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Cariboo artist Tom Godin looks back on 45 years of his work

Over the years Godin has been motivated by passion to create his art
Tom Godin has been creating paintings since he moved to the Cariboo in the 1970s. (100 Mile Free Press historical photo)

For 45 years Tom Godin has walked a winding artistic trail.

An eccentric character, Godin likens himself to a bear simply wandering through the woods, leaving droppings as he goes along. Unlike a bear, however, he’s kept track of those “droppings”, and estimates he’s created 4,500 works of art over almost five decades.

A fraction of it has been gathered together for My Painted Trails: A Retrospective of the Art of Tom Godin, which is coming to the Parkside Art Gallery from Sept. 15 to Oct.7. In addition to painting, over the years Godin has dabbled in cartoons, papier- mâché, found art, sculptures and even soapstone carving.

“The more I think about it, the more diverse my output seems,” Godin remarks. “If anything, I would have to say that pulling together samples from each of these art forays would be quite a feat.

“Whatever comes together, I am sure it will hint at the things, places and materials that have intrigued me.”

Godin moved to the Cariboo in 1976 for a slower pace of life. Living in a quiet cabin in Bradley Creek, his “shimmering interest” in drawing bubbled over and he began to create. Next to his art he’s best known in 100 Mile House for his avid love of birding and the construction of several birdhouses still scattered around the area.

For Godin, making art is an act of passion. He’s always admired other artists for what they create, not how much money or fame that art brings them.

“Really, the lure of art for me, the magical quality, the thing that grabbed me and never let go, is that art can be made to appear almost out of thin air, using very little to ignite it,” Godin explains. “I think that cavemen, cave persons, probably had the same reverence for fire making that I have for art making. A small spark can make a giant flame anywhere.”

Over the years he’s dabbled in many different art forms and has had a wide range of subjects. Godin considers his primary painting method to be “vigilism”, where he keeps a close eye out for “accidental effects” that appear when he “swirls the brush around.” He often uses the same brush for an entire painting without cleaning it once, to encourage the colours to blend and smear together in surprising new ways.

“My thinking is that there is a better painter inside of me than my controlling self, so if I am vigilant I can catch glimpses of that painter’s marks and leave them in place. The best thing is that I can take credit for the painting and sign my name on it.”

When asked what inspires him, Godin admits he still doesn’t quite have an answer for that.

“The closest thing to an answer might be that when I walk through a thrift store and see all the remnants of valiant art attempts, it makes me want to be more fearless when attacking my own art. Timidity in life, when you don’t know what you are doing, might be a lifesaver, but in art, boldness will not get you injured.”

It’s in thrift stores where Godin has also found many of his canvases in recent years. He enjoys finding old abandoned paintings and painting over them, while incorporating elements of the original painting. Godin wryly observes that these canvases are often high quality and that he’s happy to reclaim them.

While he has painted many landscapes, Godin’s favourite subject has remained birds. He admits they’re something of an obsession for him, even though the birds he paints can’t fly or sing like real birds.

“I guess it’s kind of a deluded Dr. Frankenstein thing. One of these patched-together, quasi-art birds might one day spring to life and even take wing if only I didn’t give up.”

After 45 years Godin remains amazed that humans, who evolved to live in a three-dimensional world, still feel compelled to stand in front of a two-dimensional rectangle with paint on it and be enraptured. He observes that outside of the human mind, art simply doesn’t exist.

“A wasp can create an amazing paper nest. Does the wasp have talent or passion? Does it think it is creating art?” Godin asks. “No. Humans think what the wasp created is art — amazing art — but the wasp or a passing bird or a wandering dinosaur sees no art at all. Perceive no art and there is no art. Art is solely a human mental construct.”

When asked if he thinks he is a good artist, Godin is typically cryptic. Art, he says, is just a stain on a perfectly white canvas, so he’s more of a stain maker when you think of it. Whether or not there are good stains, only Tide might know.

He does offer one telling final comment, however.

“I have yet to find one of my original pieces of art in a thrift store.”

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One of several paintings featured in Parkside Art Gallery’s upcoming show ‘My Painted Trails: A Retrospective of the Art of Tom Godin’.

Patrick Davies

About the Author: Patrick Davies

An avid lover of theatre, media, and the arts in all its forms, I've enjoyed building my professional reputation in 100 Mile House.
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