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

This image shows the Kitsumkalum community hall. The First Nation is about to head to the polls to elect a new council. (Brittany Gervais/Terrace Standard)
All-candidates forum planned for Kitsumkalum election

Virtual meeting set for evening of Feb. 8

Kitselas First Nation received a round of COVID-19 vaccine shots. (Kitselas First Nation image)
Kitselas receives COVID-19 vaccine

Delivery of vaccine was expedited after cluster of cases in community

Northern Health has issued COVID-19 exposure notices for Uplands Elementary School and Centennial Christian School in Terrace. (COVID-19/ CDC Image)
Two more COVID-19 exposure notices issued for schools in Terrace

Exposures took place at Uplands Elementary School and Centennial Christian School

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses the media during a news conference at the BC Centre of Disease Control in Vancouver B.C, Tuesday (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
B.C. announces 485 new COVID-19 cases, fewest deaths in months

‘The actions we take may seem small, but will have a big impact to stop the virus,” urges Dr. Henry

B.C. Premier John Horgan speaks at B.C. legislature on the province’s mass vaccination plan for COVID-19, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
COVID-19 quarantine not an option for B.C., John Horgan says

Apres-ski parties increase risk, not interprovincial travel

Worker at Swartz Bay terminal on Monday, January 20, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)
Former BC Ferries employee alleges he was fired because of his race

Imraan Goondiwala has been granted a BC Human Rights Tribunal hearing

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker have been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s Civil Emergency Measures Act for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
B.C. couple who travelled to Yukon for COVID vaccine ineligible for 2nd dose until summer

Health officials planning new measures to ensure people verify where they live before inoculation

(File)
Mask dispute in court leaves Vancouver cop with broken leg

Man allegedly refused to put on a mask and resisted arrest

(Kraft Dinner/Twitter)
Kraft Dinner launches candy-flavoured mac and cheese just in time for Valentine’s Day

Sweet and cheesy treat will be here just in time for the cheesiest holiday of the year

SAR crews worked late into the night Tuesday to rescue an injured snowboarder in North Vancouver. (Facebook/North Shore Rescue)
Complicated, dangerous rescue saves man in avalanche near Cypress Mountain

North Shore SAR team braves considerable conditions to reach injured snowboarder

A Cessna 170 airplane similar to the one pictured above is reported to be missing off the waters between Victoria and Washington State. Twitter photo/USCG
UPDATE: No sign of small plane that went down in waters south of Vancouver Island

Searchers out on both sides of border between Victoria and Port Angeles

Most Read