Robert Amos: Artist’s work dazzles, yet capital doesn’t see the light

In his basement bachelor suite, Lyle Schultz makes visually striking, confident and entirely personal paintings. He has the determination to make a living at it, operating outside the system. Upcoming for Schultz are shows at Lady Marmalade café, Metchosin’s new community art gallery and the apARTment Gallery on Fort Street.

Schultz admits to being a ’90s guy, his taste running to Terry Gilliam films, Sam Keith comics and The Kids in the Hall. He left behind his home in Yorkton, Sask. — “a racist, redneck, violent place,” he says — for lowly jobs in Saskatoon, “cleaning toilets and getting high off of solvents by accident.”

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One day his boss told him he wasn’t enthusiastic enough. “I threw my broom down,” Schultz told me, “and did a little dance. He didn’t find it funny. ‘;What do you want to do in your life,’ he asked me. I said I wanted to be an artist. ‘;Well, do it.’ ” An artist was born.

Schultz spent three years in art school in Alberta.

“I waged war on that school. They were the enemy.”

He fell in with a few like-minded people and began making animated films and drawing comics. “I turned my apartment into the belly of a whale and lived in a bathtub with a typewriter.” As southern Alberta is a desert, he needed to go somewhere with whales. Circumstances drove him to Nanaimo.

With his friends, he got a Canada Council award to make an animated film, and worked in parks on the West Coast. Then the group fell apart. “The ship kinda sunk,” he said. So he followed the bright lights to Victoria.

“This town was horrible. … For the first five years no one would talk to me. … I went to every gallery and I’d stand there with my paintings, like an idiot.” The gallery staff would “go on the phone and chat to their friends, seeing how long you’d put up with it.”

The first person to notice him was Jan Ross, who invited him to have two shows at Emily Carr House. Otherwise, “things just kinda died. I worked in Port Renfrew and lived in a tent. I tried to do art but it was too hard — my portfolio got moss all over it.”

Another break came his way with showings at Sooke Harbour House. Yet even now, Schultz feels he hasn’t broken into the clear. “It’s been 10 years. I’m 34. Most businesses should become successful by then. Maybe I should quit.”

I beg him not to. His studio is filled with dazzling, edgy work busting out in a number of directions. The sizzling energy of Jean-Michel Basquiat comes naturally to Schultz. His comics background shows in his unhitched drawing style, capable but not fettered by academic training. A rollicking weirdness infects all his canvases, large and small, with a fascinating mystery. By now thousands of people own his “rare early works” … and he’s only just begun.

During the 2010 Winter Olympics, a patron invited him to show in Whistler in her fabulous modernist chalet. Television crews showed up, Schultz met a new strata of people and he realized that it really does matter where the art hangs. “I sold a lot of stuff,” he continued. “You could be the next Picasso, but if nobody sees your stuff … you get so inward.” 

Things returned to normal back in Victoria. “Every time I do a show in this town,” he lamented, “it seems like I’m going backward. I seem to be showing in ever-smaller coffee shops. It’s getting really disappointing. I don’t really want a gallery in this town — because I do all the work. I have a good circle of friends and have shows at their homes. ”

His artsy friends from the early days have mostly given up and bought into the job-kids-mortgage world but Schultz soldiers on. Now most of his exposure — and 80 per cent of his sales — come via the Internet, especially his Facebook page. In particular he notes “a lot of at-home moms that are different and weird” spend time following his blogs.

“People in this town need the green light.” Schultz sighed. “They think, ‘;When he’s done enough things, and enough well-off people hang his stuff on their walls, then we might talk to him.’ ” Let this be your green light for Lyle Schultz.

 

You can visit lyleschultzart.com, read his blog at exhibit_v.com, and drop in on his exhibits all over town.

Upcoming: Jan. 31 to Feb. 4 at Metchosin Art Gallery, 4495 Happy Valley Rd. (250-478-9223), and Feb. 7 to April 1 at Lady Marmalade,608 Johnson St.

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