Art is a Living, Breathing, Changing Thing

The Link, Summer 2017
| by Janet Jarrell |

Robert Tokley is an artist who has arrived! Born in Bannockburn in the back seat of his parents’ Pontiac in front of the doctor’s office they didn’t quite make it to, he had no choice; his life was going to be an adventure. His childhood growing up in the small, artsy town of Madoc was riddled with adventures, accidents and mishaps, all of them leading to a life of expression through art. From being run over by a car as a toddler, to breaking his femur in a three-wheeler accident as an adolescent, his recovery time was spent drawing and painting; it was spent with art.

This cat has story after story and nine lives too; from each one of them come new inspiration, renewed desire to create and more experiences than most of us could ever imagine.

“Being self-taught is a gift…”

His adventures led Robert west to Alberta where he spent some time working in the oil fields. As luck would have it, he was injured on the job. He found himself out of work, out of money and homeless, living out of his car and subject to the violence, drugs and alcohol that accompany life on the streets. After winning a long battle with WCB, Robert got himself clean and sober and the surgery he needed to repair his knee. This brought him home to Ontario where he spent his recovery time painting.

Art was not only therapy for Robert, it was also an affirmation and, with no formal training this self-taught artist was quickly well-received. He began painting what he knew – what all Canadians know – the Group of Seven. His goal was to “create art that everyone loves or can identify with.” His exposure to the landscapes of small, historic towns nestled amid rolling hills from Ontario to the mountains and rugged terrain of Alberta, bring a natural element to his canvas. Like the great Canadian landscape that changes with the seasons he believes his art, too, is a living, breathing and changing thing.

That change led to a transition period in his style of painting. With new influences from living artists like Paul Doig, Daniel Richter and Kim Dorland, Robert began experimenting with his process. Driven by the accomplishments of these artists, he decided to embrace the change and began by thinning his oil paint in individual cups and pouring the liquid onto a flat-laying canvas. The thinned oils dry quickly, trapping paint in pockets for texture and he then uses the brush for the details. Change for an artist can be risky, Robert says, but it is also very satisfying. He notes, “Being self-taught is a gift in a sense that I am not held down by any specific notions or ideas of how I should be creating.”

Like many artists when they first start out, Robert wondered if his work was “good enough” – the simple answer is “yes.” He recently received international recognition for his work from one of the most prestigious juried art competitions with high-profile judges from around the world. Art Olympia is held biannually in Japan, receiving anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 pieces of art work with only 180 selected for final review. Clearly, Robert’s natural talent, ambition and hard work have paid off!

To see more of Robert’s artwork visit: