Artist Blu Smith creates colourful abstract West Coast landscapes

Artist Blu Smith creates colourful abstract West Coast landscapes

Artistic journey from sign painting to fine art

  • Jul. 10, 2019 7:30 a.m.

– Story by Chelsea Forman Photography by Don Denton

Vancouver Island’s Blu Smith, one of Canada’s most prestigious abstract artists, is garnering international recognition for his innovative abstract landscapes.

But Blu’s signature style as an artist didn’t begin where it is today. And as he points out, artists go through many style stages — often reflecting their life paths — and each phase is imperative to the continued growth and evolution of their work.

In 1989, Blu moved to the island from his hometown of Vernon. He completed the four-year fine arts program at the University of Victoria and worked at a sign shop. After graduation, Blu remained at the sign shop for several years, continuing to pursue his career in painting on the side.

“I would show my art anywhere I could — from furniture stores to hair salons — just trying to get my work out there,” he recalls.

During his time working at the sign shop, Blu was immersed in a pop art phase of his career, and he credits this for cultivating an adoration of large-format art.

“Back in university — like most young artists — I was experimenting and trying out different techniques and styles to figure out what was going to fit for me,” he says. “I was doing a lot of pop art, which really stemmed from my work in the sign business. I was implementing lettering, and working in large format — one component that I still use today.”

Blu became involved with several local galleries in Victoria and from there, his work began to slowly trickle out across western Canada, eastern Canada, into the United States and eventually overseas.

Before the advent of social media, he says, it took an all-consuming effort for an artist to gain recognition. But the various platforms available these days have helped elevate his career.

“With social media, the potential now is unlimited — you’re instantly worldwide with the reach that you get. It has been an instrumental part of my business over the past few years. It really allows an artist to take control of his or her career a lot more,” he says, adding, “The old model was more challenging because you would get into galleries who would be responsible for marketing you and [therefore] allowing you to be in the studio and paint. It’s far more of a partnership now.”

Blu’s style progressed from pop art into realistic paintings, and by the late ‘90s, he once again witnessed a shift in his work.

“I was running into a stumbling block where I found my work was really stagnating. I was doing a lot of realistic paintings and was struggling to find the creativity in that. It was more of a technical skill than a creative approach,” he says.

“I decided to branch out and experiment doing non-representational abstract pieces — just throwing the paint around on the canvas and seeing what happened. It was only supposed to be about a week‚ but that didn’t really happen. The abstract work really took off and I found what I was looking for. The floodgates opened.”

Blu didn’t look back for the next 15 years. His reputation as an abstract artist spanned globally. It wasn’t until 2013 that Blu’s career took the next subtle and unexpected shift.

“We moved to North Saanich, onto a mostly tree-covered property. In our previous home, we would get the sunrise. In our new home, we would get light flooding through the trees — and it really affected me. I started to incorporate what I saw every day outside my studio into my abstracts. It began to develop into a really interesting journey with these abstract landscapes. I found it unique and fresh.”

While Blu continues to produce pure abstract art, his abstract landscapes have gained renown for both their beauty and stylistic rarity. His work can be found in Victoria at the West End Gallery.

“It was imperative for me to go through the phase of pure abstraction. It was such a learning phase for me on how to handle paint and what boundaries I could push. I was able to take everything I had learned over the previous 15 years as an abstract artist and meld them with West Coast landscapes,” he says. “If I had never done that phase, my paintings wouldn’t be where they are today.”

All the various phases that artists move through equip them with tools or new skills to take forward on their artistic journeys. For Blu Smith, the evolution of his career has been unpredictable, with an ongoing inspiration to explore the limits of his own creativity and push forward through new phases. And as life unfolds with unexpected shifts, so too does the story Blu tells through his art.

To see more of Blue Smith check out his web site and his Instagram feed.

ArtartistArts and cultureArts and Entertainment

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

District of Kent farmers brought truckloads of used plastic to the Schwichtenburg farm Oct. 26, 2018, for pickup by Kent Agricultural Plastics Recycling, a grassroots, farmer-initiated organization that collects and distributes used plastics for recycling. (Nina Grossman/The Observer)
Agassiz’s agricultural plastics program heading to the dump, unless province steps in

Kent Agricultural Plastics Recycling has nowhere to go, hopes B.C. will create a recycling program

Sheriff Avory Chapman was last seen Jan. 20 on Wellington Avenue in Chilliwack. (RCMP)
RCMP look for missing man last seen in downtown Chilliwack

21-year-old Sheriff Avory Chapman has been missing since Jan. 20

A worker is seen throwing a chicken in an undercover video in 2017 filmed by California-based animal rights activists Mercy For Animals.
Fraser Valley chicken abuse trial delayed until February

Originally scheduled for a jury trial, Sofina and Chilliwack company now face judge alone

Chilliwack-Kent MLA Kelli Paddon funding Equity and Social Change Scholarships

One of the scholarships is open to any graduating student in the Chilliwack-Kent electoral district

Paid parking returns to Harrison from May 15 to Sept. 15. (Nina Grossman/The Observer)
Harrison pay parking to arrive May 15, parking master plan in the works

The village will be looking at parking for the community as a whole in the new plan

Rose Sawka, 91, waves to her son through the window of a care home in Prince Rupert in October. Residents of the care home received their first vaccine dose Jan. 20. (K-J Millar/The Northern View)
B.C. care home visitor access to expand by March, Dix says

Staff, residents, essential visitors top priorities for vaccine

ICBC has seen savings on crash and injury claims in the COVID-19 pandemic, with traffic on B.C. roads reduced. (Penticton Western News)
ICBC opens online calculator for rate savings starting in May

Bypassing courts expected to save 20% on average

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
16% boom predicted for B.C. real estate sales in 2021: experts

Along with sales, the average price of homes is also predicted to rise, by nearly 8 percent

The trial of Harry Richardson began Monday at the Nelson courthouse. File photo
Trial of man accused of shooting RCMP officer in West Kootenay in 2019 begins

Harry Richardson is facing five charges in a Nelson courtroom

FILE – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers his opening remarks at a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Tuesday, January 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine CEO ‘very, very clear’ that Canada’s contracts will be honoured: Trudeau

Trudeau says he spoke to Moderna CEO on the morning of Jan. 26

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Brad Windsor has been an advocate for years to get sidewalks installed along Milburn Drive in Colwood, but to no avail. He wants city council to commit to making Milburn a priority lane for sidewalk construction in the future. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
VIDEO: Dramatic crash caught on B.C. home security camera

Angry residents say video highlights need for sidewalks in B.C. residential neighbourhood

An independent review is underway at the Royal BC Museum after employees called out systemic, individual racism at the institution. (Twitter/RBCM)
Royal BC Museum faces allegations of systemic racism, toxic work environment

Formal investigation, survey and training launched at museum

Most Read