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Entrepreneurial artist champions fine art through local gallery

Arts and EntertainmentEntrepreneurial artist champions fine art through local gallery

Thomas Stewart Robertson’s artistic path was presented to him at a very young age, yet it wasn’t until he was confronted with a brush with death that he decided to leave a successful commercial art career and truly came into his own. “I remember I took medication to get rid of a sinus infection that attacked my liver. And so, I ended up almost dying. And that’s when I thought, well, God, if you give me a chance, I’ll just…focus on my own art.”

Up to that point, Robertson had a thriving multi-decade career as a commercial illustrator–having an opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the advertising business from various mentors and a host of seasoned artists and professionals. He remembers first going to Gould’s Art Studio–the first and only company he worked for before striking out on his own. “I would have been 17 at the time, and I brought in my makeshift portfolio. And the boss there was Louis Crowe; [he] used to paint sceneries for the Dublin theatre and many other things. And he looked at my portfolio and [asked me] when I could start.”  

Thomas Stewart Robertson beside one of his pieces at the Robertson Fine Arts Studio & Gallery. Photo courtesy Thomas Stewart Robertson.

However, Robertson was driven by a sense of developing his own artistic path after Gould’s. “I started with just a studio downtown Branford. I painted and I took my work to galleries, and I sold some myself. [Then] they sold the building…so I ended up in Paris, renting a space. I started to host other artists, especially ones that had never had a show before. I knew how difficult it is to begin [at a] public gallery.” 

Robertson eventually established the Robertson Fine Arts Studio & Gallery at 399 West Street in Brantford, which has been host to many critically acclaimed exhibitions and shows throughout the years. However, along with being a successful entrepreneur Stewart continues to hone his craft–blending many different styles and developing his own unique mark; Robertson claims many influences, however, one of which is a Brantford legend. “One of the artists that I absolutely love was born here in Branford, which is Lawren Harris. And my art teacher Gary Woodward introduced me to his work and used to take us to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection Gallery in Kleinburg. And that’s where I saw [these] full-size, original paintings, by Harris and other members of that group of seven.”

Thomas Stewart Robertson has painted several pieces that have been inspired by the Group of Seven. This piece is titled ‘A Tribute to Lawren S. Harris’ (5″) Photo courtesy Thomas Stewart Robertson.

Robertson continues, “I’ve done a painting that I call a ‘Tribute to Lawren Harris.’ The original is in Dallas, Texas. Again, I’m attempting to paint in a style similar to Harris in that particular painting and chose a subject matter that I believe that he would have liked.”

Another key inspiration for Robertson is music. In an array of pieces, Robertson involves the rhythm and sound of various forms of music—capturing images harking back to the 20th century and which have appealed to him. Robertson notes, “I’m not musically inclined myself. But I love music so much, and I love all the different kinds of music. It’s always been a big influence in my life [and] I think music is one of the things that connects people.”

Thomas Stewart Robertson has integrated his passion for music in his art. ‘Jazz Trane Jazz Trane Mixed Media (40″ x 40″) on Canvas and is a tribute to Jazz legend John Coltrane. Photo courtesy Thomas Stewart Robertson.

Along with his success in his art and managing his gallery, Robertson has practiced Martial Arts for several decades. “I was always fascinated with martial arts. I remember when I was a kid in the 60s, watching these guys on my black-and-white TV…throwing each other around. And I said to my dad, ‘I have to do this!’” Robertson started taking Judo at the YMCA in Branford as well as being part of the Judo club at school. Robertson earned his Black Belt in Karate and practiced other forms of martial arts. Along the way, Robertson became influenced by several martial artists including champion Wally Slocki, who has become his mentor and lifetime friend.

Robertson hasn’t only become a skilled martial artist, yet a teacher as well. “I specialize in teaching people how to defend themselves in modern circumstances. But I also still teach classical martial arts. But right now, due to COVID, [we had] to close our club. And so now I just doing some private teaching and working with a private school.”

Along with lifestyle and nature pieces, Thomas Stewart Robertson has painted various abstract works including ‘Healing Rain’ (60″ x 48″ Acrylic On Gallery Wrap Canvas). Photo courtesy Thomas Stewart Robertson.

Robertson has established himself as an artist for all seasons, effortlessly melding his experience as an artist, business owner, and martial arts practitioner. However, one of the key focuses going forward is sharing his knowledge with the next generation of artists. “I want to expand into teaching some courses. I’ve done the odd workshop here and there [and] worked with my grandchildren. They come in once or twice a month, and then we do an art session.” Robertson continues, “I want to expand that to other people that are serious and they want to do it, but they still want to have fun. I’ve acquired a lot of techniques and a lot of knowledge through the years. And I would like to share that with people because it was shared with me. And again, people helped me along the way. And I would like to pass that on to others also.”

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