Hugh E. Kearney: Painter and Part of the Denbigh Family

From coast to coast, and from bustling metropolis to the high alpine, Hugh E. Kearney’s paintings are influenced by the places that he inhabits. “It’s very landscape oriented,” Kearney said, describing his paintings. “It’s often abstract – colours, airiness, textures that I pick up from that land and that influence the work.”

Kearney has had a few different and contrasting landscapes as his inspiration. He hails from the East Coast where he went to Nova Scotia School of and design in the 80’s. Not long after graduating Kearney, a self-proclaimed ski bum, moved to Whistler and planned to stay for a year, but ended up staying for 12. He sold his work in galleries in Whistler, which he says was a unique experience because of the international clientele.

When there was an opportunity for Kearney to move to New York City he was excited to go and the move had a huge impact on his work. “In Whistler the work was dark and when I went to New York my work was much more colourful, much brighter. My work changed quite a bit,” he said.” Living in New York my palette got a lot punchier and the urban landscape was really the influence there. Lots of man-made things in the landscape that came into the work.”

During his time in New York he did a number of shows and met a lot of people. “It was a wonderful experience being an artist in New York City,” said Kearney. But, about a decade ago Kearney moved to Vancouver. Though he loved New York, he said, “There were a number of reasons why I wanted to come back. One of them was that I was that missing skiing.”

Kearney is now based back in B.C. but he says that his time and his influences in New York are still very present in his work and he still travels there regularly. “When I moved back here I tried to keep the colour. Everyone here said it’s really happy work. So, I still try to consciously have a brighter pallet,” he said. “But things have darkened up somewhat – it’s just a darker place out here.”

While Kearney was still living in New York City he worked at the Brooklyn Museum and it was there that he got into the business of art handling. Now, having been a Denbigh employee for ten years he considers his work at Denbigh to be a part of his art practice. “It’s fun to work in the in industry. You get to meet a lot of interesting people. I consider it to still be a part of my art practice to be working at Denbigh. I enjoy working with the guys, and the camaraderie. We are always talking about art.”

When he’s not skiing or working at Denbigh, Kearney is often in his studio creating. And he has found new inspiration in his own history – a history rooted in the land. Kearney just received his Native Status this year and credits some of his artistic heritage and his love for the land to his great grandparents who were basket weavers in New Brunswick. With this affirmation of his status Kearney has started to incorporate more of the West Coast First Nations colour palate and the abstraction of the traditional arts in his paintings. Looking at some of his more recent work, Kearney says you can feel the influence and he looks forward to continuing his craft in this vein of exploration. “I’m a painter,” said Kearney. “I consider painting to be a craft. I’m a practitioner of the craft of painting.” Like his great grandparents he identifies as a craftsperson and continues to root his craft in the land.

To see examples of Hugh E. Kearney’s work visit Art Rentals and Sales at The Vancouver Art Gallery.