Artist avoids influence

For Wayne George, every painting starts with fresh eyes

Lillian Simmons
Published on February 3, 2012
Wayne George sits in his studio in Whiteway. — Photos by Lillian Simmons/Special to The Telegram

Wayne George has done hundreds of paintings over the past 25 years, yet a visit to his Whiteway studio turns up no trace of any of them.

Only seven or eight pieces of his latest works hang on the walls of his studio, Shag Rock Arts and Crafts, located in the basement of his house. Most already have buyers.

A purist when it comes to “original,” George is self-taught and has never aspired to be influenced by teachers, other artists or even his own work.

There are no prints to be found, not even a photo of any of his original pieces thrown aside into a desk drawer. He fears he would be influenced by them should he decide to do another work on the same theme.

“I love other artists’ work and I go to galleries everywhere, but I don’t want to copy their talent. I’m just inspired by what I do myself — out of my eyes. I paint what I see. You mightn’t see what I see, but that’s what I’m painting, what I see,” he asserts.

George draws his inspiration from nature; the changing seasons, the changes in light from day to day set the mood.

“Every day there’s something different, every little time you turn your head there’s a painting,” he says with intensity.

The endless landscape, not to mention the gigantic piece of jagged rock that juts up in the middle of Whiteway harbour — the Shag Rock — reinforces his point.

“Last summer I went out in my boat on a hot day and sat down and painted the Shag Rock really close up, but the colours that day were different than I’ve seen it before. I think it was the mist on the water and the sun coming down and just burning up the little bit of fog that was there. As I stayed there painting it, the colours were changing in front of my eyes and I was trying to identify it as I was doing it.”

The completed piece was framed and sold immediately.

George loves to paint on location. He points to a recently finished landscape on the wall that’s already been sold. Most of the work was done in the woods.

“I had to keep my gloves on, but I wanted to be inspired by it. I dressed for it, boiled the kettle while I was painting. It’s very relaxing. It gives you a sense of calmness to be able to go and sit down and paint.”

Family value

George comes by his talent naturally. His father Esau was a wood carver.

“I remember my father’s carvings from years back, he’d come here and asked me to paint the faces on his figures, his cows and horses and I really enjoyed it. He spent hours here sitting down and watching me paint. He used to carve things and he didn’t value it at all … Beautiful work he did; he had shows in New York.

“But he said the foolishest thing to me when he was selling his work for $500 and $700 dollars. He said, ‘I didn’t know there were so many weak-minded people in the world who’d buy my work.’

“I said, why do you say that father? Your work is wonderful, and he said, ‘but it’s just simple things that I do.’

“But it was not simple,” George reflects. “It’s not done anymore. It’s part of our culture that he was creating with carvings.”

He smiles, remembering the time his father picked up a pile of tangled, knotted twine on the beach and painstakingly untangled each little knot, eventually rolling it into a gigantic ball.

“It used to drive me crazy watching him untangle it. When he finally got it finished, Dr. Phil Warren (then education minister) came to the house and asked him what he was doing with the big ball of twine.

“Father said. ‘Here, you can have it.’”

Closet painter

George says 25 years ago he was “slyly painting and sketching and never showing anyone my work.”

Then he took some of his paintings to Elizabeth Reynolds, who had a store on Duckworth Street, St. John’s.

“She’s a buyer, collector and appraiser. I went in and I had these five by seven pictures in little cheap frames. She said to me, ‘Show me what you have in the bag’ (I was half afraid nobody would like it). She looked at them and said, ‘Would you mind letting me have them for awhile?’ She asked if they were for sale and I said yes.

“I went back a week later just to peek, unnoticed to her, to see what she had left.”

All 10 pieces were gone.

“That gave me the confidence that my work could be marketed and I’ve been marketing it ever since.”

Shop stories

Needless to say, with no prints and no photos, advertising is difficult. George sells his work through telephone commissions and much of it is bought by people who just wander into the shop.

“This place advertises my work and I’ve seen people all throughout Canada,” he says of the studio. “I’m very, very surprised with it.

“There was a lady from Ontario here this summer and I was working on a painting of the Battery that included 49 houses. I showed her the picture and she said she wanted it. She paid for it immediately. It took months before I finished it. She asked me if I did anything else like that to email her before I showed it to anyone else.”

George forges a personal connection with each of his commissioned pieces and each one seems to come with a story — like the couple that brought him an old photo of Musgrave Harbour. It was so faded he was hardly able to recognize the features. They wondered if he could reproduce the photo on canvas.

“I said if you can identify what’s there, I can.”

After numerous consultations with the couple, the work was completed.

“When I had it finished, the man started to cry.”

George tells another story about a woman from Brigus who wanted him to paint a picture of Twillingate House, where she once lived. “She said, ‘When I was growing up there they said there were ghosts in this house.’

“The house is gone, but she gave me a very dull, old photo and an old tape of some conversations that went on in the house when she was growing up.”

Through the tape and further conversations with the woman, George got to know the personality of the house and set to work.

“And, I thought about the ghost that was in the house, but I never said anything,” he relates with a grin.

Three weeks after the woman received the painting, she called to tell him how happy she was with it. She was also delighted with the ghostly shadow that appeared in the window of the resurrected home.

“I didn’t put it there,” he told her, feigning innocence. “It must have just come there by itself.”

Then there’s the minister who wanted him to paint a picture of a lighthouse.

“She came to me with a book. She said, ‘Now before you do the painting you have to read the book, and if you don’t I’ll know you didn’t read it.’”

George discovered there were two light keepers on the island, each living on opposite sides of the house. One of the brothers died and it took about a week to retrieve the body from the island. He completed the painting with that in mind.

“When I gave it to her, she said, ‘You read the book!’”

Currently, he’s working on recreating a landscape in Clarke’s Beach for a man who lives in Deer Lake.

He has also sold to galleries in the city, displayed work at the Placentia Arts and Culture Centre and sells many paintings through The Wilds in Salmonier.

Giving back

George served as a maintenance engineer and supervisor with the Department of Transportation and Works up until he retired in 2006 after 32 years.

He is the current secretary of the local fire department, a member of the Spring Hare Committee, co-chair of the 50-Plus Club and the Whiteway Heritage Committee and is past-master of the Masonic Lodge.

He makes regular donations of his works to the Kidney Foundation, the Trinity Placentia Health Foundation and the Shriners. Recently, he participated in a school program on anti-bullying where children in local schools created posters. The winning posters will go into a calendar to help with school fundraisers.

“I’ve been serious about painting all my life, but the last 20 years I live to paint and enjoy every brush stroke,” he says.