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Steve Dickerson

Posted: February 14, 2005
} Steve Dickerson By Robert Amos When I was introduced to Steve Dickerson last week, I asked “why haven’t we met before?”. He’s a professional artist, with a studio in my neighbourhood for almost fifteen years. His highly detailed pictures aren’t available at local galleries but are sold - most of them on commission - to people all over the country. They find him by word of mouth. I dropped by Dickerson’s studio to catch up with this talented artist. Chesterman Beach, oil on canvas The suite he shares with his wife and two daughters was richly hung with his realist oils of Durrance Lake, Botanical Beach and the Malahat. He’s just bringing to a conclusion a set of four views of Englishman River Falls. “So far,” he told me, “it’s my favourite place I’ve seen. It goes beyond just a pretty landscape. It’s the dynamics!”. Dickerson knows his landscapes. Born in 1955, he grew up in Pembroke, Ontario on the Ottawa River near Algonquin Park. His family provided lots of fishing and canoeing and an encouraging home for the young artist. “They didn’t sign me up for classes,” he recalled, “but there was a huge box of blank paper and pencils and crayons. If I sat and drew for eight hours - indoors, on a lovely summer day - they never told me to go out and play.” Canada Geese, graphite With his father’s encouragement, the talented young draftsman launched his career immediately after high school. Success came quickly, yet after three years on his own he realized the gaps in his education and enrolled in the commercial art course at Sheridan College in Brampton. There he studied illustration - three years of anatomy, perspective and serious technical training. “I got more out of it than I hoped for,” Dickerson noted, “although I didn’t realize it until ten years later.” In particular, he mentioned a respect for the surface of the artwork, a reverence for cleanliness in the studio and a terrific work ethic. “For the next four years,” he recalled, “I drew 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week.” People ask Dickerson to paint or draw portraits of people and animals, or perhaps their favourite landscapes. Personally, he favours “unpeopled” landscapes. “I don’t like putting in fences,” he explained. “Then it’s about someone else. If you’re in the bush by yourself long enough, you’re no longer just seeing the river - you’re discovering yourself.” The infinite variations of rocks and water w hich he meticulously creates allow the viewer to get lost, just as if he was communing with nature. While the result is apparently “photo realism”, the images are composites of many things. A portrait of his younger daughter which was on the easel is derived from 15 separate photos. These days he puts his paintings-in-progress on the computer and plans his next move in Photoshop, “painting” the picture many times over electronically before he returns with the improved image to continue his laborious technique of oil glazes on canvas. Englishman River Falls #3, (unfinished) oil on canvas These visual aids he uses are helpful to Dickerson, but his most important source are his memories. “You draw what you know,” his teacher once told him. “Don’t rely on photos. Put in the things you know and then you won’t be limited to your references. “ Dickerson’s ability to render clouds, the movement of waves and light on water are based on a lifetime of engaged looking. While the subject matter and technique have their place, “it’s geometry that counts” for Dickerson. “All art is composition. You can lead the eye with brushstroke, colour and tone to the holding areas and the releasing areas.” How does that work? “Areas of low contrast allow the eye to escape through them. By limiting the amount of stuff you put in there, you can slow the viewer down. Then he feels relaxed, he’s the only one there, with all the time in the world.” Mount Doug Sunset, oil on canvas Our conversation roamed over much more. He told me about the most effective painting he’d ever seen, a view of seven crows in flight by Alex Colville; and about Turner’s comment that subject matter was secondary: “Nothing is beautiful unless light deems it so.” Dickerson’s art will be on show during the Fairfield Artists’ Studio Tour (April 23, 24 this year), but he’s not big on creating exhibitions. He just patiently works away at the 3 or 4 paintings he produces each year. “The art speaks for the artist,” he reminded me as I left. “The artist does not speak for the art.” ___________________________________________ Copyright © 2005 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