Maxwell Newhouse is always passionate about whatever project he’s working on. The Cultus Lake-based artist has a self-admitted obsession with all things Canadian that has infused his work, from our scenery to our politics and pop culture.
His projects in the past have included illustrating books about national icons such as The RCMP Musical Ride, Laura Secord and Emily Carr.
But never before has Newhouse taken on something that stirred his heart quite like his current project for BC Children’s Hospital. Newhouse has been commissioned to create a 16-foot long painting that will be featured on walls of the hospital’s new Teck Acute Care tower. The original piece will hang in the hospital, and the image will be carried through into rooms and areas throughout the building.
The BC Children’s Hospital Foundation put the call out to Canadian artists in April, with a preference for artists from B.C. and the Yukon. They had to work fast; applications had to be in by May 6. The artists are all now feverishly working toward a September deadline for submission of their pieces.
The new hospital tower’s eight floors will each have a theme “to represent the different ecosystems of British Columbia.”
The first floor will feature the B.C. harbour and underwater, the following floors will feature meadows, then forests, and finally, the mountains.
The committee said in their call for artists that they are hoping to “create a whimsical environment with moments of surprise and the unexpected.”
They couldn’t have found a better artist than Newhouse for the job.
His finished work will likely end up on the eighth floor, which will be the oncology ward.
He has worked tirelessly for the last week creating a visual map of the image, in black ink on paper. But in three months time, that image will become a colourful painting full of the whimsy Newhouse is known for, and packed with details that will keep young eyes entertained for years to come.
The image is a wide panoramic view that stretches from Whistler to Vancouver, with Mt. Baker in the distance. It includes all four seasons, beginning with autumn on the left, gradually changing through winter, spring and summer along its long expanse. The initial drawing, the length of Newhouse’s outstretched arms, already includes a plethora of fun, almost-hidden images meshed together to create one big scene.
There are mountain hikers, ice skaters, a gondola, ferries, and details galore.
“I’m going to blast them with eye candy,” he says, including imaging that could inspire daydreaming, wishing and hoping. A child going through cancer treatment may dream of mountain climbing, or visiting the mining museum in Pemberton, for example.
It’s his way of giving back to the hospital he credits with saving his son’s life, decades ago. And it’s his way of instilling a little hope into the lives of the families who will have to spend endless days, months, and even years in that ward. It’s important because he’s been there himself.
“My son was in the hospital for three years with leukemia,” Newhouse says, beginning when he was 14 and a half. “This, to me, is a blessing. This is a fulfillment for me, a fulfillment to what they’ve done for my son.”
While the staff at BC Children’s Hospital was always upbeat and positive, the walls in those days were plain and somewhat dreary. He hopes to brighten up the hallways and rooms with positivity that matches the staff’s attitudes. Families spending time there are dealing with the most difficult times of their lives, he says.
“We saw so much death there, and this really affects you,” he says. To this day, he’s never felt like he’s really given back to the hospital for helping them through those years.
This artwork will surely be appreciated.
Once done, Newhouse’s grand painting will be filled with sights and activities that children can look forward to seeing or doing one day, from paragliding from a mountaintop, to simply taking a ferry ride. It may also give them a chance to learn about B.C.’s wildlife — the installation will include everything from bears and eagles to rubber boa snakes and marmots.
Newhouse admits he had never heard of B.C.’s rubber boa snake, before researching wildlife for the painting. He’s hoping to eventually create a guide to the many little details like that, another way to help people pass the time in oncology.
He has just three months to complete the painting — a short timespan for such a large, detailed project, for sure. But he says he’ll power through, staying focused on helping out the hospital.
He is also planning to sell off his series of paintings that represent Canada’s prime ministers through the years. They will be shown and released for sale next year at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre Art Gallery, as 2017 is the country’s 150th birthday. Proceeds from the sale (they’ll each be priced at $2,017) will also go toward Children’s Hospital.
“I think this may end up being my masterpiece,” he said of the work with the hospital. “My most important life’s work.”
To see some of Max Newhouse’s other works, visit the Arthouse on Mill Street, downtown Chilliwack.