by Isobel Harry
GORE BAY— Jack Whyte is as casual as they come. Dressed in well-worn denim, hair flying wild, he almost leans his chin on the table as we talk, so relaxed is he, wry smile and ironic repartee at the ready.
We’re in the artist’s rustically beautiful hand-built home in Gore Bay, tucked anonymously among the pines and cedars that obscure it from the outside world. Son Dylon and daughter-in-law Ashley sit on either side as talk moves to the collaboration they undertook together last winter. They are the producers of a 456-page large-format hardcover book entitled ‘Scrapbook: a story of art’ that Jack says was his “immunization against cabin fever” project that began last August.
This book is “how I became an artist,” says Jack, who was born in 1939. He treated the whole project as an exercise in memoir, writing his story “starting with my grandparents,” lavishly illustrated in many media. “’Scrapbook’ is Jack’s personal archive,” says Ashley, “it’s his life in art, as curated by the artist.”
What’s different about this latest project (Dylon and his dad have produced eight books together) is that it’s looking for backers on Kickstarter, the crowdfunding site that connects creators with investors who benefit from various rewards offered for different levels of investment.
“Using Kickstarter to launch ‘Scrapbook’ allows us to be independent,” says Ashley, who acted as editor and proofreader while Dylon handled design and the technical side of production. “We believe art should be free for everyone, so we created a site that anyone can access online to read all of ‘Scrapbook’s’ 456 pages for free. Those who would like to have a printed copy or copies can invest in the book’s publication on Kickstarter and receive their book at the end. It’s the only way that you can get a book. Our campaign is 15 percent funded right now, so we’re working hard to raise more interest in it by September 7 when the campaign ends. We need to pre-sell 100 copies to be able to print the books.”
The book is chock-full of “art history that otherwise would be lost,” says Ashley. “We wanted to create art that is authentic to the artist.” It is autobiography, written in Jack’s conversational style, letting readers in on his background, his practice as an artist from the earliest days. There are family photos, collages of his great-grandparents’ mementos, secrets of Jack’s artistic inspirations and techniques, an illustrated diary that courses through the artist’s life and work in many media. There are drawings of homesteads, tugs, storefronts and town scenes remembered as first photographed long ago and photos and reproductions of acrylic and oil paintings that reflect a nostalgia for less commercialized and ‘electronified’ times. Jack Whyte appreciates not only vanishing built landmarks but also the disappearing landscape. He remembers and documents dying or dead clumps of cedars as though they are fine monuments to the whole of Earth’s heritage, reminders of nature’s transience, calling us to be mindful, respectful, or at least more aware of all our environment.
Jack Whyte’s artistic output over the years is laid out in ‘Scrapbook’ “like a visual poem,” says the artist. “I’ve been recording the Island’s changes for over 25 years.” In his plain-speaking and humorous style, Jack tells stories to accompany his luminous oil paintings and intricate paper-cut collages. The effect is soft, like memory itself, where even the shadows are imbued with shimmering light, opening wide the door to the intimate workings of a lifelong artist’s creative processes.
Ashley and Dylon Whyte are the owners of Whytes Art Gallery and Cultural Gift Shop in the Harbour Centre on Gore Bay’s waterfront, where Jack Whyte’s haunting works are on display among Dylon’s chainmail pieces and other artistic curiosities. Their online site offers all of Jack’s Manitoulin-inspired works in books, prints, calendars, even ten of Jack’s Gore Bay paintings in miniature prints, stored in a stainless steel case as “Pocket Art,” a special series to honour Gore Bay’s 125th year in 2015.
On Saturday, September 5, the Whytes are having a Scrapbook Party in their gallery shop, with video and maybe even the reclusive artist on hand, from 1 to 3 pm, to show off the prototype and entice more investment in the project. “It will be a ‘behind-the-page’ peek into creating digital scrapbooking,” says Dylon.
Check out the Kickstarter campaign and various levels of rewards at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1961131186/scrapbook-a-story-of-art
To view all of ‘Scrapbook: a story of art’ online, go to www.scrapbook.whytesonline.com.