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Anne Ehrlich - Muralist

By Robert Amos February 3, 2003

} Anne Ehrlich - Muralist Anne Ehrlich spent her childhood in Bella Coola and came to Victoria to finish high school. During her grade eleven year she was asked by David Peacock, one of her home-stay parents, to paint a mural for him at his business, Peacock Billiards (834 Johnson Street, 384-3332). He wanted a copy of the Van Gogh painting of the billiard table in the night cafe in Arles. It was to be about 3 x 4 metres. 'I had never finished a painting in my life', Ehrlich told me. The young artist began by projecting the image and then spent over 200 hours on it. 'There was a lot of time that wasn't painting', she admitted. 'Just staring at it, wondering what to do next.' Although she was paid $1000, 'I didn't want to do another one,' she concluded. But David Peacock didn't want to stop at just one. The same billiard table in the same cafe is also featured in a painting by Gauguin. This time Peacock asked that his heroes and friends be included - James Joyce, William Shakespeare, and Ehrlich's father Neil among them. Having completed a matching pair, Ehrlich said, 'I thought I was done - again'. By this time she had enrolled in UVic and dropped out of second year. After a break, she enrolled in the Fine Art Faculty at UVic. She tells me that a surprising number of the students are interested in painting. But unfortunately the teachers weren't talking about technique. 'The painting was something you did at home,' she noted, bringing your work in for critique. Ehrlich put her feelings about this succinctly: 'I wanted to pay for instruction, not discussion.' Ironically, it was in her Art Theory class with Robert Lindsley that she got some information on the history of oil paint. 'That really helped me when I was painting,' she recalled. For she was back at Peacock's. This time she designed her own image, a complex scene of a trompe l'oeil' interior with pool table and nine portraits of regulars. Ehrlich surprised herself with the portraits - they turned out well, even the one of someone who won a contest to be included in the mural. 'That painting was the hardest thing I've ever done,' she sighed. The mental strain was unrelenting. 'It was kind of like having an illness for a couple of months. I didn't know what was involved in planning a large painting. I didn't know exactly where it was going.' In fact, during this project she began sketching with a digital camera and Photoshop. Peacock suggested that Ehrlich put herself in the picture. So she sketched herself in on a ladder as far away as possible. I felt silly,' she admitted. I thought in the picture I should be painting, so I thought: what would I like to paint?' Almost casually, she created a tiny version of what became the subject of her next mural - her homeland of mountains and valleys outside Bella Coola. 'I didn't want to paint another mural,' Ehrlich added, almost unnecessarily. 'I was moving out of Victoria and I didn't want to come back for a while.' During three months at Bella Coola she worked with her father in his ceramic tile factory. She screen-printed glazes, learned firing techniques, rolling and cutting of the tiles. Returning to Vancouver she took work in the building trade. Once again she's back at Peacock's. 'I was lured by the money,' she conceded. 'Getting paid to paint on a wall is great. I was pretty tired when I started but that went away quickly. So far this feels relaxing,' she told me, gesturing toward the garage-door sized panorama of the hills of home. The new painting is unlike any of the others, the creation of the artist reaching maturity as we watch. Many views of her home valley are assembled in overlapping rectangles. The drawing - is masterful, her lines sprung with a steely tension that shows through the transparent glazes. She's building the acrylic colours richer as she goes, creating a complex space. The paintings of Takeo Tanabe, which she saw at the Vancouver Art Gallery recently, are an inspiration. 'I knew from the start I wanted it to be very green and very blue,' Ehrlich said. 'And I really didn't want to put any people in it.' The new style is a calm complement to her earlier murals on either side. The open spaciousness is welcome. 'I have to be careful,' she told me. 'There are parts that I like just fine, and I have to leave them alone. That's the challenging part - to leave them alone.' Would she paint another? In fact, she is already designing the next one. ___________________________________________ Copyright © 2002 Robert Amos Robert Amos is an artist and art writer who lives in Victoria, B. C.. He can be contacted by e-mail and you can view his paintings at www.robertamos.com