In studio with artist Athena Bax

Making art for a living and for philanthropy

  • Feb. 21, 2020 7:30 a.m.

– Story by Lin Stranberg Photography by Lia Crowe

The decision to make art for a living is a brave one. As Henri Matisse put it, “Creativity takes courage.”

“I suspend the fear,” laughs Athena Bax, a Vancouver artist who for years has made and sold hundreds of paintings from her home studio, a live/work space in a converted office building east of Gastown.

Her real-life story and background belie first impressions of a probably privileged childhood, a prestigious art school and an automatic entrée into the patronage of international art world connections. In fact, she was born into Vancouver’s Greek-Canadian community, raised by a middle-class single mom, and she is entirely self-taught. Her only academic degree is from Kitsilano High School, where she graduated with awards for her art. With her great looks and style, Athena may appear outwardly to be just another Instagram cool girl, but appearances can be deceptive. On the inside she is a deeply spiritual being: an emotional softie with a tough work ethic.

She’s been working hard since she was 13, applying herself with diligence and, presumably, her abundance of charm.

“I got a job in retail with a letter from my guidance counsellor. I began at $3.65 an hour and was soon earning $6.”

After high school she was recruited to work in the growing software industry, creating visual graphics with design teams for games that were produced for big-name companies like 20th Century Fox and Disney.

Her mom’s passing in 1994 was pivotal. Looking to lighten up her career focus, she began working as a professional makeup artist, another job she nailed with no formal training. Instead, she trained other makeup artists to be trainers, working on an international makeup team at MAC for five years, then for seven years for a makeup and hair team from Proctor and Gamble/Wella. During that time, she began painting in the living room of her apartment in Vancouver’s West End.

One of the pieces she painted was a beautifully expressive portrait of her late mother, which now hangs in the bedroom of her living space. It was then that she took art as her life’s work.

“Before, it was all about income. Although I was always encouraged in my art, it was always considered strictly a hobby in the culture in which I was raised,” Athena says.

“I painted my late mom’s portrait in 2003 and everything clicked. I began painting professionally and never looked back.”

Her foray into the Vancouver art scene began at Liberty, a now-defunct West Broadway décor shop that was madly popular at that time. They hung her paintings and her reputation grew. Since then, she has been self-represented.

“I have been — and still am — my own gallery, my own promoter. I always call it living on a prayer. Good people show up.”

Athena believes in the power of good, light and love.

“I have dedicated my work to philanthropy first,” she says.

Her most recent painting, an impressive 50” x 72’’ canvas and the only art piece in the live auction at the 2019 Reveal Gala, benefits the Canucks Autism Network. Children with special needs are one of her favourite causes. Over the years, she has contributed her time and talent to Variety and many other important children’s charities.

The acrylics on canvas she paints are purchased by corporate and private collectors — everyone from dentists to developers.

“People don’t leave the studio buying my work unless they love it,” she says.

Six of her pieces hang in the spa at Vancouver’s elegant Wedgewood Hotel, where the soft focus and dreamy colours complement the soothing spa environment.

An ethereal atmosphere defines her artistic style. That and the soft focus are constants in everything she produces except for her equine and canine portraiture, which uses a more realistic technique to portray the animals she is commissioned to paint. Perhaps the most famous of these is Seamus, a chocolate Lab that belonged to former US President Bill Clinton. The portrait was commissioned as a gift from his friend, Frank Guistra, a well-known Vancouver businessman and philanthropist who also collects her work.

Athena works from photos for her animal portraits, and indeed for all her paintings. So what inspires her?

“I paint anything I think of: nature, the ocean, landscapes, rocks in the water. I am blessed because I can paint what is brought to me in my emotional vision. Right now, I’m obsessed with these heavenly florals.”

The light in those recent floral paintings was inspired by a photo of the heavens she discovered via the Hubble NASA space telescope feed on Instagram. She went to great lengths to recreate it, lying down flat on her back on an East Vancouver sidewalk to photograph a lush hydrangea bush with the sky as a backdrop. It was worth the effort.

“My paintings are my babies. I work on them until I feel I genuinely love them. At that point, I know I’m finished.”

Athena Bax’s website is here.

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

Like Boulevard Magazine on Facebook and follow them on Instagram

Artartist

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

What you see …

If you have a recent photo to share, email it large or actual-size to editor@trailtimes.ca

What you saw …

If you have a recent photo to share email it large or actual-sized to editor@trailtimes.ca

Trail RCMP back Mayor’s request to end parades

Trail RCMP have asked residents to cease and desist parade gatherings in age of coronavirus

Silver City salute

If you have a recent photo to share email it large or actual-sized to editor@trailtimes.ca

Columbia Basin Trust $11.7M for COVID-19

The funding will help businesses, First Nations, food banks, social service agencies and child care operators.

UPDATE: Canadians awake to extra COVID-19 emergency benefit money, feds clarify changes

The CRA and federal officials are working to clarify the confusion around payments

132,000 B.C. jobs lost just the start of COVID-19 impact, finance minister says

B.C.’s latest employment figures for March show 7.2% increase

B.C. asking companies to contribute through online COVID-19 supply hub

New platform to co-ordinate, source, expedite supplies and equipment to support front-line workers

B.C., Alberta health ministers urge public to stay home Easter weekend

Regional politicians, online petition calling for closure of provincial border to non-essential traffic

Controls can keep Canadian COVID-19 deaths under 22,000, health agency says

With poor containment measures, the death toll could be much, much higher, the agency says

People needing addictions services feel ‘abandoned’ during pandemic, B.C.’s ex-top doctor says

Widespread job losses and more homelessness due to physical distancing at shelters have added hurdles

Canada lost 1,011,000 jobs in March, unemployment rate up to 7.8%: StatCan

Unemployment rate hits levels not seen since 2010

COVID-19 world update: 6.6 million U.S. jobless claims; alcohol sales banned in Bangkok

Comprehensive digest of coronavirus news items from around the world

Most Read