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Artist turns passion into a grand exhibit

There’s an old adage that says you can’t go home again, but don’t tell that to Bill Hagan.

After nearly 25 years as an industrial designer in the Toronto area, Hagan, who originally hails from Galt, is bringing his life-long passion for painting, photography and the Grand River to the Edissi Fine Arts Gallery in Kitchener next month with an exhibit called “Grandiose,” a visual exploration of the Grand River watershed.

“Last year I decided to abandon the world of industrial design and pursue my painting career,” explained Hagan. “As a kid I canoed on the Nith River, so I decided I was going to take this past year and canoe, hike, (and) bicycle all over the Grand River watershed, up in Grand Valley right down into the Brantford area, exploring the rivers again and taking pictures.”

Hagan uses those photos as the stepping-stones for his painting, a style known as abstract-contemporary.

The paintings aren’t your typical scenes of farmer’s fields or trees and riverbanks, either.

“It’s more about catching the feeling and the idea of the river,” he said.

He uses a combination of acrylic paints, lacquers, and enamels to create his artwork, and relies on visual cues – such as colours or visual landmarks – in his photos as inspiration.

“They’re abstract-contemporary paintings, usually with a component that you’ll sort of recognize, whether it be tree limbs or something. But I’m not actually trying to capture the image of the river in the sense of a realistic painting.”

One of Bill Hagan’s photos of the Grand River near Winterbourne. His exhibit opens Sept. 9.

Hagan grew up in Galt, and graduated from the Ontario College of Art in 1982, where he studied industrial design. Despite the fact he’s lived out of the region for so long, he has maintained close ties to the area.

“I look at Cambridge (and) Galt as my home town – my Mom is in Ayr, my mother-in-law is in Kitchener, brothers in Guelph. I don’t live there, but it’s still my roots.”

Hagan thought the past year was going to be one of relaxation and leisure: canoeing the Grand River, taking photographs, and painting.

Instead, it’s been one of the busiest years of his life.

In addition to painting and planning for his upcoming exhibit, Hagan also offers photography workshops to teach the basics of digital landscape photography to those who are unsure of the new technology.

“The workshop is all about the fundamentals and getting them to go out and do a little bit of a photo shoot, and talk about how they can hang it in their house or share it with friends through email.”

He hopes his exhibit can help reinvigorate interest in the Grand River, and introduce the public to a river and region he enjoys so much.

“It’s my goal to get people a little more involved and get them off the highways and on the back roads … it’s all about getting people to rediscover something.”

It didn’t take Hagan long to rediscover his love for the Nith River, either. He is amazed how after more than two decades, the river and much of the surrounding area has remained basically the same as when he was a child.

“It’s funny how things outside of the river environment change all the time – whether it be subdivisions and highways – but once you get back on the river, other than the occasional new bridge here and there, really not much has changed. It is like coming home again,” he explained.

Opening night for “Grandiose” is Sept. 9 at 7 p.m. at the Edissi Fine Arts Gallery, 907 Frederick St. in Kitchener. The exhibit will run until Oct. 1. Admission is free. For more information or to contact the gallery, call 1-877-727-8001.

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