1946 - 2021
‘We have the power to dominate the natural world or to nurture it; to exploit wildlife or to be in service to it. The choice is ours.’ - Richard Calver on ‘Wild Service’ (1999)
Richard Calver’s ethos can be found in his reverence for the natural world. He believed ‘each leaf and branch uncoils and stretches out according to its own rhythm’, a conviction apparent in the path he made for himself as an artist.
This rhythm was the life force that forged his unique illustrative and expressive style. He was born in 1946 in Oxfordshire, England, and his appreciation for nature in all its forms was nurtured by his upbringing, going on to flourish in Canada. Struggling in school as a teenager, Calver left education and became a bricklayer at 15 while finding solace in the natural beauty of his home county. Before immigrating at 19, he also worked as a manual labourer and enlisted in the merchant navy. His interest in Canada was sparked by a television program and from there he planned to move to Calgary. Upon hearing of his love for nature and aptitude as a bricklayer, an official at Canada House suggested the lush province of British Columbia during his interview at the embassy. He settled on Quadra Island after spending some years in Vancouver and exploring Western Canada. He lived a simple, idyllic life; harvesting seeds, growing his own food, raising chickens and gardening alongside his linocut printing.
With every mark he made on his materials, from linoleum to spare wood softened by sunlight (Cedar Siding, 2004), Richard Calver took inspiration from the world as it presented itself to him. When not directly depicting forms of the natural world, organic shapes undulate throughout his corpus and underpin a sense of environmental symbiosis in his figurative work. His studio appeared to have been raised from the Earth itself, with its handmade shingles and modest appearance. There, Calver bore witness to the botanical wonders of British Columbia and reiterated his experiences in his prints.
In 1976, Calver began taking classes with the printmaker Sybil Andrews when he was 30 years old. (hyperlink to Sybil Andrews page). A prodigy of the Grosvenor School of Art in London, Sybil Andrews also left England for Canada and spent the majority of her career as an artist in British Columbia. Her work featured many abstractions of natural forms as well as modernist depictions of people, animals and nature. The school she belonged to brought linocuts to the attention of her contemporaries, with interest in her work surging after her death.
During Sybil Andrews’ classes, Richard Calver was often prompted to think about his innermost self and the underlying meanings of his work. His linocuts became transcendent and expressive, seeking to demonstrate the inner world of nature rather than simply its outer appearance. In depicting the inner worlds of his subjects, Calver extrapolated the essence and dynamism of all aspects of life into low reliefs for printing. People and plants alike were treated with a deep respect and appreciation for the ways in which they impacted the artist and the world he was so in tune with.
There is a playfulness and constant curiosity in Calver’s work as he seeks to understand the world through his art. His linocut prints transport the viewer to British Columbia and prompt them to sit back and enjoy the wind rustling through dandelions, or pay close attention to the hum of a cellist’s bow meeting their instrument’s string as it reverberates in the air around them. His dynamic compositions help us understand the life force that propelled Calver to ‘find the sacred in the everyday world.’
Richard Calver died in England in 2021, leaving behind an accomplished corpus of work.