Wilf Perreault Interview - Prairies North

Reviewed by: Christalee Froese

A Humble Worker at his Canvas

He rises at 5:10 a.m., stops for a cup of Tim Hortons coffee and slinks into work.

His blank-faced office greets him as he tucks his SUV sneakily inside the attached garage.

The white building gives no hints about what goes on inside. The unmarked grey door has no neighbouring windows, leaving the skylights on the top of the building to bring in the outside world. 

Wilf Perreault comes here from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, methodically placing his nose to the grindstone in an effort to overcome his self-proclaimed lack of talent. He believes if he stays secluded, works harder than any other artist, and paints like his life depended on it, he'll produce something he can live with.

He's right.

At age 68, Wilf Perreault has created the most sought-after paintings in Saskatchewan with prices for his large landscapes of Regina back alleys reaching $20,000. Earning a reputation as one of Canada's most interesting landscape painters, he has shown in galleries throughout the United States and Canada and recently held a five-month solo show at Regina's MacKenzie Art Gallery.

The critically acclaimed and publicly lauded MacKenzie show featured 40 paintings, a 150-foot wrap-around panorama of Perreault's most-beloved back alleys, as well as a 30-minute documentary film, a bilingual hardcover book and a limited edition print. While he has received the Queen's Jubilee Medal and was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts, he still doesn't think he's a very good painter.

"I've always felt that I'm not that talented but I have a pretty good work ethic rather than talent," says Perreault humbly, not a hint of sarcasm or humour in his response.

"I really want to make it work, so I work half-days, 6 until 6. It's true."

Perreault's perceived lack of talent is only valid in his own mind. With endless requests for his work and the success of his Wilf Perreault: In the Alley show he should be proud, confident and even a bit pompous. But, he's not. 

"The MacKenzie show was unbelievable and it felt so good to be a part of that, but it didn't feel like it was me--I was just a part of something," says the humble artist.

While many painters like to show their work, whether in a gallery or on corporate walls or on-line, Perreault is not pre-occupied with any of the logistics of selling, showing or displaying his art. In fact, he leaves everything up to his Nouveau Gallery representatives, so that he can accomplish the task at hand; proving to himself that he has something to say artistically.

His tireless schedule, his spell-binding focus, his trepidation for public recognition all lead to a world that revolves around Regina's back alleys. He skulks in them first, as a silent trespasser, observing with his eyes and clicking with his camera. Sometimes he's perched on a ladder and sometimes he has a GoPro launched high above his head. The photo becomes the portal in, but the painting itself directs where it will come out. 

"The process is really important to me so I take all this time to bring a work to life and get it to the point where it can breathe on its own. I'm nurturing this work of art and giving it mouth-to-mouth sometimes, even pushing on its chest and reviving it and that's the reward--making it live on its own."

The tire tracks running through a skiff of snow are inviting enough to follow. They lead to nowhere, but the alley getting there is lined with interest--leafless trees, fences topped with lattice, sunset-lit garage windows, eerily quiet homes and power lines punctuating a blazing sky. As the painting beckons the observer in, the details rise off the canvass [sic] and suddenly you're there, standing in the seasoned part of Regina, beside Perrault [sic], in his people-less back alley.

"There are people that exist, but I don't want them to be a distraction to the feeling of that landscape," says Perrault [sic]. 

"I like the neighbourhoods that are a little older, have more trees, are a little more worn and have a certain patina."

Perreault studied painting and sculpture at the U of S and later taught at O'Neill High School before becoming a full-time painter in 1980. He loves when people focus on his alleys rather than on the one who brought them to life on canvass [sic]

"I want the work to get the attention. I'm not that interesting," he says shifting his weight uncomfortably at the thought of his art being about the artist who created it. 

"I like it when it feels like somebody else did it, not me."

And most of the time, Perreault feels like someone or something else is guiding his work.

"I feel like I hold the paintbrush and it goes somewhere else."

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