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Lewis Lavoie: making his mark

This year's Lifetime Achievement Award winner is Lewis Lavoie, who has no shortage of accomplishments to his name. Some of them might surprise you.
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A lifetime achievement award, Lewis? You must have achieved a ton of accomplishments in order to blaze a path so fast, so strong, and still so young.

To establish that credibility must mean creating thousands of artworks – beautiful and intricate, public artworks, too – and guiding thousands of others toward their own artistic paths, and establishing your name as brand even, and putting yourself ‘out there’ as a friendly face at major public events in front of crowds (and often for selfless reasons), and travelling across the country and working to bring people together over a common cause, publishing books on top of all that, and if you happen to capture the imaginations of children, adults and public figures alike then I suppose all of that wouldn’t hurt either. You would have to be an artist, orchestrator, showman, and celebrity yourself.

Done, done, done, done, and double done. Well done, Lewis, and well deserved all around especially at the tender age of only 54 at Thursday’s Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts Awards ceremony.

“You know, I was a little surprised to be nominated for that award. I don't know how old you have to be to get a Lifetime Achievement Award,” he said.

“What it did do is it just made me feel like, ‘wow, what a great town St. Albert is.’ I just feel like since I've been doing art, and whenever I do things around the city, they’re just enthusiastic. They’re 100 per cent behind it. The fact that they give me a Lifetime Achievement Award, it just makes me feel like, ‘wow, these guys … they really support their local artists.’”

Lavoie definitely supports the arts right back and in a huge way, too, even on the national level. Many local charities and community events rely on his dazzling talent as a live painter, taking only an hour or two to create a new painting from bare canvas to finished image on stage during their fundraisers. He even takes up the gauntlet during an ‘Art Battle’ type paint-off on Friday evening during the opening night gala at this year’s Night of Artists (NOA). It’s a feat that simply must be seen in person. Queen Elizabeth II has.

It seems like he’d be just as impressed to watch it himself if he had the chance.

“I do a heck of a lot of them, and it's always fun. It does amaze me too. I really go into it thinking, ‘this might be the last time I do this’ because I don't think I have anything in me to come up with. Then when the night’s over, I sit back and go, ‘wow, I can't believe that painting looks as good as it looks.’ It's been great that way.”

He must have had a lot of practice to perform under such conditions. His day job, after all, is with Mural Mosaic, the longstanding art company that he runs with his brother Paul and Phil Alain, the organizer behind NOA. Together, the three have produced some incredible collective works by enlisting the services of many others.

Each person paints an image onto a square tile with modest direction about colour or line. Those tiles are then arranged like puzzle pieces to form a much larger image on a specific theme. Look at the Cultivate Life mural on the large southeast-facing brick wall of the Gaffney & McGreer building at 20 Perron St. for an excellent example. At a distance, it looks like a young child with a bouquet of flowers though up close it reveals 216 individual 30-cm by 30-cm images. The mural gallery at www.muralmosaic.com gives you the ability to gain a better view of each one. The amount of effort that must go into completing such a task is surely massive.

The company has done dozens of murals like this at schools and communities around Alberta, across Canada, and even to destinations throughout North America. In fact, the three spent the last few years on a gargantuan effort of visiting dozens upon dozens of communities throughout all of the provinces and one territory, creating murals in each one. The Canada 150 National Mural Mosaic celebrated the nation’s 150th anniversary with a national mural of a train composed of hundreds of thousands of individual tiles, some of which were painted by Canadian entertainment, sports and news personalities.

For a guy who seems to know how to put everything in its proper place, he offers much credit to his wife, Renae, for keeping his head firmly on his shoulders.

“She keeps me on track of things, which gives me the freedom to be as creative as possible. She makes sure that if I'm booked at an event, that I make it there and she reminds me of all the things that I need to do. So I lean on her for helping me keep on schedule. She’s also a great person to bring to these workshops we do with Mural Mosaic because she’s awesome with people. It’s a real team,” he glowed.

He also lays a lot of credit to his Sturgeon Composite High School teachers. Lavoie was diagnosed with dyslexia and, despite his strong desire to learn, the jumbled letters made it a huge challenge. But he was always really good at art, he remembered, and that was something the school said could help him.

“It was really interesting to struggle with my academics, with reading and writing. And so these counsellors … would try to find skills for these guys with reading problems. I was constantly being encouraged to pursue art. I loved reading and writing; it was just always a challenge and struggle,” he recalled. “The breath of fresh air was when my teachers in school said, basically, ‘focus on your art and be an illustrator.’ So that’s really what I went for. I figured, ‘I’ll illustrate stories and learn how to tell a story in a picture.’ That's kind of what kind of pushed me in that in that direction.”

With his formidable Lavoie drive, he strove to master art and learn as much as possible how to be creative. After high school, he went into the film industry and became an art director, storyboarding and painting sets for movies and commercials, drawing and painting tons of pictures and sets, often for things that never make it into the final product. That’s one way of getting really good at your craft, he noted.

He worked on projects like the Dick van Patten Christmas movie A Mouse, A Mystery and Me and The Gunfighters pilot, though that series was never picked up. He even had a hand in Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, just as many in Alberta’s movie industry did.

After a while, he was less fulfilled and needed a change. He calls it a spiritual awakening.

“I went across Canada and sold all my possessions. I went on this real deep spiritual kind of journey. It was at that point that I thought, ‘If I’m going to do art, I want to be a fine artist. I want to be an artist that does work that says something, that’s more meaningful. That’s where things really started to take focus of what I wanted to do with this. I’m thinking, you know, what am I going to paint now, what am I going to do? It was great because I felt like I gave myself permission to just do what I thought was important and focus on that.”

The proof of what he finds important is evident in the immediacy of his magical live art performances and the lasting legacy of massive projects such as the Canada 150 National Mural Mosaic.


Scott Hayes

About the Author: Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.
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