Artist Robert Amos paints Victoria

Artist Robert Amos paints Victoria

Painter is also an art writer and art historian

  • Sep. 27, 2019 6:30 a.m.

-Story by Joe Blake Photography by Don Denton

I first met Oak Bay artist Robert Amos more than 40 years ago. He was painting pictures of buildings and sites that were vanishing from the landscape and he told me he was going to be the artist who painted Victoria.

Not long after that, Amos began making pictures of the city’s iconographic images — the Legislative precinct, the Empress Hotel, Chinatown. When he and his wife, artist Sarah Amos, moved to Fairfield to raise their two daughters, Amos began to paint Cook Street Village. Seven years ago, this creative couple moved to Oak Bay and built their current home-studio.

“The late mayor Nils Jensen met me on his bicycle tour one day and said, ‘I want to make Oak Bay the art capital of the Capital Region’,” Amos tells me.

We’re in his studio front room, where he stores his notebooks, diaries and sketchbook archives. There are shelves of them — personal chronicles of his career and development as an artist. There are also a handful of his published books, like last year’s critically acclaimed best-seller E.J. Hughes Paints Vancouver Island.

In October, Amos celebrates the publication of his second volume of Hughes’ biography, and he’s already at work on volume three, the war years.

“I just like the way his paintings look!” Amos exclaims, smiling like a Cheshire cat. “I wrote about him, met him, and got an invitation to spend the day with him.”

Amos then shows me a series of commissioned paintings of a house in Oak Bay documenting a half-century of life for the mother and daughter who live there. It’s another current project, in addition to lectures on Hughes and Emily Carr.

“A close look, of what it’s like to paint,” Amos says dramatically. “Ninety minutes of close observation. We’re going to do some video recording of the lectures, too.”

Born in Belleville, Ontario in 1950, Amos spent his school years in Toronto, followed by two years at Queens University taking English literature courses. Amos got a part-time job lifting crates at an art gallery and that’s when he saw his first art show.

“Heart of London!” he says. “That was the title of the show. I thought…my life could be the subject matter, too — a framed experience, painting. I went to York to study fine art, art history and Japanese art and a professor bought some of my paintings. In my final year, I did nothing but studio work.”

Amos landed at Western Front in Vancouver and a waterfront studio on Carrall Street, near Gastown. He hung out with The Pier Group of artists that included Victoria designer J.C. Scott. Performance art, live co-op radio plays, live music, and dreams of going to Japan — Amos lived a bohemian life and continued it when he came to Victoria with fellow artist Andy Graffiti, setting up shop in Chinatown above Fan Tan Alley.

“The place looks amazing!” he recalls. “That view coming into town over Royal Oak? Beautiful!”

Amos got a job at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, where he stayed for five years. He says he saw a lot of Japanese art, Japanese wood block and German expressionism.

“Then I quit and went to Japan for a year of travel in Japan and Thailand,” Amos says. “I studied Japanese. I met Sarah. We got married. We travelled. We were crossing into Malaysia at Langkawi and I had to declare my occupation, that I was an artist. That was a big moment. I am an artist!”

Amos is probably Victoria’s most public artist. Besides decades of writing about art in his Times Colonist column and Monday Magazine before that, and producing CBC Radio reports on Victoria’s art scene, Amos is at work in Greater Victoria’s neighbourhoods — literally painting the town.

He’s been artist in residence at The Empress and the Oak Bay Beach Hotel, where he also wrote drafts of his E.J. Hughes book during breaks from two months of summer painting in a sunny room across from the David Foster Theatre.

Amos is also a fixture at the annual Bowker Creek Brush Up and at local schools, since his early collaboration with Barb Adams at Monterey. He’s also a member of Oak Bay’s public art advisory committee.

“I think that’s the only organization I’ve ever joined,” Amos grimaces. “I don’t like meetings!”

Every Friday for the last 17 years, Amos has visited Mount St. Mary’s Hospital where he reads to the residents while they paint and draw.

“It’s probably the happiest times of my life,” he says, smiling. “I love painting landscapes, houses and gardens, cars, dogs — anything, but it’s still a struggle to sell a painting. The art business is still a struggle.”

But despite that, and after decades of dedication to his craft, Amos has achieved what he set out to do: he’s painted Victoria. And the paintings and drawings of Oak Bay and other neighbourhoods are his lasting legacy.

Visit Robert Amos’ web site here.

Artartisthistoryoak bay

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

U’mista Cultural Centre is closed to the public until further notice, as of Nov. 23, 2020. (Zoe Ducklow photo)
U’mista closed until further notice due to new restrictions

North Island on high alert against COVID-19

Port Hardy Rotary Christmas Float. (North Island Gazette file photo)
Rotary float returns to Port Hardy to spread much needed Christmas cheer

The Christmas Cheer Float is a festively decorated full-size semi-tractor.

Email letters to editor@northislandgazette.com and we will publish online and in print.
LETTER: Fish farms boost North Island economy

“… our local jobs, local taxation revenue, and the like will disappear!”

People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19 cross a street in downtown Vancouver, on Sunday, November 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. reports 17 COVID deaths, 1,933 new cases as hospitalizations surge over the weekend

There are 277 people in hospital, of whom 59 are in ICU or critical care

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers at the project site in Kitimat. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared last Thursday (Nov. 19). (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
Forty-one positive COVID-19 cases associated with the LNG Canada site outbreak in Kitimat

Thirty-four of the 41 cases remain active, according to Northern Health

Brenda Schroeder thought she was reading it wrong when she won $100,000 from a Season’s Greetings Scratch & Win. (Courtesy BCLC)
New home on the agenda after scratch ticket win in Saanich

Victoria woman set to share her $100,000 Season’s Greetings lottery win

Workers arrive at the Lynn Valley Care Centre seniors home, in North Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday, March 14, 2020. It was the site of Canada’s first COVID-19 outbreak in a long-term care facility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Rapid tests ‘not a panacea’ for care homes, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

B.C. lacks capacity for daily tests of thousands of workers

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

(Delta Police Department photo)
Cannabis edibles found in Halloween bag lead B.C. police to illegal lab

Delta police arrested a man and a woman while executing a warrant at a residential property Nov. 20

A woman being arrested at a Kelowna Value Village after refusing to wear a mask on Nov. 22.(@Jules50278750/Twitter)
VIDEO: Woman arrested for refusing to wear mask at Kelowna Value Village

RCMP claims the woman was uncooperative with officers, striking them a number of times and screaming

B.C. Liberal MLA Shirley Bond questions NDP government ministers in the B.C. legislature, Feb. 19, 2020. (Hansard TV)
Cabinet veteran Shirley Bond chosen interim leader of B.C. Liberals

28-member opposition prepares for December legislature session

Most Read