Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Max Webster keyboardist rockin' his art now

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He once toured North America and Europe, performing hits like Paradise Skies.

Now Terry Watkinson's paradise skies are in his large, vivid landscape and cityscape paintings.

Watkinson, who is 69 but looks younger, was the keyboardist in Max Webster.

The 1970s Ontario rock band fronted by lanky singer Kim Mitchell released eight albums, scoring Canadian hits such as High Class in Borrowed Shoes and Let Go the Line (the latter written by Watkinson).

In early 2008, an unusual path brought Watkinson to Winnipeg. Now living in the Exchange District as a full-time painter, he's got five of his "luminist" landscapes on display at Mayberry Fine Art on McDermot Avenue through Dec. 24.

Priced in the $4,000 range, some have already sold.

The unassuming artist, dressed in jeans, a Harley T-shirt and a tweedy jacket, grew up in Thunder Bay. He got a taste of the 'Peg circa 1970, when he took a two-year "holiday from reality" here with a couple of local musician buddies.

He shared a Transcona basement "hippie pad" with guitarist Danny Holmes and drummer Dutch Schultz, playing the odd gig.

"We just dropped acid, partied, talked about philosophy and religion, went for walks -- ah, it was great," he recalls.

During Max Webster's run, from about 1973 to 1981, Watkinson toured the U.S. four or five times as an opening act for Rush, played in Europe twice and toured Canada many times.

He says the lifestyle was as excessive as fans imagine it. Still, sketching, photography and painting were always in his life. He designed the first Max Webster album cover, a surreal image of block-like human heads on a conveyer belt.

After Mitchell dissolved the band and went solo, "I knew if I was going to stay in music, I would have to start many rungs down the ladder again."

The brainy Watkinson had already started, before his music career, an architecture degree at the University of Toronto. He went back and earned a degree in medical illustration. "I've always been kind of a science freak," he says. "That seemed like a good place where science and art came together."

He worked as a medical illustrator for about six years. He also taught surgical illustration at U of T. Many people seemed "in awe" that he had the brain cells for the work.

He chuckles about the Ozzy Osbourne stereotype that "by the time you finish a career in rock 'n' roll, you're next to a vegetable."

Over the past decade, he has phased out "the medical thing" and pursued his real passion, fine art, with considerable success.

After his professor sister, Jane Watkinson, moved here from Alberta in 2007 for a job as dean of kinesiology at the University of Manitoba, she started lobbying him to move here.

With his four children grown, the twice-divorced painter decided on impulse to do just that. In Toronto, he recalls, "I had a little tiny apartment with no sunlight. It was so small, I had to paint on an easel leaning against my fridge."

Now he's got a big, light-filled condo at Bannatyne and King. "I really like Winnipeg," he says. "I like the air. I like the light and the space."

In true Winnipeg fashion, it turned out that his old drummer pal, Schultz, knew somebody who knew the Mayberry family of art dealers.

Watkinson still writes music, but doesn't perform. Nonetheless, when Max Webster reunited in 2007 for a one-off gig at a Toronto nightclub, he had a blast. He's still on good terms with Mitchell, now a drive-home radio DJ on Toronto's Q107.

"I feel I kind of wasted a lot of time in my younger years," he says. "Now that my partying days are over -- pretty well -- I want to settle down and produce the best work I can.

"Things I learned as a musician I use in paintings, in the sense of rhythm and drama. When you're playing rock 'n' roll, you have to make a big statement, and that's the way I try and do my paintings."

When someone comments on the title of one of his dramatic landscapes, he laughs.

"Sun Voices? I stole that from Kim Mitchell. It was the name of a song."

Watkinson's paintings can be viewed at www.terrywatkinson.com or www.mayberryfineart.com

alison.mayes@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 17, 2009 D5

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