Thirty Years of Painting the West Coast

Wednesday July 2nd, 2014 @ 1:53pm

It was July 25th 1984 around ten in the evening when I came over Sutton Pass to take on a new job with Parks Canada at the brand new Wickaninnish Interpretive Centre. It was a memorable night to come through the mountains as a forest fire was in full blaze on the slope above Cat’s Ear Creek lighting up the entire mountainside. There was no one controlling traffic so I continued through the smoke and flaming debris to arrive in Ucluelet around midnight at the Park’s seasonal accommodation.

I was on a high. This was the first step towards a dream that I might somehow make a living as an artist. I had recently turned thirty and it hit a panic button in me. My grandmother had been very artistic but only started painting five years prior to her death and I didn’t want to wait that long to get started. Drawing animals and taking an avid interest in the natural world had been an integral part of my life since my earliest memories but to try to make a living selling paintings was a huge unknown.

Thirteen years earlier the seeds had been planted when I first visited Long Beach. Accompanied by my U-Vic roommate and more beer than food for the weekend it took us hours in his Volkswagen van to twist and wind the dusty logging roads to eventually break out onto the most spectacular coastline I could have imagined. Coincidentally Princess Anne was also visiting that day in May 1971 with a pair of scissors and young-looking Jean Chrétien at her side. With apparently a massive headache she snipped a ribbon at Green Point Rocks to officiate the opening of Pacific Rim National Park. Ignoring the speeches and ceremonies we drove northward across the sand, parked at Schooner Cove and then hiked to the Radar Beaches where we camped for two nights. I was blown away by the sheer beauty of the outer coast. Nature was still in full control and the power of winter storms had left their mark with heaps of tangled logs. The rusting hulk of the square-rigger, Camerla Pu, was still visible jammed in the rocks almost three-quarters of a century after its fateful night in February 1915. Summer winds had twisted the trees into fantastic fairy-tale shapes and the pockets of sandy beaches offered endless inspiration for a budding artist. I was so moved by the experience that I painted my first acrylic painting a week later from memory on my parent’s back porch in Kitimat.

It took several years and a few side trips for the stars to aline and the job opening at Pacific Rim to fall into place. Along the way I spent nine years as a high school science teacher at Shawnigan Lake School, hitch-hiked across Africa and spent a winter painting on Hornby Island. The job at Pacific Rim National Park was the perfect stepping stone in that it provided 7 months of summer work with the remainder of the winter months free for creativity.

Working for Parks turned out to be a great way to transition from a monthly pay cheque into the unpredictable world of painting for a living. After four years at the Wickaninnish Centre the job threatened to become a year round occupation which would mean almost no time to paint. I decided to quit and started full time as an artist in 1987.

At first I was more travelling salesman than artist. Every few days in the summer I would load the car with a selection of art cards and a few black and white prints and head across the Island to stock the shelves of gift shops from Campbell River to Victoria. Luckily in the mid nineties there was a good reception for wildlife images and the prints and originals sold fairly well allowing the purchase of a house on Main Street in Tofino right beside the Village office. (There is a parking lot on that location now).

The living room in the new house was redesigned to be my studio but I did not quite expect the number of interruptions I began receiving. People from my past, some friends and some I hardly knew showed up almost daily. It turned out having a house in Tofino had its draw backs. I had a particularly frustrating day in mid February when I squeezed out paint eight times and never actually touched a brush to the canvas. Signs on the door where totally ineffective.

The solution was to find a work space that was a little further off the beaten track. When a cabin on Wickaninnish Island was offered as a temporary studio I jumped at the chance. For three winters I packed easels and paints into my Zodiac and crossed the swells to the outer exposed side of the Island. With the open Pacific pounding up the rocks under the cabin floor this was a dream studio for a guy that loves to paint waves and stormy seas. But it was those stormy seas that almost ended my career when one night in mid March of 1991 a huge rogue wave flipped my boat and its contents upside-down on a reef a hundred meters off the island. After that close call I realized I might be better off in slightly more sheltered waters. When Valerie Langer said she was thinking of selling her floathouse I went to the bank and bought it the next day. It needed some work and was partially submerged but with Remote Passage’s first new Zodiac we towed it to the head of Lemmens Inlet where it has been moored for 23 years.

In more recent times it has had a second level added and is now a fully functional studio and living space.

The plans to have a gallery have been simmering on the back burner for many years.

After doing hundreds of shows all over western Canada and the US, it has always made sense to save the time and energy by displaying my work closer to home. Many fellow artists have opened their own gallery only to regret the move when their creative time became heavily restricted. Waiting for the right person to help manage the day to day running of a gallery finally ended three years ago when Rino del Zoppo came wandering through Tofino from Australia. His computer and organizational skills were a perfect fit, not to mention his personable approach with visitors and his charming accent. So thirty years almost to the month of that arrival date in July 1984 the Mark Hobson Gallery on Campbell Street in Tofino has opened and seems to be the perfect location to showcase my passion for this magnificent outer Coast.