"Indeed, a minimum of life, an unchaining from all coarser desires, an independence in the middle of all kinds of outer nuisance; a bit of Cynicism, perhaps a bit of ‘tub’."
Friedrich Nietzsche

1 Feb 2016

Guest Contributor—Robert Markle Kinnard

Jim Christy: defying the conventional image of the artist

Robert Markle Kinnard (website)
The first time I saw Jim Christy was at the Langdale ferry landing on the Sunshine Coast. It was my girlfriend at the time, Heidi, who pointed him out. He looked kind of weathered and tough in his old beaten leather jacket, like he’d just been paroled or something, but there was more to how he looked than that. I sensed that he was a person to reckon with, a real character, someone worth knowing. This was 1992. At the time I had not lived on the Sunshine Coast for long myself, a year or two, but soon after this initial sighting I encountered him at the Sunshine Coast Arts Center in Sechelt. I’d been going there for life-drawing every Tuesday morning. I was showing my paintings there and had already had a one-man show and was hanging out with a number of artists from the life-drawing group. We were in the habit of attending the opening receptions for the artists having shows there. At one of these events there was Jim standing in cowboy boots in his inimitable bold and confident posture, talking to the attendees. No one in my small group of associates knew him but he was recognized as the artist whose work was being shown in the gallery. Displaying one’s creative efforts in public can be a nerve-racking experience at the best of times. He seemed to be on his own, so I suggested to my colleagues that we invite him to the local pub for a beer with us after the reception. The only response I got was “he scares me” from one. I think my friends were intimidated by him.
 Mobile Installation, Christy's '78 Pontiac Acadian
A few weeks later when his exhibition was coming to a conclusion, I was at home when the phone rang. It was the curator at the arts center, Larry Westlake. He asked me if I could help Mr. Christy load up and move his artwork from the show to a storage shed in someone’s yard. At the time, I was the proud owner of a 1969 Dodge van named Yoda. I was used to hauling stuff here and there for my artist friends, so I readily agreed. It went well. We moved the artwork. At the end of the chore, Jim gave me a small leather-clad figure he’d assembled from numerous sources, old bathroom-sink stopper chains, wheels off a toy truck etc. It was a thank-you for helping him. On the way back to town we stopped off for a beer at the cottage I rented across from the marina in lower Gibsons. We had lots to talk about and I soon found out there was a great depth to Jim’s experience and interests and a keen artistic sensibility that belied his tough-guy persona.

One of Christy's recent street art commissions
Jim’s inclusive nature and generosity of spirit is rare. Once when I stayed with him for a week in Mexico, I offered to pay him my share of the rent. He declined my offer and said I had already paid, referring to a small watercolour I had painted there and given to him. Not only did he not take the money, he showed me how much he valued my work.

In Gibsons, he introduced me to the writer Al MacLachlan and I always looked forward to the Sunday afternoon socials at Al’s place, attended by people like the photographer Alan Sirulnikoff and the poet Peter Trower. Another time he walked around with me to commercial art galleries in Toronto’s Yorkville as I tried in vain to find a dealer for my work. After a few hours of this exhausting and frustrating exercise, he picked up on my demoralized state and asked if I wanted to drink some liquor out of a fruit jar. We got a bite to eat at an Italian café, bought a mickey of gin and one of rum and spent the rest of the evening wandering around, stopping in parks and doing what I really wanted to do which was talk about art and literature and listen to Jim’s fascinating stories. This I always remember as a very generous gesture and not the only time he’s helped me out. Not incidentally, when I was considering a move to Toronto in 2005, he put me up at his apartment for a week and organized a party where I met the writer Julia McKinnell whom I am married to now.

He has a great curiosity about art and artists. The sources of his inspiration are eclectic and varied, from old junked cars to the assemblages of people like Kurt Schwitters and Ken Gerberick, the paintings and prints of Odilon Redon to the peasant Milagros and mosaics of Mexico to name a very few.

For as long as I have known Jim he’s used mosaic tile in his works. Recently, something thrilling has been happening with his large scale ceramic-mosaic and object-encrusted sculpture. In the field of what is generally described as outsider art, Jim’s sculptures have blossomed into the work of a truly sophisticated artist whose work transcends category.

Jim's soul mate, Roma chanteuse Reyna Lynne, with one of the vagabond artist's permanent sculptures
Some of Christy's cruder, everyday pieces at the back of the farm he lived in prior to his recent return to city life
and below, solar powered monument that provides an erie glow to night time ramblers


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