Meet the artist who paints Brigus – house by house – 71Bait

If art can take us back in time, what color is your memory?

I pondered this question on a leisurely trip to Brigus on the west side of Conception Bay on the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland. It was a lazy summer afternoon when I unexpectedly came across David Connelly and his stunning artwork.

The invitation to delve into the painter’s world was enticing – a welcome sign posted on the side of the historic town’s main street led me to his studio. where the artist dreamily worked on a canvas. Upon closer inspection, the half-finished painting looked no different than a high-resolution photo.

I introduced myself and struck up a conversation.

David said, “I’ve always wanted to do it [my paintings] look like a photograph.”

He beamed as he began recounting an incident that took place at the Toronto Outdoor Art Fair – shortly after he began pursuing his career as a painter.

“Why would anyone sell photos of houses?” said a passerby.

His solution to the illusion? “I ended up getting a sign now that I’m on the show: ‘David Connelly Paintings’.”

I asked him what else he likes to paint besides sheds, barns and fishing platforms.

“It was always the same – the Brigus houses, the street scenes.”

restore glory

One look at his paintings is enough to realize that he liked to capture rustic and antiquated subjects such as houses. I asked why he decides to paint her. He said he was trying to restore a somewhat shabby house to its former glory.

“It’s a beautiful old house but it was destroyed by the windows. So I will often return the house to its original appearance in my paintings.”

Connelly’s paintings capture the essence of Brigus on canvas. (Submitted by David Connelly)

David’s journey to becoming the painter par excellence began with a visit from St. Nick.

“What made me do this anyway?” said David in a mischievous voice. “I think it was my mum because Santa always brought me colors at Christmas time.”

Growing up in Brigus, art has always been a part of his life. Summers were particularly alluring as they brought to life the beauty of Brigus’ picturesque surroundings. Rain or shine, every waking moment for an adolescent David was a scene waiting to be painted. Even in moments of pain, he sought refuge in art. He recalled a time when he burned his foot and recounted reaching for his brushes instead of medicine.

“It was summer and the only relief I could find was to go to a big creek in town and put my foot in it. So I took my paints and left my burned foot in the river all afternoon and just painted a natural landscape with the water and all.”

David wasn’t always a professional artist. He worked as a social worker for years before taking early retirement at age 50. It was time for him to pursue his dream job. Within a week of retiring, he cashed in on his parting gift – a course at the Toronto School of Art.

David’s feelings for his hometown came from a special place in his heart.

“I’ve always loved [Brigus], even as a kid, walking around saying how much we love it. We did this as a group of kids. We always thought it was the best place around, you know?”

A man in an apron stands in front of a white two-story house with dark trim.
David Connelly stands in front of his restored home, built in Brigus in 1860. (Nabila Qureshi/CBC)

For Debbie O’Flaherty, David plays a key role in promoting the city to visitors. By wearing some of his artwork at the local North Street Café, which she runs, around 100 of his postcards and a handful of his originals are sold each year.

“He has history in his paintings,” she said. Her customers are amazed at her quality, she said.

“People can’t believe the reality of his work,” she said. “They ask, ‘Are these photographs?’ There is so much detail in his work. Most people are happy with his work and it adds a lot to the cafe. It also gives it character.”

David’s next plan is to color his childhood memories of Brigus.

“I have many old photos of Brigus from my childhood and I plan to draw pictures from them. I have to invent some of these colors because they’re all black and white – that’s something I have up my sleeve. Not just Brigus, but Newfoundland, I suppose, because I’m always on the lookout for old houses that are in danger of disappearing.”

Though David now commutes between Arizona and Toronto, he visits Brigus every summer and immerses himself in his craft, which captures the local landscapes and traditional architecture. His artwork has made him an unofficial ambassador of Newfoundland.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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