program just yet she’s currently in talks with mountain biker and artist, Micayla Gatto for a summer line that will be available exclusively at Garbanzo Bike and Bean at the base of Whistler Mountain.
Kate’s deer design graces the side of Kim’s coffee mug, which is fitting given it was a cup of joe that connected them in the first place – cheers to great art and partnerships that foster the opportunity to create connections with meaning.