By Deena Dolan Findlay

At its core, art should make you feel something. That ‘something’ is one of the qualities that separates good from really good. But then, to cross the line from good to great—well now, an artist must be able to transcend ordinary and propel the viewer into extraordinary and that in my opinion, is a great artist. An artist with staying power—Ryan Allen Sobkovich has it. Influenced by the work of the Group of Seven, Tom Thomson, Claude Monet, and David Hockney, Ryan utilizes free form gestural brushwork with thick applications of bold pigment to express and capture his passion for nature. Taking that thought further, Ryan states, “My goal as an artist is to reconnect the viewer with nature through my artworks. It is important to me that my paintings stimulate emotions, memories and thoughts allowing the viewer to create his/her own narrative.”

Growing up in Wasaga Beach, Ryan developed a love of remote outdoors and wilderness on family camping trips to Algonquin and Killbear Provincial Parks. His obvious artistic passion was clearly evident as a young child and when his parents observed their four- year-old son was drawn to crayons, creating life-like renderings of scenes from their park trips. They recognized this was out of the ordinary and something to be encouraged. When he was nine Ryan’s mother enrolled him in a children’s painting class taught by Michelle Fleming at The Bay School of Art in Collingwood. He was quickly ‘moved up’ to adult classes and after three years, Fleming urged him to put a few paintings in a show at the L.E. Shore Memorial Library in Thornbury. A fellow student bought one of Ryan’s Killbear Park paintings. That student who recognized the twelve-year-old’s talent, turned out to be a serious collector. “It was natural for me to paint what I enjoyed; nature and wilderness,” explains Ryan. “And as time went on, things escalated quickly.”

Throughout school, Ryan absolutely knew he wanted to support himself as an artist but the reality of that was in question. As a backup, a career in architecture held some appeal but again reality spoke up and the notion of sitting at a desk in an office simply didn’t fit. Thanks to his parents who fostered an entrepreneurial spirit, Ryan’s artistic mind developed alongside a solid business component as well. And, since his work was already selling by the time he entered post-secondary education at Georgian College, he chose to pursue art as his full-time profession even though it would probably mean a meagre living, in a humble cabin, no frills and little extra cash.

Fast forward to today. At the tender age of 25, Sobkovich’s artwork has already garnered numerous awards and ‘Best in
Show’ honours. His evocative landscapes are in corporation collections in Ontario, public collections in Cairo, Egypt and Belfast, Northern Ireland, and have been in over 45 solo exhibitions and charity auctions around the world. Within the first few hours of its champagne opening, his solo exhibition last fall at Hazelton Fine Art Galleries in Toronto was completely sold out. He lives and creates at his spectacular home studio located on Georgian Bay near Parry Sound.

Spurred by a hunger to keep improving, Ryan’s work continues to evolve. When asked to describe his style he replied, “Labelling is tricky. I think of my work as a temporary abstraction of the landscape.” When asked about comparisons to other Canadian Impressionists, artists like the Group of Seven for example, he explained that while the subject matter is often the same, the execution is not. “My work is my contemporary twist on an old- school subject.”

“It’s very important to me to be constantly changing, to chase an ideal that is always changing,” said Ryan. “It allows me to experiment with my style. To decipher what I love in other artists’ work, even if it’s just one brush stroke, is a way to learn and to evolve my work.” To that end Ryan demonstrated to me how he uses his brush like a baton to manipulate a mountain of paint on and around his canvas. “Creation is driving the abstraction and whatever my paint brush decides to do for fun.” He knows this ‘natural abstraction’ as he refers to it will continue to happen. But it mustn’t be forced. He smiles, “I don’t know where my work will be in 40 years.”

A confident, business savvy person with a solid belief in his own marketing skills, Ryan has strong opinions. Regarding education, he believes more emphasis needs to be placed on the commercial side of being an artist. “The system needs to incorporate entrepreneurship.” In fact, he will often guest lecture at colleges, giving actual step-by-step instruction and advice to students outlining exactly how to go about selling their work—assuring them that it is actually possible to make a living as an artist.

Self-analysis is also key to Ryan’s success—something he learned from his mother who had a background in psychology. “If you’re not in a good mood, ask yourself why, what’s the reason? Isolate the cause and don’t paint if you’re not in the right frame of mind.” If something isn’t working with a painting, Ryan won’t push it. He’ll leave the studio and go for a hike or a paddle. He’ll sleep on it and then arrive back fresh and ready to create again.

For upcoming shows, please visit