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Review in The Daily Yomiuri, Tokyo

A Swashbuckling Landscape Painter

Flying Colours: The Toni Onley Story begins with dramatic incident-a plane crash on a glacier in the Canadian Rockies -- that suits its dramatic subject. Canadian artist Toni Onley's life can only be described as a bumpy ride: three wives; raising two small daughters as a single father; a hand-to-mouth artist's life in Mexico, London, and Vancouver; a rags-to-riches art career which distinguished him from almost every artist…

After the attention-grabbing plane crash, Flying Colours begins with the artist's childhood on the Isle of Man. By the time he was 6 or 7, his need to draw had already inspired a doting grandfather to build him a sketching table. By his early teens, he was desperate for lessons, but on an island only 52 kilometers by 18.4 kilometers, one can imagine that the possibilities were slim: The one teacher/artist there stopped speaking to him when it became clear that he had been outstripped by his pupil…

At a time when pop art, conceptual art, and multimedia art were de rigueur, Onley continued to explore landscapes. After experimenting with abstract collages in Mexico and minimalism in Britain, he finally settled on what he aptly describes as "still-life landscape."

It was Onley's passion for exploring the wilderness landscapes of Canada that led him to become the flying painter, flying into rainbows -- and of course dead center into the accompanying rainstorm-landing on lakes and mountain glaciers.

For readers in this country, there is a Japanese connection. Onley's third wife and the love of his life, Yukiko, is Japanese. Further, author Gregory Strong is an associate professor at Aoyama Gakum University who has written for this paper. Biographies are hard to do well – they are generally a litany of names and dates, too rarely giving us the personality of the subject. To that end, Strong made the decision to tell The Toni Onley Story entirely in Onley's words, drawing on hours of taped conversations, revisions during the writing of the work, and on Onley's diaries of, for instance, his trip to India.

Flying Colours is a good-read. Onley is generous in sharing the stories of the highs and lows of his life, from observing the gentle colors of Arctic icebergs, to fleeing murderous doctors in Mexico, to that plane crash, to the devastation of being left by Yukiko. You can’t help cheering on a man who lives with such passion. And if you’re interested in art, artists, or the art scene, you'll come out smarter to boot. Not a bad deal.
- Linda Ghan