Timothy Hoey is a quintessential, grass-roots Canadian. He builds things, paints iconic Canadiana subjects and is inspired by our country’s immense natural beauty. An artist in every sense of the word, Hoey’s hands have clutched everything from a hammer and tattoo gun to a microphone. Currently wielding a brush, Hoey’s paintings are informed by a sense of nostalgia, a reminder of a place or time in our collective Canadian consciousness. Using textural brush strokes, his organic lines shape legendary Canadians and kitschy, clichéd images of Canadiana. Depicting moments in a narrative story that resonate internationally, Hoey’s work is accessible and evokes a sense of patriotism with the intention of sparking a national connectivity.
Framed by previously-loved hockey sticks wrapped in tape, Hoey’s paintings include Canadian icons from Stompin’ Tom Connors to Pierre Trudeau. Even the holy trinity of Canadian animals, the goose, moose, and beaver are given legitimate representation and are frequently accompanied by the recognizable Hudson Bay Company’s primary colour palette. Hoey breaks the mold of the elite artist and makes art for the masses.
A history enthusiast, Hoey is a zealous collector. The compact room, just off his studio, is like stepping into a small town museum replete with historical artifacts, taxidermy and layers of creative nourishment. With Canada Day around the corner, Hoey welcomed Modern Home into his studio to discuss his current O-Canada Portage exhibitionat Phillip’s Brewery, rubbing shoulders with Canadian celebrities in Trafalgar Square and what the future holds.
Where is your O-Canada Portage exhibition displayed this year? The show is at Phillips Brewery for 2015. I did the “locals only” show at Phillips last year and had a great response. I was looking for a venue for this year’s O-Canada show and emailed Shawn O’Keefe, an artist friend who does the graphics at Phillips. Phillips came back with a resounding “yes.” Phillips seems like the right fit; they support local artists and it just works. Beer and Canada Day are a fitting combination. I like working with individual people and local businesses. I have a long-standing relationship with Ferris’ restaurant downtown; they’ve shown my work there for many years.
Where else have you hung your traveling O-Canada show? Canmore, Calgary, Victoria, London, England – it’s been running for 8 years. The last time it was in Victoria I showed it at the Milkman’s Daughter Shop on Government Street. I also did a winter edition at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria during the winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.
How did the Trafalgar Square show in 2013 in London, England transpire? Mark Tewksbury had taken some of my work to give as gifts during the Olympic Games in Vancouver. I guess he got my work out there which led to an email saying that they thought my work would be a great fit for the Canada Day celebration in London.
Paint us a picture of what Canada Day in Trafalgar Square looks like. There I am in London, after taking a flight with Canadian singer/songwriter, Jann Arden (who happens to be the nicest person in the world, by the way), at this massive event. I am on the steps of the National Gallery with all these Canadians. Everyone in London was suddenly Canadian! My paintings were not for sale so it was great to just relax and chat with people. It was totally surreal. I chatted with Gordon Campbell, George Stroumboulopoulos and Heather Hiscox from CBC. I went backstage with Jann Arden, the Sheepdogs, and the Tragically Hip. It was a total honour to be surrounded by such talented Canadians. I was there for three days running on pure adrenalin.
How did it feel to get asked to show your iconic Canadian work at such a high-profile event? I am completely flattered anytime I get asked to do any event or interview. It makes me realize I am doing the right thing. Do I see myself as a representative of Canada? No. I see what I paint as a reflection of Canada. I’m just pointing out the obvious.
In many ways, I’m a nostalgist. I love history and I love things that remind us of a place or time collectively in our lives. It’s like an old mixed tape that someone gives you and there’s a song on it that you haven’t heard in 20 years, bands you have forgotten; it is just a reminder of a specific time. My work is a reminder of these iconic ideas of Canada. Nothing more than just making people feel good.
How wide-spread are your collectors? I send paintings everywhere. People usually find me online. In a little gallery tent in Trafalgar Square, 65,000 people saw my work that weekend. That was pretty great exposure. I have an active studio, (I was painting this morning) so I keep my work updated on my site and people usually connect with me via email.
Where have you gotten the biggest response to your work? The O-Canada series really appeals to a broad demographic. Having done various styles of art in the past, each style would appeal to a specific audience. Part of the thinking behind not being a deep moody artist is that I want people to get it; I want my work to be relatable. You look at it and know what it is. You can laugh. I love the responses I get from my paintings.
I painted Bruno Gerussi from the Beachcombers and a woman brought her mom to have a look at it. Her Mom used to babysit Gerussi in New Westminster. It’s the stories that keep me connected and motivated. I painted Louis Riel at the Moss Street Paint-In and got a huge reaction from a man strolling by. He had a historical connection to Riel through past generations. The fun thing about that series is you realize that our country is really new, only a couple of generations. A lot has happened within our grandparents lifetime. And if it’s only a generation or two away, people can connect with it.
I have to say the best reaction was in Canmore. What a patriotic, Canada-crazy town. If you belt out a Canadian song at the O-Canada show, you win a prize. An older woman stepped up and started singing Four Strong Winds by Ian Tyson, an iconic Canadian song, especially in Alberta. You could make that song the national anthem and Albertans would be as happy as clams. The woman stumbled on the words she was reading on an iphone and the entire gallery started singing along with her. It was spontaneous and the crowd spanned generations. This is definitely not your typical art crowd. I just happen to be the funny little catalyst that made it happen.
What is it about iconic Canadiana that speaks to you? What does it mean to you to be Canadian? A lot of people think Canadians are boring and bland; it’s kind of like comparing Canadian cuisine to Indian food. Yes, we appear less interesting and dynamic, but this isn’t true. Canada is such a massive country with a collection of different people and different icons. Maybe one thing, in particular, doesn’t stand out about us. Ok, except for hockey. We have quietly made all these things Canadian without taking it too seriously. We have a distinct identity that we don’t really realize until we meet someone that isn’t Canadian.
Our country’s natural beauty really speaks to me. All you have to do is drive through the rockies, and emerge where it meets the prairies, to be inspired by Canada. But nothing makes me happier than coming back home to Victoria – the fresh ocean air feels like home. I like the simple things; natural beauty is in abundance in this country. We take our maple syrup, our sugar, straight out of the tree. How awesome is that? Not many other countries get their sweets straight out of a tree.
I have more respect for being Canadian from my adopted dad, an immigrant from Denmark, who chose Canada as his home. He lived through the second world war and took a Steamliner across to Canada. He worked the railroad and had a donut for the first time in Alberta. He checked out Australia but returned to Canada. He reminds me of what it is to be Canadian.
Who is your favourite Canadian icon? Any standouts? In terms of paintings, guaranteed sellers are Casey and Finnegan, Queen Elizabeth wearing anything Canadian and Pierre Trudeau. Hockey icons are in a distinct category of their own: Maurice “Rocket” Richard, Wayne Gretzky, Guy Lafleur.
I derive my inspiration from people who tell me about their icons, I rarely think of who my own might be. Although, 9-year-old Timothy Hoey’s favorite icon would be Guy Lafleur. He was my childhood hero.
Not to say that Canada doesn’t have nasty dark shadows. There is no reason a strong economic country like Canada should have reserves with no water and serious housing issues… there are many issues and there is no excuse. But I don’t address these themes in my art. The intention of my O-Canada series is not to get political or show our historical wrong-doings. I just want to highlight our accomplishments and what is fun about us so we can remember the good stuff and keep moving forward.
What will we see from you in the future? I will keep painting the O-Canada series as long as people keep liking it. I have fun painting it so I will continue to paint these themes. There will always be more “locals only” work to represent the Victoria scene. There are deviations in the studio every day; I am always working on new paintings. I particularly love doing portraits so you just might see more emphasis on portraits in the future. But I change my mind all the time. I can have lofty ideas, start a painting, hate it and watch it evolve. I think artists have to constantly evolve with their work. Sometimes the worst curse can be an artist’s success because they get stuck doing the same thing repeatedly. I’ll keep building stuff and painting; some things will work and some won’t. If people want to see what’s going on they can email me and visit the studio.