Alan Doyle: How artists like him reinvented themselves

Written by By Elisha Dufour, CNN Canadian musician Alan Doyle has had two decades of career success in pop, country and blues music, but it’s his role as ambassador for Newfoundland and Labrador that’s…

Alan Doyle: How artists like him reinvented themselves

Written by By Elisha Dufour, CNN

Canadian musician Alan Doyle has had two decades of career success in pop, country and blues music, but it’s his role as ambassador for Newfoundland and Labrador that’s earned him the title “homer.” His quirky heritage — which comprises both French and Acadian roots — made Doyle “the perfect choice” to film the movie, “Legends of the Lighthouse,” about a childhood lost to post-Hurricane Hazel winters, but also about the role love plays in Quebec’s troubled recent history.

The talented singer also had a hand in bringing “Love in the 4th Dimension,” the country and R&B album he just released, to fruition after meeting longtime collaborator Troy Verges. But it’s this non-sporting background that’s at the heart of his acclaimed partnership with University of Notre Dame professor Ed Gibson, who at 67 has taken to painting rather than teaching.

Over the course of four years, Doyle and Gibson worked on this biography of how they became friends and lovers. When told of the project, Doyle was resistant at first, but over time embraced the idea.

“As soon as he told me he was giving up teaching and moving on,” Doyle said, “I wanted to call him a hero.”

Making music history

A mechanical engineer by training, Gibson began painting in 1979, the year he celebrated his 10th wedding anniversary to his late wife Ellen. But his passion hadn’t caught on at his job in Bristol, South Wales.

Instead, he became a devoted connoisseur of contemporary painting and developed a style that was unique — if not unapproachable. His hand-drawn, realistic pictures — such as the “Doodle 2,” “Pignut” or “Magnum Opus” that line his catalog — came to convey a sense of intimacy with people, to a degree that only close friends could share.

Watching Doyle’s latest album, “6.1,” written with Gibson, was transformative.

When taken as a whole, the songs remain effectively personal, but Doyle says the recent project helped to elevate and reframe the larger themes that resonate within Gibson’s paintings.

Doyle continues to ask Gibson to draw inspiration from his artwork. Asked what he looks for in his pictures, he says he’s “always willing to pick an artist’s brain when asked.”

It also turns out that Gibson’s style is strikingly similar to Doyle’s own. “When my records came out,” Doyle said, “the first time people saw [my songs] they’d say, ‘You’ve used some of this guy’s stuff too.’”

But the two men were never actually looking for likeness — rather, a collaborator who was open to new avenues of expression.

“The common denominator to us was that we could be in the same room with each other,” Doyle says, “and we would both agree that there were certain things in each other’s work that weren’t good enough. There were certain things in mine that he would show me he was going to do differently.”

Doyle says it’s no accident that the process began in 2008, after Gibson asked him to join him on a gig that year.

Gibson was overwhelmed by the day’s proceedings, working in watercolor and a thick black ink with “five quarts of oil paint and only four gallons left.” With Doyle offering encouragement and some great conversation, the two began exploring the idea of making art together.

“Ed said to me,” Doyle said, “that I was a self-contained, unique specimen. He was looking for a way to improve it.”

From there, artists would meet several times a week at Gibson’s home in Kingston, Ontario, not far from Gibson’s college in nearby Sudbury. The project would last four years and cover almost 8,000 square feet of studio space, from which Gibson produced 100 pieces of artwork.

Gibson adds: “Alan is not only a gifted painter, he’s also a gifted musician.”

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