At 68, Bob Waters has finally fulfilled a lifelong dream to feature his art in a solo exhibition.

Drawings from the land of no words offers a display of six hand-drawn canvases created by the Ottawa resident. The exhibition, which runs until April 26, is featured at the Atrium Gallery in Nepean, which promotes local art at Centrepointe’s Ben Franklin Place community centre.

Waters said he was both nervous and excited for people to finally see the exhibition, its opening delayed by more than two years because of the pandemic.

“This was always in the back of my mind, (so) it’s thrilling,” he said.

Waters was studying visual arts at the University of Ottawa more than four decades ago when he met his current wife, Deborah. After graduating in 1983, he found a job as a speech therapist as a way to create a stable life for his future family; there was little money to be made from a career in art, he said.

Waters started producing art full-time after retiring in the early 2010s.

Deborah says she’s proud of the “go-for-it attitude” that allowed her husband to open the exhibition. She said Waters gets a lot of satisfaction from people observing his art, which is a natural motivation for creatives.

“If you’re an artist, you haven’t made art until it’s been seen,” she said.

Each canvas was inspired by a three-dimensional model Waters created and fell in love with unexpectedly. He then used grid lines to sketch the shape from various angles and positions.

The unique shape Waters used can be seen in “Drawing number 36_2018”. He doesn’t give descriptive names to his canvases because he wants viewers to come to their own conclusions. [Photo © Zenith Wolfe]

He said this turns his art into “purely a visual obsession” where the rigid structure creates a calm, serene and introspective environment. But he said emotion plays no role in his creative process. The canvases instead involve a lot of difficult and repetitive work.

“(Art) actually has nothing to do with emotion for me. In fact, if it starts to feel like that, I know I’m on the wrong track,” he said. “It’s hard work, but at the same time it’s my go-to pleasure.”

‘(Art) actually has nothing to do with emotion for me. In fact, if it starts to feel like that, I know I’m on the wrong track. It’s hard work, but at the same time it’s my go-to pleasure.”

— Bob Waters, Ottawa artist

Waters doesn’t know why he prefers this method, which is why he gave the works generic and non-descriptive names. He said he wants viewers to make their own assumptions about the exhibition’s meaning.

Jean-Paul DeCruyenaere is an Ottawa resident who visited the exhibit. He said the drawings’ geometric shapes reminded him of his machine learning job, which involves a lot of pattern recognition. DeCruyenaere said the exhibition made patterns feel tangible when they’re usually complex and abstract.

“If you think enough about patterns and how they relate to the world we live in, and how abstract things can often be understood as patterns, then it allows you to view the world from a different perspective,” he said.

DeCruyenaere added that having art in a public space makes it less intimidating and more conveniently accessible to Ottawa residents. He originally visited the community centre March 24 to return a book to the Ottawa Public Library, so the new exhibition was a welcome surprise.

Waters said the space has also allowed him to connect with the community. At his vernissage March 28, he spoke with some of the 50 locals who passed through the gallery between 6-8 p.m.

Bob Waters on the importance of art to local communities. [Video © Zenith Wolfe]

“If you go and talk to your friends about (art), it’s a conversation about something interesting, stimulating, and positive,” he said. “We live in a very difficult time, so having something cultural to talk about is uplifting.”

Atrium Gallery’s next show, All Your Metadata Are Belong To Us, will feature experimental art by local photographer Ralph Nevins. It runs from April 28 to May 31 and is billed as “a playful look at the data you are shedding, intentional or not.”