In studio with artist Athena Bax

Making art for a living and for philanthropy

  • Feb. 21, 2020 7:30 a.m.

– Story by Lin Stranberg Photography by Lia Crowe

The decision to make art for a living is a brave one. As Henri Matisse put it, “Creativity takes courage.”

“I suspend the fear,” laughs Athena Bax, a Vancouver artist who for years has made and sold hundreds of paintings from her home studio, a live/work space in a converted office building east of Gastown.

Her real-life story and background belie first impressions of a probably privileged childhood, a prestigious art school and an automatic entrée into the patronage of international art world connections. In fact, she was born into Vancouver’s Greek-Canadian community, raised by a middle-class single mom, and she is entirely self-taught. Her only academic degree is from Kitsilano High School, where she graduated with awards for her art. With her great looks and style, Athena may appear outwardly to be just another Instagram cool girl, but appearances can be deceptive. On the inside she is a deeply spiritual being: an emotional softie with a tough work ethic.

She’s been working hard since she was 13, applying herself with diligence and, presumably, her abundance of charm.

“I got a job in retail with a letter from my guidance counsellor. I began at $3.65 an hour and was soon earning $6.”

After high school she was recruited to work in the growing software industry, creating visual graphics with design teams for games that were produced for big-name companies like 20th Century Fox and Disney.

Her mom’s passing in 1994 was pivotal. Looking to lighten up her career focus, she began working as a professional makeup artist, another job she nailed with no formal training. Instead, she trained other makeup artists to be trainers, working on an international makeup team at MAC for five years, then for seven years for a makeup and hair team from Proctor and Gamble/Wella. During that time, she began painting in the living room of her apartment in Vancouver’s West End.

One of the pieces she painted was a beautifully expressive portrait of her late mother, which now hangs in the bedroom of her living space. It was then that she took art as her life’s work.

“Before, it was all about income. Although I was always encouraged in my art, it was always considered strictly a hobby in the culture in which I was raised,” Athena says.

“I painted my late mom’s portrait in 2003 and everything clicked. I began painting professionally and never looked back.”

Her foray into the Vancouver art scene began at Liberty, a now-defunct West Broadway décor shop that was madly popular at that time. They hung her paintings and her reputation grew. Since then, she has been self-represented.

“I have been — and still am — my own gallery, my own promoter. I always call it living on a prayer. Good people show up.”

Athena believes in the power of good, light and love.

“I have dedicated my work to philanthropy first,” she says.

Her most recent painting, an impressive 50” x 72’’ canvas and the only art piece in the live auction at the 2019 Reveal Gala, benefits the Canucks Autism Network. Children with special needs are one of her favourite causes. Over the years, she has contributed her time and talent to Variety and many other important children’s charities.

The acrylics on canvas she paints are purchased by corporate and private collectors — everyone from dentists to developers.

“People don’t leave the studio buying my work unless they love it,” she says.

Six of her pieces hang in the spa at Vancouver’s elegant Wedgewood Hotel, where the soft focus and dreamy colours complement the soothing spa environment.

An ethereal atmosphere defines her artistic style. That and the soft focus are constants in everything she produces except for her equine and canine portraiture, which uses a more realistic technique to portray the animals she is commissioned to paint. Perhaps the most famous of these is Seamus, a chocolate Lab that belonged to former US President Bill Clinton. The portrait was commissioned as a gift from his friend, Frank Guistra, a well-known Vancouver businessman and philanthropist who also collects her work.

Athena works from photos for her animal portraits, and indeed for all her paintings. So what inspires her?

“I paint anything I think of: nature, the ocean, landscapes, rocks in the water. I am blessed because I can paint what is brought to me in my emotional vision. Right now, I’m obsessed with these heavenly florals.”

The light in those recent floral paintings was inspired by a photo of the heavens she discovered via the Hubble NASA space telescope feed on Instagram. She went to great lengths to recreate it, lying down flat on her back on an East Vancouver sidewalk to photograph a lush hydrangea bush with the sky as a backdrop. It was worth the effort.

“My paintings are my babies. I work on them until I feel I genuinely love them. At that point, I know I’m finished.”

Athena Bax’s website is here.

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

Like Boulevard Magazine on Facebook and follow them on Instagram

Artartist

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Rosslanders celebrate Canada Day in style

Locals organized a museum scavenger hunt, a Mt. Roberts flag-raising ceremony and evening fireworks

Interior Health will not expand Police and Crisis Team

Southeast Division Chief Superintendent Brad Haugli asked IH to expand the program

Hwy 1 flooding causes massive delays on certain Arrow Lakes ferry routes

Motorists have been waiting around three hours to get on ferries

Rossland Museum and Discovery Centre expands operations online

The facility also opened back up to the public earlier in June

Mills oppose Celgar’s ask for cheaper logs destined for chipper

The Castlegar mill has asked the province for a lower rate for any log that goes straight to pulp

VIDEO: Musqueam Chief captures captivating footage of bald eagle catching meal

‘This is why we have chosen to live here since time immemorial,’ Chief Wayne Sparrow’s nephew says

Police ramp up efforts to get impaired drivers off B.C. roads this summer

July is dedicated to the Summer CounterAttack Impaired Driving Campaign

Migrant workers stage multi-city action for full status amid COVID-19 risks

‘COVID-19 has exacerbated an existing crisis’

Okanagan school drops ‘Rebels’ sports team name, citing links with U.S. Civil War

Name and formerly-used images “fly in the face” of the district’s human rights policy, says board chair

PHOTOS: B.C.’s top doc picks up personalized Fluevog shoes, tours mural exhibition

Murals of Gratitude exhibit includes at least one portrait of Henry alongside paintings of health-care workers

In troubled times: Independence Day in a land of confusion

Buffeted by invisible forces and just plain worn out, the United States of America celebrates its 244th birthday

Stop enforcing sex work laws during COVID-19, advocates say

There are provisions in Canada’s prostitution laws that make workers immune from prosecution, but not from arrest

Liberal party finished 2019 having spent $43 million, raised $42 million

All political parties had until midnight June 30 to submit their financial reports for last year

B.C. teacher loses licence after sexual relationships with two recently-graduated students

The teacher won’t be allowed to apply for a teaching certificate until 2035

Most Read