In 1965, a wide-eyed youth from a rural English village stepped off a jet at Vancouver International Airport.
Richard Calver had rarely travelled beyond the fields and hedgerows of home, but he was ready for change, and Canada drew him like a magnet as a place to explore his intense love of nature.
Calver didn’t yet identify himself as an artist, but he had a facility for drawing so when work brought him to the Campbell River area someone suggested he should meet Sybil Andrews. Like Calver, Andrews was an English expat and, though she lived in quiet retreat in a rustic cottage by the sea, she was an articulate and passionate professional.
Calver joined Andrews’s weekly studio sessions and art became the focus of his life. “I’d never really been to an art class so this was all new to me,” Calver says, recalling his first years with Andrews. She talked about her theories of art and ways to capture light, mood and feeling. “Grab it while it’s white hot,” she told her students. “Put it down as violently as you can.”
“I was totally overwhelmed by it all,” Calver says. “It was like I had jet lag, leaving her place, like being in another world.”
An art collector who visited Andrews’s studio was impressed with Calver’s work. “Does he realize how good he is,” he asked. He bought some of Calver’s prints and it wasn’t long before art galleries were in touch. Among them was Mayberry Fine Art of Winnipeg and Toronto, now Calver’s exclusive dealer.
From that start, Calver developed a national following for his linocut prints, pulled by hand from blocks of meticulously incised slabs of linoleum—a form he mastered with Andrews, who was, herself, a master of the medium. Four blocks are required for each print, to develop layered images and gradations of colour and tone. Andrews rarely showed her work to her students, Calver says. She wanted them to develop their own vision and expression. So while Calver can see the influence of her ideas in a few of his early pieces, his own deeply personal style emerged. His prints are loaded with narrative, in complex lines and subtle gradation of rich colour. Because he never approached this work on a commercial basis, it left him free to explore themes reflective of his inner life, he says. It also allowed him to give each one the time needed to push this style of printmaking far beyond its early 20th century roots.
Andrews and Calver shared a love of the English countryside and this theme permeates even his most recent work. But many of his 90+ prints also reflect the forms and colours found in his garden, where he grows much of his own food year around. Some celebrate the tangled beauty of the B.C. forest and coast, and some are a plea for its protection.
Sadly, ill-health forces Richard Calver to return to England in the new year to the care of his son, so some friends have organized a final show and sale of Calver’s work at his Quadra Island studio on Nov. 26 and 27, at 748 West Road (next to the RCMP Station), from 1 to 4 p.m. Some prints will be available in frames, at no extra cost, and Calver hopes to be on hand for the weekend.
For more information on the show, call Jeanette Taylor at 250-285-3651. After Christmas, Calver’s prints will be available through Mayberry Fine Art, found online at mayberryfineart.com