It's hard to believe that such big ideas can come from a small space. Jeff Maltby met me in the living room of the townhouse he shares with his wife and two children. When he drew back the curtain across the end of the living room, I gasped. There, in a space not two feet wide, was an oil painting more than two metres tall, looking down on Lillian Road, as seen from the Gonzales Weather Station. Suddenly, it dominated the room.
Maltby is a quiet sort of fellow, but his public art makes a bold statement. He's the man who painted the huge suite of murals at Ellice Recycling, the largest of which is more than 33 metres long. Following that, he worked his magic on the industrial walls outside Victoria's public works yard at Bridge and Ellice streets. And high up on a brick wall over a parking lot at Langley and Fort streets, his imagining of three windows with flower boxes brightens the vista.
Perhaps his most endearing murals are the two on Fisgard Street east of Government. The crosswalk by the Chinese Public School shows a family through the ages. On the other side of the street, he has painted a trompe l'oeil view of Fisgard Street in olden days.
Each exemplifies his intention to paint murals that are as richly pleasing as any easel painting. Yet before our afternoon together, I knew almost nothing about Maltby. His home is extensively hung with his paintings, but he has no gallery representation and, except for a period with the Island Illustrators Society, he hasn't shown his work much.
It turns out he was born in Germany on a Canadian Forces Base, but grew up in Trenton, Ont. He confesses he's had little art training, though he fondly recalled a teacher in Grade 3 who took him through the stages of picture-making. He grasped the magic, learned the technique and never looked back.
Jeff's wife, Trudy, is also an artist. Arriving together in 1989, the Maltbys kept body and soul together by scuffling at various jobs. At one point, Jeff was asked to draw a fantasy of Santa and a piece of industrial machinery. This was a Christmas card for Ralmax Industries, and led to more of the same. Eventually, the owner asked the artist if he would consider painting a mural.
Maltby had never created a picture that big, though at the time, his "day job" was painting industrial buildings - in the non-artistic way.
Working with his fully realized study of the mural, Maltby went up on a scissor lift and began to lay out the huge design.
He explained that his design is based on accurate perspective - he fixed a screw eye at the vanishing point and ran chalk lines from it across the wall. A simple idea, but not so easy when you have to move a scissor lift to get from point to point. Even more daunting to the first-time muralist was working in the public eye.
We discussed murals by other people in town. With the passage of time, Wyland's Whaling Wall is a shadow of its former self, and the miscellaneous extravaganza across from the library on Broughton Street is wearing out. It's a tough job.
We joined in praise of the magnificent contributions of Frank Lewis - in particular, his "Sistine chapel" in the underpass of Gorge Road at the Selkirk waterfront.
For richness of colour and sheer painterliness, Maltby has made his mark. But painting a large surface with a small brush under difficult physical circumstances inevitably takes its toll.
This can't go on for long. Considering the excellence of the large urban landscape he was at work on, his work is beautiful enough to make a contribution inside public buildings as well as outside.
When I suggested this to Maltby, he modestly explained that he was still working out a "style" that he could get behind and produce a gallery full of work.
That may or may not happen. But for the moment, it's worth a trip to the recycling depot, the works yard and various parking lots to seek out the work of Jeff Maltby.
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