“My work is about peace. Even when I paint wilderness like the Muskwa-Kechika in British Columbia’s far north, the work is all connected,” says Scottish-born artist Deryk Houston, who came to Canada with his family when he was 11.
In his youth, he worked with his father and brother in a house-painting business. “I remember being up on a swing stage scraping six-inch-deep pigeon droppings off the window sill in preparation for painting, and my friend, who was helping us said, ‘How can you stand doing this kind of work?’ And I thought, ‘He’s right! I have to pursue my love for art.’”
Deryk went on to study art in Canada before he was accepted into L’Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts in Paris. His first show was in the Kitsilano Neighbourhood House in Vancouver, a community hall with a theatre, where the artist was soon designing some of the sets.
A year later, he represented the city of Vancouver with a solo exhibition of his paintings in the former Soviet Union. That was the beginning of dozens of one-man shows and exhibitions in Scotland, the former Soviet Union, Iraq, the U.S. and Canada. His work has been accepted in the Canadian War museum as part of their permanent collection and several of his paintings have appeared in movies such as The Odd Couple, X-Files, Outer Limits, Poltergeist and others. He has illustrated books and donated artwork, turned into holiday greeting cards, to raise money for B.C. Children’s Hospital.
A prolific artist, Deryk chooses a positive approach about what goes on in the world. “When I’m painting, I try to reach the heart,” he says. “The way I paint and the things I paint are about life and when I see people being killed (in war), it catches my attention. These are difficult issues and we have to understand that we’re all part of the solution. I go into each project thinking I don’t necessarily have the answer, but what I really want to do is raise questions. Both sides have needs and each person has to recognize the other person’s [perspective] in order to get trust and harmony.”
A sojourn with artists in Baghdad was a life-altering experience for Deryk when he was exposed to the plight of the Iraqi people, particularly the children. Compelled to speak out, his peace sanctuary, a unique nature art project near Hudson’s Hope in the Peace River country in Northern British Columbia, was an attempt to draw people’s attention to the situation in Iraq. Because of his love for ancient art and since he had to move hundreds of tons of gravel and dirt over a 1,000-foot (305 m) area, he chose to keep the design simple. The sanctuary, earth art - rocks, gravel and hay - bears the image of a mother and child. The mother/child image is important for nurturing, caring and fertility. Deryk chose a remote site because people would have to make a commitment to go out and see the sanctuary, which would raise awareness and get people talking to each other. A video, Baghdad to Peace Country, produced by the National Film Board of Canada in 2003 shows the construction of the sanctuary and can be viewed on Deryk’s website.
“Like any artist and most people in our time, we’re trying to understand why we’re here and what the purpose of life is,” says the artist. “Generations and cycles of life play an important part of my work simply because it’s a complete miracle. That’s why peace interests me so much.”
Fascinated by robins’ eggs since he was a child, and finding another way to express his love for the miracle of life, Deryk constructed three large six-foot by 10-foot (1.8 m x 3.1 m) blue eggs. He placed them in Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park one sunny day in the spring of 2009 and as the sun changed directions, Deryk, his wife, Elizabeth, his son, Samuel, and friends, moved the eggs from one nest-like place to another; inside the eggs, Deryk included children’s art. Deryk spent a month building the project for a day’s enjoyment and the resulting photography that captured the event.
Since his experience in Iraq, Deryk has been invited to speak at many conferences. In support of children’s rights, he has completed ground art, earthen works in Iraq, Canada and Scotland.
Deryk’s family is a vital part of his life. Samuel helped him on his project in Scotland as well as the Peace Sanctuary in the Peace River district where daughter, Amy, played her cello. “My wife has always been a solid support of my work,” he says.
Deryk’s work is currently on display at the Old School House Arts Centre in Qualicum. Until July 11, people can view his small series of canvasses featuring tractors, cows and old trucks; he likes old machinery, especially tractors because they tear up the earth and make the ground fertile for seeds to take hold.
To learn more about Deryk Houston, his life and his art, visit www.derykhouston.com
JULY 2010 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER ISLAND