- Publisher: Testimony Magazine
- Editor: Stephen Kennedy
- Available in: Online
- Published: May 1, 2016
Robert McAffee is a Canadian landscape artist. He’s worked as a sign painter, in retail photography, and banking, and since 2009 has been painting full time. For seven years, he was the exclusive artist for the 360 Restaurant at the top of the CN Tower and his work was seen by more ten million people. McAffee credits every opportunity to do his art and every success to God.
LHW: Tell me about growing up in the McAffee home. Was church a regular part of your family’s routine?
RM: I was raised in a Christian home and my father was a fourth generation Christian. When he came to Toronto in the late 50s he met my mom, very much a city girl who had never been in a church in her life. They were a little worldly for a while. A local church in Rexdale came knocking on our door, when door to door invitations to church were quite common, and pretty much through my sister’s prodding we ended up at that church. And that really returned my father to his roots and changed us all in terms of the direction of our Christianity that’s for sure.
LHW:At what point did your faith become something you did because of your own convictions and not just something your family did?
RM: I was 17 years old sitting in a church in Bramalea, ON. My sister was a piano player and worship leader at that time. My sister just seemed to have a halo around her head when she was worshipping that day. I thought, I want what she has. She had substantial peace that only comes from salvation and I knew that in my heart, and I made my commitment once and for all.
LHW: When did you decide to be a painter? How old were you when you first realized painting was something you had to do?
RM: I was 6 years old and my mother and one of her sisters packed me in the Volkswagen and we visited one of her older brothers – Jack Reid who is one of Canada’s most significant water colour artists.
To me, he was just Uncle Jack. He brought a 6 year to his drawing table and gave him the best possible drawing material. That meant the colours were vibrant and the paper was beautiful to paint on — it was privileged and I was smitten. I painted a little pine tree and a rock and I don’t suppose it looked like much, but my uncle Jack cut a matte for it and made it look totally professional. From that day, I had to do this.
LHW: As an adult, you worked as a sign painter, a photographer, in retail, and in banking. It wasn’t until 2009, at the 47, that you went full time with your art. How did that come to be?
RM: My careers in life were many and I share that experience with most artists. We always desire to do our art and desire to follow that dream and it’s elusive for most…I knew my uncle Jack was successful and fairly wealthy, so I knew that potential was there.
…Then the internet came along. At a low moment in my life, I snapped a picture of one of my paintings and posted it on Kijiji thinking nobody is going to pay attention to my little picture amongst all the thousands of paintings on Kijiji at that time.
I didn’t have much faith that day. I was hopping out of the boat into the water and expecting to drown. The next day there were a number of replies to my painting. A woman from Sarnia (and I live in Whitby) would drive to pick it up and would pay the price I asked for. I thought wow, there’s something to this.
I sold ninety pieces in that first year.
LHW: You were still working at the bank when you were asked to be the exclusive artist at the 360 Restaurant at the top of the CN Tower. How did that challenge or change your faith?
RM: That was another step out of the boat. I remember praying Lord, if I’m going to do this, if my dream is going to be fulfilled, you have to make it happen. I can’t just give up the bank job.
A month later the HR people and all the senior management showed up wearing their best suits on a Monday morning…Grown men and women were on their hands and knees begging to keep their jobs.
It took about twenty seconds for me to realize that God had just done the thing I had prayed about. I was now a full time artist. It was truly a stepping out of the boat moment. There has never been a day of looking back.
LHW: I have fallen in love with your Northern Lights series. How did they come to be and what do they mean to you?
RM: The Northern Lights are probably one of the most interesting series of paintings I’ve done. I grew up in the farthest northwest corner of Toronto and in Rexdale in winter you could see the northern lights. From memory, I did a small 8×10 and thought nobody in the world is going to like this dark picture. Sky Towers was a very moving painting and it was done very quickly. It sold a week later.
We’ve done about 24 Northern Lights. They are the most aggressively sought-after paintings in my entire career. Somebody said they could feel the depths of the darkness being interrupted by the beautiful slashes of light.
LHW: Do you express your faith in any way, blatant or subtle, in your paintings?
RM: If you look at almost every painting I’ve done, there’s a focal point. The focal point is typically the lightest point in the painting. It might be a forest, a northern light, a leaf on a crispy pine, but there’s a lightest point. My spiritual belief is that just beyond where you are right now there is hope, there is a possibility that life will get better for you if you hold on a little longer. Those of us in the Christian faith, we understand that God is always right by our side. I am presenting that hope in my paintings.
The paintings say ignore all the stuff around and look for the focal point.