Gaston Rebry

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Gaston Rebry
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To paraphrase a French proverb, he who takes a wife, takes a country. Gaston Rebry not only acquired a new country, he became that country. Born in Flanders, he came to Canada in 1954 at the age of nineteen to visit his sister in Montreal after the death of his father. In his native land, he was a competitive cyclist like his father, and was relatively successful. But the pull of art was too strong and he abandoned the sport to study drawing at the Menen Academy. He brought his passion for art with him when he crossed the ocean.

Flanders is known for his flat countryside, gloomy weather and overcast skies. What a contrast with Canada! Four well-defined seasons, an abundance of lakes and mountains, endless forests, wide-open spaces promising freedom and unlimited possibilities for the creative spirit. It was like a rebirth for Gaston Rebry. He unpacked and settled in the Mauricie region where he still lives.

He studied at the School of Fine Arts of Montreal, earning his living as a travelling salesman. It took him ten years before he became established enough to be able to devote himself full-time to painting. Gaston Rebry loves nature, lives in nature and paints nature. In his early days, he painted houses and villages, even portraits. But for the past fifteen years or so, he has painted nothing but landscapes. Like his canvasses, the painter has become one with nature. He paints it the way it was before the first Europeans arrived and even before the migration of native populations: a lush, green paradise where the sky, forest and water rule supreme nature untouched by the animal world.

Gaston Rebry paints in his studio. Unlike Van Gogh whom he grandly admires, he does not like working outdoors. Snow, cold, rain, wind and mosquitoes all conspires to inhibit his creativity. He sketches outdoors but his most creative moments occur inside.

Gaston Rebry is inspired by nature but never copies it. He is fascinated by light, observing its every nuance in water, in the sky and on leaves hanging from trees as he walks through the forest. All lakes are similar, but none are identical. Just as every tree and every mountain is unique. All these marvellous images are enriched and illuminated by light as they dance before his eyes. He stores everything in his memory and is able to portray on canvas a landscape which has been carrying around his head for days. He makes no attempt to portray nature exactly as he sees it. He reconstructs it, taking out this, adding that, making it more complete. He turns it into something new and unique.

In Gaston Rebry's paintings, the colours are remarkable. The white of the snow, for example, is never the same from one day to the next, from one hour to the next. The blue of the sky modulates from the grey tones of a cloudy day to the reds and oranges of sunset. Water with its reflections of the sky, trees and mountains, is a living entity, revealing a perpetually changing landscapes. Not to mention the constant movement of clouds altering the composition of the sky. And the wind adding its personal touch by disturbing the calm waters of a lake or rustling the leaves of the trees in a symphony of colours and whispers.

A painting by Gaston Rebry is a tribute to nature. In the centre is water, with the sky providing a backdrop like an archangel spreading his wings around the earth. In the foreground, trees and rocks of varying colours. Breathtaking autumn reds, and green mixed on his palette according to his own special formula.

Gaston Rebry is a prolific painter. When asked how long it takes him to complete a painting, he invariably replies 40 years. Each painting is the culmination of his experience as an artist and the expression of his life so far. Each canvas reflects nearly fifty years of close communion with nature - a lifetime work and all the hopes and dreams of the artist set in a benevolent landscape.

Gaston Rebry never tires of admiring nature, just as he never tires of painting it. He never lacks for inspiration. He never freezes when facing a blank canvas. He cares about work well done. For Gaston Rebry, a painting must be beautiful, but it must also be well done out of respect for the person who might buy it. A good painting, he maintains, should rest on a solid technical foundation and the colour combination should be good. What he does not say is that a painting should not only reflect the soul of the artist but also speak to the heart of its viewers, two essential conditions for withstanding the test of time. But that cannot be learned from books or in art schools. Gaston Rebry's strength lies in his total commitment to nature that he so successfully conveys in his paintings.

Translated from a text by Hugues de Roussan

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