Left to right: Marilyn Hurst

Left to right: Marilyn Hurst

Artists’ well-timed return to White Rock

After years in Mexico, gallery owners back in White Rock

Chris MacClure is back in White Rock – even though it sometimes feels as though he never left.

A fixture on White Rock’s Marine Drive scene for two decades before he and his wife, artist Marilyn Hurst, departed in 1997 to create their own gallery in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, the well-respected painter continued to be a frequent return visitor to the Semiahmoo Peninsula.

Though by nature quiet and unassuming, MacClure is one of those personalities who carries a great deal of authority. Other artists seem to gravitate towards him, keen to know the latest about what he’s working on.

It’s understandable. Without particular hyperbole or drama, the St. John, N.B.-born artist has achieved both commercial and aesthetic success over the years, with a distinctive brand of colourful, compelling romantic realism that captures the subtleties – and a certain core truth –  of every landscape, natural or man-made, that confronts him.

Now, MacClure and Hurst – who paints equally celebratory landscapes, florals, portraits and abstracts – are once again part of the White Rock street scene with an inviting new uptown studio/gallery on Russell Avenue, across from the landmark whale mural.

Together, with their studio partner – creative glass resin, mixed media and batik artist Trish Pollock – they’re inviting the public to a preview (June 1, 5-9 p.m.) and a two-day opening (June 2-3, 1-4 p.m.) at the new premises, 15177 Russell Ave.

The new space has already drawn the attention of local artists, MacClure said, with a chuckle.

“All the pros have already been in, poking around,” he said.

Not that he minds, he said. The aim of the studio partners is to make their bright, unintimidating space a hub of what they believe could become a vital visual and performing arts neighborhood abutting the Coast Capital Playhouse and the new White Rock Community Centre.

As a first step, they’re establishing a weekly Wednesday night drop-in for visual artists (5-8 p.m.), with an invitation to “come by and share ideas, inspiration and camaraderie.”

MacClure, who has used the Internet and his own travels to successfully promote Oct. 25 as International Artist Day around the world (it was officially proclaimed in White Rock last year), is hopeful the event could bloom into a week-long festival of the arts in White Rock by 2013.

For those who simply appreciate art, the long well-lit space between two open storefronts is a great place to see the most recent work by MacClure and Hurst, take classes or party workshops with Pollock, or simply watch all three at work.

Pollock will continue to keep the studio open in those periods when MacClure and Hurst travel, they said.

The need to travel and paint more – and have a less stressful home base – were central to their decision to sell the gallery in Cabo, they said.

“The gallery worked very well – so well that we ended up representing 16 artists and having two gallery spaces,” Hurst said. “But we were spending all our time packing and moving art.”

Over the last year or so, they were looking to relocate to a base somewhere in B.C.

“We were out on the road looking at different cities, including Nelson,” said MacClure. “Then, I sat down one day and said ‘what am I doing?’ This (White Rock) is my home.”

Hurst noted that MacClure had discussions with successful mayoral candidate Wayne Baldwin, during last year’s election campaign, about ways in which a thriving arts scene in White Rock could be used to uplift the whole area – something that has been amply demonstrated in other cities in B.C.

“But uptown is where it needs to start,” MacClure said. “We’re actually part of a cultural area here, and we can add to it.”

He’s not just  looking at the studio as a place to sell art, MacClure said. He wants it to be a catalyst – and maybe recapture some of the fun that characterized the local arts scene in the ’80s.

“It’s in the old tradition of the salon in the late 1800s and early 1900s,” he said. “And I’m getting tired of running around to galleries with (work in) garbage bags – they can find me.”

“In the end, it’s always about the connection between the artists and the community,” Hurst said.

“It worked in Cabo – I was amazed at the feeling we got started there, but we got very tired with the business.

“They say every 10 or 12 years you need to reinvent yourself – and we had the gallery for 13 years, so it’s time.”