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Rural Routes – The back alley artist

Posted on June 11, 2015 by Maple Creek

By Christalee Froese

There are days when I wake up and think, ‘oh, do I have to?’
But on most days, I think ‘I get to!’ Whether it’s playing with my four-year-old, watching my teenager play soccer or having lunch with a friend.
But every now and then, I wake up and say, ‘OMG, I GET TO!’
On this particular morning I was on my way to Regina to interview the nationally acclaimed and wildly popular artist Wilf Perreault.
The 68-year-old artist paints back alleys and if anyone can bring a trash can, a telephone line or a picket fence to life, it’s Wilf Perreault.
I had never met him and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was anticipating a polished artist with a talent for marketing his works and playing up his success.
I was wrong!
What I found was the most humble artist I’ve ever met. He lurks behind his paintings, insists he doesn’t have talent and grows grim with embarrassment at the mere mention of his notoriety and his heart-stopping $20,000 paintings.
And while he has received the Queen’s Jubilee Medal and was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts, he still doesn’t think he’s very good.
“I’ve always felt that I’m not that talented, but I have a pretty good work ethic rather than talent,” says Perreault humbly, not a hint of sarcasm or humour in his response.
“I really want to make it work, so I work half-days – 6 until 6. It’s true.”
While many painters like to show their work, whether it be in a gallery, or on corporate walls or on-line, Perreault is not preoccupied with any of the logistics of selling, showing or displaying his art. In fact, he leaves everything up to his Nouveau Gallery representatives, so that he can accomplish the task at hand … proving to himself that he is a real artist.
His tireless 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily schedule, his spell-binding focus, his trepidation for public recognition all leads to a world that revolves around Regina’s back alleys. He skulks in them first, as a silent trespasser, observing with his eyes and clicking with his camera. Sometimes he’s perched on a ladder and sometimes he has a Go-pro launched high above his head. The photo becomes the portal in, but the painting itself directs where it will come out.
“The process is really important to me so I take all this time to bring a work to life and get it to the point where it can breathe on its own. To me, that’s the most important thing. I’m nurturing this work of art and giving it mouth to mouth, sometimes even pushing on its chest and reviving it and that’s the reward – making it live on its own.”
I love days when I wake up and say, ‘I GET TO interview Wilf Perreault!’
What I love even more is being just as excited on the way home from an interview as I was going there. Thank you Wilf!
Email Christalee Froese at Lcfroese@sasktel.net or visit 21days2joy.wordpress.com.

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