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Genn shares insights on life, art

Local artist Robert Genn debuts his new book Love Letters To Art on Dec. 15 at Jenkins Showler Gallery. - Alex Browne photo
Local artist Robert Genn debuts his new book Love Letters To Art on Dec. 15 at Jenkins Showler Gallery.
— image credit: Alex Browne photo

When Robert Genn was working on his coffee table book last year, the working title was The Art Of Robert Genn.

But now, as self-published by Studio Beckett Publications, it has been released in a limited printing as Love Letters To Art, which makes its local debut tomorrow (Dec. 15) at Jenkins Showler Gallery.

What changed in the concept?

Not a lot, Genn said. The handsomely produced and printed large format hardback, designed by Fiona Raven, is still a memorable retrospective journey through the last quarter century of Genn’s artistic output, bringing together from many collections classic examples of the South Surrey artist’s celebrated landscape style and his lesser-known, but equally evocative, paintings and drawings of people.

For the text, however, he has drawn on the e-mail letters he has been sending out bi-weekly, for close to a decade, to artists, collectors and other subscribers.

It’s a good choice. His musings on the artistic process – as experienced by himself and other artists both contemporary and historical – has provided a stimulating, entertaining and frequently whimsical core to the book, and one entirely typical of Genn’s gruffly joyful approach to life and art.

“I decided that, rather than writing a straight, expository book, I would choose about 60 letters that could be easily illustrated, but make it clear they were letters,” he said.

“Every single one has been rewritten a bit to make it fit more readily.”

And they’re love letters, Genn added, because they emphasize “what an important thing love is to what you want to do.”

It’s a reminder to him, he said, of the pleasures of creating and the many people and places, in Canada and around the world, his art has brought him in contact with.

“There’s a steady movement of unfolding and interesting connections – the commonality is what make it the joy that it is.”

Most of all, Genn’s book is a record of a lively, ever curious mind at work – part memoir, part anecdote, part quotation and full of fascinating and sometimes humourous digressions, such as the section on the paintings of Stanley, the Airedale owned by his son David and daughter-in-law Tamara.

“There’s a little process, a little explanation of the paintings, but I also spent quite a bit of time on the cutlines – you’ve got to to tell people something that’s not in or obviously evident from the picture,” he said.

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