At Home in the Gallery

Jay Hambleton seems at home in the exhibition room of the Copper Moon Gallery, waiting for the crowds to arrive for his very first show.

He ought to feel at home; he grew up in a gallery.

Hambleton is the son of Jack Hambleton, who founded Kelowna’s prestigious Hambleton Galleries. He grew up literally above the shop and was raised among painters, sculptors and talk of art.

“Some kids had to mow the lawn,” he recalls. “I had to hang paintings.”

Twilight in Atlin

Hambleton was drifting into the business of art, and spent about a decade building frames for artists’ work. Eventually, though, he wanted to carve his own path in the world.

He left the Okanagan and headed north, landing in Inuvik about 30 years ago. After a stint running a touring company, he was hired as a supervisor for a construction company.

The business grew; he travelled across the high Arctic. The jobs got bigger, as well as the paycheques. But Hambleton wasn’t satisfied.

“The pressure was getting more intense, the deadlines crazier,” he says. “I’d come home after a few weeks out, and I’d paint to relax.”

For decades he worked like that – picking up paints when he could, then packing them away for a few years.

Eventually Hambleton bought a house in Faro. It had a good basement that he converted into a studio. Last May, he took the plunge: he quit his steady paycheque and committed to paint.

“You wonder where the money is going to come from,” he says. “But it does.”

Hambleton’s debut exhibit (appropriately titled A Debut of Paintings) opened on June 10. It’s a collection of just under 20 works that he’s completed in the last year.

“I’ve been pretty well head-down, painting in my basement,” he says.

Mountain View Haines Junction

The work shows incredible growth over the last year. The earliest works are studies of trees and boats (“My Dad was a painter of boats”) that show an artist still learning his brush and paints.

The latest, completed just before the opening, are gorgeous landscapes with confident design and brushwork and a brave palate of colours.

Think about the colours of Yukon artists Emma Barr or Daphne Mennell, with the subject matter of an early Don Weir, and you begin to get an idea of his style.

Hambleton admits he’s unfamiliar with the works of these established Yukon artists.

“My influences are Robert Genn, Peter Ewart,” he says. “They were artists in my father’s gallery, guys I grew up watching paint and learning from.”

Hambleton’s work varies from a photo-realistic shot of a float plane taking off, to almost cartoonish, stylized scenes from the Dempster or Atlin areas. He’s also not afraid to put a joke or two into his paintings: look carefully at a landscape of the Montague Roadhouse area – see if you can spot the elephant.

His use of varied and bold colours belies Hambleton’s newcomer status. The man obviously has many years of study and practice behind him.

Part of the secret of Hambleton’s work is in the medium. He uses paints and glazes that originated in the potting industry. The oil-like paints start out the consistency of peanut butter and are worked until they flow smoothly. The paint doesn’t dry.

When he’s satisfied with the painting, he takes a commercial heat gun and applies it to the canvas. The colours are fixed solid in a few minutes. He can then work on another canvas instantly, or paint over areas with new glazes and layers.

“My paintings are more like a piece of clay. I start out one way, and I keep moulding the picture to how I want.”

The technique allows for a lot of control, but Hambleton wants to continue to grow and develop as an artist, to challenge himself. He plans to get out of his basement studio this summer to do some travelling in the Yukon and points south.

He’ll be looking for galleries to represent him in BC and maybe Alberta, and plans to do some painting while on the road. He’s worked from photographs to date, but wants to try plein air, or painting landscapes on-the-spot.

Beaver Pond

So what would his father think of his son’s show? The high-tech painting technique is a far cry from that of his father, a noted wide-brush watercolourist.

“He’d use big brush strokes, fill in the sky and background,” he says. “Then he’d use the sides and points of his brushes to drop in trees and other details.

“If my dad was still around, my work probably wouldn’t look like this,” he concedes. “I picked up a lot from him when he was alive, his sense of colour. Still, I wish I’d paid more attention to him, to the way he worked.”

But Hambleton is happy with his first show.

“I had a moment this afternoon, when I came in and saw them all hanging here,” he says. “I was very satisfied.”

He should be. A Debut of Paintings is on at the Copper Moon Gallery in McCrae until July 5.

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