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79-year-old retired B.C. logger becomes professional artist

Lake Cowichan, B.C. -

Robert Burke is in the midst of an unexpected journey that began with a childhood he describes as “violent and chaotic.”

“You don’t have love. You don’t have family. So you pretty much just exist,” Robert recalls. “You have no choice. It’s either that or die.”

Robert says he learned to survive at a young age. He never knew his African American father, was abandoned by his Metis mother, and was forced to attend a residential school at age four.

Robert says he also had to endure never fitting in as Black or Indigenous.

“You’re odd man out,” Robert says. “You fought for your rights to exist. Period.”

After a decade at the residential school, Robert found work in the woods as a logging contractor and heavy machinery mechanic.

“There’s nothing cooler than being a logger,” he recalls with a smile.

During his downtime, Robert would draw and paint the equipment and scenery that surrounded him, making connections through his art.

“[People] saw my scene and then saw me,” Robert says, adding that painting in the bush inspired his co-workers to see beyond the colour of his skin.

“They saw a part that I had, that they didn’t expect out of me.”

After spending four decades in the logging industry, Robert was forced to retire at 53, before feeling compelled to go to art school.

“I had to be an artist,” Robert says. “I had to express these thoughts and all this experience I had in my past.”

Thanks to the work ethic he honed in the woods, Robert found a way to release his untapped talent and discover a unique “artistic voice.”

Now, Robert is expressing his traumatic childhood, complex identity and lost ancestry through bright, bold paintings with a positive perspective.

Some of his work can be viewed on his website

“I hope people will see [the paintings] and say, ‘Well, he did this. He did that. Maybe I can do that,'” Robert says.

And perhaps other people with pasts lacking in love, will be inspired to create presents filled with it, like Robert has.

In addition to being a professional artist, the 79-year-old is a proud husband, father, and grandfather.

“You can have the hard times in between,” Robert smiles. “But as long as you recognized the good in your life, you’re a happy camper.” Top Stories

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