Marmalade,.... my apprentice
Art for
Art Sake

Artist Graham Scholes at work in his North Saanich studio. Scholes’ Lighthouses of British Columbia and other works of art has occupied him for over 50 years. Below Scholes’ vision of the Point Atkinson light station.  

Art for Art Sake
Laura Lavin Peninsula News Review       

If you ask Graham Scholes his opinion on art you’ll get it — in spades. Scholes has more than 60 years experience in the art of creating fine art and has definite opinions on just what constitutes a piece of art.

“Art done on a computer is do and undo art,” Scholes said. “It’s cut and paste — none of my tools have do and undo.”

Art created with a computer is “not meaningful” he said. “It does not make a meaningful contribution to Canadian art.”

Scholes is not a Luddite, however, one look into his office and the vast array of computer hardware has the techie in all of us drooling.

“When creating with conventional tools, one is required to start with a blank substrate [canvas or paper] and spend years honing drawing skills and dedication to learning and practising the techniques of using tools that do not have do and undo buttons. One is able to visualize the imagery in their brain and then render this gradually without the ease of the layering features that allows the operator to move back one layer at a time to redo and/or cut and paste digital imagery at will.”

You won’t find a giclée print [images generated from high resolution digital scans and printed with quality inks onto canvas, fine art, and photo-base paper] hanging in Scholes’ North Saanich home, and one gets the impression that if Scholes could see one through his neighbour’s window he might be predisposed to closing his own curtains against the sight.

“Computer generated art is a great asset for the commercial and graphic art business where time is money. It is also a worthy decorative art business, but should never be confused with the valued fine art field,” said the 73-year-old as he walked the wooden floors of his backyard studio.

So how’s an artist to make a living, without making reproductions? Scholes has found an answer to that. Fifteen years ago he discovered Moku Hanga, a Japanese woodblock printmaking technique. A far cry from kindergarten potato prints, Scholes’ work is impressive, and not the easiest way of making a buck.

“Money …” the word explodes from his mouth as a laugh and his hands fly up.

“I have been fortunate enough to have shown in public galleries across Canada,” he said. The public is who decides what is great art. “If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. I don’t paint for the public. I don’t care. If you paint for the sake of your reputation … artists must never be prisoners. Prisoners of a way of painting, prisoners of a way of representing themselves, a prisoner of their success. I live by that. I’ve known a lot of artists and people get carried away …

“I can have some good chats about art,” he said with a grin and a wink.

Scholes has spent a lifetime learning about art, different techniques and styles. “The story of my life is reaching for plateaux. I don’t want to be known as the guy who draws animals or barns or little houses.”

His older work includes oils, water colours, pastel and charcoal drawings, but his current love is the wood block technique.

To create the prints Scholes hand-carves basswood blocks, one for each colour in the print. He lays specially made Hosho paper from Japan across the carved block, and using a baren [a flat disk with a handle], he burnishes the paper. Each colour requires a new plate and each is washed with a transparent watercolour and rice paste for each pressing.

“Hosho paper is made from kezo fibre, from the mulberry tree,” said Scholes. Just one sheet of the hand-made paper retails for $60. “I don’t pay that,” he said conspiratorially, placing a finger over his lips. He purchases the paper in bulk — he has printed more than 40,000 sheets of paper since he has been making the wood block prints.

He travelled to Japan and try his hand at making the paper with a Japanese master. A Japanese master is also where he learned the technique of making wood block prints.

“I found a gentleman in Vancouver, Noboru Sawai, teaching. I took a two week course, but it took two, three years before I got everything out of him … they teach you one thing until you can do that and then you can ask another question,” Scholes explained.

In 1993 Scholes took on the lighthouses of British Columbia. “I made a decision to do all of the lighthouses in BC, I didn’t know what I was getting into.” The Canadian Coast Guard took him to most of the 35 light stations that dot the west coast. “I decided to be loyal to the physical anatomy of the lighthouses, but the background and the foreground belong to me,” he said. The prints tell the story of each light house he travelled to. “At all but three of them it rained.”

It took Scholes more than eight years to create 75 original wood block prints of each station. Two of the most popular, Race Rocks and Carmanah are sold out, as is Scholes’ print of Cape Beal.

To enhance artists and art lovers understanding of Moku Hanga, Scholes has created a DVD, The art of coloured wood block print making. A copy was recently purchased by the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Ontario. “That’s exciting,” said Scholes who, as many Canadian artists, would like to see his work hanging in the National Gallery of Canada. “That doesn’t happen until after your dead … but I keep saying I’m going to be the one to break that tradition,” he said with a laugh.

For now Scholes will continue with his new project, a series of wood block prints around the “brolly” theme. “They’re just fun,” he said of the images.

“I like to work with wood and I like the idea of multi-image art that is real art — not push button printing.”

I think we’ve been here before.

“Artists don’t retire — they draw to a conclusion,” said Scholes.


Feb 23 2007

Art Gallery of Victoria 1999
Dawson Creek B.C. 1999
Pentiction Art Gallery 2001
MacLaren Art Centre 2002
Richmond Art Gallery 2005
Burnaby Art Gallery 2006
Montreal,  Pte Claire Steward Hall 2008

Graham's Hard Cover Books
Watercolor and How
Let There Be Light

Softcover Books
Let There Be Light
Artist Statement
Writings Articles