Local artist Martin Machacek doesn’t see Victoria’s landmarks the same way everyone else does.
His paintings of local icons like “Old Blue,” the legislature, or the Fairmont Empress Hotel are so detailed and abstract that most people think his work must be computer generated using photo-manipulation software.
“That’s the number-one question I get when I’m down on the causeway,” says Machacek, who has been vending in the Inner Harbour for the last four years.
“Even though they are twisted, the perspective is still correct,” he adds. “You can’t achieve that in Photoshop … I’m quite a perfectionist as an artist and I realized how freeing it is to draw things that are imperfect.”
He began live-painting on the causeway so passersby can see him in action, painting from detailed sketches he creates from photos of buildings, boats and more.
“My first paintings in Victoria were of things that were less iconic,” says Machacek. “I wanted to paint the buildings that people don’t always notice,” like the old Carnegie Building (old public library building on Blanshard) and the colourful old manors of Fernwood.
An avid cyclist, Machacek believes his mode of transportation has a lot to do with his perspective. “I can go through the alleys, it’s open, there’s no roof and I can look at my surroundings and I get to see things from vantage points that are unique,” he says.
Machacek began painting in this style, which he calls architectural etherealism, about 10 years ago, after a lengthy career as a graphic designer, sign maker, custom framer and architectural illustrator.
“All those things contributed to my work now,” says Machacek. “I make all of my frames myself … I layout all my prints and posters and I’m completely in control of what I’m trying to achieve. Sometimes I have to step back and say ‘who’s going to do the painting?’”
Inspired by the lines of historic buildings in his native Prague, Czech Republic, which his family “escaped” when he was just eight years old, Machacek spent many years living and working in Calgary. “When I came to Canada, I was fascinated by the size of everything, especially vehicles,” he says. He would work most of the year as a graphic designer and sign maker so he could spend a few months of the year racing his bicycle in Europe. But it was his training on the prairie highways that brought him inspiration to paint.
“I started painting these old barns,” he says. “They were so weathered from the elements that I didn’t have to do much at all to exaggerate the lines … I started to move away from perfect lines. I was portraying them in a way that people weren’t used to seeing, giving them personality or character, and over the years I’ve pushed it to what you see now.”
Machacek often came to Victoria to visit, spending time at the Wildfire Bakery while house-sitting a friend’s dog.
“I was working on a drawing of St. John the Divine Church and someone walked by and bought it. It was the first piece I ever sold,” he says. “That was the original spark.”
He returned to Victoria later that winter and decided to move for good, but when he returned to Calgary to collect his belongings, he met Dana, his future wife and business partner, at his going away party and decided to stay a little longer. He cut back his hours at his “real job” and began to paint more while waiting for Dana to finish her MFA.
They moved to Victoria and have been working full-time at their “family business” since 2010, when Dana, too, quit her day job. The couple now spends six months of the year sitting together on the causeway, chatting to visitors and selling Machacek’s art.
In the off-months, Machacek’s work can be seen at the popular Blue Fox Cafe (where his Johnson Street Bridge painting currently hangs), where he was artist in residence for five years, at Willie’s Bakery (537 Johnson), the Monterey Barber Shop (2250 Oak Bay) and Vic’s Steakhouse inside the Harbour Towers Hotel (345 Quebec).
His upcoming solo show, his first in more than four years, offers originals, limited-edition giclees, conceptual sketches and pen and ink drawings from the last 10 years.
The retrospective will be laid out in the CACGV gallery chronologically. Under each section there will be a portfolio featuring works from that period, including commissions and paintings sold, giving those in attendance the ability to see works that now belong to private collections.
Machacek has also created a portfolio of future paintings, conceptual sketches, drawings, photographs and colour studies. “I have hundreds of drawings, colour studies and drawings for things I haven’t painted yet,” he says. M
Martycultural Art: 10 year retrospective show and sale
Oct. 24- Nov. 6
Community Arts Council of Greater Victoria Main Gallery
(3220 Cedar Hill)
Opening Reception: Thurs., Oct. 25 at 7pm