Chris Cran considers himself an explorer, but not of mountains and uncharted trails. Rather, he is an explorer of perception — of how our brains interpret what they see and how we reconcile our expectations with reality.

Cran’s curiosity about individual experience has underpinned his entire 46-year career as a painter. His celebrated body of work defies categorization; quirky selfportraits reflect traditional techniques, while later works blend modernist abstraction with pop art, incorporating reproductions of cartoons and advertisements from the 1950s and ’60s.

“If I’m working for a while in a territory, I explore it, and then when I feel like I’ve satisfied that search, I wander into some other territory. I don’t ever get bored,” he says.

Cran was born in 1949 in Ocean Falls, British Columbia, but soon moved to Salmon Arm, where he eventually met an important lifelong friend: musician and artist Herald Nix. In 1970, Nix encouraged him to take up painting, and though Cran initially pursued a career as a filmmaker in Toronto, fatherhood and his growing love for painting convinced him to settle in the West.

Since 1979, when he graduated from Calgary’s Alberta College of Art and Design, Cran’s work has been exhibited across Canada and the United States, and he has been a visiting artist at nearly 30 universities, colleges and galleries. A major survey of his work is planned for May 20 to September 5 at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.

Cran says that although his work has changed over the decades, he still paints for the sheer joy of it. He frequently takes nature walks with his wife, dancer Denise Clarke (“Nature gives us our breath back,” he says), and draws inspiration from quotidian scenes: the shadow of a fencepost on fresh snow or a flock of geese flying against the sun.

“For me the exciting part of painting is noticing something in the world and wondering why it captured my notice. That takes me down a path, and all the while I’m making work connected to that exploration.”