All there in black and white

Local artist proud to be included in Capturing the Canadian Spirit 2010

There is a good chance you've met Dale Redfern, though you may not know his name.

A Kamloops graphite artist, Redfern has walked many different paths in his life, one of them right through the front doors of Walmart. He works part-time as a greeter at the Sahali store.

"I try very, very hard to make people's day better," he said. That applies to life in general as well to customers of the retail giant. "I make people feel welcome and wanted."

Redfern also works with his wife in the merchandising business and has an art practice on the side, specializing in sketching, referred to as black-and-white art.

The story of Redfern's art dates back more than 50 years. It's not an altogether happy story, though he's beaming these days on account of an Olympic opportunity. Three of his sketches have been accepted for exhibition at the Federation Gallery, Vancouver home of the Federation of Canadian Artists, for a month surrounding the Games. Capturing the Canadian Spirit 2010 runs from Jan. 26 to Feb. 28 at the Granville Island gallery.

"One of the best moves I ever made was joining the federation. They're such a positive organization and give incredible feedback."

Redfern's appreciation for the positive stems in part from his past, growing up in a dysfunctional home on the outskirts of Calgary. Many artists can point directly to the people parents, teachers, mentors - in their lives who played a formative role. Redfern had no such influence. What he had instead was adversity. His alcoholic mother discouraged his creativity outright.

"I started sketching when I was 13 years old. That would have been about 1956. I literally did it to keep my sanity. It was an escape from the drunken world I was in. It gave me an out. It gave me a way of expressing myself."

At 14, he wanted to be the greatest architect who ever lived, but that dream was never realized. Instead, he took his creativity into the sign-painting business in Prince George. He found inspiration from fellow sign painters. They were artists in their own right in the days of hand-painted signs. Redfern left the business with the advent of computerized sign-making.

Only after he relocated to Kamloops in 1991 did he return in earnest to his sketching. While he was studying business at college, she would encourage him. She'd tap on his easel when it had been empty for a while.

"She kept saying, 'What are you doing, you fool, you're an artist."

He met another black-and-white artist, Steve Carter, at the Artists' Studio and Gallery in Sahali Mall.

"'What are you doing, you fool, you're an artist.' I found out that's what I was."

Redfern went on to show his work there, but black-and-white art presents a particular marketing challenge. He's found support through the affirmation of his peers in the Thompson- Nicola- Shuswap chapter of the FCA. His Napping Bear, one of the works going to the Federation Gallery, has won an FCA juror's choice award and an honourable mention in past juried shows.

"I have known for years that I had literally taken a form of sketching into its own art form. For a black-and-white art form like graphite to go up against colour in a juried competition and come out being recognized is phenomenal.

"This is a niche market, but it is expanding. I will continue with my artwork, basically until the day I die."

His expression, which grew in defiance of his past, also mirrors his past, in some respects, with subjects that represent the traditional and natural sides of Canada.

"I feel black and white connects us to our roots. It crosses all cultural boundaries and I find it's much crisper, cleaner and sharper than colour. It's easy to get emotion with colour. It's much more difficult to get emotion from black and white.

"I'm very, very proud to be accepted into this show," he added. "I don't expect to sell one piece. The only thing I expect out of it is exposure."

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