Artist Robert Naish: Found and Pinned


By Patrick McGuire

Photo credit: Noriko Nasu-Tidball, Keiko Honda, & Albin Sek

IMG_1364             If spray paint is the brush of the times then the stencil artist is king.


            Banksy and Shepard Fairy are among the most popular and influential artists in the world and the street art movement they’ve lead has created the images that have captured the spirit of our times. Both honed their craft on the streets, using stencils and spray paint to reflect and shape their urban environment. Robert Naish is not a street artist because that is not where he shows his art, but his stencils are from the street but his art encompasses the whole urban environment. 


            Naish finds his stencils everywhere. In thrift stores, junk shops, roadside stands and garages sales, they are the fly swatters, the kitchen tools, the plastic railroad tracks and children’s toys, the ones we throw away, the ones with interesting shapes that he can pin to the canvas and spray. He uses them for their shapes, for the lines they create when he places them with precision. He sprays on top of them with bright colors on giant canvasses to create intricate works that are stunning to behold. He has thousands of stencils to choose from.


            “It’s endless,” says Naish, “I have more stencils than I could use in a dozen lifetimes. The things people throw away are like gold to me.”


Naish first began to paint with stencils and spray guns after painting extensively with oil and brush and exhausting all his ideas with them. He needed to do something different and found his answer in the city around him.IMG_1344


            “Stencils allow me to free myself from the bounds of my own imagination,” he says, “I couldn’t create the shapes I find. They are like a found alphabet.

I can put them together in ways that are going to communicate something very different than could be created with a traditional alphabet or with a more conventional style of painting. It always gives me new ideas to explore and after all these years, I still haven’t repeated myself. I never run out of ideas. It still feels like I’m just beginning.”


            The depth and breadth of Robert Naish’s work is as massive as his palette. He creates grand canvasses, intricate in their design, elaborate in their meaning, breathtaking in their vibrant use of color. To stand next to one is to, at once, feel the visceral resonance of light reflecting off color and to also luxuriate in the language he creates from his images.


            Still, he only uses eight colours of paint. He creates the nuances of colour by layering multiple sprayings, mixing the paint directly on the canvas, working from light to dark, each layer influencing the ones that come after, turning primary colours into secondary, simple images into complex ideas.  He contrasts the bold fluorescent greens and pinks, the bright yellows and reds with black and grey that he overlays on the top.


            Throughout his career, Naish has continually returned to a series he started when he first began to develop his style in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The Dynamics of Urbanization now numbers 36 canvases each commenting on different aspects of our urban environment, its physical structure and the culture it creates. Each canvas has the grand vision and precision of a masterwork and can take up to six months to complete.


            “Urbanization is the largest social movement of our times,” says Naish, “I’m an urban artist. It’s the environment where I developed my style. How cities are designed, their layout, their infrastructure and what they produce are important ideas. They shape every aspect of how we live. Each painting is about some aspect of that.”



Metropolis (2015)


            “Vancouver isn’t just one of the most beautiful cities in the world,” he says, “It’s physical structure translates very well for what I do. The mountains and water frame my view and the contrast in the grid patterns of downtown versus the rest of the city streets is visually, very interesting.”


            Metropolis (2015) marks the third time he has used a specific city as the template for the structure of his work. The first, Urban Assault (Toronto, 1989), displays the infrastructure of the greater Toronto area where he lived for several years and Satellite City (Nanaimo, 2011), hangs in Vancouver Island Conference Centre in Nanaimo, the city where Naish now lives. The other canvases in the series are not direct representations of specific places, but rather, about general ideas and themes inspired by living in an urban environment.Jtaz_p7WGfIOkYzdpEXJQwQOczuRdEfkyeY-MkkVo-g,GC1BR5Yi0C7ebM8PaWZ2Kz-ETKO4Rroau8yN8_oOpqU,EAHawSrT56IqrLqrTc019dijkOOJ5Jtq1uWhly_PVHM,mbaS4XbSBhT708iXLAY6p1IyAZnNeEZtouopsx26Zxo


             While, Naish’s work is about the urban environment in a generalized way, he still identifies himself as a Vancouver artist. He first developed his singular style in his Pender Street studio downtown at Richards Street and has had studios in several parts of the city. He moved out of Vancouver over a decade ago, in part because of the rising costs of running a studio there, but he still see’s his time living in the downtown area as the most pivotal part of his development.


            Naish, however, has never had a major showing in the Vancouver area and he has never shown the whole series of Dynamics of Urbanization anywhere. It seems strange for an artist of his scope and talent.


“Part of the issue is the size of my work. There are only so many galleries that have the space to exhibit large paintings,” he says, “The exhibit at Vancouver Island University in 2011 was well attended by faculty and students and very well received. It was great to see 11 paintings from the series exhibited in one place together.”




Regardless, what continues to inspire him is the work itself. He still feels like he has not yet finished.




“I have many more ideas that I still want to work on, both in the Dynamics Series and on other pieces. I’ll probably be starting another one soon.”



We are proud to present Metropolis by Robert Naish along with other pieces from they Dynamics of Urbanization as part of the Vancouver Arts Colloquium Society’s Art Garden Open House. July 18 and19th, 2015. Please contact our editor-in-chief Keiko Honda for details. See more of Robert Naish’s work at  (currently being updated).