Christan Nicholson » "Canada's most famous living portrait painter", Eclectic Art 2010

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"Canada's most famous living portrait painter", Eclectic Art 2010


Christan Nicholson Artist, Christan Nicholson

Born Dec. 1948; s. William Martin and Beatrice Nellie (Wilson) N.; e. Saint John High Sch. 1967; Univ. of N.B.S.J. 1967 - 69; Mount Allison Univ. B.F.A. with Distinction 1973; numerous solo and group exhibitions, throughout Canada; rep. many univ., private and govt. collections.

In 1969, I took a 10-day art workshop at Mount Allison University and realized I was meant to be an artist. During the onset of the influence of conceptual art, I was fortunate to learn from academic tradition for the first two years at Mount Allison.

At age 31, I gave up traditional work to paint full time. I received my first official commission, the portrait of Chancellor J. V. Clyne for the University of British Columbia, in 1982. I gradually became known for my distinctive style, using colour, while maintaining a significant degree of realism.

In 1985, I took my first vacation to England. I remember being intimidated by the idea of going to the National Portrait Gallery (someday Canada will have it's own National Portrait Gallery). My friend, Valmai, took the day off work to go with me. It was only after that visit I realized I painted differently than anyone else. It took being told by a few curators to understand I have my own style.

Discovering Canadian literature after reading the classics in the 1970s, and 1980s, I decided to paint portraits of 32 Canadian writers. These, with 80-plus drawings, became the Canadian Authors Series (ie. Hugh MacLennan, Margaret Atwood, Robertson Davies, Mavis Gallant, Marie-Claire Blais).

I have painted a few hundred portraits since 1980 of Canadians from various walks and stages of life, from coast to coast. My portrait of former Governor General, The  Right Honourable Romeo LeBlanc, which hangs in Rideau Hall, was released as a stamp by Canada Post in February 2010. I was also commissioned to paint the official parliamentary portrait of The Right Honourable Jean Chretien. (Mrs. Aline Chretien said to her husband upon viewing this portrait in my studio, 'Jean, your father would be so proud of you in that portrait'.) Mr. Chretien, 'the little guy from Shawinigan', is extraordinarily honoured to be only the fourth Canadian bestowed with the Order of Merit. I am proud to be associated with such portraits, but I also take pride in painting everyday Canadians, like my father, a veteran, a fish seller and, until two years ago, Canada's oldest harness racer, and my nephew who operates a stud farm on Prince Edward Island.