Artists in Their Studios: Where Art Is Born by Robert Amos 

Artists in their Studios: Where Art is Born

by Robert Amos

Published by TouchWood Editions

160 pages, 2007

Buy it online



Collages and Creativity

Reviewed by Cherie Thiessen

Ever wanted to wander into Robert Bateman or Ted Harrison’s studio to see how they work? Ever wondered what Carole Sabiston or Pat Martin Bates’ studios might look like? It is a heady thing to be in the presence of a celebrated and gifted artist, and this book is the closest many of us will ever get to that.

Amos takes us into 33 Western Canadian creative oases, visiting British Columbia’s southern Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island on his artistic odyssey.

Some of the artists whose special creative spaces he visits are well known to all: Robert Bateman and Emily Carr, for example. Some you may not have hear of, yet. Regional as this selection may appear, however, there is a universal appeal in being introduced to gifted people with an artistic vision, a body of work to prove it, and a place in which they create it.

Amos wasn’t able to personally meet all of his artists. The late Emily Carr, obviously, is one. Ditto Maxwell Bates. After Bates’ death in 1980, his wife kept the studio intact for 10 years, and fortunately the author was able to visit during this time. For Carr, he has included one of the artist’s watercolors as well as one of his own of her “House of all Sorts” in Victoria, British Columbia, which he painted in 1999. While standing outside the house, at work on this painting, he had a most auspicious meeting with the current owner of the home. She approached him with an invitation to come inside and see the attic, where Carr had created eagles soaring on the rafters. In order to view them, Amos needed to get a ladder and to remove a transom window. This turned out to be a terrific break for him and for us. His photomontage of the attic is one of the best pieces in the book.

What a wonderful assignment for someone who loves art. It turns out that Amos has been doing this for some years. A full time professional artist and author himself, he has penned four books about his art, as well as writing a weekly art column for the Victoria Times Colonist daily for over ten years. During this time many of the interviews and photographs in this book were completed. Remembering that Amos is an artist as well as a journalist and writer, it should come as no surprise that interviews and photos have been transformed into a unique presentation. As he writes in his preface:

My style of photocollage involves a mosaic of photographed images, pasted onto cardboard and worked over with paint .... Often, when taking photographs as a reference for a complex image, I found myself forced into close proximity to the subject. I’d pan up and down, back and forth over the field of my vision, clicking away with the camera until I’d covered everything of interest. The resulting panoramas are always irregular in shape, and it’s often a mystery to me what form the image will take. When the prints come back from the photo lab I paste them together and then, using water-colours and acrylic paints, I paint in the missing parts over and around the photos.

Sometimes old can still be better. Amos uses a pre-digital Contax single lens reflex camera with a 35mm lens and 200 ASA film, preferring the images that he can create in this way.

Each chapter gives us photos of the artist and at least one of his or her works, along with an artistic compilation of their studio space. Two pages of text then provide a short biography, a splash of information about their technique and how they work, and a hint of what drives them. The journalist comes out here, as Amos deftly uncovers the answers to most of those four Ws: who, when, where, why, and even how.

Of course any book on art has to look wonderful, and this hard cover is no exception. Anyone with an interest in art should have a peek at this book. Even if you don’t recognize all the artists, the creation of art and the special places where it’s crafted have a universal appeal. The fact that some of these artists are dead and many of them older makes the work all the more important to have permanently captured their special ways of working and the magical places in which they’ve worked. | January 2008

Cherie Thiessen has been a scriptwriter, playwright, creative writing instructor and -- for the past 10 years -- a travel writer and book reviewer. She was the review columnist for Focus on Women Magazine for eight years and has also written numerous reviews for magazines including BC Bookworld, Monday Magazine, Pacific Yachting, Cottage Magazine, The Driftwood News, Linnear Reflections and Douglas College's Event Magazine.