There are many parts of Bowser painter Ken Kirkby’s life that seem to stem back to fishing, and this is one of them.
Known for his paintings of Canada’s North, few people have become the subjects of Kirkby’s paintings, but Nana Cook Kirkby has — at least 50 times. Those paintings are featured in Ken’s latest book, The Watcher.
Nana, a Nanoose Bay painter, became friends with Ken after donating some of her artwork to the Painting by the Numbers fundraiser that he was an integral part of.
The friendship turned out to be an especially important one, as both of them would later loose their spouses to cancer, said Ken.
“We kind of tried to look after each other, I suppose, through this unhappy time,” he said. “And one day, Nana said to me, ‘Would you teach me how to fly fish?’”
Ken had been unsuccessful at teaching others to fly fish before, but decided to he’d try again.
Fishing from the shore near Ken’s Bowser cottage, he set Nana up with a rod, real and a fly, and showed her what was what before taking a conference call.
“About 20 minutes in, I look out. Holy s–t! She’s casting like a pro,” said Ken.
Thinking he’d been had, Nana said she’d never been fly fishing before and Ken took her at her word. Grabbing waders, they next headed off to a spot where pink salmon were jumping and a bunch of fishermen were busy fishing.
“Sit on the log and wait,” Ken told Nana. “Pink salmon don’t bite when they jump. Those guys have been out there for four friggin’ hours, and they haven’t had a bite. The minute they stop jumping, their fins stick out of the water, that’s when you cast.”
That’s what Nana did. “She walked out as instructed, made a cast, caught a salmon. Which was repeated four times,” said Ken with a smile.
That day of fishing further confirmed a connection between the two, and they fell in love. “And she said, ‘Where else do you go fishing?’ And I told her.”
The Watcher paintings are all of Nana as she looks out on the land or the water, sometimes fishing, sometimes taking it all in.
“I’m not a people portrait painter,” said Ken. “But I painted one of Nana standing out there looking from behind. I thought ‘I like that, I’m going to do another, and another,’ and pretty soon, ‘OK, what are we doing with this?’”
That’s how those paintings, and the sketches for them, became a book.
He added that his motivation in putting the book together has nothing to do with profit.
“In this world, there are a lot of complaints and damn few people saying thank you. I’m one who says thank you and this is one way of articulating that,” Ken said of the book.
The Watcher is available at Mulberry Bush bookstores.