Master of the creative – Saanich News
– Story by Sean McIntyre Photography by Don Denton
Russell Papp can remember the thrill of being given a new roll of masking tape for his fourth birthday. While most children are likely to stare at their parents in disbelief – in anticipation of the punch line to what is certainly a cruel joke – Russell went to work transforming discarded pieces of cardboard, egg boxes, and other household scraps into elaborate sculptures that sprang from his imagination.
Russell’s mastery of masking tape would be his gateway to larger, more elaborate projects.
“It starts with masking tape, then comes the hot glue gun, and from then on there is the nail gun and table saws and MIG welders, and it just keeps evolving,” he says. “My imagination grew as my toolbox and skills expanded. The eclectic nature of my work came from my interest in materials and how things are made. “
Nowadays, the work of the landscape architect and sculptor from Oak Bay is in great demand with corporate clients and private individuals who yearn for a distinctive creative flair that merges with the inspiration of the iconic landscape in the south of Vancouver Island.
“I often look for sculptural inspiration in nature and in the sea,” he says during an interview in the back yard of his house on Bowker Avenue in early spring.
In the midst of well-tended hedges, a colorful palette of plants and blossom-laden branches in which the twittering of birds can be heard, it becomes clear that Russell’s landscape work in itself is a sculpture that is alive and constantly changing over the course of the day. Seasons and years. When done correctly, the results are aesthetically appeasing and have numerous health and social benefits.
“When I look at a landscape project, I always take the existing trees into account. You are usually the first to go for simple solutions and clear the path of least resistance, when the trees are actually the most important thing. A good landscape arises around the trees, ”he says. “Many people can never imagine what is going on underground and the harmony that is created within the entire ecosystem. It’s so important to work with what you have to create an environment and that means taking your time, listening and taking the time to be a part of it. “
Russell studied fine arts at Camosun College and Ecological Landscape Design on Royal Roads. He also attended the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto and gained his first experience at GRLA Landscape Architects in Nova Scotia. Russell paid for his tuition by working with the father-son duo Bill and Timothy Ball. The Ball family, along with landscape architect John Olmsted, helped lay out many residential gardens in the Uplands and Oak Bay. Notable properties include the houses of the famous architect Francis Rattenbury and the original gardens of Riffington Manor. One of the most inspiring places in Russell’s formative years was the garden of the sculptor Elza Mayhew.
“I didn’t know then, but I developed a whole new ability and appreciation of plants, trees and rocks as an art form in my own right.”
After graduating, Russell began working in the film and stage industry, creating elaborate props and sets. It was the same passion of using masking tape and scrap to create ideas that he had had since he was four, but on a whole new scale. In the midst of the stage work, however, Russell kept returning to landscaping. One day, on the advice of his boss Timothy, he bought a 1993 Suzuki Carry mini truck and started his own business.
“It was four-wheel drive so I could drive right into the property, across the lawn and up the hill with big trees in the back,” Russell recalls. “We went back to the hole we had dug and dropped the tree right into it.”
Working for himself gave him new flexibility to take on a variety of creative projects, including landscaping, sculpture, and commercial art installations. Russell has since been able to focus on the diverse aspects of art and creativity that he loves.
If you’ve walked Oak Bay Drive last year, you may be familiar with Russell’s creative work. “Between Us” is a sculpture located near the penny farthing between Hampshire Road and Monterey Avenue. Russell created the piece last year as part of Oak Bay’s annual ArtsAlive program, which gives artists the opportunity to showcase their work while giving residents better access to public art. Russell says the program is a refreshing opportunity for artists to inspire one another and the general public.
“Art in the landscape is so important; it can arouse a sense of wonder, stimulate the imagination or stimulate thought, ”he says. “I would love to see sculpture parks that are integrated into the natural surroundings of Oak Bay and Victoria. As in many cities around the world, outdoor walking areas only enrich the atmosphere and the outdoor experience through nature with sculptures as anchor points. “
If music festivals and beer gardens are your scene, then there’s an equally good chance you’ve seen Russell’s work as a carnival-like backdrop for elaborate sets and displays. One of his most notable and memorable pieces, he says, is a 12-foot refrigerated semi-trailer truck that he turned into a 32-tap beer garden known as a gypsy wagon. Russell recalls the reaction from Phillips Brewery owner Matt Phillips when he showed him a sketch of the project which consisted of loading the trailer with barrels and then decorating its sides with crane-mounted removable panels. He was met with head scratching and disbelief and then immediately received the green light to proceed with what became a huge crowd-pleaser and signature fixture at local events.
Whether in the public area of a festival or in the private world of a customer’s backyard, Russell’s colorfully structured creations are a balance between the modern, built urban landscape and the organic backdrop of sea, mountains and forest. His style is imbued with this place and this moment, but also with centuries-old principles. It is a kind of elegant intensity that invites the viewer to discover, celebrate and imagine.
“Art Nouveau meets Art Deco meets a Turkish puzzle ring full of complexity and layers,” he says.
However, Russell’s favorite aspect of his job is helping clients blend their living spaces into the natural landscape. To this end, he has started to shape the “courtyard landscapes” of the region himself. One of his proudest accomplishments is a landscaped garden on a Beach Drive property that was completed in 2011. Today he works on projects in the Cook Street Village area and on Ardmore Drive in North Saanich.
“Whether it’s a single sculpture or an artistic setting in the landscape, the process involves clear communication,” he says. “It’s a great way to get to know someone, hear all their ideas, and find a way to make their dreams come true. It may not be so clear to them, but I can translate what they say into something they may not have thought possible. ”
Visit Russell’s website here.