By Hugh Kruzel
How does an artist produce close to 1,000 oil paintings and well over that number of works in pencil and pen, watercolours, and mixed media?
Live to be 87 and join Charlie Rapsky’s rare club of perennial professionals.
Of course, Rapsky had an early start. Painting since childhood and having an overriding curiosity about everything has led him along some interesting journeys.
“I was a closet artist. In Grade 9 at Sudbury Mining and Technical School, there was a teacher named Buck Wilson. When I did my first project he did not believe it was mine. I found the itch to draw overpowering. This compulsion has steered and altered many aspirations.”
Over the decades Rapsky has been a floatplane enthusiast, outdoorsman, sign maker and business owner, artist, and always a man of strong loyalties.
His love of the High Arctic, its people and its landscape is reflected in the stunning radiance of his own canvases communicating the marvel of the Aurora Borealis, and in soapstone carvings he acquired over the decades flying north.
In 2014 he returned to his former high school, now Sudbury Secondary, and with the help of students, painted a mural featuring an Arctic scene with a polar bear and the North Star. Sudbury Secondary’s mascot is a polar bear, and its sports teams are called the North Stars.
Rapsky thinks of himself as, “an artistic Ukie Gypsy, restless, free-spirited, and a romantic dreamer,” and admits to loving life fully.
There is a spark of humour in all he does. “What a beautiful life we’ve had, eh Shirl!”
His loving wife Shirley – ever the supporter – brings out albums and cuttings from the early 1980s and his first exhibitions.
“We had marvelous turnouts for every show. I love looking at these old articles and announcements. This whole retrospection has been enjoyable; a great a trip down memory lane,” says Shirley.
Rapsky’s laugh-lines shine as they reminisce.
“Is it ever fun to look at this nonsense!”
He thought it was a lark to have 12 paintings hanging at City Surplus before he retired from business in 1981. It was a harbinger of transition from one career to another.
“Within a week all was sold. From that day on my exhibitions were destined to succeed. I was good at publicizing and marketing. I was a good artist but also a good manager. I projected two years ahead and only showed once every three years…(This) would create a momentum and a sense of expectation. Never anything old, just fresh.”
“I knew him as a commercial artist. You know signs, posters, print material,” reflects Shirley.
“Charles – I always call him Charles – had a real understanding for his craft and also for what appeals.”
He instinctively discerns when a painting is complete and won’t sign it until he knows there won’t be another brush mark.
There are many more canvases yet to come but he recognizes his mortality.
“No more exhibitions. Wisdom says just do what I am doing now; satisfying individuals, families and friends with single pieces. Naturally, I will do more for our two wonderful sons and grandkids too.
“When I find I am coming to the end. I will do a painting of my beloved baba, Justina Baby, just like I remember her with apron and paisley house dress.”
Rapsky’s memories of his grandmother and growing up in the city’s West End are recorded by Stacey Zembrzycki in her book, According to Baba, A Collaborative Oral History of Sudbury’s Ukrainian Community.
“I’ve been so busy all my life – I feel I don’t have enough time. There are many things I would like to still do. I would love to go to Sedona (Arizona) and the desert. Arthritis now determines everything I do. We are all always pushing time. When you start approaching 90, you become more reflective. I think I did something useful with my life.”