Artist Blu Smith creates colourful abstract West Coast landscapes

Artist Blu Smith creates colourful abstract West Coast landscapes

Artistic journey from sign painting to fine art

  • Jul. 10, 2019 7:30 a.m.

– Story by Chelsea Forman Photography by Don Denton

Vancouver Island’s Blu Smith, one of Canada’s most prestigious abstract artists, is garnering international recognition for his innovative abstract landscapes.

But Blu’s signature style as an artist didn’t begin where it is today. And as he points out, artists go through many style stages — often reflecting their life paths — and each phase is imperative to the continued growth and evolution of their work.

In 1989, Blu moved to the island from his hometown of Vernon. He completed the four-year fine arts program at the University of Victoria and worked at a sign shop. After graduation, Blu remained at the sign shop for several years, continuing to pursue his career in painting on the side.

“I would show my art anywhere I could — from furniture stores to hair salons — just trying to get my work out there,” he recalls.

During his time working at the sign shop, Blu was immersed in a pop art phase of his career, and he credits this for cultivating an adoration of large-format art.

“Back in university — like most young artists — I was experimenting and trying out different techniques and styles to figure out what was going to fit for me,” he says. “I was doing a lot of pop art, which really stemmed from my work in the sign business. I was implementing lettering, and working in large format — one component that I still use today.”

Blu became involved with several local galleries in Victoria and from there, his work began to slowly trickle out across western Canada, eastern Canada, into the United States and eventually overseas.

Before the advent of social media, he says, it took an all-consuming effort for an artist to gain recognition. But the various platforms available these days have helped elevate his career.

“With social media, the potential now is unlimited — you’re instantly worldwide with the reach that you get. It has been an instrumental part of my business over the past few years. It really allows an artist to take control of his or her career a lot more,” he says, adding, “The old model was more challenging because you would get into galleries who would be responsible for marketing you and [therefore] allowing you to be in the studio and paint. It’s far more of a partnership now.”

Blu’s style progressed from pop art into realistic paintings, and by the late ‘90s, he once again witnessed a shift in his work.

“I was running into a stumbling block where I found my work was really stagnating. I was doing a lot of realistic paintings and was struggling to find the creativity in that. It was more of a technical skill than a creative approach,” he says.

“I decided to branch out and experiment doing non-representational abstract pieces — just throwing the paint around on the canvas and seeing what happened. It was only supposed to be about a week‚ but that didn’t really happen. The abstract work really took off and I found what I was looking for. The floodgates opened.”

Blu didn’t look back for the next 15 years. His reputation as an abstract artist spanned globally. It wasn’t until 2013 that Blu’s career took the next subtle and unexpected shift.

“We moved to North Saanich, onto a mostly tree-covered property. In our previous home, we would get the sunrise. In our new home, we would get light flooding through the trees — and it really affected me. I started to incorporate what I saw every day outside my studio into my abstracts. It began to develop into a really interesting journey with these abstract landscapes. I found it unique and fresh.”

While Blu continues to produce pure abstract art, his abstract landscapes have gained renown for both their beauty and stylistic rarity. His work can be found in Victoria at the West End Gallery.

“It was imperative for me to go through the phase of pure abstraction. It was such a learning phase for me on how to handle paint and what boundaries I could push. I was able to take everything I had learned over the previous 15 years as an abstract artist and meld them with West Coast landscapes,” he says. “If I had never done that phase, my paintings wouldn’t be where they are today.”

All the various phases that artists move through equip them with tools or new skills to take forward on their artistic journeys. For Blu Smith, the evolution of his career has been unpredictable, with an ongoing inspiration to explore the limits of his own creativity and push forward through new phases. And as life unfolds with unexpected shifts, so too does the story Blu tells through his art.

To see more of Blue Smith check out his web site and his Instagram feed.

ArtartistArts and cultureArts and Entertainment

Just Posted

Photo by Dale Klippenstein
Death of man found on road in Abbotsford now deemed suspicious

Body found May 8 on North Parallel Road was initially labelled hit-and-run

A pair of rare peregrine falcons have returned to their nesting site at an Abbotsford quarry, resulting in increased concerns from opponents about their safety. (PHOTO: #savebcfalcons Instagram page)
Concerns escalate about rare peregrine falcons as blasting set for Abbotsford quarry

Opponents worried after birds return to nesting site at quarry on Quadling Road

Todd Richard sings “Green and Blue” as HHSES students get ready to belt out the chorus during the school’s Music Monday on May 3. He is currently in the running for a top 100 spot in the 2021 Toyota Searchlight competition. (Adam Louis/Observer)
Top 100 bound?: Harrison country artist Todd Richard vies for Toyota Searchlight prize

First round ends on May 20, votes can be submitted every day

The Abbotsford Law Courts (John Morrow/Abbotsford News)
Abbotsford man sentenced second time for sexual offence involving child

Bradley Roan Smith, 60, was previously convicted in 2016 of sexual interference

The mighty Fraser during freshet on May 2, 2021 at Island 22 Regional Park. A new B.C. coalition representing 25 organizations, and 273,000 people, is calling on B.C. to reverse decades of wildlife and habitat declines. (Jennifer Feinberg/ The Chilliwack Progress)
Coalition calls on B.C. to invest in wildlife stewardship and habitat protection

Representing 25 organizations, and 273,000 people, they seek to reverse decades of declines

Prince Rupert was one of the first B.C. communities targeted for mass vaccination after a steep rise in infections. Grey area marks community-wide vaccine distribution. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. tracks big drop in COVID-19 infections after vaccination

Prince Rupert, Indigenous communities show improvement

Municipal governments around B.C. have emergency authority to conduct meetings online, use mail voting and spend reserve funds on operation expenses. (Penticton Western News)
Online council meetings, mail-in voting option to be extended in B.C.

Proposed law makes municipal COVID-19 exceptions permanent

A nurse prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press)
British Columbians aged 20+ can book for vaccine Saturday, those 18+ on Sunday

‘We are also actively working to to incorporate the ages 12 to 17 into our immunization program’

The AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine. (AP/Eranga Jayawardena)
2nd person in B.C. diagnosed with rare blood clotting after AstraZeneca vaccine

The man, in his 40s, is currently receiving care at a hospital in the Fraser Health region

Brian Peach rescues ducklings from a storm drain in Smithers May 12. (Lauren L’Orsa video screen shot)
VIDEO: Smithers neighbours rescue ducklings from storm drain

Momma and babies made it safely back to the creek that runs behind Turner Way

Signage for ICBC, the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, is shown in Victoria, B.C., on February 6, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
$150 refunds issued to eligible customers following ICBC’s switch to ‘enhanced care’

Savings amassed from the insurance policy change will lead to one-time rebates for close to 4 million customers

Lorna Seip touches up the mural on the wall at MRSS, working with students from the Rainbow Club. (Neil Corbett/The News)
Rainbow club puts message of inclusion at Maple Ridge School’s main entrance

Maple Ridge secondary grad says SOGI symbols are powerful

Police investigate a fatal 2011 shooting in a strip mall across from Central City Shopping Centre, which was deemed a gang hit. The Mayor’s Gang Task Force zeroed in on ways to reduce gang involvement and activity. (File photo)
COVID-19 could be a cause in public nature of B.C. gang violence: expert

Martin Bouchard says the pandemic has changed people’s routines and they aren’t getting out of their homes often, which could play a role in the brazen nature of shootings

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read