Wylie: Construct your own meaning from Shuebrook’s art

Everyone brings their own experience to their looking and encounter with Ron Shuebrook’s works at the Kelowna Art Gallery.

Ron Shuebrook, Airport (for LPS), 2014, charcoal on Arches paper, 52 ¾ x 84 in. (134.1 x 213.4 cm).

Ron Shuebrook, Airport (for LPS), 2014, charcoal on Arches paper, 52 ¾ x 84 in. (134.1 x 213.4 cm).

When visitors come to look at the charcoal drawings by senior artist Ron Shuebrook currently on view at the Kelowna Art Gallery, they will thereby actually enter the artist’s world—his interior landscape. And once they find themselves in there, gallery visitors may notice that these spaces are populated by all kinds of artists and thinkers, even writers and musicians, although the drawings themselves are abstract and not portraits by any means.

Shuebrook is an artist who has absorbed a great deal from art of the past and of the modern period, and he is an avid reader and lover of film, theatre, craft, dance, and music. In fact, Shuebrook is a fabulous exemplar of what an artist can achieve with even the simplest of materials—in this case some charcoal and sheets of paper—when he or she has developed an aesthetic and vocabulary, and can draw from both the richness of their education, and of looking at art over a lifetime, for example. It is amazing how Shuebrook’s works can open up for each viewer—there is a whole universe waiting for each of us to step into.

Although one may sense this artist standing on the shoulders of those who came before him, this is not to say Shuebrook’s work is derivative. And one does not need to know anything about the history of art in order to enjoy these drawings just as they are.


Everyone brings their own experience to their looking and encounter with Shuebrook’s work, and each person constructs their own meaning from this process. But, just as is the case with serious music or fine wine, for example, the more one does know, the deeper that enjoyment can extend. Whiffs and nods to Piero, Cezanne, Hofmann, and Marsden Hartley, to name a few, permeate the works, references that are almost subliminal they are so subtle. Not as fully blown as actual homages, Shuebrook’s drawings give just a slight nod here and there to accomplishments and achievements and discoveries of these and other artists.

Ron Shuebrook: Drawings was curated by Ontario-based artist John Kissick, and was organized and circulated by the Thames Art Gallery in Chatham, Ontario, in collaboration with the Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa, the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre, Guelph, Ontario, the Mount Saint Vincent University Gallery, Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the Kelowna Art Gallery.

Shuebrook is also known nationally as a painter. He has lived in several places in Canada, and is currently based in Guelph and Blandford, Nova Scotia.

It has been very exciting for the Kelowna Art Gallery that the artist added to the touring show by creating four huge, brand-new works that premiered in our space. These pieces have lots of big flat shapes, and showcase the artist enjoying the shift up in scale he made to work in such a large size (about eight by five feet).

It is a woefully outmoded term, but no other word really does the job as well to describe Shuebrook as the term “master.” And he is a master of the vocabulary and relationships of art: space, line, shape, texture, and scale. He does not so much grapple with these aspects of art making as he does marvel at them, the way we might as we manipulate a bit of modeling clay in our fingers into recognizable forms.

Shuebrook’s issues are ostensibly art issues, and yet, after we absorb this aspect of his work, there is something more, something less tangible and harder to put into words. In the end, there is so much meaning and emotional content in Ron Shuebrook’s drawings, that each visitor’s experience of them will be totally individual and unique.

Ultimately what is the artist talking about or intent on expressing? He summed it up in a line quoted in the show’s accompanying catalogue, saying “I’m chasing that sense of what it is to be alive.”

Ron Shuebrook: Drawings will remain on view at the Kelowna Art Gallery until April 26


Kelowna Capital News