Robert Genn (May 15, 1936 - May 27, 2014)

Robert Genn was born in Victoria, B.C. in 1936.


He attended Mrs. Patterson's kindergarten, and delighted in the paper off- cuts his father brought home from the factory where he worked. In 1941, Robert attended Cedar Hill School, then Cloverdale School, and began taking Saturday morning art classes with John Lidstone in 1945. He cultivated early passions for bird watching and amassed an impressive collection of fungi and rotting wood. In 1947, he studied watercolour with Will Menelaws and acquired his first Brownie Hawkeye camera. He attended Doncaster School in 1949, then Mount Douglas High School, and intensified what would become a lifelong love affair with painting, bird watching, stamp collecting, writing and old cars.

Robert worked on the school annual and newspaper, and pulled the squeegee in his Dad's sign shop. He took day trips to Goldstream, Mount Douglas Park, Sooke, Lost Lake, Parksville and Comox, and painted en plein air in watercolour and oil at age 12. In 1952, Robert bought his first car –- a 1929 Hupmobile Coupe! He travelled and painted further afield and in 1953 attended Victoria College.

In the summer of 1955, Robert took a job as a fish-pitcher and store boy at Beaver Cannery and as a cook and deckhand on a small fish packer in Rivers Inlet. This is also where he discovered what felt to him like a revolution in boat lettering: upside-down while lying across the bow. He earned a bonanza of five dollars for the name of the boat, and five dollars for the registration number. Back in Victoria, Robert collected subscriptions for the Saanich Star.

In 1957, he attended the University of B.C., then studied industrial design at the Art Center School in Los Angeles, while on the side drawing classic cars belonging to distinguished L.A. car collectors. Enjoying first-class transportation, he would visit a retreat known as The Fountain of the World for what he described as "a light lunch served from a great trough." After two and a half years, Robert returned to Vancouver, eventually setting up a small studio at 1155 West Pender Street to buckle down with his lifelong devotion to painting. He made frequent explorations to the B.C. Gulf Islands, Haida Gwaii and the Cariboo, painting small 8 x 10 and 10 x 12 inch oil panels.

In July 1962, he met Carol Shimozawa and they explored the B.C. Coast and interior together, marrying in August, 1964. Robert and Carol travelled throughout Europe by Volkswagen bus, with extended stays in Fuengirola, Spain, then Derbyshire, England and Christianafjord, Norway. In 1966, Robert and Carol returned to Halifax by freighter and drove across Canada, eventually settling near Crescent Beach, B.C. to nurture a life of painting, writing and family, with plenty of stamp collecting, wooden boats, English cars, bird watching, and travelling the world in search of painting subjects.

Robert loved literature, poetry, classical music, hiking and the environment. The Economist Magazine he described as "the greatest magazine in the world." Later adventures were pioneered in heli- painting and the invention of custom easels for painting in every type of vehicle and setting. Robert painted every province and territory in Canada, honouring the landscape and its infinite, intimate wisdom. Ever playful, dreaming, curious, loving and nurturing, affectionate beyond measure, and so utterly generous of spirit, Robert also shared his adventures and knowledge with artists worldwide through his beloved twice-weekly letters on art.

"The world is so full of a number of things, that I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings." (Robert Louis Stevenson). 

Recognized as one of Canada's most accomplished painters, his work is well known internationally. While his subjects are universal (he has painted in many countries), he excels in portraying Canada. He is perhaps best known for his work on the West Coast and in the Rocky Mountains. Robert passed away on May 27, 2014 after an 8-month challenge with pancreatic cancer. He is survived by his wife Carol of 50 years, and his three children David, James and Sara.

Robert's technique includes a tradition of strong design with patterns of colour and form, revealing a pervasive sense of personal style. Grand themes are transposed onto small panels and larger canvases in a manner similar to members of the Group of Seven. Robert worked principally in acrylic, though he did considerable work in oils, watercolour, and silk screen printing. The Robert Genn Archive is managed by Robert's daughter, artist Sara Genn.

Genn's autobiographical book In Praise of Painting provides an insight to the progress and trials of a Canadian painter. Other of Genn's publications include The DreamwayThe Painter's KeysLove Letters to Art and The Twice-Weekly Letters: July 10, 1999 to Sept 25, 2009

The Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letter is ongoing. You can subscribe to Robert and Sara's letters here.