Painting Chief Darby Allen

"Why did you decide to paint Chief Darby Allen?" asked several reporters over the past two days.

It's the obvious question, regarding a 16" x 20" portrait that I did on Sunday night that went viral after I posted it about 11 pm.  When I woke up the next morning, I was shocked.

I was in the latter stages of painting the other Chief - Chief Dan George - when I felt this overwhelming calling to paint the Fire Chief who has been at the heart of the battle with the beast, the Fort McMurray fire.  Almost at the same time, I got an email message from my sister Corinne, wanted to commission me to do a portrait of Darby.  Her husband Chris works with and for Darby, and she wanted to have a painting done to present to him and the department. I told her that there was no way she was paying for anything.

I started painting shortly after our lovely Mother's Day meal, about 10 of us around the dining table.  The painting came together nicely and really seemed to jump when I added the green safety vest and municipal logo.

Throughout the process, I went back and forth about what I wanted to do in the background.  The source image, a screen shot taken from video footage of a media conference during the disaster, featured a dark sky, building and tree in the background.

Instead of painting what was in the screen shot, I decided to paint what was in my rear view mirror as I crawled out of town on that fateful Tuesday, along with hundreds of other citizens trying to make it to safety: black and billowy smoke and flames.

I can only speculate why this painting evoked such a strong reaction.  In my mind, Darby became of symbol of the heroic effort to save lives and property last week.  He represents hundreds of amazing men and women who put themselves in harm's way to get people and pets out of town during what could only be called devastating conditions.  His visage suggests weight, paint, hurt and enormous heart.  His decisions and the actions of his team saved lives, period.

The following days were spent working with my friends at Run Digital Inc. to figure out how to make prints available.  Thanks to their generosity, we will be producing commemorative prints for people who donate to the recovery effort through The United Way of Fort McMurray.  For all the details, please click here.

Every person who donates $100 or more will receive an email in a week to 10 days asking if they would like to receive an autographed print.  At that point, you'll be able to provide mailing information to ensure that your print arrives safe and sound.

We are collectively doing our best to do what we can to prepare for going home.  The messages and details are overwhelming at times, but we are emboldened by the support we are receiving from around Alberta and across Canada.  Thank you!


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