There’s no lions, or tigers, or bears… oh no. Not in Drew Keilback’s paintings.
“Landscapes are my main theme, usually with what I call common wildlife i.e. – birds, horses, cows, goats, bears, wolves, as I don’t like to paint something I’ve never actually observed – so, no lions or tigers,” said the 64-year-old Langley City resident.
Keilback was one of 23 artists who participated in this past weekend’s inaugural West Fine Art Show for the Langley School District Foundation.
He said he was honoured to be invited into the show, not only to be included with the likes of host Brian Croft and internationally acclaimed artist Jim Pescott, but to be able to part of a show that is helping homelessness youth in Langley.
“No children (nor adults) should be living on the street,” Keilback said.
“Having worked downtown for so many years you can’t help but to be cognizant of how big a problem homelessness is,” he added, calling it a “great cause.”
“It was an absolute blast and a true eye opener at the same time. I went into this show with trepidation as it was my first time in 30 years to exhibit and I knew the calibre of art would be high. Well, that was an understatement – these artists are incredible,” Keilback said, noting he sold one painting during the show but had countless conversations with potential clients.
“The more I looked, the more I saw, and the more I saw the more I liked,” he added, noting he’s been invited to be part of the next West Fine Art Show in May at the Cloverdale Rodeo.
Paint-by-number no more
Like many artists, Keilback showed an inclination towards the creative bend at an early age.
“My kindergarten teacher was the first to notice my interest in art” and quickly informed his mother.
“The kitchen table became my drawing and painting surface – I don’t know how Mom put up with it,” he recounted, noting his grandmother bought him paint-by-number kits “which I truly appreciated. But, much to her chagrin, I would switch the numbers around on the paint pots to see what it would become. She never quite understood that.”
Always the classroom artist, he recalled receiving both encouragement and punishment throughout grade school on the Canadian Prairies.
“Luckily I met a wonderful high school teacher who helped me along the way, I started oil painting when I was 16 and dabbled in quite a few different media as the years went on,” Keilback said, noting he even tried sculpting.
After graduation, he attended a fine arts program in Phoenix before moving to B.C. back in the early 1970s to work in a logging camp.
That, he admitted, was when his interest in hiking took hold, and likewise his interested in nature.
“Being a Prairie boy, I didn’t realize that even though it may be summer down at sea level, it’s still c-c-cold on top of a mountain, so the first hike I did with some buddies meant a sleepless night for me as all I brought along was the sheet off my bed.”
He was easily captivated by the vast and rugged beauty of the West Coast, and has travelled and hiked the area extensively with pencil, camera, and sketchbook in hand.
He says his paintings are simply an attempt to portray the life and land that surround us… to convey the wonders of nature in a manner unique to the viewer.
Forty years later, he’s still hiking with some of the same guys. And much of what he sees continues to serve as fodder for his paintings.
“One of the things I’ve grown to appreciate about being an artist is that it is a lifelong pursuit,” he said from his Grade Crescent home where he has a large studio complete with a skylight and stunning view of the Golden Ears Mountains.
“Whereas my hiking abilities are diminishing by the year, as long as an artist has eyes and the desire to create there’s no reason to stop,” Keilback said.
After working for years as a graphic designer with CBC, he officially retired four years ago and now works full-time on his painting.
Whereas he primarily paints landscapes, Keilback said “I guess you could say that I do cross genres from time to time as I am a Canadian history buff, so I have done paintings of ghost towns, Barkerville, and some depicting First Nations culture,” bringing whatever he’s painting alive with oils on canvas or wood panel.
“I’ve always considered each of my paintings to be a failure in some sense in that there is, and always will be, something that could be improved,” he elaborated.
“That’s what keeps me painting – looking for an ideal that is unattainable in that no artist will ever look at his or her own work and say ‘Perfect.’ If they did, they might as well quit. Old age certainly has limitations but that just means adapting to differing styles or media.”
Keilback is currently represented by Harrison Galleries in Vancouver, maintains a website at drewsart.com, and participates in the occasional art show like this past weekend’s West Fine Art Show.
Largest show ever
The West Fine Art Show was founded by the late Langley artist Murray Phillips, and despite his recent passing, his generosity, spirit, and contributions to the shows, to Langley, and to the arts community were remember during the opening reception Friday.
Coordination of the twice annual West Fine Art Shows was passed over to Phillips’ friend and colleague Brian Croft last year.
And with the passing of that baton, Croft went to work on creating a third annual show – this one being held in cooperation with the Langley School District Foundation.
Reflecting back on the inaugural show, Croft said he was pleased.
“From near and far, the artists came to Langley in high spirits bringing their artwork for the new spring-edition of the West Fine Art Show,” he said.
The artists all pitched-in to erect more than 700 linear feet of display wall and overhead lights, then hung their art in the gymnasium of the Yorkson Creek Elementary school.
“When the lights were turned on and the doors opened our guests walked into the largest show that we have ever produced,” he boasted, please with the ambience and attendance alike.
“All through the busy weekend, art lovers were amazed and spent hours speaking with the our artists who are never at a loss for words when it comes to explaining their artistic journey,” Croft said.
“Showcasing the important work it does, the Langley School District Foundation’s display – complete with a student art display – sparkled at the entrance. With the inevitable sales, artwork changed hands and the artists will send a portion of those sales to Langley School District Foundation where it will be directed towards youth homelessness initiatives.”
The one question almost everyone seemed to be asking him – will there be a spring-show next year?
“The answer can be found in the affirming smiles and kind comments that swirled around us; if it was up to the artists, the answer is yes.”