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Robert Chisholm: Always painting…

Thumbnail Sketches

Blue Nose by Robert Chisholm
Blue Nose by Robert Chisholm

It starts with early memories of sitting on his father’s lap with his dad, a sign painter for the provincial government, helping Robert draw cows, horses, farms, and family times spent at the ocean on the beaches out in Antigonish.  Fast forward several decades and we find Robert Chisholm, now retired, and still painting.

He can look back at his own careers in many fields, from government jobs to those in management with retail chains, but always there was his painting.  Born in Nova Scotia, living in Manitoba for several years, raising a family, then moving to Ontario, Robert and his wife live in Orangeville and yes, he is still painting.  In fact, now he is engaged full time as an artist, with his own studio at the Alton Mill Arts Centre and a member of Headwaters Arts.

He shares this studio space with two other members from the large SOVA group, Southern Ontario Visual Artists.  This group is one that shows several times a year around southern Ontario.  They routinely show in Toronto, Milton, Niagara Falls, and Oakville, sharing the work of applying for, setting up, and promoting their shows.  Their next show is at the Falls Gallery, to run from November 11 – 23, at the Alton Mill Arts Centre, Alton.

Wild Flowers by Robert Chisholm
Wild Flowers by Robert Chisholm

Robert traditionally does a few other festivals and exhibitions on his own, the Kawartha Arts Festival at Fenlon Falls, traditionally held over the Labour Day weekend, is one he has done for six years. Likewise, he has set up the past few years at the Hockley Valley Art Show.  Neither of these shows were held this year.

Despite the many festivals and exhibitions which did not run, Robert was part of the recent SOVA show in Niagara Falls at the Steve Wilson Studio and Gallery.  Steve Wilson, also a member of SOVA,  recently relocated from Inglewood to set up his art studio and gallery in Niagara Falls.

The Cove by Robert Chisholm
The Cove by Robert Chisholm

Belonging to several arts organizations is one of the usual ways artists can ensure that their work is shown along with the inspiration they offer each other.  Robert talked about the importance of these groups, such as Orangeville Art Group and Visual Arts Brampton’s Portraiture Studio Group,  although he does not belong to either of them now. Those were important groups with different people who influenced each other’s arts practices.  “We can feed off each other … the energy is incredible.  You get lost in the zone.”

Our conversation becomes more philosophical about how art is part of people’s lives or how they approach it.  In general, Robert is a pragmatist and accepts that most people don’t actually notice what is in front of them.  His comments are so apt.  “Artists invite people into their world in a way. People need to slow down, they are so busy.  The sun rises every day.  Our paintings are a chance to appreciate what’s in front of us that we often do not notice.”

A photo of Robert Chisholm painting

He adds, “It’s important to be kind to people. I am very fortunate!”

And yes, to be pursuing your passion all your life, and now to be so absorbed in it the past 10-15 years with that grounded sense of who you are, that is very fortunate.  It is a state Robert has laboured towards and achieved over the many years of honing his craft and refining his style.

The ultimate compliment to him is when people recognize a painting as a Robert Chisholm piece. “Selling a painting is like selling a part of yourself, you have to let it go.”  His style speaks to them, it is his imprint and statement; an impressionistic and expressive style with loose brush strokes.

Robert Chisholm with some of his work

He works largely in acrylics, various sizes, and his down east origins are so evident when he paints water.  “My paintings are never finished.  You have to know when to stop.  (And then I can say,) my next one is going to be my best.”

Picking up the thread of our earlier discussion on how people regard artists’ work, he comments, “You don’t know how people will value a piece, and it’s part of me. But you have to take it if you are an artist, critiquing is a tool that we use as an artist.  I love critiquing because people are connecting with my artwork, is the ultimate critique.”

Just a few weeks ago we saw the results of this “ultimate critique” by people as Robert’s piece, Lady Devine, won the People’s Choice Award at the Artful Revival Festival Exhibition at the Headwaters Arts annual fall fundraiser and show.  It was this very piece that also had won Third Prize at the same event.  Robert’s other work may be viewed on his gallery with SOVA here and on IG @chisholm.robert.

Always painting!  Yes, it is such a good thing for us that Robert Chisholm has been able to say that he was “always painting”.  And how wonderful that we can stop, learn to see and to appreciate, to slow our lives down enough to enjoy the views his paintings offer us on the world.

Thumbnail Sketches© is a column Connie Munson, local photographer, artist, and writer, has developed for various arts organizations to profile their artist-members.  She is a director on the board of Headwaters Arts, which has their gallery in the Alton Mill Arts Centre in Caledon, a member of several other arts organizations, and may be reached at

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