We are all familiar, of course, with the image of a loon on our Canadian dollar coin, and most of us from the Sault and area know the image was designed by Sylvan Valley artist Robert-Ralph Carmichael, who died in 2016
Until now, however, the artist’s work has never been showcased in a book.
The Art of Robert-Ralph Carmichael: Surrealism, Splendour has been self-published by Karl Tuira, a one-time resident of Sylvan Valley and friend of the artist.
“I always popped in to see Bob Carmichael in Sylvan Valley after he moved there around 1975. I first met him in 1996, when I was living in Toronto and back home in Sylvan Valley visiting my family,” Tuira recalled, speaking to SooToday Thursday in a telephone interview from his Oakville, Ont. home.
“I always wanted to get a painting of my family farm. I knew Bob had moved to Sylvan Valley and knew he was a good painter and asked him if he could do a painting of the family farm. He did so and our friendship continued from there,” Tuira said, the painting hanging in his home (along with 14 other Carmichael paintings).
“His character...he was very polite and low key. He wasn’t a big promoter of his own work, though he loved his own work dearly. He was very polite, very friendly, very kind and self-assured at the same time.”
Not a painter in his own right, Tuira nevertheless described himself as an “art addict” with a chuckle.
“I appreciate art of all types.”
“Over the years, when Bob and I would meet, we talked on and off about me doing a book on him, and that never came about, but then, when he passed away, I was visiting his widow (Gwen Keatley) and she said ‘why don’t you go ahead and write the book?’” Tuira said.
In his lifetime, Carmichael had put together a portfolio of photographs of his paintings.
“I went through them all, the earliest of them done around 1967,” Tuira said.
The 167-page coffee table book contains 140 colour photos of Carmichael’s surrealist paintings, landscapes, drawings, still lifes and coins, as well as commentaries on Carmichael’s work by Tuira, Gwen Keatley and other artists.
“I haven’t really marketed it, but I want people to be aware the book exists, and that it’s available. It’s a real legacy, a real treasure,” Tuira said.
“It was important to me to do the book because I don’t think he had the recognition and exposure he warranted. This will likely be the only book you’ll ever see with his paintings in it. I had a high regard for the man and his art and had a good relationship with him, both of us from Sylvan Valley.”
“His work is art that really draws you into the picture, whether it was his landscapes or surreal work. His surreal artwork makes you think of all sorts of things, it lets your mind wander and really think. Bob always said ‘it’s not up to me to say what the (surreal) paintings are about, it’s up to you to do that.’”
Born in Finland, Tuira, now 71, moved to Canada with his family when he was three years old, first residing in southern Ontario before settling in Sylvan Valley in 1956.
Tuira attended elementary school in Echo Bay before taking the school bus to Sault Collegiate for high school (sometimes hitchhiking back to Sylvan Valley after high school football practice).
Leaving the Sault and area after high school to earn a history degree and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Toronto, Tuira, a married father and grandfather, became an information technology sector senior manager, retiring eight years ago.