Like fine wine, artist gets better with age

By Mary Chan

Twenty-five years after graduating, Neel de Wit-Wibaut has come back to school, but this time as an artist, not a student. For de Wit-Wibaut, 85, painting has always been a part of her life, even as far back as her early life in Amsterdam, Holland.

"I was always an amateur painter, but then I entered university and I got my Fine Arts degree, with a major in painting," she says. "I’d been surrounded with art a lot in Amsterdam when I was young, so we were encouraged to draw at home and we went to many exhibitions, and so I was an amateur artist until I went to university."

De Wit-Wibaut immigrated to Ottawa in 1946, finally settling in Calgary and attending the university. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, majoring in painting, in 1975. Over the years, de Wit-Wibaut painted in many different media, moving through large abstracts, oils, watercolours and pastels, as well as various subjects. She’s painted series on landscapes, portraits, cats, city scenes and, most recently, moonlight. The university show is a retrospective look at three such series: moonlight, cats and landscapes.

"You’re looking back at the last 10 or 15 years," said de Wit-Wibaut. "We selected the best works that I had in my studio. There’s still a lot left in my studio. It’s a big place. We couldn’t show everything."

De Wit-Wibaut is also musically gifted, playing viola with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra for its first 18 years before it became fully professional. She still plays in an orchestra and string quartet, and firmly believes there is a connection between painting and music.

"There’s a connection between what’s called harmony in music and what I call harmony in colours of painting," she says. "I feel there’s harmony in colours and harmony in music."

For de Wit-Wibaut, publicity is an important aspect of painting.

"You paint to be seen," she says. "You don’t paint totally for yourself. You want to enjoy, let other people enjoy, what you are portraying, what you are after. So if you can share that with more people, there’s more purpose in doing it."

De Wit-Wibaut humorously anticipates students’ reactions to her work.

"Maybe they say I’m stuffy," she laughs, "because I don’t do colours that K-Mart has, or Walt Disney has. I’m brought up in European traditions and you can see that in the colour schemes."

"It’s a free country," she adds. "They can say what they want to say. I don’t worry."

The Moonlight series and other works, begins University Theatre Mezzanine Gallery until Aug. 30.

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