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Nancy Petry

She’s petite but nonetheless a real force of nature: physical, intellectual and creative.  The life of this Canadian artist, known for her paintings, art films and interventions, has a life that is planned around her next trip and her works have been inspired by past journeys.

From her two homes, one in Montréal and the other in London, U.K., she is always on the move: from one exhibition or viewing to the next, one concert to another, or from city to city, country to country.  A conversation with Nancy Petry always includes places, people and the colors of countries visited or yet to be discovered…

Euphoria – Would you mind sharing with us some of your most euphoric trips?

Nancy Petry – Wholeheartedly wishing that the current political situation in Egypt would be solved as soon as possible, I would like to talk about this country even if travelers will likely have to wait a while before going there.  The first time I went to Egypt was twenty years ago and I have returned two times since. Each time I was able to benefit from the fabulous knowledge of specialists on ancient Egypt, one an American Egyptologist and the other an English archaeologist.

My most memorable images come from a cruise on the Nile, from Luxor to Aswan and then a hot air balloon trip over the Valley of the Kings coupled with a visit to its imposing tombs and chambers.

Another magical moment was an invitation to dinner by the now-retired leader of the team that excavated the Tombs of the Nobles : the stories he told us were remarkable.

More recently was a brief visit to the Gobi Desert in China.  I went there mostly to see the famous wall paintings in the Mogao Caves, and to my surprise, what impressed me most was the desert itself: you never seem to get enough of the sand dunes and the lines and smooth slopes painted by the wind.

Euphoria – Which countries have inspired your work?

Nancy Petry – First, I would say Greece, which I have visited ten times.  It inspired my series of paintings “Islands”. It is my own abstract interpretation of the islands viewed from the boat when you cruise around the islands.  Apart from those island images what I remember most are the nights spent on deck when you sleep after watching the unique show that the many stars in the clear sky put on for you. I have never seen anything like it!

It is this noble clarity and simplicity, as well as its ascetic character, that best describe Greece, in my opinion: the clear sky, the light, the air and the sea and the purity of its architecture and the life of its people.

I have also done a series of paintings on Cambodia, Sacred sites of the Khmer.  What astonished me most was the grip of nature on ruins and temples discovered in the jungle: human work reclaimed by nature.

Finally, the cremation of the last royal family member from Bali inspired my film Journey: Impressions of a royal cremation.

Euphoria –  What was your first trip ever?

Nancy Petry – I was twenty and freshly graduated from McGill University when I decided to backpack to Europe with two other girls.  We hitchhiked for a year, with the huge budget of one dollar a day each…  I will let you guess what year it was!

My weight wasn’t even 50 kilos, probably less than my backpack! Just imagine what happened the first time I tried to put on that backpack… I fell on my back!

We visited almost every country and every single museum with our sketchbooks attempting to reproduce them or be inspired by the masters whose works we were privileged to see in real life. Our biggest expenses were opera and theater tickets.

Everything went fine, until we reached Nice, where a scorpion bit me in a youth hostel: a few hours later, I was out of hospital and ready to go on.

Euphoria – Any travel anecdotes you wouldn't mind sharing with us?

Nancy Petry– I was once mistaken for a Basque terrorist who had escaped from prison and I was detained for a few hours. It happened at the French border on my way back from Spain. Another time I was hitchhiking to cross the border between Greece and Macedonia: a man stopped and took me on his donkey.

Another anecdote happened in Turkey.  A farmer driving a horse cart was nice enough to give me a lift.  Climbing in the cart, I quickly discovered the only place I could sit was on a gigantic dead boar.

Euphoria –  If you had to recommend only one trip in a lifetime, what would it be?

Nancy Petry – Going around the world with one ticket!

Truly, most airlines offer a “Round the World fare”.  In Economy class, it costs around 1,000 euros: cheaper than a Canada/China trip or a return fare Canada/Australia!

Euphoria – What are you looking for most of the time on a trip?

Nancy Petry – The scenery and a feeling of unfamiliarity. Mostly nature, but also different people, food, clothing and colors of course.

Euphoria – Any future travel projects?

Nancy Petry – A safari in Kenya to see the immense wild animals in real life. Then, Japan. Havana is also one city that I haven’t yet seen, contrary to many Canadians, and I would love to visit.

And why not the Moon!

Euphoria – We are sure you could reach for it, Nancy. Thank you.

Interview and French original: Sylvie Berthiaume

Translation: Christiane Théberge


Hot air balloon trip - Valley of the Kings

Painting from the series "Islands"

Preah Ko from the series «Sacred sites of the Khmer»


Kenya - the dream