Trade Customers click here
← Back to Book Main Page

Review in the Winnipeg Free Press

The Artist as Modern Tarzan

THINK of B.C. artist Toni Onley as a modern-day Tarzan, and you will immediately conjure up images of excitement, danger, curiosity and dark places. Add to this Onley's talent of a visual artist with an infectious sense of humour and the skill to tell stories, and you have the essence of this entertaining book.

Flying Colours is not exactly an autobiography but rather a collection of stories told by artist Onley to writer Gregory Strong, who had been wondering for some years "about the obstacles and sacrifices a successful artist faced over a long career." The opening chapter is a riveting tale of the then 55-year-old millionaire artist piloting his own plane over the ski resort of Whistler and crashing into the Cheakamus Glacier.

While there were times he lived hand to mouth, his work eventually became recognized. Today it hangs in galleries around the world. In 1980, one of his art dealers negotiated the sale of more 1,200 pieces of his work to the so-called Fraser Valley phantom realtor, whose name was never revealed. But Onley's success also brought out the critics, not to mention Revenue Canada. In 1983 the government, in an effort to help pay for its inflationary spending, tried to make a "tax grab" on artists, classifying them as "manufacturers," who ought to be taxed on their production costs. Onley led the fight against the policy and threatened to burn all of his massive inventory rather than pay the tax. This book contains many other adventurous tales, including Onley's travels to India, Mexico and the Arctic, where he kept a detailed daily diary.

Onley's painting style, which he describes as "commentary on landscape," has taken him through most major art movements of the past half century from realism and minimalism and abstract expressionism to pop art. Today he is one of the few contemporary Canadian painters who has achieved celebrity status...
- Arnold Ross