Brian Buckrell - Artist In Profile
An opportune visit to Vancouver Island to visit friends who had moved to Comox from Ontario have turned into a lifetime of skiing memories for Brian and Cathy Buckrell.
Brian Buckrell was Professor of Reproductive Technologies at the University of Guelph’s school of Veterinary Medicine, and ran his own Practice from his farm. Cathy was a busy country real estate agent, and the couple had three grown children.
“Our friend was an instructor at Mount Washington and took us up in June, and there was still snow on the ground. To us, that was amazing,” says Brian. By the late 1990s the Buckrells bought a condo in Comox, with views of the Comox Glacier and Beaufort Range mountains. They visited a couple of times a year.
One visit, the Buckrells decided they didn’t want to leave the Comox Valley. “Over the next year I resigned from the University, sold my Practice, sold our farm and contents, gave all our good stuff to the kids, loaded in an old RV and moved to Comox.”
The Buckrells quickly became involved in skiing at Mount Washington. “Skiing is what our family did,” Brian explained. “We belonged to a Private Club in Ontario. We all raced.” Their first winter in Comox, Brian joined the Snow School and for three seasons taught downhill skiing four days a week and cross-country skiing two days a week.“Cathy and I developed the Masters Program, modeled on one we were part of in Ontario, bringing senior skiers out one day a week in groups and combined skill building with a social at the end of the day. Within a few years we had over 60 participants.”
Buckrell loved biking, climbing and kayaking in addition to his snow pursuits. He and Cathy filled their days with social skiing and other activities. However in 2004, with his knees getting worse and a diagnosis of prostate cancer, Buckrell was forced to curtail his outdoor activities. Cathy dragged him to a drawing class in an attempt to find something else for him to do. “He was an amazing surgeon with his hands so I knew he would be a good painter,” said Cathy.
After the drawing class Buckrell enrolled in painting classes at North Island College. “I loved it,” he said. “My interest grew and I committed to becoming serious at painting - trying to capture the beauty of the West Coast on canvas.” He began to study with some of the best artists in North America, including a six-month full-time stint at a high-end school near San Diego. “The more I learned the more I enjoyed the challenge,” he said. “Soon people were asking to purchase my work. I began showing at the Originals Only event at Comox Harbour.
I started entering competitions for both my studio and plein air work (painting outdoors on location) and was surprisingly successful.” Soon, galleries were calling him and he entered the commercial art market with galleries in Whistler and Victoria, B.C., Calgary, Alta., and others. It was a good way for him to measure his artwork against others.
Buckrell takes his inspiration from impressionist Canadian landscape artists such as Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven, whose influence has been felt in the Canadian art scene since 1920. “After 12 years now of painting I can say with confidence that I am a full-time painter,” he said.
He teaches six to eight workshops annually across the Country. He has won a few Awards, including the 50th Anniversary Invitational Plein Air Competition of the McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg, Ont. It is the same Gallery that houses the Canadian Collection of the Group of Seven. “Against 50 invited Artists I took home the prize, which was to have my work hanging beside some Tom Thomson pieces in the Gallery for six months,” he said. He was recently asked to be a presenter at the International Plein Air Convention in Denver, Colo., in May 2020. More than 1,500 Artists attend the Convention. “It is a great honour for me,” Buckrell said.
Among Buckrell’s landscapes are winter scenes inspired by his time at Mount Washington and Paradise Meadows. His work has been used for fundraisers throughout the Comox Valley, from the Vancouver Island Mountain Sport Society to Mount Washington Ski School, and for a number of years the Kus-Kus-Sum Project.
Although Brian and Cathy now spend their summers back in Ontario with their sons and grandchildren, they won’t give up their mountain adventures. Both of them turned 75 this year and after 50 years of skiing, they have earned free Seasons’ Passes at Mount Washington.