150 paintings. 87 days. One Cheezie-loving Queen.

How one B.C. painter is putting a spin on Canadian icons

How one B.C. painter is putting a spin on Canadian icons

Timothy Hoey's "O Canada" exhibit and book is a collection of 150 spirited depictions of Canadiana. (Timothy Hoey)

If you had 87 days to paint 150 Canadian icons, where would you start?

Timothy Hoey's approach was to dive right in.

"I just started painting," says Hoey, a painter, musician, writer, tattooist, carpenter, photographer and teacher. "Not giving myself much time to think or over analyze. I just kept bouncing all over the place, and then I hit 150 and stopped."

The paintings are the latest iteration of his O Canada project in which Hoey has been exploring Canadiana for over a decade.

"Nice rack, eh" is one of Timothy Hoey's "O Canada" paintings, 150 edition, highlighting iconic Canadian animals, people, places and moments in history. (Timothy Hoey)

Since his first O Canada exhibit 10 years ago, Hoey has completed a remarkable 4,000-plus works. When thinking about a "Canada 150" version of the project, he dreamed up not only a gallery exhibition, but a book.

For the anniversary exhibit and for print, couldn't he have just picked his favourites from over the years?

"That would have been the smart thing," says Hoey from his studio in Victoria. But over the years he's sold most of the pieces without taking quality photographs of them. Hoey decided that to do his 150 project right, he'd create a new set of paintings from scratch.

The catch? He settled on the task in July of 2016, and faced a November 1 publishing deadline for the book to be ready early this year, which meant he had less than three months to complete 150 8"x10" paintings.

The Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret neon sign was as iconic as the Vancouver venue itself. (Timothy Hoey)

Connecting the dots

Within the first few minutes of talking to Hoey, we're looking up our mutual friends on Facebook. "I bet [we have] mutual friends and you'll go 'how the heck do we know each other?' or 'why haven't we hung out before?'" says Hoey.

"Our country is so small. It's this crazy, weird, small country."

The theme of few degrees of separation runs through the conversation and his work. As we talk, he bounces between anecdotes and explains excitedly how he followed a stream of consciousness when choosing which pieces of Canadiana to paint. 

Hoey included portraits of Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung and all the "Famous Five" in "O Canada." (Timothy Hoey)

"When you paint Nellie McLung you better paint all the Famous Five," he said, referring to the Alberta women who sought to have women legally considered persons in the late 1920s. "Then you go, 'if I paint Maurice Richard, I better paint Jean Béliveau.'"

"It was really from the heart and the hip."

The royal treatment

The book will be divided into sections, each introduced by a portrait of the Queen — not one of which is your typical official portrait. Hoey likely won't face the backlash Charles Pachter did in the '70s for his piece Queen on Moose. Pachter may well have paved the way for irreverent depictions of Her Majesty, much less Queen plus iconic Canadian animal.

"There's nothing more fun than painting the Queen petting a beaver," says Hoey of the image that introduces the section of the book on animals.

The Queen petting a beaver is just one of the lighthearted twists on a royal portrait Hoey includes in "O Canada." (Timothy Hoey)

Other paintings of the Queen include her standing by a Trans-Canada sign (to introduce the section on Canadian locations), gripping a bag of Cheezies (food and drinks), wearing a Rush t-shirt (celebrities), holding the Grey Cup (sports) and paddling a birch canoe in a buckskin jacket (historical events). 

In the book and his upcoming gallery shows, no description accompanies each painting other than the title. Hoey, a self-proclaimed "history nerd," hopes that if Canadians don't recognize the subject matter that they'll be inspired to look it up.

Canada's a pretty great place, but it's up to us to make it better.- Timothy Hoey

"The thing I love most about the O Canada series is people tell me stories. They stop and they'll get on their phone and they'll Google who the heck I painted and why."

"When people look at the history of [Canada], it's not all gold and glitter," says Hoey. "Canada's a pretty great place, but it's up to us to make it better."

Musical introductions

Hoey asked seven musicians to write an introduction to the book, hoping he'd get a couple positive replies. All seven surprised him by unanimously responding quickly and enthusiastically, and their stories, based on what Canada means to them, are interspersed in the book.

Why ask a musician to write the intro?

"Pierre Berton, bless his soul, isn't available. So I decided, who knows Canada better than anybody? And it's those bands that drive this massive country and see so much of it."

Jann Arden is one of the seven musicians who wrote on what Canada means to them for "O Canada." (Timothy Hoey)

His criteria in picking the musicians was "have I been in a band with them, have I shared a venue with them or have I shared a drummer."

The seven Canadian musicians who met at least one of those criteria for Hoey were Grant Lawrence (The Smugglers), Mike McDonald (Jr. Gone Wild),  Stephen McBean (Black Mountain), Jerry Woods (Sons of Rhythm Orchestra), Ford Pier, Paul Pigat and Jann Arden.

Continuing to connect dots between people and places, our phone call comes to a close and Hoey extends an invitation:

"If you're out west, bang on the door, you're more than welcome. This is Canada."

O Canada the exhibit opens January 14 at Trounce Gallery, Victoria, February 18 at Elevation Gallery, Canmore, Alberta and April 19 at Rouge Gallery in Saskatoon.

Are you creating art for, about, or because of Canada 150? Share your paintings, photography, music, poetry, or local event with us at 2017@cbc.ca

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