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Lifelong artist opens first solo show online

By Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Published 3:23 PST, Thu February 11, 2021

At the age of 76, Michael Shirley has premiered his first solo exhibition.

“My family has been on my case for many years to do a show,” says Shirley. “Although I have participated in group shows with the Community Arts Council and with the Richmond Arts Coalition and other groups, I had never done a solo show.”

After getting very sick last August with sepsis and keto-acidosis—leading to a three-week stint in hospital and near-death experience—Shirley says he realized life is short, “and if I wanted to scratch this off my bucket list, I better get on it.” 

Shirley has been drawing since he was a young child, although with six siblings there was no money for art supplies. In his younger years he painted mostly with watercolours and oils, but later began to use acrylics.

I found I liked acrylics because they dry quickly, but I did struggle with them in the beginning,” he says. “I always thought acrylics were too transparent, but I have gotten used to working with them and quite enjoy the medium now.”

Noting that he never received any formal training, Shirley says art came naturally to him, and he’s used his artistic abilities in different ways throughout his life. At age 17 he started out as a window dresser for Woodward’s department stores, and eventually became the manager of their flagship store at Oakridge.

“While raising my family, my wife and I had a little side business and I did silk floral arrangements for homes and weddings. About 32 years ago, we opened our family business, The Arts Connection, and that's when I got involved in teaching art—to children and youth. And then as my health issues arose and my mobility was limited, I started to spend more time at home and able to focus on my painting.”

Although the pandemic hasn’t changed the direction of Shirley’s work, it has afforded him the opportunity to spend more time creating art.

“My health is very compromised, so I have been quite home-bound over the past year and my art work has helped to keep me busy,” he says. “I’ve gotten involved in a few new projects, including the Community Arts Council's fundraising program with the SPCA to paint animal portraits.”

And lately, Shirley has been working on creating portraits—a format he had avoided in the past. But doing animal portraits provided motivation, so he began by studying colour in people’s faces and skin tones.

“I have been practicing doing portraits of my three grandchildren, using photos I have of them when they were younger. I am going to give them to them as gifts."


Shirley notes that sometimes he re-addresses old pieces and thinks about how he could improve them, acting as his own critic.

“My only advice would be to continue to do what you do and you will eventually get better at it. They say that practice makes perfect—but really nothing is ever perfect and there is always room for improvement.”

Shirley acknowledges the assistance of Jessica Trestain, manager of The Arts Connection’s visual arts department, for putting his online show together. To view the exhibition online through March 30, click here.

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