While automotive fans will be out and about this weekend appreciating all the vintage vehicles in Oceanside for the annual Father’s Day Show ‘n Shine in downtown Qualicum Beach, there will be one car lover among the crowds of people, demonstrating his appreciation for the classics by recreating them in his own style on canvas.
Errington artist Dan Gray’s pastels are impressions of the moment.
His work has won the artist many awards and his pieces are admired by many in the world of pastels.
Gray’s work is always plein air. The French expression means “in the open air” and is used to describe the act of painting outdoors.
Gray’s studio is the outdoors and his subjects are what catches his attention whether he is on the shore doing landscapes, in the bush where he has discovered an abandoned vehicle, or on a crowded street filled with people.
Every year Gray finds a location in the heart of Qualicum Beach on Father’s Day where he feeds his appetite for old vehicles and quenches his thirst for depicting life as it happens on canvas.
Gray can often be found on the side of a country road painting an old abandoned beater. He said each car has a story and by painting it with pastels, it is his way of telling the story.
“I am trying to tell a story … it’s my emotional response to the car. When I am out there with a pastel in my hand it is fresh. Just to be out there I am alive. It’s a story that I enjoy telling. I really enjoy the ones I find by the shore, but waterfront is so expensive now and they all are disappearing.
“No one leaves old things by the shore anymore,” he pointed out, but added, “There is one in Nanoose by Red Gap, and there is a deer trail right through it … in one door and out the other. I am painting it in my mind. I have not done it yet, but it is on my list.”
Gray admitted he has always been into cars.
“I got top marks in automotive class sucking up to my teacher because he raced Porsches. My tour de force in high school was auto shop. I thought after I got out of school I would go to work and be a race car mechanic or driver. I got a job drafting instead,” he recalled.
Ever since graduating from high school, Gray has made a living using his hands and his eyes and making art in one way or another.
In 1964 and 65, he was making paintings of racing cars and one of his first exhibits was of racing cars in coffee houses.
“I have drawn cars and sketched them ever since. I enjoy drawing them and finding them in different places. The more mysterious the better. I am a used car painter,” he declared.
Gray is also fond of old motorcycles. He used to race them and his dad rode an Indian Chief back in the ‘30s, so he has a long connection with bikes.
He’s particularly fond of one that is hidden in the forest in Nanoose Bay. He said his wife Sandy discovered the old Honda Scrambler last year while he was on the shore painting off Oakleaf Drive.
“Sandy said come into the forest I have something you’d like to see. I went in and there was this motorcycle with the bush growing all around it. The best part about it is it has a rototiller motor. Its got a story … it’s old.”
His theory about the bike is that some kids blew up the motor and then probably took apart their dad’s rototiller that he only used once a year.
“So they got the Briggs and Stratton motor out of it, stuck it in the motorcycle and drove it off into the bush and left it there. The first time I drew it, it was a stormy day and you could see the waves crashing. The eagles were flying around defending their territory and branches were snapping. It was tremendous to find this old vehicle. I went back again and painted it a little more intimately,” he related.
Gray entered that painting in a motorcycle show last year in Coos Bay, Oregon, where it won an award.
“It beat out all the American choppers and the flashy flags.”
Painting outside with the wind and the weather, standing up and taking in the environment around him is how Gray spends his days, using bits and pieces of it to tell a story.
“Painting for me is participating in life. If I am painting at the market, I really am participating in the market. If I go to the drag races to paint…I am participating in that. Working while life is flowing around you is what rewards me. You never know what opportunity is going to present itself.”
No matter what the weather brings, Gray loves to paint where he lives, even in the winter.
“There is no one else out there…when I am in the wind and the rain with 18 layers on…it is exciting,” he acknowledged.
Although Gray has picked up many awards for his work and it is how he makes a living, the recognition is flattering but he stated that is not what motivates him to paint.
He said when someone hangs one of his paintings up on their wall and builds memories around it, that is when his paintings are at their very best.
“It’s not about having a great painting…but to produce something that will last and provide a little trigger inside some young persons life.”
Gray belongs to the Pastel Society of Canada and was awarded the Silver Pastel Plate, Plaque of Distinction, the inaugural award for Excellence and Dedication to Pastel by the society.
Locally he was instrumental in starting the annual Grand Prix d’Art held every July in Qualicum Beach. The event brings plein air artists together from all over to paint the sites in a three hour marathon.