Victoria artist retired due to vision loss gives away lifetime of work

Carl Coger spent decades sketching portraits of people walking by on the Inner Harbour's Causeway. Now retired, he gave away hundreds of his works to downsize to a smaller home on the weekend.

Carl Coger spent decades sketching portraits of people walking by on the Inner Harbour

Carl Coger holds one of the portraits he kept: of a young woman he sketched while living in Greenwich Village. (Robyn Burns/CBC)

A Victoria artist who was a fixture on the Inner Harbour's Causeway for decades has given away his life's work to downsize for his retirement.

Carl Coger was a familiar face to many Victorians and tourists as they strolled along the water. He drew portraits of people for a living in Victoria beginning in the late '70s.

On the weekend, he gave away much of the fruits of his labour at a garage sale-like event at his home. He had to call it a career about 15 years ago because glaucoma was depriving him of his vision. 

"My eyes are so bad that I even gave up driving a couple of years ago," he told All Points West host Robyn Burns. "Gave my van to my grandson and tore up my driver's license."

Coger amassed many hundreds of sketches over his years on the Causeway. Sometimes he would get them because he would simply start sketching a person and they wouldn't buy the portrait.

"Working in public, you're often invisible unless you got your hand up and drawing," he said. "So very often you gotta shill. You ask someone … 'Please, sit down, I'll draw you a picture. You don't have to buy it.'"

Coger describes his career as a hard one, but one that certainly had some interesting turns.

'I pretended to be above it all'

Coger was born in Texas, and growing up he'd sketch out the faces of actors in the movies.

He started his career sketching portraits in Greenwich Village, New York in the 1960s.

He moved to Victoria in 1977, in his 50s, but avoided drawing portraits at first.

"I pretended to be above it all and did my landscapes and things," he said.

But he came back to portraits, which he calls his "bread and butter." He did some commissions, but most people know him for his time on the causeway, which he says wasn't an easy way to make money.

"When you get rejects, it's horrible. It really hurts a lot," he said. "But just last year I got three letters ... out of the blue telling me how much those portraits meant to them, those portraits of their daughter or son. And that really feels good."

Coger says he predicts he'll play a lot of of bridge in his retirement, and doesn't pine to be back on the causeway scraping by on portrait work.

"I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. It's a rough life."

To hear the full story, click on the audio labelled: Victoria portrait artist who retired because of vision loss gives away life's work


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