By Simon Hopkins
Paula Zoubek sits at the edge of her garage, its walls decorated with colourful paintings.
Paula has invited guests to her home annually for over 25 years as part of Ottawa’s West End Studio Tour. The tour highlights artists like Paula, who live in Ottawa neighbourhoods.
Paula’s 22-year-old grandson Alexander wasn’t born when she first took part in the tour. But today, at the back of Paula’s garage, is Alexander, now tall and standing in front of a wall of his own art.
Alexander was excited to join the ranks of the great artists who participate in the showcase of Ottawa art.
“Artists need to have networks, and this is the first step to getting one,” Alexander explained. “The tour gets my name out there.”
The fascination with colour and contrast is clear in the paintings on Alexander and Paula’s walls. Paula said she noticed Alexander’s understanding of colour from a young age.
“He’s a very good colourist. I think he and I have a gene for colours. We can differentiate all kinds of shades,” she said.
Paula was a mentor for Alexander growing up, always ushering him in the right direction.
“There was always someone there to coach me and value my art. A lot of my early paintings were at my grandmother’s house,” Alexander said. “She had a studio with all these paints and canvases lying around, and I would paint whatever.”
Alexander’s grandmother’s impact on him is clear.
“With my earlier paintings, I did try to do what she was doing,” he said. “But I think people on the tour will be able to see the difference between our styles.”
He described his style as influenced by surrealism and focused on contrast and light.
“I’m really interested in light and dark: dramatic lighting in empty spaces,” he said.
He paints with a delicate touch that captures how light and shadow cascade through rooms. Alexander’s “Many Hours from Home” depicts a dimly lit bedroom. The curtains’ light brushstrokes make the fabric look translucent, letting sunlight spill in. A dark doorway in the corner reveals a solitary lamp whose soft light illuminates a small space on the floor.
Alexander said he enjoyed playing with the paint to create the illusion of light.
He was never forced into painting but took an eager interest in it from an early age. Paula reminisced about their regular trips to the National Gallery. “As soon as he was big enough to walk, he was interested.”
The signs of youth showed as Zoubek paced, examining his work. Paula calmly watched as Alexander remembers he still needs to sign some of his work.
Today, Paula’s support comes in the form of logistical advice. There are many challenges for a young artist, like creating a network and learning how to sell art.
“It’s hard to price them,” Alexander said. “I don’t want to rip people off, but I also want to value my work.” His experienced grandmother is never far away to offer helpful advice.
“The tour will make him more comfortable trying to sell and promote his own work,” Paula said, explaining one of the most challenging aspects of being a professional artist. “It becomes easier.”
Alexander excitedly pointed to the paintings he had already sold. “I’m thinking I might need to bring some more over.”