A legacy in the art of living

World-renowned South Surrey painter Robert Genn was remembered at a celebration of life at Surrey Arts Centre June 9 that drew more than 400 people. - Alex Browne photo
World-renowned South Surrey painter Robert Genn was remembered at a celebration of life at Surrey Arts Centre June 9 that drew more than 400 people.
— image credit: Alex Browne photo

More than 400 people packed the main stage theatre at Surrey Arts Centre Monday for a celebration of the life of painter Bob Genn.

Each, in some way, had been touched, influenced, amused or inspired along the way by the internationally known landscape artist, writer and bon vivant who passed away May 27, at the age of 78, at his home overlooking South Surrey's Serpentine Fen.

Family were, naturally, at the forefront of the celebration: his wife Carol, their firstborn, musician-producer Dave Genn; Sara, an artist, writer and performer and her twin, James, a filmmaker; plus Genn's immediate and extended family.

Others who knew him as a fellow artist remembered the impact of his professional insights and personal encouragement with gratitude. Each of the speakers – including good friends Charles Diamond and Yulanda Faris – touched on the integral importance of the arts in Genn's life.

But the strongest impression that emerged from their words – and a rich collection of family slides assembled by James – was of a man of immense generosity, who embraced life without reservation.

Perhaps, as the son of a man who owned a sign-painting shop in Victoria, and abundantly gifted – a duck he crayoned for his mother at age three already shows his unmistakeable eye for line and form – it was natural for Genn to have had a certain reckless attitude to the colours in life's paint box.

Sara, with whom her father shared a special artistic ESP, remembered his exhortation to squeeze out each colour "as if you're a millionaire." But it was an approach Genn, the enthusiast's enthusiast, brought to everything.

He famously collected vintage cars and boats, all of which became floating studios, as James put it, "for the purposes of Revenue Canada." He collected many hats and knew how to wear them rakishly.

But Genn also collected people – genuinely fascinated by their individual passions, ever-questing to find out what made them tick, whether or not they had an artistic bone in their body.

Diamond also remembered an endearing spirit of adventure and gusto that anyone who knew the man would recognize.

"A fiendish glee would appear in his eye," he said.

Vancouver Opera soprano Rachel Fenlon's performances of Richard Strauss' Die Nacht and Bob's favourite song – Somewhere Over The Rainbow – moved many to tears at the memorial.

But there is one remembrance, on the website of Genn's local representatives, White Rock Gallery, that I find just as touching.

Compiled by videographer Peter Seignitz, it's simply a series of clips of the ever-restless Genn driving in search of his next painting location, faithful Airedale Dorothy by his side.

Dorothy passed just a couple of weeks before Genn, and seeing the footage now, it's not hard to imagine her running eagerly ahead, tail wagging, beckoning the painter to explore a grand new vista, just over the next hill.



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