An Interview with Ron Shuebrook

Written by GAC Staff Katherine Percival

As a relatively new member of the Arts Community in Guelph and Ontario in general, I have noticed an odd separation between artists of different generations. This separation is subtle, with numerous calls for emerging artists or those who have been underrepresented over the past several decades due to oppressive “gatekeepers.” Often, a younger generation competes against each other for limited opportunities, all with a voice, hoping to be heard. On the opposite side, galleries display works by incredibly established artists in their respective fields from a more age-mature generation, with works and spaces that sometimes feel intimidating to emerging creatives.

Photograph of Toronto gallerist, Olga Korper and Ron Shuebrook in his Senior Artist in Residence studio, Boarding House Arts, Guelph, 2021. The Olga Korper Gallery has represented Shuebrook’s work since 1979. (Photo credit: Taiga Lipson Bentley)
Photograph of Toronto gallerist, Olga Korper and Ron Shuebrook in his Senior Artist in Residence studio, Boarding House Arts, Guelph, 2021. The Olga Korper Gallery has represented Shuebrook’s work since 1979. (Photo credit: Taiga Lipson Bentley)

The odd thing is that these two worlds don’t often merge. This division was more prevalent to me after I interviewed Ron Shuebrook about his recent exhibition at the Woodstock Art Gallery.

Ron Shuebrook is an incredibly established artist in his 80s with a career that spans over 50 years. Ron is not only established through his body of work, which is “in more than 60 public and corporate collections” across Ontario and the Maritimes. Additionally, he has had an expansive career in arts administration, leading the Ontario College of Art and Design to become a degree-granting university. He also worked as a Professor and Chair of the Department of Fine Art at the University of Guelph, helping to establish the MFA program in Studio Art. These facts simply summarize a few pieces of Ron’s broad and amazing career.

When I saw Ron’s name in my inbox, I didn’t recognize him from my roster of names I’ve learned while in my position at Guelph Arts Council. When I looked him up, I was shocked to find that such a champion of the arts lived in our city, and his name was not more well-known both for his artwork and his work done for the Ontario arts community.

When I finally met Ron, he was thoughtful, humble, and reflective. His art and administrative work are deeply entrenched in the community, interested in how culture is made, survives, and changes over time and how that links to art. We spoke at length about his career, how he’s noticed a shift in ageism in the art community, and the politics that are unavoidable within a creative practice.

As an emerging artist myself, I found the conversation enlightening, inspiring, and thought-provoking. One particular anecdote that Ron shared was how, when he was a professor, he asked his students when was the last time they went to a gallery. He shared that none of his class had been to the gallery before and that if someone didn’t arrange it for them, they wouldn’t have gone. The phrase that he said after was what struck me the most from this story. He said, “If you don’t go see other people’s work, why should they see yours?” This phrase caught me off guard. I find myself struggling to go to artist talks, opening receptions, and studio tours not because I am not interested, but because I still don’t know where I fit in my creative community. As a new artist in a new community, it’s intimidating to show up and not know what the reception will be at your presence. But this simple thought from Ron was incredibly enlightening and TRUE. This line emphasizes Ron’s deep connection to the community and highlights the undertone to our entire conversation.

When I later asked him what advice he had for any artist working on their career, he stated, “Pay attention to your community; without your community, there is no support or audience.” He also encourages other artists to “care about other artists and arts, to follow your own inclinations but stretch yourself to discover more.”

Everything Ron shared with me carried a tone of respect and genuine curiosity. Curiosity about what was next for the Arts Council, curiosity for the Guelph Community at large, and what that means for our city’s culture in the future.

I came away from my conversation with Ron with an admiration for how he pays attention to the world. It reminded me of how important it is that we continue to learn from each other. Ron’s experience of the art world of Canada is so unknown to many of us, and I ask myself why aren’t we learning more from artists like Ron?

In addition to Ron Shuebrook’s invaluable insights shared during our conversation, I’m delighted to share that his latest exhibition, “In Conversation” with Frances Thomas, offers a unique opportunity to experience his artistic vision firsthand. The exhibition, currently on display at the Woodstock Art Gallery, provides a captivating dialogue between Shuebrook’s work and that of Frances Thomas. The exhibition is open until January 20, 2024—don’t miss the chance to witness this compelling conversation between two accomplished abstract artists.

In conclusion, my conversation with Ron Shuebrook has illuminated not only the depth of his artistic and administrative contributions but also the importance of bridging the gap between generations within the arts community. The subtle separation between emerging artists and their more established counterparts is a phenomenon that warrants attention and transformative action. Ron’s experience, emphasizes the significance of community, mutual support, and a shared appreciation for diverse artistic expressions, resonates as a guiding principle for all artists.

As I reflect on Ron’s experiences and insights, it becomes evident that the key to a vibrant and inclusive arts community lies in fostering connections, transcending age barriers, and cultivating a spirit of curiosity and openness. Ron’s call to actively engage with others’ work echoes as a reminder that our creative journeys are enriched when we embrace the diverse tapestry of voices within our artistic community.

Shopping Cart
Scroll to Top