There’s one school of thought that says that the human artistic impulse can only be expressed – or recognized – by channelling it through public and commercial galleries, curated and juried shows and artists’ statements often crafted from the purest bafflegab.
And then there are folks like White Rock’s Jim Dixon.
For the summer months, the retired Burnaby fire captain – a city resident for some 20 years – likes nothing better than extended visits from his grandson Brayden, nine, and granddaughter Rees, five, who live most of the year in Cumberland.
The daily “good life” while they’re visiting with their grandparents usually begins with a swim in a friendly neighbour’s luxurious backyard. Then it’s down to the waterfront for some beach-combing and maybe a little looking for bullheads and crabbing.
But there’s always time for extended sessions in the garage of the Dixons’ hillside home in which Jim indulges his own creativity – and makes sure to encourage it in his grandchildren.
As high-spirited Brayden and his grandpop happily demonstrated one recent morning, in their eager hands little driftwood sticks they’ve collected on the beach have a way of getting compressor-nailed together to create a rustic dressing-up for old chairs and tables or, en masse, turning into large bird figures that roost in the backyard.
“And Rees is our shell girl,” said Dixon, pausing at a table in the garage where the quiet little girl, with grave concentration, glues collected seashells to the outside of a little house-shaped structure knocked together by Dixon out of scraps of wood.
There’s no shortage of that – Dixon admits to being an inveterate “scrounger” of useful odds and ends.
“My wife, Marilyn, calls it junk,” he said, pointing to a collection of reclaimed oddities sitting under the deck of their large 1960s-era house.
“She’s the garden person,” he added, noting some magnificent colourful flower beds, while adding that her talents also include quilting and needlepoint.
“We don’t think of ourselves as artists, we’re crafters,” Dixon said of his family’s creative endeavours.
In a street where many large-lot homes have been demolished and rebuilt to more grandiose dimensions by neighbours, Dixon has had plenty of opportunity to help himself to old-milled lumber and other fittings from the tear-downs.
And that led to his latest project – creating new art pieces out of old window frames, using a central image painted on the glass against a background painted on a specially-sized canvas.
“Brayden and I started getting windows and wood frames off the old houses and didn’t know what to do with them,” he said.
But, inspired by a piece he saw in the U.S., in which a pop bottle was painted on an old window to create a three-dimensional effect, Dixon decided on his own version, an acrylic portrait of the iconic cartoon character Betty Boop, perched on a cola bottle in front of a canvas backdrop of city streets.
Brayden is the subject of another piece of “novelty” window art – a portrait captures him hovering in mid-air on the glass surface, apparently in the act of jumping off the White Rock pier.
The latest piece – a multiple-image tribute to Canada Day – is still in the works, thanks to some window putty that never quite hardened, Dixon explained.
But that’s all part of the the trial-and-error fun, he said.
“If we like something, we keep going – if we don’t, we stop,” he said.
He’s never sure what the finished result will look like either, he added.
“I have to paint everything in reverse,” he said. “You don’t know what you’ve got until you flip it over – there have been a few that have gone to the bin.”
Although he has a naturally good eye for drafting and colour – evident in some more serious landscapes that adorn a basement rec room – Dixon said he never even thought about painting until he was convalescing from an operation five years ago.
“I got a new hip five years ago and couldn’t put weight on it for a few weeks, so I ended up watching this Bob Ross (The Joy of Painting) on TV. I said to my wife, get me some paints and brushes, maybe I’ll try that.
“My family has three or four pieces. I don’t sell them, just give them away. But I’m getting better – when I started painting landscapes, I would do them out of my head. But my wife’s cousin is an artist and she said you have to have a reference.
“I’m the luckiest man on earth, I’ll tell you. We’ve got these awesome grandkids and my wife’s our real support system.”