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Toni Onley

Artist Toni Onley identified as plane crash victim
Steve Mertl
Global BC, CP

March 1, 2004

VANCOUVER (CP) - Toni Onley, a famed West Coast painter who combined his art with a love of flying, has died after crashing his floatplane into the Fraser River.
Onley was identified by police Monday as the pilot of the plane that crashed at Maple Ridge, east of Vancouver, on Sunday.
Witnesses said the LA4 Buccaneer was practising landings and takeoffs before it crashed.
An eyewitness said the plane landed briefly on the water before losing control and sinking rapidly.
Fisherman George Hunter said he saw the accident from his boat only about 150 metres away.
"He landed and took off again, then all of a sudden smashed down onto the water," said Hunter. "It just stayed upright, and sank in 10 seconds.
"It's pretty traumatic, to know somebody is drowning underneath your boat."
Police divers went into the river Monday to search for the plane, which went down in about 10 metres of water.
It was 20 years ago that Onley escaped death when he crashed his light plane onto a B.C. glacier, breaking his leg. He and a passenger spent a terrifying night awaiting rescue.
Onley, 75, was a renowned watercolourist, an Order of Canada recipient known for his moody, expressionist landscapes of the West Coast.
"His contribution was to create this kind of very good technique of British watercolour that he has in fact transformed for his own end," said Denise Leclerc, associate curator of modern Canadian art at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.
"Because he had a plane, a little floatplane, he was able to travel to all these places where the majority of people don't have access.
"He was showing us very evocative, minimal, Oriental, elegant views of places that we can only dream of going some day."
Born in Douglas, Isle of Man, England, Norman Antony (Toni) Onley first studied under local landscape water colourist John Nicholson and at the Douglas School of Fine Arts.
He came to Canada in 1948, first living in Brantford, Ont., and working at a variety of jobs to support his first wife and two daughters. He would marry three times.
On his web site, Onley says he was influenced by British painters John Cotman and Peter DeWint and initially painted traditional landscapes.
His early recognition as a painter came in 1955, when he won an award at the Western Ontario Annual show of young artists. Later, he exhibited at the Royal Canadian Academy and the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colours.
Following the death of his wife Mary, Onley moved with his children to Penticton, B.C., joining his parents who had retired there.
He taught weekend art classes for children and adults on weeknights, working as a surveyor, draftsman and commercial artist to support his family while he developed his art.
In 1957, he won a scholarship to a Mexican art school, where he studied mural painting and fresco and vinylite mediums.
Onley said he was influenced there by American artist abstract impressionist James Pinto.
After three years in Mexico, Onley returned to Canada in the late 1950s and held a string of exhibitions.
His collage paintings won critical recognition and he used a Royal Canadian Academy award to fund further study in England. His award-winning painting Polar No. 1 was presented to London's Tate Gallery for a 1963 exhibition.
In 1961, Onley did a 90-square-metre mural for Vancouver's Queen Elizabeth Theatre and was one of seven artists chosen to represent Canada at the Paris biennial exhibition.
Onley took up flying in the 1960s, which enabled him to travel to various remote locations. He often sketched from the air before landing to work on a painting.
Onley, a prolific artist whose work is widely collected, received the Order of Canada in 1999. His art made him wealthy, allowing him to buy a plane and a Rolls-Royce.
He also got into a row with Revenue Canada in the 1980s, at one point threatening to burn his unsold work on Vancouver's Wreck Beach because he wasn't allowed to deduct expenses for ongoing art projects against his income. He would later approve of changes made to the tax code that helped artists.
"It's very beneficial for the income of the poor artists," said Leclerc. "He was able to do that because he had the clout and the nerve to do it."
Last year, a exhibition of his watercolours was shown on his native Isle of Man and he also designed a series of stamps for the island featuring his work.
Onley had two daughters, Jennifer and Lynn, from his first marriage and a son, James, from his second marriage to Gloria Knight.
Toni Onley website