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find: Visual Arts Canada

Bill Skuce   visual artist, Canada.

Overview of part of the installation, Master Pieces, 1966, Instituto Nacional De Seguros, Museo del Jade Fidel Tristan, San Jose,
Costa Rica.

It could be considered presumptuous of me to even to mention the great masters of High Renaissance and Baroque painting in connection with my own work, yet I have no choice but to acknowledge their role and I have no recourse but to pay homage to them for what I learn and have learned under their tutelage.

Having been born in the first half of the 20th Century my development as an artist was heavily influenced by the prevailing schools, styles and painters from the impressionists on. Like many, in my younger years I traveled the road of abstraction and was dazzled by the historically prominent, the likes of Cezanne, Gauguin, Seurat, Picasso, Tobey and O'Keefe.

It was not until I entered my late 40's that I began to think more about the world of the great masters and to see the relevance of learning from them through the time-honoured tradition of copying -a practice that has traditionally taken artists and art students alike into the great galleries and art museums confident that by copying a great painting the process of it would yield some secrets of the master who made it.

Since drawing heads has always been an interest of mine, around 1985 I decided to learn to paint them by copying one each of the great masters Murillo (Spanish), Andrea del Sarto (Italian), and Robert Campin (Flemish).
That was the beginning of, "In Good Company". As the work progressed through starts, stops and stages (it was not completed it until 1999) my interest in the classics was slowly developing.

By 1995 I had embarked upon a major project -to paint heads from Michelangello's great ceiling fresco onto hunks of flat-surfaced concrete rubble I had "rescued" from the city's by-ways. Twenty eight of them appeared in a show I called, "Master Pieces", hosted in San Jose by the National Insurance Institute of Costa Rica.

One of the 28 painted concrete blocks in Master Pieces, 1996.

Returning to Vancouver Island in 1997 after spending 17 years in Central America, I taught art for three years at Maxwell International Bahá´í School in Shawnigan Lake and managed to exhibit annually in local group shows. Two years ago I retired from full time teaching, spent the next year helping my wife with the book she was writing, then returned to my interest in portraits as I began work on, "Angels in Training".

I wanted my angels to represent racial diversity, something not found in Classical Western Art's depiction of angels, so for the racial mix I used, as models, four young women representing the black, first nations, oriental and white races, three of them students from Maxwell School.

The Maxwell "pool" has been a major source of subject matter for the most recent portraits -students there have served as models for seven of the paintings. Three of the students represented in the show are seniors in the Advanced Placement Art class.

Born in Ottawa, Canada, I spent three years at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto, obtained a BFA degree in visual arts from the University of Victoria, British Columbia and studied painting in Mexico at the Instituto de Allende. I worked as a design artist for the Ministry of Health in British Columbia and spent five years in the Northwest Territories where I worked as the Territorial Government's Regional Arts and Crafts Officer serving First Nations and Inuit people.

In 1980 I moved with my family to Central America where I taught art at a private international school, exhibited regularly, sold my paintings and, for seven years, profiled artists and reviewed art exhibitions for the "Tico Times", Costa Rica's English language weekly. In 1997 we returned to Vancouver Island on Canada's West Coast. I continue to write and paint out of my home studio at Shawnigan Lake, British Columbia.

Below are a few quotations from the Writings of the Bahá´í Faith I have found particularly encouraging and stimulating in my experience as an artist:

"All art is a gift of the Holy Spirit. When this light shines through the mind of a musician, it manifests itself in beautiful harmonies.. Again, shining through the mind of a poet, it is seen in fine poetry and poetic prose. When the light of the sun of truth inspires the mind of a painter, he produces marvelous pictures. These gifts are fulfilling their highest purpose, when showing forth the praise of God." ('Abdu'l-Baha)

"Let your vision be world embracing and not confined to your own selves." (Bahá'u'lláh)

"I rejoice to hear that thou takest pains with thine art, for in this wonderful new age, art is worship. The more thou strivest to perfect it, the closer thou wilt come to God. What bestowal could be greater than this, that one's art should be even as the act of worshipping the Lord? That is to say, when thy fingers grasp the paint brush, it is as if thou wert at prayer in the Temple." ('Abdu'l-Bahá)

  • Illustration: from the Masterpieces installation, Arts Dialogue, October 2000

Arts Dialogue, Dintel 20, NL 7333 MC, Apeldoorn, The Netherlands