Life takes artist from one lake to another

Artist  Robert Dmytruk paints in his Summerland studio. His work is part of the group exhibition, Un Art: A Visual Conversation, now open at Vernon’s Headbones Gallery until March 17. - Photo submitted
Artist Robert Dmytruk paints in his Summerland studio. His work is part of the group exhibition, Un Art: A Visual Conversation, now open at Vernon’s Headbones Gallery until March 17.
— image credit: Photo submitted

The Okanagan has seen an influx of master artists in the past 10 years (John and Joice Hall, David Alexander, Janet Cardiff and Georges Bures Miller) and Robert Dmytruk is the latest addition to the valley’s talent pool.

His work is informed by place and tells a story of location.

Dmytruk, having accomplished a move from Edmonton where he had a full working career, has built a stunning work/home studio in Summerland.

He embraces this new period with its liberation of time and space allowing him to access a psychological and physical distance that refreshes his work.

Just as landscape painting references geographical places, so Dmytruk is representing a location. But whereas traditional landscape painting attempts to connect with the location through depiction, Dmytruk attempts to understand the location through telling the story of it.

His father owned a piece of land by a lake, 20-by-five kilometers, in Alberta. It was on Range Road #52. (The number appears in many of Dmytruk’s works.)

“On the shore was a coal-fuelled power plant,” remembered Dmytruk, adding over the years three more power plants were built which necessitated strip mining beside the lake in order to fuel the plants with coal.

“The lake was a land-locked lake, made from rain water and with the mountains of tailings from the lake-side mines leeching into the lake, it became polluted.

“Visually, it was blackened, muddied and swimming was most times disallowed. Night and day it was a work site with lights blaring while vehicles with huge tires rolling across the surface of the land devastated it.”

Dmytruk used to sketch there. He didn’t stay beside the lake. He lived most of his life in Edmonton, where he taught at Concordia College, was a teacher and administrator at the Victoria School of Fine Arts and art consultant to the Edmonton School District.

He lived an urban lifestyle, in a city that was consuming electricity that was probably coming from the very power plants that had polluted the lake where he had been drawing: the lake which, in turn, fuelled his paintings when he turned to abstraction.

He says that he would attack the canvases with physicality much like the energy of pollution overtaking the colourful snippets of life.

Dmytruk wonders if the paintings aren’t a show of guilt.

The story that Dmytruk tells over and over again has caught hold. He is consumed with it. Each piece is as individual as a personal drama yet as similar as the human condition.

He repeats a view, pictured as if from above, where an insistent blue-gray overtakes patches of vibrancy. He had also seen the lake from an airplane and the paintings resemble topological maps.

Story aside, when medium (paint) and the exploration of it as mark-making becomes the image, the painting becomes an entity unto itself. Abstract expressionism involves the artist at the time of making, but it results in imagery which is no longer attached to the physical movements or subliminal story line of the artist.

Dmytruk has a large visual vocabulary and he speaks volumes with his lines, textures, patches of colour and undulating toned-downed atmospheres. His paintings are not messages of doom and gloom. They are, in fact, playful, lilting and without a didactic hidden agenda, accepting the great opposites of our modern dilemma.

Now Dmytruk is living beside another lake in the beautiful Okanagan. He has produced a powerful series that will find resonance here, where the lakes are clean and the outlooks fresh. His is a welcomed addition to a rich cultural milieu.

Dmytruk joins the exhibition Un Art: A Visual Conversation between Lee Bale, David Cantine, Karen Cantine and Sylvain Voyer at Vernon’s Headbones Gallery on Old Kamloops Road. Also showing is the work of Toronto artist David Samila.

The exhibitions run at Headbones now to March 17, with an opening reception on Friday, Feb. 22 from 6 to 9 p.m.

written by acclaimed artist and author Julie Oakes, owner of Headbones Gallery in Vernon, B.C.

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