Written by Trish Weatherall
Photograph by Trish Weatherall reprinted with permission from North Island Gazette
Artist Gallery in Port Alice
Local former teacher Dan Nordin followed his retirement dream and opened an art gallery in his Port Alice oceanfront home in May 2014. He used to paint in his spare time, to decorate his home, or for gifts or donations. Now his work sells for between $400 and $1000.
“My first paintings were within 100 steps of my house,” said Nordin from his home studio and gallery looking out on Neroutsos Inlet. The gallery on the lower level of his house displays more than a dozen original acrylic paintings on canvas and three of his unique painted spherical fishing net floats. A photo album witnesses his transition from underwater realism to an impressionist’s view from land. Ocean views and marine life are featured in most of his paintings.
“If people aren’t familiar with marine life, they may not even recognize the subject matter,” said Nordin. “Seaweed is sort of my specialty.”
The retired teacher with a BSC in Marine Biology was raised in Surrey, but spent a lot of time on Vancouver Island. “As a kid I was mesmerised by beaches. My family had a cabin near Comox and I explored all of the life out there,” he said.
After university, Nordin realized marine biology wasn’t all a Jacques Cousteau episode, and he and his wife Claudia accepted teaching positions at the Port Alice Sea View Elementary and Junior Secondary in 1981. He spent 23 years at Sea View and another eight-and-a-half years at North Island Secondary School, painting mainly during summer vacation, before he retired in 2013 and began to focus on his art.
“Now I paint about 5 days a week, for 5 or 6 hours,” he said. “I almost treat it like a job, but more relaxed.”
His interest in art was inspired by a childhood neighbour and cousin, who he describes as gifted artists. But he didn’t consider that he had talent of his own until much later. “I was horrible with scissors, and I couldn’t stay within the lines. I never had the 64-crayon Crayola box. Then in high school I decided not to take art. Later, I kind of just had to figure it out myself.”
He says he is self-taught, through teaching art to students, and by studying art he liked. “I like Van Gogh, and all of the impressionists,” he said. “There’s a lot of variety in my style. I kind of like the freedom to just go wherever I want to.”
He found a new medium one day when he ran out of canvas and needed something to paint – a 50 cm diameter fish float. “I had to wrestle with the idea that as it spins, how do I make sure there’s not a seam. There is no beginning and end. And a fish float actually covers more space than a canvas.”
His current style brings together different elements of art he enjoys – colour, impressionism, and outlining. A modern influence is Comox artist Brian Scott. “He had some paintings at Comox airport – so vibrant and colourful, I just loved it. As I’ve become more free with my colours, colours pop out at me more. Now I see colour where I never used to see it.”
Visitors to the gallery, often other artists, may be lucky enough to tour the back yard with the inlet view or the living area of Nordin’s home. His talents are evident in every corner of the property, from the hand-built octagonal greenhouses and painted one-metre high fish float hanging chair overlooking the water, to the paintings, wood carvings, and custom-made stone and driftwood full-wall fireplace in the house.
He also displays and sells paintings at The West Coast Community Craft Shop at Café Guido in Port Hardy, and at art shows and festivals like the Originals Only show and the juried Filberg Festival, both in Comox. Buyers at these shows are often new homeowners from Alberta he says. He has also had former students buy his art. To date he has sold 30 paintings and about 30 prints.
Coming up, Nordin and his art will be at the Sointula Winterfestival Arts, Crafts & Food Fair on Saturday, Nov. 21and the Port Alice Christmas Craft Fair on Sunday, Nov. 22.
Hours of the gallery are by appointment or whenever he is home and the sign is out. “I like to have the freedom of being retired, so I can go out fishing, not have set hours.”