Garbett Strives to Enrich Lives Through Art

Article by Maria Duncalf Barber/ Photographs by Corey Wilkinson

Artist Paul Garbett decided to make the big move from the city to Muskoka four years ago. He has not regretted if for a moment. However, like most brave artists who follow their passion, he admits it was tough - making the decision to make money from his art and give up his day job.

"Although my painting is presently focused on the Canadian experience here in the north, and the reason I moved here, I am not satisfied with just this direction," says Garbett. "I need to dive deeper into what the Canadian experience encompasses."

He contemplates what he wants to say. "I know the process of art is joyful for the most part and is what I should be doing but if it to work financially and most importantly spiritually it needs to elicit a passion that drives me forward as if the work I'm doing already exists and I need to get it out, like I'm the conduit," says Garbett. "This does happen on occasion and usually it's when I let go and paint because I need to be heard."

From 1971 until 2003, Garbett's family had a cottage on Wilson's Island on Lake Muskoka where he spent his childhood summers.

While he is familiar with Muskoka, living here full-time is showing him another aspect.

"I love the winters here in Muskoka, I think they are spectacular and are great to paint," he says adding he is inspired by the natural surroundings. "I love the Canadian experience of the north. I hope my paintings brings that to the heart for people who don't get the opportunity to experience it."

Garbett, a member of Muskoka Arts and Crafts, works in his studio in Bracebridge. His paintings are exclusively shown at local artist Carola Grimm's Red Canoe Gallery in Port Carling.

Garbett lives through the process of painting and sculpting. Currently he is focusing on large landscape paintings as well as portrait works using both oil and encaustic (wax and pigment) mediums on canvas and wood panels.
Encaustic painting, also known as hot wax painting, involves using heated beeswax to which coloured pigments are added. The liquid/paste is then applied to a surface - usually prepared wood, through canvas and other materials are often used.

Encaustic art dates back almost 3000 years to Egyptian and Greek times when heated coloured waxes were used to decorate warships and the walls of tombs. The word encaustic comes for Greek and means "to burn in" which refers to the process of fusing the paint. The Greeks applied coatings of wax and resin to weatherproof their ships. Pigmenting the wax gave rise to the decorating of warships. Mention is even made by Homer (800 B.C.) of the painted ships of the Greek warriors who fought at Troy.

"My stylistic journey begins with the influence of the impressionists and tonalists such as American painter John Henry Twachtman and of course Claude Monet. As my painting develops and concepts evolve, a move towards the borderline of realism and abstraction is imminent."

Garbett says, "This centuries old art form provides unique textural qualities and a challenging complexity.I have only scratched the surface, so to speak, of this incredible medium. My painting is an attempt to capture the true essence of anything that stirs the soul. I like to be experiential and take the medium I use to where it has not gone before. It's exciting. I can manipulate it by burning in and fuse the wax which changes it tremendously.

At Red Canoe Gallery his paintings with their vibrant colours speak to all senses, the still life jumps out at the observer, his apples make you want to eat them. His landscapes enhance the already beautiful scenery of Muskoka, and his portraits are stunning to behold. The paintings of moose and bears depict animal life at its best exciting and mysterious.

Although his encaustic and oil work that is represented in Red Canoe is landscape and animals in landscape, he also paints people and concepts in the abstract for the Toronto market.

Garbett is concerned about society and shares this through his paintings. "Capturing the true essence of anything can stir the soul - which is why I paint. It's important that people see art as a way of enriching one's life."

One of his goals is to find ways to improve society's art education and general accessibility to all forms of art. "it still surprises me that some people are afraid to enter galleries," he says. "I suspect this fear needs to be addressed early on in life."

Inspired by nature and captivated by human nature, Garbett wants his painting to call the viewer's attention to the works of art that are all around. "The art that we miss in our everyday lives," he says. "I get inspiration everywhere."

Garbett has 25 years of design and branding experience, gained since graduating with honours from Ontario College of Art in 1981. He has come a long way from his early days of corporate illustration and photography but attributes that time period as providing the necessary building blocks to a well-developed sense of design. 

A number of illustrations that are part of the corporate art collection of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Manual Life Insurance and Ketchum International were created by Garbett.

Armed with a good foundation in marketing, advertising and design, he started his first design company in 1987 which grew to an eight-person brand strategy firm. His firm won many awards working with both small and large corporations.

Regardless of the project, he never stopped looking for illustrative and sculptural opportunities to allow his creative spirit to flourish.

After time in the corporate sector, he made the decision to pursue a life, which he hopes will directly enrich people.
He also works with private residence commissions. "I have done many commissions for the Muskoka cottage market," he says.

"Many of my corporate illustrations are part of blue chip corporate collections from my early days of running a design and branding company. This experience is invaluable when it come to developing art pieces for companies. I believe corporate art can embrace what their brand stands for while still complementing their environment."

He loves the process of creating. "I like the sculptural textured versatility of encaustic, which is great for me as I always wanted to be a sculptor," he says. "I love it because it allows spontaneity and because of the unpredictable nature of the medium, mistakes happen often but I find a way of incorporating them. I use the ancient encaustic technique for its diversity as it allows me to create varied textural surfaces."

Because the wax cools fast, it must be applied quickly. "Once applied it can be carved, moulded or reheated for further work," he says. "Instead of beeswax I use microcrystalline, which is a petroleum-based wax, combined with oil paint. This allows me a less brittle medium than beeswax. Although demanding and at times frustrating, I never tire of its seemingly limitless possibilities. Along with wax, Garbett also works in oil, watercolour, gouache and graphite.

"The direction that seems to excite me most is around the transition I'm going through and the fear that comes with that sort of change - any change for that matter - and why that is," he says. " I suspect it's related to social pressure, the idea that security, approval or status, power with money mixed in, are the needs that occupy so much of society's time and interest. Society gives us preconceived, abstract notions of how our lives are supposed to be and puts on tremendous pressure to see that we conform. No wonder we fear change. We all seem to crave approval as if approval from society will provide happiness, happiness must come from within."

His favourite quote by sculptor Frederick Franck has made an impression on him. "I have learned that what I have drawn- I have never really seen."

Garbett still has much to create and discover.