Cultus Lake artist Gary Haggquist built his art studio seven years ago, but it’s new to the public just this year.
“It’s been my own little private sanctuary for a while. It was time to share the space because I don’t have any gallery representation in Chilliwack, or the Lower Mainland for that matter. I figured I’d have my own gallery,” he says.
Nestled atop a hill amid the West Coast evergreens, his cabin-like studio gallery blends in with the other buildings above Cultus Lake.
Haggquist has lived in Cultus Lake for 30 years, and has been painting for 40 years. The outdoor beauty of water, mountains and trees, and the fine details of moss, reflections in water and rocks is apparent in nearly every one of his paintings.
He and his wife, Ellie Edmeston, own a resort called Forest Echoes Cabins on their property. Haggquist and his father, both carpenters, built the studio gallery in 2011 which complements the trio of resort cabins.
“I walk in here every day and I feel like the luckiest artist alive to have a space like this. It’s inspiring. I’m always happy to have people in here and share the space.”
And now, that studio is open to the public by appointment.
It’s at least five times the size of his previous studio, a small bedroom in his house. When you step inside the new space, you’re surrounded by a huge variety of his work. Everything from $5 greeting cards to $120 prints to huge original paintings cover the walls and shelves in his studio.
“I like using the musical analogy describing my work. Sometimes I like to paint a ballad — it’s all sweetness and light — and sometimes I like painting a rocker — it’s got a bit of edge to it, it’s kind of in-your-face and makes you question ‘what’s this about?’”
“The ballads are easier to sell — you want a ballad in your house. You don’t necessarily want a rocker on your wall,” he laughs.
His largest, most popular, and one of his most recent sets of paintings is his Sunnyside series. Currently at painting number 36 in the series, it has been so admired that every single piece has sold except number 36 which he recently finished.
“I use the same colours, and it’s trees and bushes and lake and mountains, but it’s always from a different angle. I try and make each one unique and yet they all relate because they’re that beautiful shoreline,” he says. “Never would I thought I’d still be doing them but it’s like a hit song. People want you to play that song and you gotta honour that. I should be so lucky.”
“I know how much people love the lake and how it means so much to a lot of people, but I don’t think I really understood the depth of attachment and the rich vein I was tapping into until I got into it. The response from people has just been great.”
But as successful as the Sunnyside series has been, there has been a dark side.
In February 2016, his mother Shirley died, and it hit him really hard. He was very close with her and says she loved life and family, and had a great sense of humour.
Suddenly Haggquist was not himself. His painting slowed — he produced only a handful of pieces in 2016 and 2017. Just recently did he find the drive to paint again.
This time, he picked up a different painting tool.
One of his newest styles is ditching the paintbrush and using a rag. He wraps the rag around his index finger and dips it in paint. Sometimes he uses his fingernail to paint a fine line on the canvas.
“It’s one of my favourite ways to work. I think this is a bit of a way forward — I end up making marks that I can’t make with a brush,” he says. “I like this rag technique because it’s so immediate and quick and I like that I can’t control it. When I put my finger over (the canvas), I can’t really see. It’s not like seeing the end of a brush. I can’t really see what I’m doing, I just trust it.”
He wants to continue with his rag painting technique and do pieces with “a little bit more edge. A little different from the Sunnyside series… using the rag but I want to scale it up. I haven’t done any big ones.”
Part of why he wants to get these new ideas on canvas is because he says he’s getting old.
“I realize that time is running out and I’ve got all these ideas. I think I want to start working with a little bit more immediacy. I’ll never get to them all unless I start putting it into another gear.”
And that’s why it’s exciting for Haggquist to use a rag instead of a paintbrush.
“I actually keep up with my ideas. It’s kind of a sadness when I don’t get to a lot of the really good ideas and they stay with me. I’ve had ideas that have been with me for decades, and I might get to some of them yet.”
One of his ideas is to paint animals and their perspective of how they view our world.
“I’ve always felt excited when thinking about the paintings that I would do as I became older and hopefully wiser, bringing together the collective knowledge of a life’s dedication,” says Haggquist. “I’m continually inspired by the notion that ‘my next painting is my best painting.’ This is what fuels me every time I’m faced with a blank canvas or panel.”
To visit Gary Haggquist’s new studio gallery, call 604-858-6269 to make an appointment.
For more, visit www.garyhaggquist.com.