Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Vastness, Seclusion and Solace: An Interview with Robert McAffee

Robert McAffee joins us today to talk about his childhood; his pre-art career(s); inspiration and motivation; and his trailblazing uncle, Jack Reid.

I am in awe of Robert McAffee who, for all his insightful talk of art and controlled anger toward the treatment of the First Nations children of Canada, manages to maintain a childlike quality of playfulness and joy.

OK, I adore him.  Let's chat.


Q1.  What is your first memory of art?

A1.   Six years old and my mother taking me to visit her brother, the late and very well known landscape artist, Jack Reid. The visit inspired me from that young age to be an artist one day. He continued to be a mentor and friend until his death in 2011.

Click here to see my dedication page to Jack Reid.

Q2.  What is the first work of art you created?

A2.   Right there on my uncle's drawing table, a watercolour of a pine tree. Uncle Jack matted it and it was hung in my home for many years afterwards. Sadly it has been lost.

Q3.  Was there a point in your life when you decided to try art, or were you always an artist?

A3.  I was an artist from the get go, but to make ends meet I endured many years of other jobs, including 7 years as a sign painter, 14 years as a photo equipment salesman, and 12 years as a banker with TD Bank Financial Group in Toronto.

In 2009, I was downsized with sixty other employees and I took my package and decided to make a go of life as an artist. Five years later I have no regrets.

Forest Falls
Q4.  Would you explain what the phrase "Landscape Artist" means to you?  I noticed you use that phrase with reference to yourself.

A4.  I am a landscape artist, first and foremost. This means that I am better at hills, trees, water and rocks than the human form. I have ventured into the human form for personal reasons recently, however that is a direction which remains low priority.

I am deeply troubled by injustice and human tragedy with particular emphasis on the mistreatment and abuse of the First Nations children who were removed from their family homes and placed in Residential schools. Their lives have been scarred forever and I sought to paint a series of "stories" from that part of our history, to draw more attention to the story and hope we never forget and never repeat. Click here to see the paintings.

Q5.  Are there specific triggers that cause you to race to a blank canvas/paper or do you impose a certain discipline on yourself?

A5.  Colour, vastness, seclusion, solace, warmth, depth, contrasts, power images (i.e. mountains, waterfalls), distant high views.
The Three Sisters

Memories of Canoe Lake
Q6.  When you are working on a piece, is there a point at which you realize you have a masterpiece taking shape on the canvas/paper?

A6.   Good question! I never think I have a masterpiece unfolding. Seriously, I never feel that confident in my work. I'm still striving for the elusive "masterpiece".

The West Shore, Canoe Lake

Q7.  Are there any artists you find particularly inspiring? 

A7.  Tom Thomson, because he understood this land that Canada is made up of. He allowed his work to be rough and unrefined so that the brush could speak on its own without the perimeters of perfection.

Mark Rothko, American abstract artist who wasn't afraid to fill a canvas with bold blocks of colour [Interviewer's note:  Seeing "Mark Rothko" and "color" with a "u" in the same sentence is a bit jarring but we will let it stand because we love RM].

They speak to me.

Lawren Harris, saw the big aspects of Canada, the Rockies, the ice formations of the north and captured them on canvas for us all to enjoy.

The Storm
Q8.  Are there any non-artists you find particularly inspiring?

A8.  I enjoy people who have made success of their lives/work and still remain simple and truthful to the world. People who fit that bill for me are: Leonard Cohen [Interviewer's note:  Leonard Cohen! I knew there was a reason I loved this man]Gordon Lightfoot, Arlene Dickinson.


Q9.  Please answer a question I didn’t ask.

A9.  What motivates Robert McAffee to paint?  I believe people these days are in far too much of a hurry to enjoy life and creation. It exists all around them and yet they are scheduled to death.

Autumn Path
So my mission is to go out there and capture some of that awesomeness and beauty, get it on canvas and make it available to all the busy people around me and the world. Make them stop for a minute, look, contemplate and say, I need this on my wall. I need to bring this piece of solace home with me.

Georgian Bay
That's what motivates me.

Thanks for stopping by, Robert.  There’s always a beagle to pet and a cup of hot tea at the ready in Lakewood.  Don’t be a stranger.


  1. Beautiful, and a fellow Gordon Lightfoot fan? If You Could Read My Mind happens to be one of my all-time favorite songs. Is the Three Sisters piece based on the Sisters mountains in Oregon?

    1. Hey Christyogini! Thanks for reading. Robert offers the following with regard to the Three Sisters piece:

      "Three Sisters is a group of three Rocky mountains in Canmore, Alberta, Canada. ‎A very dramatic mountain range with many great vantage points."


  2. Even Interview can be motivating. The journey was other people tells us that success cannot be achieved without any hurdles. We need to stay strong and learn how to get out of them.