We are upstairs at Snapdragon Gallery in the Glebe. Bhat Boy is sitting on a chair while I flop uncomfortably on the floor, trying to keep him on track for the interview. Eventually I give up and let the conversation cascade into a course of its own.
It is a wild, one-sided interview interspersed with the sounds of someone hammering nails into the walls. Jan, one of Bhat Boy’s students, is helping to hang his paintings up, and little by little she transforms the wall.
There are about 70 paintings around the room. They come in all sizes; some have the same theme, but each is different and all of them are stunning.
It is Bhat Boy’s first exhibition in two years. Most of his work is commissioned, which is rare for an artist.
“It is good because it means there is a steady income coming in all of the time, but the disadvantage is that I do all of these beautiful paintings and sell them and nobody sees them,” says Bhat Boy.
In December, all that is going to change. Bhat Boy has two exhibitions: one at Snapdragon Gallery and the other at the Gordon Harrison Gallery on Sussex Dr.
He also manufactured a puzzle out of one his paintings, and the puzzles are selling like, ahem, bhat cakes.
“I was thinking that no one was ever going to see this beautiful painting, but now it is a puzzle,” says Bhat Boy. “What is funny is that all these people doing the puzzle, it takes longer for them to do the puzzle than it took me to paint the painting.”
Bhat Boy’s paintings capture your imagination and draw you into a fantasy world — some transform our capital city into a city with hidden secrets and others, like Journey to the Library, take us into an alternative world of flying fish, elongated castles and floating libraries.
Bhat Boy first began selling his paintings in 1991 when he was commissioned to do a painting for a law office in Ottawa. He came up with the idea of “fish in space,” and since then fish, as well as nuns in habits, have become synonomous with Bhat Boy’s style.
“I feel like it develops over time, which is nice because I wouldn’t want to be static. I obviously don’t want things to go downhill. I have a recognizable style which you can’t beat because it means I have a monopoly on the Bhat Boy style,” he says.
Bhat Boy sees his work as a collection with individual paintings echoing a moment or place in time.
“When I finish a painting, I usually come home and hang it up in my bedroom, and then I look at it in the morning,” he says. “Every painting has to have its special little moment with me when I really sit and ponder on it and really scrutinize it. The body of work is like the child. The individual painting is like the day or the week of a child’s life. It’s the continuity and the flow.”
Although painting is Bhat Boy’s full-time work, he also teachs at the Glebe Community Centre, the Ottawa School of Art and at his home studio.
“I love my students so much; they give me so much energy. It’s a lot of work, but I also draw energy from them, and it just really helps me,” says Bhat Boy.
His students obviously love him, too. Bhat Boy says his longest-term student has been with him for the past 13 years. She left once, on his advice, to take a course at the Ottawa School of Art. However, Bhat Boy says she came by his house every week to make sure she still had a place in his home class.
I can understand. Bhat Boy’s energy is so dynamic and infectious that after the interview ended, we ran up and down Bank St looking for his puzzle. The last shop we tried had only two left — I am hoping that when I go back they are not sold out.