Lessons from Bill, by Robert Christie

Lessons from Bill, by Robert Christie

There is no question that the quality of Bill’s paintings and their visual impact continue to influence all of us. However, it is my contention that his works’ real impact is not specifically the imagery itself. Rather, what is most important is their example of professionalism and attitude to art making that are of an international calibre. There is no ambiguity, no mixed messages, and no reliance on any other art. They are exclusive to themselves. They do not present themselves as formalist solutions nor as prescriptive imagery, but as examples of what is possible. Yet, just as important was Bill’s accessibility. He was from Saskatoon, and he stayed in Saskatoon. He was a senior artist who maintained his enthusiasm for art, accepting the younger generation as though we were his peers, and he appeared to be as entertained by our developments in art as we were about his.

Bill’s work ethic and the example that he presented in his professional life were matched by his personality. The stories of his generosity are boundless, and they extend much farther than what I can describe here. As much as Bill was an artist, he was also a gentleman. Greg Hardy once described him as having a mixture of old world charm and new world ambition. Expressing similar sentiments to those of many other artists, Hardy went on to mention that, beyond his paintings, Bill could be judged by the fact that, not only did he always come out to Hardy’s exhibition openings, but he always also dressed in a suit and a ‘fashionable’ tie for the events. It may seem an insignificant gesture to some, but over the years it was taken as a signal of respect for Hardy’s work, and a confirmation that exhibitions shouldn’t be taken for granted. In spite of the fact that Bill was usually much busier than most of us, he would always find the time to celebrate the successes of others.
 
I personally picked up many lessons from Bill, but there is one that eluded me. I was painting outside the main studio at one of the Emma Lake workshops, when Bill walked by. It was mid-morning, and he stopped briefly to look at the work, commenting that he liked it and suggesting that it was finished. As he walked away, I continued with the painting. Just before lunch, Bill came by again, and this time he was a little more forceful in his suggestion that I should stop while I was ahead. Of course, I didn’t. After his lunch, he stopped for a third time, and with more than a hint of exasperation in his voice, he strongly recommended that I stop before I “wrecked” it.  My obstinacy prevailed. Later in the day, just as I had poured a stain over the entire work and turned everything to mud, Bill showed up. This time, he didn’t stop. I could see a little grin on his face as he looked over his shoulder and said, “I told you so.” It all has to do with knowing when to stop.

- excerpt from Lessons from Bill, by Robert Christie

image credit (top): William Perehudoff standing outside at his farm, 2000. Courtesy of Catherine Perehudoff