Toby Nilsson lives his art

Sherry Bezanson meets Ladysmith surrealist artist Toby Nilsson in her Community Art Showcase column.

Toby Nilsson of Ladysmith is aptly described as a surrealist artist

Toby Nilsson of Ladysmith is aptly described as a surrealist artist

Meeting Toby Nilsson at his home studio, one is immediately thrown into a world of wonder, both in his art and his surroundings.

He lives his art. His studio is a work of curved lines, eye-pleasing embellishes, and nooks and crannies of unique and playful rooms. It is obvious that attention to detail is one of his talents, and his eyes see things in the world around us that most might miss. Nilsson’s work is full of symbolism and intrigue, and the viewer is swallowed into a hybrid of fantasy and realism realms. He is aptly described as a surrealist artist.

Nilsson said he was always drawing and doodling, but it was his Grade 12 art class in Calgary, Alb., that really brought him into the fold. In 1970, he began a four-year art program at Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. He noted that Joni Mitchell had dropped out of the same art school the year before he entered SAIT. He studied stone lithography, screen-printing and photography, among other classes. Nilsson confirmed that this was a very stimulating period in his life and he was actively expressing his values and political sensibilities through his art.

The artist moved to Victoria in the early 1970s to enjoy the pulsating art and music scene there.  He had his first one-man show in 1974 at the Open Space, a still-active innovative gallery dedicated to supporting experimental approaches to art.

After many years in the Cowichan Valley, Nilsson has called Ladysmith home since the 1990s.  Toby Nilsson has now been painting for more than 40 years. His medium is acrylic, and his palette is vibrant and bright. His muses are literature, West Coast natural landscapes, children and music. Nilsson often includes family members and personal belongings into his imaginary worlds.

Nilsson stretches and frames his works in often-unusual shapes such as ovals, hexagons, hearts and diamonds.

Each painting sold is accompanied by the story of its creation and inception. His works feel like living, breathing heartfelt entities into which the viewer can enter.

Toby Nilsson is truly a story-telling artist whose fanciful work evokes mystery and depth.

Nilsson has been recognized by the following awards: Cowichan Valley Fine Arts Show Best Acrylic in 2003, Honorable Mention in 2004 and Award of Merit in 2011.

His next exhibition is at the Brackendale Art Gallery in Squamish from Oct. 6 to the month’s end.

If you are interested in Nilsson’s work or commissions, contact him at