Creating visual images has always been a part of my life. As a child, I loved to draw and I was the typical school kid bringing home the creations all parents are so proud to receive (hopefully). I took art seriously throughout my school years until I graduated from high school in 1961. For me art was right up there with rock & roll and girls.
I also had a passion to see the world and in the summer of 1963 left Canada to explore Europe for six months. Four years later I returned after having spent two years in Europe and two more in Africa and Asia.
In 1968, I entered university with the idea of finding a career. I wasn’t sure what that would be so dabbled in as many things as possible majoring in Sociology. Fortunately the times allowed for a lot of exploration and eventually I returned to what I loved to do the most – art.
I have always felt that the most meaningful way of learning something is through “on the job training”. In the early 1970s I joined a grass roots group in Vancouver that dealt with ecological concerns. My job was to create posters, brochures, displays and a newspaper. I learned from others and applied the new skills directly to the tasks at hand. It proved for me to be the best form of training in commercial art.
After a few years I left to pursue “fine” art as opposed to commercial design. That was great – until the money ran out. Back to the commercial world where I worked for three years as a graphic designer for one of the departments of the Canadian government. Saving carefully bought enough time to attempt the REAL thing again and in late 1978 I held my first exhibition, featuring pencil drawings and acrylic paintings. I made just enough money to see me through to exhibition number 2 in the summer of 1979.
That year, I enrolled in a summer course offered by the Vancouver Art School on basic lithography. I learned a great deal but knew this was only scratching the surface, so to speak, and entered the Emily Carr School of Art and Design in September, 1979, majoring in printmaking.
The cost of setting up a printmaking studio was prohibitive but fortunately Vancouver is home to one of the best co-op printmaking studios in Canada, Malaspina Printmakers Society. It became “home” for several years and I was able to hone my skills in the craft of stone lithography. This allowed me to produce limited edition prints that could be displayed through a network of galleries across North America.
My earliest influences were the work of Rene Magritte and M.C. Esher. Early themes were surrealistic/satirical images of the conflict between humans and nature. Coming from a part of Canada where forestry is a major industry much of the early work dealt with this subject. Eventually I evolved into a landscape artist, both surreal and representational in style.
In the mid 80s my wife, Helen Vanwel, had an opportunity to work in China. She managed a short term project in Wuhan Central China in 1984. One year later Helen became the project Director of a Canadian Development project in Beijing where we lived for 3 years.
After three rather (artistically) dry years living in Beijing, we moved to Jakarta, Indonesia in late 1988. With no access to printmaking facilities I painted in oil and participated in some well received exhibitions.
In 1990, I began to draw (pen & ink) images of typical “kampung street scenes of Jakarta neighbourhoods. Soon I realised that much of what I was recording was literally disappearing before my eyes. My usual mode of operation was to go out and photograph scenes that interested me as well as taking notes and making rough sketches. It was sometimes many months between the time of first seeing a scene and getting down to actually drawing the image. On one of these occasions when I returned to the scene to study it further, I found an empty space where some months before stood a thriving busy community. This prompted me to begin recording traditional scenes across the city. I was on a mission.
Over the next six years, I drew almost a hundred images depicting every-day life as well as those showing the dramatic changes taking place in this rapidly developing city. This subject matter may have little historical or architectural value but portrays what I call a “social heritage”. There are plans to eventually publish a book of these Jakarta drawings.
Currently, I work mainly in painting and drawing media and every two years return to the Malaspina studio in Vancouver to spend several months creating a series of limited edition lithographs. Until 1997 most of these editions featured the colourful rural landscape of those parts of Indonesia I have visited. In 1997, I began to produce limited edition lithographs of Jakarta scenes in black & white. These scenes deal with the same subject matter as the earlier pen & ink drawings