Once, as a schoolboy, Tim Westbury came home with a report card that read: "Tim is easily distracted." His parents were amused. To them, the word distraction was a polite way of calling someone crazy.
Distracted seems particularly accurate. In a single day, Westbury directs an artist-run centre in Calgary, manages Zero G - his graphic design company - and maintains an art studio. Throughout the week, he practises drumming and jams on Saturday nights with a band. On top of that he's the parent of teenage triplets.
Westbury spends a good chunk of his time helping artists who do not fit the commercial market get their work exhibited. As director of The New Gallery, he has put on hundreds of shows by emerging and established artists, proving himself a creative force driving the future of contemporary art in Calgary.
As an artist, Westbury also defies the commercial mould. A good example is No Title, in which a playing-card spade is cut from the blade of a garden shovel. In this work, which functions as a visual pun, he refuses to call a spade a spade. "Art is not just about hanging it on the wall, getting it written about and adding it to your list of accomplishments," says Westbury.
Another work tided Emerald Tablet is a large elegant drawing on a Formica table top. The work references an early mystical text called The Emerald Tablet that was often used by alchemists. In it, divine wisdom is said to be the basis of physical reality, which all individuals can access. In Westbury's drawing, the number five stands prominently in stark contrast and acts as the middle number in a digital sequence - an apparent countdown to an apocalyptic event.
His last major solo exhibition, Weird Science, took place at the Nickle Arts Museum. Objects resembling accoutrements from a laboratory demanded careful attention. The central work was a freestanding sculpture in which a motion activated light shone through a granule of sand and reflected into a series of mirrors. His inspiration for the piece came from a famous line in William Blake's poem, "Auguries of Innocence" - "To see a world in a grain of sand." Westbury's goal was to suggest that no single perspective exists for any event, a point driven home by the fact the show opened just days before the tragedy of 9/11.
Westbury was born in London, England and raised in Calgary. He earned his degree in cultural studies at Trent University, where he studied music, visual art, theatre and theory. His honours thesis, Travels in Nihilon: Music and Youth Culture in the Shadow of the Mushroom Cloud, reflected his take on the nuclear program and popular music. It also highlighted his early interest in the intersections between life and art. He obtained a second undergraduate degree in fine arts at the Alberta College of Art and Design, followed by a number of jobs including graphic designer, architectural apprentice, curatorial and programming roles at The Banff Centre, and assisting on an archeological dig in Africa.
So, how does this leader in Calgary's contemporary art scene manage to accomplish such a range of creative endeavours? "'I figure out what I need to get it together and I do it," he says. "If you don't subscribe to rigid viewpoints, consumerism, or sports mania, then you have to find other ways to make sense of yourself in the wider community. Making visual art is how I explain my place in the world to myself"
As if it isn't enough, Westbury fills his minimal downtime with his drumming. "I'm constantly on the lookout for more drummer jokes," he says. "How do you know if there’s a drummer at the door? The knocking speeds up."