Passion Behind the Paint - Artist Paul Van Ginkel

By Danielle Rourke

He was 10 years old, he was visiting from Winnipeg and it was his first time to the Calgary Stampede.

Admiration was immediate for these gentle giants, these horses, so proud, so stealth and so dignified. Who are these creatures he wondered. He was in awe. The cowboy hats, the history, the jeans, the First Nations culture, the tepees, the performances, all of it, he loved. It was electric, it was Western and it is where this love affair began.

This impressionable newfound interest set the stage for one of Canada’s most notable Western image fine art painters, a Calgarian since 1973.

Looking back, artist Paul Van Ginkel can clearly see how this first trip to the Stampede shaped his 38+ years of painting his beloved subject matter. This intrigue of the equine world, the aesthetic and historical significance of horses, and all things Western continues to fuel his world. He is renowned for his typically large scale paintings, many of which contain the horse. The horse represents many things to Paul including beauty, passion, strength and nobility. His process for equine paintings, and all of his paintings, is one that seeks to truly capture the essence of his subject. A large painting simulates the heroic scale of a horse and its powerful essence, its muscle structure, its flowing mane and tail. 

Although Western themes and images routinely take centre stage, Paul paints many diverse subject matters including Flamenco and ballet dancing, figurative, nudes and his powerful First Nation portraits. It is easy to understand why he always has ‘100 paintings haunting’ in his head. Artist Paul Van Ginkel’s describes his creative life as one gigantic canvas, the lessons, the losses, the loves, are all part of the paint. 

Paul has sincerity and a realness to him that’s often hard to find. You could describe him as genuine, down to earth and even humble. He has a firm no excuses attitude when it comes to his unwavering devotion and disciplined work ethic. ‘It might not always be a perfect day, there are days when you are on and days when you are not, but the most important thing is that you show up.’ In addition to operating his business, he typically spends 5-6 intense hours of studio painting per day, entirely devoted to one incredible painting at a time. “I know it’s done when I can stare at it and there is nothing else to do to improve it.” Painting hours are calculated each day on the side of the canvas, a tally that will be recorded when the painting is complete. Paul knows what each of his pieces mean to him and recognizes how fascinating and humbling it is to discover what the painting means to someone else. His savvy business side receives equal commitment. He has found a successful balance between promoting, commercializing and marketing his work, without compromising the creative process. He deals directly with his valued collectors, developing many lifelong friendships along the way. His work/life balance is consistent and disciplined and he stays true to ‘turning off the taps’ so to speak each day around 5:00. Well, most days. Life happens and whatever the situation may be, his goals remain the same, ‘to me, success in the arts is creating full time for the rest of my life, being “rich and famous doesn’t interest me.” His main career objective is to sell his work on a consistent basis so he can continue painting “until my last breath.’ 

Paul Van Ginkel averaged around 90 paintings per year, however, since his work in now larger and with more detail its now about 50. “The best way for me to get to know a subject is to paint it”. Life experience is plenty. His expressive and often moving paintings are a record of his real life experiences and the intimate connection he has to his subjects. He absorbs them. Whether it’s spending time with the cowboys of western Canada, attending a Pow Wow in Santa Fe, or participating in a sweat lodge with First Nation elders in Arizona, he connects with them. Over the course of 3 day photo shoot he can take upwards of 4,000 photographs. These images return with him to his studio where he uses them as  reference to capture and convey them into the canvas. Paul has devoted his life to creating images of the subjects he so passionately explores. ‘I am never preoccupied with the technique, rather I allow the painting’s subject, expression and voice to dictate the type of “visual life” it should have. I feel each painting is a creative expression similar to a piece of music, dance performance or poetry. For me, the symbolic ritual of signing the painting represents the completion of the creation, however, also the beginning of its long journey through an unknown future.’

Calgary is clearly a strong market for Paul’s Western paintings. This year he proudly celebrates 18 years of art exhibition at the Stampede.

Paul continues to be passionate about First Nation topics, continually looking for inspiration from the past, present and future. He has recently set up an Indigenous Fundraiser to honour the 215 Indigenous children discovered in unmarked graves at the

former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. He began this fundraiser on June 16th and the goal is to raise $46,000 by selling 215 prints for $215 (minimum). Paul asks for your help to raise awareness and much needed money for our beloved Canadian Indigenous community by purchasing one of his prints. He invites you to donate directly to these charities:

 Indian Residential School Survivors Society: https://www.irsss.ca

Legacy of Hope Foundation: https://legacyofhope.ca

Tk̓emlúps te Secwépemc (Kamloops Band): https://tkemlups.ca/wp-content/uploads/How-to-Support-TteS-June-3-2021-v2.pdf

Despite being on all Social Media platforms, the best source for his work is his website PaulVanGinkel.com. 

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