Langley artist Carle Hessay painted The Dance of Trees in 1977, in the year before his death. (Special to the Langley Advance)

A late Langley artist becomes the subject of a new documentary

Carle Hessay art will be on display in Victoria, coinciding with release of a documentary about him.

A late Langley artist Carle Hessay has some of his work on display in Victoria for a few days. But more significant is the fact that a documentary has been made about this European-trained expressionist artist.

A mix of Hessay’s war, wilderness landscapes, and futurist paintings will be on display May 14 to 17 at the Audain Gallery at the University of Victoria (UVic) – with the opening reception on Sunday.

Hessay’s experiences fighting fascism in the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War are the subject of many of his powerful war paintings,, which show organizers say have a surprising contemporary relevance.

But it’s the work by UVic film student Guochen Wang, to document this man’s life and art, that has garnered the most attention.

Hessay was an artist, pianist, gymnast, and prospector who died dancing at a New Year’s party on Jan. 1, 1978 in Spuzzum.

Each weekend, he would leave his sign shop in Langley – where he earned his bread and butter, and went prospecting in the remote regions of the Fraser Canyon to seek spiritual restoration and to store up images for his dramatic landscape paintings.

As part of a Canada Council Explorations project, he painted images of what life might hold for mankind in the distant future when bold engineering feats will make possible the creation of new worlds.

In each of his paintings, whether naturalistic, abstract, or semi-abstract, Hessay used colour to create the dominant emotional feeling.

Having travelled the world in his adventurous past, he was influenced by the international art movements of early and mid-20th century, but his style was uniquely his own.

In fact, as an expert in the chemistry of colour, he made many of his own pigments from the minerals he collected and from berries and other plants.

But discovering who this man really was proved a challenging task for the younger filmmaker.

Thankfully, over time, Wang was able to find a variety of people familiar with Hessay and his paintings to interview for this documentary.

Those who shared tidbits about Hessay include Pat Parungao and her brother Mike Yuen, whose Chinese family Hessay often visited; Warren Sommer, who curated a Hessay exhibition at the Langley Centennial Museum in 1980; Susan Magnusson, principal of the Langley Community Music School, which has some of Hessay’s paintings; Sheila Van Loon, Carle’s partner in the late 1960s and early ’70s, together with her son, James; Anne Bowen, a Victoria artist who recalls Carle’s characteristic love of fun and adventure; Anu Edith Eggenberger, an art teacher and friend of Carle from the mid 1970s; Bert Clark, a collector who remembers Leonard A. Woods examining the paintings for Mediations on the Paintings of Carle Hessay; David Douglas Hart, an art enthusiast from Manitoba, and finally, Mary Mikelson of the Mind and Matter Gallery in White Rock, who, together with Arnold, a carver, were longtime friends of Carle. Victoria poet Linda Rogers narrates the documentary, and bill bissett, a famous sound poet from Toronto, ends performing his poem about Carle’s process of making an action painting.

One of his oil paintings, Abandoned Village, was in fact auctioned off last fall by the Langley Community Music School to raise money a Hessay scholarship (Click here to see more about that story from the Langley Advance).

The documentary, called Carle Hessay: Reflections on the Man, the Artist, and His Legacy is being shown each day of the Victoria exhibit.