May 8, 2017
A Lasting Impression: Interview with Paul Reimer

Atop my desk sits a quietly roaring campfire. From damp logs, smoke twists and furls upwards, thick and white against an evening sky. The air is still, and the chimney of smoke rises uninterrupted. The warmth is welcome as the cool, calm night draws closer.

In its simplicity, ‘Campfire,’ a single ribbon of forged steel effortlessly sculpted (lies: it is in fact an incredibly skilled task) into twirling smoke, can conjure a more personal and sensory memory of a campfire than an exact, realistic rendering of someone else’s campfire ever could. This is the mastery of impressionism, and it is what inspired Paul to begin his fine art sculpture series in the first place.

‘Campfire,’ which Paul explains as “a representation of movement inspired by an Emily Carr painting where she created an entire tree with a single brush stroke” is one of many sculptures inspired by Canada’s impressionist painters. Paul has crafted a whole series of minimalist tree sculptures which each pay homage to a different artist who was part of, or heavily associated with, Canada’s Group of Seven. By recreating the techniques of these famous painters in his unusual medium, Paul’s sculptures are at once both original and iconic.

How does one become a fine art blacksmith? Paul’s story is a fascinating one, with more than a little air of destiny about it. Aged just 15, the pursuit of a summer job led him to a neighbor’s blacksmith shop and his first taste of the craft which has captivated him since: “When I made something as a 15 year old apprentice Blacksmith, I knew it was made of a material that was substantial and that it would last for generations. In my experience as a high-school student, whenever I poured my energy into writing a paper, I knew that as soon as it was marked it would be thrown away. Compared to what I could create as a blacksmith, it seemed so pointless to put so much creative energy into something that just wasn’t going to last. Blacksmithing was so much more satisfying than anything else I was doing.”

Like many skills honed over time, Paul continues to realize more and more of the full potential of his chosen medium. Whilst this first placement under the aptly-named John Smith taught Paul the importance of craftsmanship and design, time in the blacksmith shop of Fort Steele heritage town both gave him an appreciation for the skills that ancient blacksmiths had and lit the desire to break the stereotype of only making horseshoes. It was a visit to the UK in Paul’s 10th year in the trade which inspired his modern blacksmith vision: “(to) use those centuries-old blacksmithing techniques to create contemporary works of art,” and in doing so, to make something that no one has ever made before.

This journey is detailed in colour in Paul’s fascinating blog (link below). “I’ve always been a bit of a storyteller” he admits, “and my blog is just an extension of that.” It is a great insight to his thought processes, and also acknowledges the kindness and support of others which has helped opened doors for the hard-working artist.

Paul makes efforts to pass on this kindness, and is deeply involved in the local community in his home city of Cranbrook - a predominantly resource-based city known more for its love of power sports than its art programs. In 2008, he created three striking book sculptures for Cranbrook’s public Library, to help raise awareness of the Library’s new location. Paul even donated one piece himself, and the library raised funds for two further pieces. These larger-than-life books, which also function as benches, were a hit: “they brought people to the Library and they were bringing people together. This is when I first recognized the power of public art and its ability to build community.” The town has continued to accept more and more public art proposals: “I really wanted to make art more prevalent here and I feel like I’ve had a lot of success in doing that. Before I began, there was no public art in Cranbrook and now there are a number of really high-quality, high profile artworks.”

Paul is not slowing down either: beginning in May 2017 he will be exhibiting large outdoor sculptures in 3 separate year-long public sculpture exhibitions throughout BC - one in Penticton, one in Oak Bay on Vancouver Island and one in Castlegar in the West Kootenays. This is of course in addition to continuing his bespoke architectural work – Reimer & Co will gladly design and build your custom chandelier, entrance door or railing in modern or classic style – and his charming, stand-alone fine art pieces. “One of the best things about blacksmithing is that there is no typical day. Because most of what I create is one-of-a-kind, every day brings a new set of challenges and opportunities.”

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