Every day is new, and every day is beautiful, artist Robert Mansfield said, which is the key aspect that his art seeks to capture.
“My work is like jazz it’s very improvisational,” Mansfield said. “To a certain degree the less control that I feel I have I feel the better the piece.”
His latest show, Reflections of Ross Lake, is an abstract viewing of the beauty that surrounds his home, and opens this Friday at the Smithers Art Gallery, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. All the paintings in the show were emotionally and inspirationally taken from the area that he moved to from Wichita, Kansas, his hometown.
“You’ll see the colours in the waves, you’ll see the reflections of the trees in the water,” Mansfield said. “It’s fascinating colour, an distortion of reality, as it were, looking at it through the water and it’s just fascinating.”
Hazelton is quite different from his hometown, he said, describing Wichita as being as flat as a table. A running joke down there is saying that the native tree of Kansas is the telephone pole, which isn’t true. Actually, it’s the Cottonwood, and now he has as many Cottonwood trees on his acreage by Ross Lake as there are in the entire state.
“It gives you kind of an idea of the change, plus we’ve got mountains,” Mansfield joked. “So yeah, I found this to be very inspirational.”
What brought him to Hazelton is his wife, who grew up in the area, but it’s not the first time he’s been to Canada. In 1969 he was visiting a friend of his, who had dodged the draft, in Winnipeg, where he fell in love.
“It was like utopia,” Mansfield said, who decided to take a year off to join the art scene in the Canadian town. “And that was it, I just loved it.”
In 1972 he began the gallery known as the Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art Gallery in Winnipeg, a gallery still operating today. It was there that he met Donald Jackson, a professional figure skater for Canada in the late 1960s went into an art gallery displaying Mansfield’s work. Jackson was so moved by those pieces that he contacted Mansfield right away, purchasing four pieces and inviting him to Toronto.
“It was quite an experience, this guy’s pretty high-powered,” Mansfield said. “I really thought that was pretty interesting.”
He stayed with it for two years before he wanted to go back to creating art full-time.
He’s always known he’s an artist, he said. When he was just a little boy he was always doodling, and when he was 10 years old he won a scholarship to the Art Association, who was hosting a summer program. Each year they would hand out three awards for the whole community, one for primary school, one for middle school and high school to outstanding students to participate in a summer program.
That started his formal training, he said, who won the scholarship at all three levels. Later he would attend the University of Kansas.
“The instructors were professionals,” Mansfield said of his summer course. “There I was, 10 years old, and I was being instructed by college level instructors and they were not diddling around for teaching college level concepts in design and painting, perspective, form, shape, shadowing, it was just unbelievable.”
He was pretty lucky, he said, and it helped him to be the artist he is today. Painting and drawing have always held a certain charm for him, but he’s tried a variety of mediums over the years, including clays, sculpting, and steel.
“The one thing that fascinated me more than anything else was drawing and painting,” he said. “Painting especially, it grew, it went away from anything representational into the abstract and I kind of felt there was a lot of energy, a lot of potential there to move space and colour, and it really spoke to my spirit so I just kept pursuing that.”
It was a focus that really took off just after his junior year in university, once the basics had been covered and more of the students own creative side really began to shine.
It’s interesting, he said, looking back at how his art has matured over the years, and yet his next project is looking like it’ll be re-exploring a resin and plexiglass type medium that he once worked on when he was younger.
It’s a gift, he said, being able to create as he does, one that he’s very thankful to have.
“It comes from the spirit,” Mansfield said. “It’s unique to each one of us … and that’s where I get my inspiration.”
Watching the sun rise, watching it set, every day there’s something new.
“Every day the energy is there, the beauty is there,” Mansfield said. “There are times when it’s just so overwhelming; I have to paint, I have to paint it, I have to do something with it.”