Arts & Culture

Race is on to paint the town in Grand Prix of Art

By Don Fennell

Published 1:55 PDT, Tue September 17, 2019

Last Updated: 12:31 PDT, Fri October 4, 2019

Picturesque Steveston provides an idyllic landscape as artists of all ages prepare for the race of their lives.

Metaphorically, at least.

When the Gulf of Georgia National Historic Site shift whistle blows at 10 a.m. Sept. 21, marking the official start of the ninth Steveston Grand Prix of Art, competitors will hurry to their designated painting locations—determined by a random draw.

In what is literally a race against the clock artist must put down their brushes promptly at 1 p.m., the paintings being created must then be titled, priced and display for adjudication, with visitors to the exhibition casting their votes for the People’s Choice Award. 

The annual event is the brainchild of local artist Mark Glavina, who says it’s a celebration of “the uniqueness of our community.” He admires the bravery of the artists who step up to participate.

“A wide variety of experience levels are on display…there’s no hiding. They have only three hours to make the best painting they can, sometimes fighting weather and the added pressure of being watched people coming by. It’s amazing to see that. When I was younger I sweated doing that. It’s not easy, and to me (just being there) they’ve already won.”

An experienced world traveller, whose own passion and talent as an artist led him to start global art excursions taking students around the globe (beginning with a trip to Cuba in 2005), Glavina’s journeys inspired him to start the Grand Prix.

“It allows people to experience the adrenaline rush I feel as an artist or as a spectator,” he says. “If someone is not good at observing often the subtleties of the painting is lost. The clearer I am of my own ideas the more the painting is going to translate.”

During his extensive travels, Glavina always has a sketchbook on hand. Early on, he frequently drew portraits of people on the streets.

“I became addicted to travel, but also more importantly addicted to the interaction of working on location. A sketch pad (serves) as the window to your trip. And it always opened doors for me. I was invited to people’s homes and made lifelong friends around the world while gaining insight into other cultures.”

His advice to students is to work from life and not to rely on photos.

“Our observation skill is our biggest asset.”

The sixth of seven siblings, Glavina grew up in an environment where getting a word in edgewise was a formidable task. But from a young age drawing and painting provided the opportunity to express feelings and emotions, and establish an identity in a large family.

Ironically, the creative influence of both his parents also rubbed off on his siblings as two chose careers in the visual arts and one in performing arts.

Glavina studied graphic design and illustration at Capilano College, and has worked as a teacher and illustrator with various contracts including background painting for animation. As well, he has established a reputation as a muralist. In the 1990s he turned to developing his own fine art, exploring environmental and cultural issues, as well as working with the figure and portrait.

Outside of his family, art became Glavina’s grown-up passion.

“I never decided to be an artist, it chose me,” he says. “I didn’t have a choice.”

In 1997, Glavina opened his first retail location, Phoenix Coastal Arts, and four years later opened a larger second location, Phoenix Art Workshop, offering art education to youth and adults while also developing a support system for the local art community.

Glavina also continues to work and develop his own art while at the same time developing a strong teaching network through the workshop and the school system. Mark has worked with the local schools developing art programs, murals and public art projects and continues to teach and lead international art tours around the world with the .

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