Unrepeatable moments from the brush of a master

Watercolour painter Rodger Garbutt featured at Tulista Gallery
May 11 to 17.

Watercolour master Rodger Garbutt shows off Flooded Lake

Master of watercolours Rodger Garbutt is the featured artist at the Tulista Park Gallery next week, showcasing his decades of experience with his collection Unrepeatable Moments.

Known for colourful portrayals of dancers and an engaging impressionistic view of landscapes, Garbutt has been painting his entire life, though his efforts began in earnest in his teens, he says, with a few artistic detours along the way.

Early on in his career, Garbutt wanted to study commercial design, but his school, England’s Hartlepool College of Art, didn’t offer it as a course. So instead, he went into window design.

“I very quickly realized that wasn’t what I wanted to do,” he says with a smile, explaining he couldn’t abide the wasted effort.

A handful of designs would be made, one chosen, and the rest would just go in the trash.

He moved to Canada in 1965, settling in Powell River for four years before moving to Saanich, and beginning a decades-long career in art education, all the while expressing his own creativity through his favoured medium: watercolour.

Many other artistic mediums are the product of hours of patience. One can spend weeks building up an oil painting, says Garbutt, but with watercolour, the results are instantaneous and mercurial.

“Watercolours are unrepeatable,” he says, echoing the show’s title. “It’s light, it’s fluid. It has a freshness to it. There’s a lot of accident in it, but it’s controlled accident.”

Another aspect of watercolour that’s always drawn Garbutt in is the unfinished feel of the paintings.

With no strict lines or borders, and largely impressionistic details, Garbutt’s paintings have an openness about them that invites observers to view the pieces with their own, individual slants.

“It’s why with a lot of pictures I won’t put a face on them,” he says. “You’re bringing your own perspective to it.”

Like reading a poem by Yeats or Cummings, it’s about taking extra moments to sink into the art, finding its edges and deeper layers, and experimenting with combining one’s own impressions and the artist’s intent.

It’s a sentiment Garbutt agrees with wholeheartedly.

“Painting is visual poetry,” he says.

His tango dancers sweep across the canvas, dark hair piled high, with a shoulder or calf clearly defined but with only a hint of facial features. Similarly, Garbutt’s landscapes draw the eye in, through trees and across lakes, but always in a meandering sort of way.

Many of his works are inspired by his extensive travels through Latin America, he says. Potato sellers in Peru, sidewalk markets in Argentina, fleeting moments in Chile, Garbutt has captured them all in a few masterful brushstrokes.

So too has he immortalized wilderness scenes from Quadra Island and from the Saanich Peninsula, but the pieces aren’t tied to their sources. One of his paintings nearly always evokes a Parisian sense in his audience, though it actually hails from South America, he says.

There is no ‘right way’ to look at his paintings, no single focal point that onlookers must train their eye on, and part of that is also due to Garbutt’s love affair with capturing movement with his brush.

Whether it’s the swirl of a dancer’s skirt, the bustle of a city sidewalk or the slow amble of a river beneath a canopy of trees, look at one of Garbutt’s paintings for even a moment, and you’ll find your eye following a natural flow across the canvas.

Recently, Garbutt has been focusing on waves and water in his paintings, trying his hand at something a little different.

“Like dances, water is moving,” he says. “Most of my pictures I try to get movement into.”

Though he uses familiar themes, Garbutt never stops stretching his art and staying true to his own vision, always striving to keep movement and growth in his own life as well as his paintings.

“We never stop learning,” he says. “You can’t compare your own art with any others, and you can’t do what people think is popular. If you do that, you’re stunting your growth.”

Unrepeatable Moments runs May 11 to 17 at the Tulista Community Art Centre, 9565 Fifth Street in Sidney.

The show is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free.

For more information, visit cacsp.com.