David Rheaume is a Toronto-based, self-taught artist and a television director and editor by trade. His heritage is Metis (French and Ojibwe Indian) and it is reflected through his connection to the Canadian landscape shown in his work.
Several of David’s paintings have sold to private collectors. Recent exhibitions include the juried exhibit Imagination, Origins, and Cold Snap at the Neilson Park creative centre, as well as the Heart of the Lakeshore at the Assembly Hall and the Exhibition of Aboriginal Art at Streetsville Gallery.
Dave’s father, Gene Rheaume, is a holder of the Aboriginal Order of Canada, and was the first Metis to sit as a member in the House of Commons after Louis Riel.
MamaProud: As filmmaker and artist I might call you a storyteller. Does that depiction make sense to you?
David Rheaume: Yes, absolutely. What’s interesting is that as a kid I used to draw comics as a hobby, and of course, in comics you have a continuity and a narrative thread. Comics, actually, are pretty much the exact same discipline as film: they have “camera angles” to tell the story: close-ups, establishing shots, worm’s-eye views, reaction shots, etc. For all intents and purposes, they are the same art form as film, as evidenced by the storyboards filmmakers use as a guide for shooting. So as an adult to make a living in television was a completely natural career choice that appealed to the storyteller in me. To now have landed in a place where I’m telling stories in paintings is like coming full circle for me.
MP: Besides telling stories on film and canvas are filmmaking and painting related in other ways?
DR: They are very much related from an aesthetic standpoint. They both require a good eye for composition, lighting and colour. Lighting in particular seems to be a cross-over element for me. The Renaissance painters, if you look at their works and the strong illumination in them, were really the first lighting directors or directors of photography. The thing I strive for and struggle with in my paintings is to “light” them accurately. It helps to have worked on sets in television to understand the effect of lights on objects: how, for example, a subject that is lit from behind will show a rim around its edges, or how shadow lines soften the farther you move from where object meets the ground. The major way that they AREN’T related, and why painting now appeals to me, is that painting is a singular art and vision, whereas television is collaborative. So in t.v. you may be the director on set, but you are dependent on a large number of others to help execute your vision. At the end of the day, it’s almost impossible to have an uncompromised vision reach the screen. And if you are in the service side of production, you have clients to appease. With art, people may or may not like my paintings, and that is their prerogative, but nobody stands over my shoulder WHILE I’m creating and telling me to make the sky more blue.
MP: You paint Canadian archival photos. How do you find them and why does this approach appeal to you?
DR: The bulk of them I find online simply by searching things such as “Snow Toronto 1930′s”. I also occasionally stumble across them in books as well. I have to at this point too, give a shout-out to my brother Ross, also a painter of archival pics, for his extensive files which he loans to me. I very much like the idea of finding these old images and bringing them back to life. Most of the people in these pics lived fairly anonymous lives and have long since passed on. That their stories can live again has great appeal to me. I also have a fascination for history, particularly the period from about 1880 to 1950. From a visual standpoint, things look amazing: people’s clothes weren’t plastered in corporate logos or have garish colours. They generally wore hats. The cars have terrific lines and you have the presence of horses on the streets. It’s funny because I’ve never particularly been interested in painting horses or cars, but if you want to do vintage street scenes, you’d better be ready to do so. Finally, this is an era that is actually not that far removed from our modern world. I’ll get people who come up to me and say: “I remember when ice used to be delivered by horse and wagon”. I get great satisfaction from that.
MP: How does your background affect your work (especially with regard to family or where you were raised)?
DR: I grew up in Ottawa, which means I spent half my childhood in snow and dark. I love the winter and its mantle of white: the muffled quiet of a snowy winter night. When I think of being a kid, and I had a very happy childhood, I think of snow. I inherently understand what winter days and nights feel like, how the sky is actually fairly bright on a snowy night, how the flakes sparkle as they pass by the street lamps, and the promise of warmth and comfort when you eventually reach home. There’s a romance quality to it. When I paint a snow scene, I actually try to ascribe a temperature to it: as in “it’s 2 degrees above zero and the mist is starting to lift” or “it’s one degree below and the snow is staying on the ground but melting on the street”. I think because of this, I get comments from people about how they’ve been out on nights “exactly like that one”. For anyone who lives in northern climes, they’ll get it immediately. And I hope for the people who don’t, they’ll see it as something exotic.
MP: What were your first attempts at being creative?
DR: I can remember well being 4 years old and drawing cartoon characters on the underside of the family coffee table. It was like my own mini version of being a cave painter. Later on my brother and I drew comics. We’d work for 8 hour stretches doing that in the summer. As a teen I started to make films, which ultimately led to a career in television.
MP: With respect to painting have you ever been mentored or where you mentored?
DR: No, not formally. I studied art all through high school, but otherwise I’m self-taught. Because of the cross-over aspects of film I feel that my career training has aided my art.
MP: Do you currently have any pieces featured?
DR: I’m not repped by any galleries currently, but I exhibit often, mostly in Toronto and Ottawa. I enter into juried competitions on a regular basis and most recently showed in the Ottawa Art Expo. I have a few dozen paintings with private collectors in both Canada and the U.S.
MP: The works in your Arctic series have a grand and noble quality to them. Maybe because they depict massive natural forms I imagine them as large-format pieces.
DR: They’re actually all pretty much standard sizes. I’d love to do some larger ones, because it’s the type of work where scale is everything, but until I upsize from my Toyota Echo I’d have no way to cart them around.
MP: What materials do you employ in your art?
DR: I’ve only ever painted with acrylic on canvas. For me and my work schedule, I love just being able to pull the pieces out, work on them, then quickly put everything away again when it’s dry. I buy pre-stretched and pre-primed canvases in standard sizes from the local art store.