Ninety-two-year-old artist puts himself in the paintings

August 21, 2014 I did art modelling on a very part time basis for a decade while living on Salt Spring Island.
It was a way to make a little bit of extra money on an island where it is very challenging to make a living. I also did it because I believe women– and men for that matter — should be featured in all of our shapes, sizes and colours in art. Go back over the centuries and big women, for example, were always the models in some of the most recognized works of art that there are.

I never did art modelling to seduce men into my life. In one situation, a woman who regularly came to get readings from me, usually bringing friends with her, abruptly stopped doing this when I posed for a small group of which her husband was a member. Another time when I interviewed an elderly artist, from one of the groups for which I did modelling, for an article I did on his work, I went to his place where lots of his art was. He told me that we had to stop seeing each other. I thought he was joking but apparently he was not. I did the piece because I thought he was an excellent artist.

Maybe the general public does not understand the role of an art model but I was surprised that people in the art world would not know that an art model helps assist artists in the work that they produce. Many, many of the artists for whom I posed realize this. When some of them did not, their ignorance really hurt.

Here is one of the pieces I wrote about one of the artists in one of the many Salt Spring Island artist groups:

The Gulf Islands Driftwood–Young at Heart supplement
Ninety-two-year-old artist puts himself in the paintings: creativity continues for Salt Spring’s Jack Avison
by Tanya Lester

Jack Avison, a much respected member of Salt Spring’s talented art community, cannot remember a time when he did not draw.

“All my life I have nurtured it,” he said.

Nowadays, he is doing things with watercolours that possibly no one else has done before.

At 92 years old, the magical quality of Avison’s drawing and painting is still evolving.

“I’m taking watercolour painting as far as it is possible to be taken,” he said, sitting in his south-end home with his portraiture pieces, still life and watercolour paintings surrounding him. The many windows let in the light like in an art studio.

It is easy to see the hight quality of Avison’s work. A tree’s branches, in a work, for example, seem to shimmer or vibrate, adding a third-dimension to the painting. He calls this “putting myself into the painting.”

Avison often gets up in the morning, makes himself a cup of tea and paints or sketches for three hours. He does not know why he acquired this passion for art. No one in his British family — not mother, father, aunts or uncles — were artists. But his daughter Judy Fry, who lives nearby, is an artist, as are his grandchildren.

This seems fitting for someone who excitedly looks forward into the future. He wonders what will happen next as his art evolves. One thing he knows, for sure, is that it will change. He views the pattern as being one where the artist ascends a slope, then works for some time on a plateau before coming up against the wall which is the next slope to scale.

Avison occasionally coaches artistic friends who are facing “the wall” to move forward from being in that “stuck” place. He is a member of the every-other-Wednesday life drawing group that meets at ArtSpring. The arts centre is also the only place where he exhibits his paintings and there just once a year.

He feels fortunate to not be solely financially dependent on having to sell his paintings. During his working years, he was a clothing manager in the north of England. Overseeing a team of salesmen who sold raw materials to knitters and weavers was his job. It was also in England where he went to art school after he came back from fighting during World War II.

This is where he began to learn artistic techniques, which Avison believes is part of the process. It is a process that he, like all artists who are dedicated to their craft, have gone well beyond. He said the act of the artist looking at something he or she is drawing will eventually give way to really “seeing” it. From there, the artist puts his or her own interpretation on it.

In 1980, Avison and his now deceased wife came to Canada on the suggestion of their daughter Judy, who was living with her husband, photographer Howard Fry, and children in Vancouver.

Judy took her parents to Bowen Island and Vancouver Island, but it was crossing on the Crofton ferry to Salt Spring when Avison realized he could settle in Canada. He said the narrow ocean area between Crofton and Vesuvius reminded him of England’s lake country. The Fry family followed him and his wife to the island.

Among his many framed paintings hanging on his walls, like a mini-art gallery, are depictions of nature scenes in England and in Canada. Avison never uses his camera anymore and paints these pieces from memory. He brain, he says (and clearly this is ture), is as sharp as ever.

Among Avison’s most recent work is a watercolour portrait, which is impressionistic in its unique quality. He knows it is not “sellable,” but it’s created from the essence of who he is. “I am as free as a bird (creatively),” he said.

Avison said there is a strange contradiction of putting hard work into art, which on another level is not work at all. He keeps coming back to it because it is a meditative high and self-satisfying.

“I feel there’s so much more to be done in my art,” he said. “I haven’t reached the end of the way. That’s what keeps me going.”

To read the first posts in this blog, please go to
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Confessions of a Tea Leaf Readerby Tanya Lester can be purchased from the author or by going to the title and author name to read the first pages and to buy the book at


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