Artist Robert Amos paints Victoria

Painter is also an art writer and art historian

  • Sep. 27, 2019 6:30 a.m.

-Story by Joe Blake Photography by Don Denton

I first met Oak Bay artist Robert Amos more than 40 years ago. He was painting pictures of buildings and sites that were vanishing from the landscape and he told me he was going to be the artist who painted Victoria.

Not long after that, Amos began making pictures of the city’s iconographic images — the Legislative precinct, the Empress Hotel, Chinatown. When he and his wife, artist Sarah Amos, moved to Fairfield to raise their two daughters, Amos began to paint Cook Street Village. Seven years ago, this creative couple moved to Oak Bay and built their current home-studio.

“The late mayor Nils Jensen met me on his bicycle tour one day and said, ‘I want to make Oak Bay the art capital of the Capital Region’,” Amos tells me.

We’re in his studio front room, where he stores his notebooks, diaries and sketchbook archives. There are shelves of them — personal chronicles of his career and development as an artist. There are also a handful of his published books, like last year’s critically acclaimed best-seller E.J. Hughes Paints Vancouver Island.

In October, Amos celebrates the publication of his second volume of Hughes’ biography, and he’s already at work on volume three, the war years.

“I just like the way his paintings look!” Amos exclaims, smiling like a Cheshire cat. “I wrote about him, met him, and got an invitation to spend the day with him.”

Amos then shows me a series of commissioned paintings of a house in Oak Bay documenting a half-century of life for the mother and daughter who live there. It’s another current project, in addition to lectures on Hughes and Emily Carr.

“A close look, of what it’s like to paint,” Amos says dramatically. “Ninety minutes of close observation. We’re going to do some video recording of the lectures, too.”

Born in Belleville, Ontario in 1950, Amos spent his school years in Toronto, followed by two years at Queens University taking English literature courses. Amos got a part-time job lifting crates at an art gallery and that’s when he saw his first art show.

“Heart of London!” he says. “That was the title of the show. I thought…my life could be the subject matter, too — a framed experience, painting. I went to York to study fine art, art history and Japanese art and a professor bought some of my paintings. In my final year, I did nothing but studio work.”

Amos landed at Western Front in Vancouver and a waterfront studio on Carrall Street, near Gastown. He hung out with The Pier Group of artists that included Victoria designer J.C. Scott. Performance art, live co-op radio plays, live music, and dreams of going to Japan — Amos lived a bohemian life and continued it when he came to Victoria with fellow artist Andy Graffiti, setting up shop in Chinatown above Fan Tan Alley.

“The place looks amazing!” he recalls. “That view coming into town over Royal Oak? Beautiful!”

Amos got a job at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, where he stayed for five years. He says he saw a lot of Japanese art, Japanese wood block and German expressionism.

“Then I quit and went to Japan for a year of travel in Japan and Thailand,” Amos says. “I studied Japanese. I met Sarah. We got married. We travelled. We were crossing into Malaysia at Langkawi and I had to declare my occupation, that I was an artist. That was a big moment. I am an artist!”

Amos is probably Victoria’s most public artist. Besides decades of writing about art in his Times Colonist column and Monday Magazine before that, and producing CBC Radio reports on Victoria’s art scene, Amos is at work in Greater Victoria’s neighbourhoods — literally painting the town.

He’s been artist in residence at The Empress and the Oak Bay Beach Hotel, where he also wrote drafts of his E.J. Hughes book during breaks from two months of summer painting in a sunny room across from the David Foster Theatre.

Amos is also a fixture at the annual Bowker Creek Brush Up and at local schools, since his early collaboration with Barb Adams at Monterey. He’s also a member of Oak Bay’s public art advisory committee.

“I think that’s the only organization I’ve ever joined,” Amos grimaces. “I don’t like meetings!”

Every Friday for the last 17 years, Amos has visited Mount St. Mary’s Hospital where he reads to the residents while they paint and draw.

“It’s probably the happiest times of my life,” he says, smiling. “I love painting landscapes, houses and gardens, cars, dogs — anything, but it’s still a struggle to sell a painting. The art business is still a struggle.”

But despite that, and after decades of dedication to his craft, Amos has achieved what he set out to do: he’s painted Victoria. And the paintings and drawings of Oak Bay and other neighbourhoods are his lasting legacy.

Visit Robert Amos’ web site here.

Artartisthistoryoak bay

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Rummage sale returns to Oak Bay’s Monterey for leap year Saturday

Early dropoffs have rummage sale volunteers busy sorting

More transit resources needed in Sooke, says mayor

Maja Tait votes against proposal for fare-free public transit for youth

BREAKING: First arrests made at BC Legislature after demonstrators spray chalk on property

Legislature security arrested two people, allegedly for mischief

Island Food Caring launches program to tackle food insecurities

Victoria Foundation and five local grocers team to launch campaign on Feb. 27

Wet’suwet’en supporters occupying legislature in Victoria hold mass day-long teach-in

Supporters opposing the pipeline enter day four at the B.C. legislature

B.C. residents in Wet’suwet’en territory have right to police presence: Public Safety Minister

Nevertheless, Bill Blair said officials remain ‘very anxious’ for the barricades to come down

Canada’s 13th coronavirus case confirmed as husband of 12th patient

More than 81,000 cases of COVID-19 have occurred since the virus emerged in China

Shuswap boy wins hockey stick from NHL hero with rock, paper, scissors

Chase’s Payton Koch’s exchange with Minnesota Wild’s Kevin Fiala caught on camera

Surrey will replace its RCMP force with municipal police, province confirms

City of Surrey has been authorized to set up its own city police force

UPDATE: Son, 5, dies in hospital after crash that killed dad, older son on B.C. highway

Mike Cochlin and sons Liam and Quinn were travelling on Highway 5A

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs to meet today with federal and B.C. governments

Nationwide rail and road blockades have been popping up for weeks

Chinatowns across Canada report drop in business due to new coronavirus fears

Around the world, about 81,000 people have become ill with the virus

Endangered butterfly species to be reintroduced to Hornby Island

Hornby Island is about to play a major role in the saving… Continue reading

Prepare for new coronavirus like an emergency, health minister advises

About 81,000 people around the world have now become ill with COVID-19

Most Read