1881 Portage Avenue
"The Great Herd of Clarence Tillenius"
This Mural is a tribute by Charlie Johnston to the work of noted Manitoba artist Clarence Tillenius, who received the Order of Canada the same week this Mural was finished. It's a panorama of several of Tillenius' works blended into one extended scene; and was executed by Johnston with the full cooperation of the artist/naturalist.
Location: On Ferry, just North of NW corner Portage & Ferry; East Face
Occupant: Family Foods; The Medicare Shoppe Pharmacy
District: St. James
Neighbourhood: King Edward
Artist(s): Charlie Johnston (C5 Artworks), Clarence Tillenius
Sponsors: Swancoat Investments/Wilcan Holdings
Painters: Assisted by Sarah Johnston
Charlie Johnston: "This Mural started with the Bears on Broadway project, naturally, because
that's when I first met Clarence, and the sponsor for this Mural. I was certainly aware of
Clarence's reputation prior to this, but had not yet had the opportunity of meeting him.
Bob Williams (Swancoat Investments, and Wilcam Holdings) was the sponsor of one of
the Bears (Robert Taylor's Bear). He's also affiliated with Fort Whyte Centre; and is
also on the Board of Directors of Assiniboine Park Gallery where much of Clarence's
work is housed. Both he and his father knew Clarence; so there's a huge connection
there. Bob wanted a Mural as a testimonial to Clarence's work and life. Plus he wanted
the Mural to be in St. James, because this is Clarence's neighbourhood."
"I worked closely with Clarence and it was a collaboration. Clarence did the maquettes for
the working designs- what he wanted to incorporate into the design; so there was a lot of
dialogue back and forth between Clarence and myself as to what the content of the Mural
was going to be. I used at least 5 of his images as compositional elements for the design.
One of most recognizable of the 5 is the pictorial representation of Clarence's diorama he
did for the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature that you see when you walk through
the front doors of the museum- it's the stampeding herd with the hunter coming behind
them (located just right of the center of the Mural). I also got to work with a lot of
Clarence's original sketches. He also let me use one of his personal artifacts, a bison
skull, which I then did a photographic study of, and which appears in the Mural."
"We've all grown up with Clarence's dioramas at the museum; and the second floor of
the Assiniboine Gallery is a good representation of his works. But it was actually
through the Bears project where I came to fully appreciate what an impact that he's had
on other artists and that he was a source of inspiration for so many wildlife artists. He
was doing it before the term 'wildlife art' was invented, really! He helped pioneer that
particular style. And he's such a wonderful, wonderful man, a great spirit. I called him
the godfather of the Bears project- we all came to him for favours! He was a lot of fun,
"Once the Bears project wrapped up, it was like this art community suddenly dissolved.
We had formed this little community and then it dissolved! I was lucky to have done this
and then to have this opportunity: because I was doing this with Clarence, a very key connection
was able to continue with me for the next several months. Clarence would call me
regularly and Sarah and I would go over and visit him at his space and talk about all sorts
of things. And he would come and visit us at the wall. Clarence was very excited about
doing the renderings, and really dove into the layout stage of it. And, of course, the
stories he told!!!"
"Clarence brought his rendered compositions, and I composited his images digitally in a
layout for the final design. There was a lot of collaboration there. The focus was always
on presenting Clarence's work in the best possible light. When I got to the wall, I had the
task of recreating his style, his imagery, and very much his colour palette. We did the
final painting in acrylics so we (Sarah and I) were able to very honestly recreate his
colours and pigments. All of his paintings are oils; and the pigments in acrylics have the
same value and intensity as oils. I did use acrylic latex for the under painting, but all the
pictorial work is pure acrylics. I used a supplier I learned of through Mural Routes called
Nova Color. That was the supplier recommended by John Pugh (the renowned California
Trompe L'oeil Muralist). It's quite a bit more expensive. Any latex paint has a certain
amount of value reduction because of the base- it's muted. When you put latex beside
true acrylics, there's no comparison! We wanted the best for Clarence. Bob wanted the
best for Clarence and so did I. Oils would have been even more expensive, and then you
have a whole different set of problems (including premature aging outdoors from the top
coat). I think acrylics are a better medium for outdoor work. Even though Clarence is an
oil painter through and through, the quality of the pigments in acrylics is a perfect
Sarah Johnston: "It was a pleasure for me to try to use Clarence's way of mark-making
on the wall- the way he paints. We watched the way he did his Bears; and he has an
interesting way of painting. He used to paint with his right arm, which he lost; and he re-
taught himself to paint with his left hand. His marks have a liveliness and a life to them
that I was really looking forward to doing because it's more my way. I have more of a
variety of mark-making; I'm not a 'roller girl'! I don't blend by cross-hatching, I use
texturing; and Clarence is a textural blender."
Charlie: "So we were recreating Clarence's painting style and we were trying to paint like
Clarence at the wall. I learn on every job. I learned a lot about a colour palette, because I
changed my colour palette to match Clarence's. It's a more sophisticated rendition of the
sky, and I was recapturing the dust cloud of the stampeding herd on Clarence's
composition. He rarely ventured beyond earth tones, so he used earth tones as the
shadow areas for dust clouds, for sky, you name it. So I was using those earth tones in a
way I had never used them before, rather than going to other brights or primaries. It's a
beautiful feeling that comes off of that; and where the inspiration from another artist is
being maximized. Clarence NEVER used Payne's grey. Instead he would mix black with
white and would incorporate one of the earth tones like Burnt Sienna or Burnt Umber."
"This project got dramatically interrupted when I got word that I'd gotten the commission
to do the Robert Bateman wolf Mural in Thompson. 2005 for me was all about animals:
Bears, Bison, and Wolf. I had to leave this project for 6 weeks since the parameters of
the Bateman Wolf project were quite tight. I resumed work on it in September, and it was
a good fall, weather-wise, so we able to achieve what we wanted with the piece."
The Mural composition includes faithful reproductions of no fewer than 5 Tillenius
originals: (l-r) An excerpt from an unnamed larger work; 'Red River Buffalo Hunt'
(Clarence's painting composition for the museum diorama); 'Challenging the King', 'White
Buffalo Horse', and 'Ox-Bow on the Assiniboine'. In addition, the fox and hare are from
an original sketch by Clarence, and the bison skull is a study from an artifact of
Charlie: "I did do projecting on this one. I made transparencies from Clarence's
originals. The whole idea was to try not to over interpret the work and to try to be true to
the originals. But I had to change some things: e.g., the two bulls facing off against the
wolves. They're from one of Clarence pieces, but we had to flip the foreground bull to
make it work."
"Clarence is a naturalist as much as he is a painter or artist. That's a huge distinction-
he's not just painting animals; he's studying their existence. He's capturing a snapshot of
something that was, and will never be again, for posterity. So he's very specific about
animal behaviour. If I'm talking to him about a compositional element, he's talking to
me instead about a behaviour pattern of the subject matter, like the way bison herd and
stampede as opposed to how it looks on the wall. Clarence would always have to make
sense of what was happening in the design. If the bison were in a stampede, all of the
other animals scatter. Here, it's the fox and the hare; and they had to be in synch with
that, moving away from the stampede. If wolves were squaring off against bison, it had
to be a bison that had been separated from the herd. The composition of the design had
to make sense naturalistically to Clarence."
"Clarence would walk over to visit us at the wall. He's got a million stories about
everything from hunting polar bear on ice floes with the Inuit to- you name it!"
"It was a real thrill to paint a Mural with acrylics. It's a beautiful medium, and it felt
more like an artist's work. It was a joy to do. The colours are just beautiful. Stampeding
bison was a fun subject that captured the mood of the time and capturing those qualities
was just plain fun."