The Peninsula News Review continues a series of artist profiles leading up to the Sidney Fine Art Show Oct. 13 to 15 at the Mary Winspear Centre. It’s part of the annual ArtSea Festival on the Saanich Peninsula the runs Oct. 13 to 22.
For Sandhu Singh and his 14 year-old son Liam, art is a shared hobby. Though Sandhu paints with watercolours and Liam is a wildlife photographer, they rely on each other for honest advice and inspiration.
“If I do a painting, it doesn’t matter if he’s sleeping or not,” said Sandhu. “I always yell, ‘Liam!’ He has to come and look at it and tell me what’s missing. He has a very good eye, so he can say, ‘Dad, it looks busy,’ or ‘dad, it need something,’ or he might say, ‘wow, dad that’s good!’… I don’t do it by myself.”
Both were accepted into the Sidney Fine Art Show this year, where they were patrons for years. Sandhu said the show is special to both of them.
“When I first went there, I had no idea what it was all about. I entered three paintings, I went there and I walked up to the lady, and she said, ‘you didn’t fill out this paperwork out properly.’”
As it turned out, he failed to name a price for his work. He whispered to the clerk to “just be honest” and tell him what she thought it was worth, and she said she couldn’t since it wasn’t her job. He ended up writing a number somewhat arbitrarily, which allowed him to enter and eventually win Best In Show in 2011.
Sandhu, who is a full-time cardiac nurse, has been interested in art for a long time. He grew up north of New Delhi in Chardigarh, which was then a small town.
“I grew up fantasizing about big cities like London and New York,” he said. “Tall buildings, traffic, Datsun cars.”
He immigrated to Canada in 1990, and started painting watercolors as a hobby in 2004.
“I was hanging around the house and my wife Emily said, ‘You gotta go do something! You gotta pursue what you want to pursue.’”
She bought him his first set of paints, and he just carried on from there, dedicating himself more seriously in 2009.
Liam, 14, first got his hands on a camera at the age of 2. He got serious about photography in Grade 5, just before his trip to Churchill, Manitoba — “the polar bear capital of the world.” Since then, he has gone to the Galapagos, Madagascar, Australia, and the Aleutian Islands with his grandmother.
He photographs birds as part of his ornithological research and for enjoyment. He volunteers at the Royal B.C. Museum, and puts tracking bands on birds at 2 a.m. at Rocky Point some weekends.
“Usually I have a few species in mind that I want to go photograph, and I’ll go to those particular places.”
He went to Island View Beach specifically to look for Habronattus americanus, a type of jumping spider with a black back and a bright red front. Liam enjoys showing that photo to people because he said “most people don’t know that a spider that brightly coloured lives in Victoria.”
Sandhu said that he gets shy when people praise his work at shows.
“If people say, ‘Your work is beautiful, I say thank you. And if they keep saying it, I get a little uncomfortable. I just want to hide in a hole,” he laughed.
“It can be daunting,” said Liam, “but usually it’s pretty fun to see your work and just be proud of what you see up there.”
The Singhs have also experienced rejection, too, which was a lesson for both father and son.
“One year, they didn’t take a single one of my paintings. And Liam learned not to take the disappointment too personally. That’s just the way it goes, sometimes.”
Sandhu realizes that they are both relatively new to the art, and they are humble about their early success.
“To be with people who’ve been painting 40 years, 50 years ahead of us, it’s inspiring in many ways,” said Sandhu.