Visual Art: The King of Contrast

Clement Kwan brings his art to the Sidney Fine Art Show, Oct. 18-20 at the Mary Winspear Centre.

Artist Clement Kwan in his Saanich studio. Kwan’s work will be on display at the Sidney Fine Art Show from Oct. 18-20 at the Mary Winspear Centre.



Clement Kwan says the key to attracting the judges’ eye at a juried art show is: “keep it simple.”

Kwan should know, his work has been judged on an international level and he has also sat in judgment of others.

“If you go into an art show, don’t think about the jury too much,” advises Kwan. “Your art has got to be strong. … Some people have good skills and use lots of detail. A lot of time the jury is seeing thousands of works and they can’t see that detail.” Contrast, he says, is key.

Kwan uses the traditional values of dark and light to create realistic oil paintings that sell for up to $15,000. The artist is heavily influenced by the French impressionists and uses both photography and emotion to help guide his brush.

“Nowadays it’s a lot easier than a long time ago. (On the) Internet you can see the top guys, how they do it. It’s easier for people to learn.”

He says education and practice also help to develop style and character in your work.

“Victoria has so many events in a small city. It’s got everything culture-wise, especially multicultural (events).” Kwan attends many local events to find subjects for his work.

One of his first was a portrait of the Alix Goolden Hall, along with one other, he submitted it to the Sooke Fine Art Show in 1997. “I saw the show and thought, ‘I can do that,’” he says with an easy laugh.

Both works sold and there was no looking back for Kwan, who got his start as an artist in southern China where he was raised and attended the Chinese government’s fundamental art training programs in Guandong. Before immigrating to Canada in 1979, Kwan worked as an artist painting large sceneries for the theatre. In Canada, his talent sat idle for 20 years while he laboured in a machine shop to earn a living.

“When people worry about being a painter full-time, I think a day job is very important. It provides your everyday needs … being stable, having security is vital to an artist’s creativity. … Don’t rush it, let the art tell you when it is the right time to be a full-time artist.”

Kwan has been able to concentrate solely on his art since 2007. His work can be found in galleries in the U.S., Alberta, and the Peninsula Gallery in Sidney. Kwan will be featured as one of the Masters at the Sidney Fine Art Show which runs Oct. 18-20 at the Mary Winspear Centre in Sidney.

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