– Story by Angela Cowan
Snuggled up to the base of Sugarloaf mountain in the heart of Nanaimo’s “Sherwood Forest,” Michael Tickner’s new studio is surrounded by many of the same elements so often found in his paintings: craggy-topped mountains, a view of a blue-grey sea, swathes of green in the evergreens and shrubs.
The London, England-born Tickner and his wife made the move to the Island three years ago after spending nearly three decades in Lions Bay on the mainland; he moved into his new artistic digs at the beginning of last year.
“We knew we loved it here,” he says. “Many Augusts, we used to tour the Island. Being over here, it’s like living in Vancouver in the ‘70s.” The move came as Tickner was nearing the 45th year in his artistic career, and it’s a career that has been enormously successful.
Tickner, 71, became a member of the Federation of Canadian Artists, of the Fine Arts Trade Guild of England, and has had his art commissioned for a number of public spaces, including SkyTrain pillars, a 30-foot mural at Richmond General Hospital, an eight-foot salmon at the Richmond Public Library for the Save Our Salmon Foundation and an eight-foot orca, located at the waterfront park at Port McNeil, for the BC Chapter of the Lions Organization.
His charity work has been long and varied, with contributions and art donations made to the Ronald McDonald House, Vancouver Children’s Hospital, Children’s Help Phone and many more. And he’s also been kept steadily busy with private commissions and his own inspirations through the years.
But there was a time when art was the last thing on his mind.
Tickner was accepted into the prestigious London School of Art when he was just 16 years old, but because he was too young, he was forced to defer his enrolment for one year. It was a year he spent recovering from jaundice, and at the end of it, “the last thing I wanted to do was go back to school, any school,” he says.
Instead, he ended up working in business for a number of years (“logistics, materials handling”), where he met his wife, and through her was introduced to Vancouver Island.
“She was born in Port Alberni and grew up in Sechelt,” says Tickner.
After doodling a gnarled tree on a scrap piece of paper for her one afternoon, he quietly rediscovered his love for art, and with the support of his new wife, dedicated his future to his art career.
“That sparked something. We ran away to the south coast of England, to Brighton, and I sold paintings on the seafront,” he says with a smile. It’s one of the romantic stories of his life, and one he loves to tell.
His passion for paint rekindled, he began working in earnest, and continued when they moved to Canada. He experimented with a palette knife and ink washes in the 1970s, and in the mid-‘80s produced a series of detailed pen and ink drawings of British Columbia scenes.
Then in 1987, he developed his current style, what some have called a mix of primitive and contemporary techniques, with the help of his then eight-year-old son.
“I created with his help because he handed me the paints,” he says with a laugh.
The first piece was of a teddy bear flying a kite, and his repertoire expanded hugely from there.
Focusing largely on landscapes, Tickner began catching the bus into Stanley Park nearly every day with his paints and easel under his arm to work en plein air, “testing out the new stuff” and selling his 5”x7” originals for $35 each.
Tickner was in Stanley Park for one summer when the Horizon’s West Gallery invited him into their space and had a sell-out show for him the following January.
Fast-forward to now, his smallest originals sell for $995, and he has collectors who come from around the world to select their next pieces of his art.
With his work’s bold colours and black outlines, Tickner is often asked if he was influenced by the late Ted Harrison, but it’s actually English artist Colin Ruffell to whom Tickner likens parts of his work.
Ruffell’s work is “off the beaten track a bit,” says Tickner. And while Ruffell uses an ink wash to “antique” his work, the two artists both use black outlining with similar effect. In regards to Harrison’s work, Tickner took the primitive style — two-dimensional blocks of colour surrounded by lines — and added depth and perspective, making it unique in its own right.
“There may be aspects of other people’s [styles],” says Tickner of his work. “But you’re always evolving.”
He approaches his pieces as though they’re “an agreement between the viewer and the artist. You have to keep people looking at the picture. The longer they look, the more likely that they’ll see something to connect with.”
Look carefully at any one of his paintings, and you’ll find your eye drawn to a single focus, as is often the case in art. And from that focal point, your eye will travel up a path, or over a cresting wave, and then perhaps meet a tree reaching for the sky or a unique cloud, but there’s always something that keeps you in the frame.
Many of his pieces are inspired by landscapes in Whistler, Howe Sound and through Vancouver. Gazing at one of Tickner’s pieces feels like going for a stroll, and the more you look, the more the ground feels familiar.
“You buy a painting because it agrees with something you already have in your head,” he says.
That may be a memory, a feeling or an image, and Tickner is adept at forging that connection.
With originals for sale at Vancouver’s Pousette Gallery, 22 images in print in a variety of mediums and a steady stream of commissions, Tickner has no plans for slowing down his illustrious art career. And if the clutter and chaos of setting up his new studio become overwhelming, he can always step outside to breathe in the ocean view, and relax in the little pocket of serenity he’s claimed for his own.
And perhaps the Island vistas will inspire a new series of paintings.
Michael Tickners website is here.