Wednesday, July 24, 2024
July 24, 2024

Wooden boat love illuminates exhibit


Special to the Driftwood

Gabriola islander Tony Grove has a unique understanding of wooden watercraft, having enjoyed careers as a shipwright, boat-building teacher and, most recently, as a visual artist.

Having built and designed scores of vessels from the ground up and become an expert on restoring historic wooden boats, Grove’s understanding moves beyond the structural and into something like the metaphysical. When he sees an old boat he can often tell its provenance and its designer, but on a deeper level he grasps its innate character.

That unique insight informs Grove’s paintings, which can currently be seen at the solo exhibition called A Boat Builder’s Perspective at Gallery 8.

Nearly filling the new addition that housed Steffich Fine Art for many years, Grove’s large canvases produce an immediate impact on the viewer. He works in a realist style without being concerned with hyper-photo realism. Indeed, his acrylic works move a step beyond the real to express his unique perspective. The painted wooden rowboats and canoes seen pulled up onto the beach or waiting at the dock are given a souped-up palette of bright oranges and reds. The boats contrast beautifully with the cool ocean and forest shades while creating a very different look than your typical West Coast landscape.

Speaking on the phone from Gabriola, he said, “For me, I just love colour, so I want to pop the colour up. There’s a lot of people who do West Coast imagery where they try to stay true to the colours they’re looking at, but I love colour so I try to bring them up.”

As to whether boats or art came first for Grove, he said he always had a colouring book as a child and later moved on to drawing and painting, but career-wise it started with the boats. He was looking for work after high school when he noticed the Vancouver Shipyards was seeking apprentices. He entered the program as a woodworker and came to specialize in wooden boat building and restoration.

Grove moved to Gabriola after signing on as teacher at the Silva Bay Shipyard School, Canada’s only full-time traditional wooden boatbuilding school during its lifetime from 1997 to 2010. (He soon became the school’s chief instructor.) While there, he received a commission to build a 34-foot sailboat, so he found himself a property with a shop, which also came with a house.

A significant project that truly showcased Grove’s skills came to fruition with the restoration of the Dorothy, the oldest sailing vessel in the Pacific Northwest and the oldest vessel in Canada that has been in continuous use. The project was commissioned by the Maritime Museum of B.C. and Grove received an award for Best Classical Restoration Under 40 Feet for his work.

In recent years Grove has focused on his visual art, where wooden boats are still nonetheless his favourite subject. Grove said he often selects the boats he paints because their design, their builder and/or their location has meaning to him in some way. He’s sharing his appreciation for the myriad hulls, styles and construction styles of yore that were both beautiful and incredibly efficient in the water, but have been supplanted by fibreglass and boxy shapes propelled by motors.

“Selling a lot of paintings is not my main drive,” Grove said. “The West Coast has a lot to offer [in maritime history], but it’s disappearing quickly, so I’m trying to document these old great designs.”

For this reason, moving art sales is in no way a motivating factor behind Grove’s artwork. But at the same time, Grove is deeply moved that others have responded so strongly that he can now focus on art full-time.

“I love the emotional response when I see people walk in and say, ‘Oh my God!’”

West Coast art lovers and mariners of all types should hurry in to Gallery 8 to see the solo exhibition before it ends on July 14, but Grove’s work will still be found after that in the regular group exhibit.

For more information about Grove and his paintings, visit

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