Bruce Horak began painting portraits in 2011 in response to the question, "How Do You See?"

Having lost over 90% of his eyesight to a childhood Cancer, Horak has navigated the world of the fully-sighted his entire life.  Bilateral Retinoblastoma (R.B.) is a cancer which appears on the retina of the eyes, the treatment of which left Horak completely blind in one eye, with extreme tunnel-vision, light sensitivity, floaters, and a cataract in the remaining eye.  For the past 20 years, Horak has pursued a career in the performing arts and has won numerous awards for his performance, writing, direction, and creation.   He has performed across Canada, the United States and throughout Europe.  

Image by:Kurt Firla and Pink Monkey Studios

Image by:Kurt Firla and Pink Monkey Studios

Bruce Horak's first visual art installation was at the Harborfront Centre in Toronto, Ontario as part of the "Likeness" series.  Since 2011, his work has been showcased at the Auburn Gallery (Calgary), The Pacific Theatre (Vancouver), The Kelowna Art Gallery (as part of the "Just Imagine" exhibit of works by Visually Impaired Artists), and at the Firehall Arts Centre (Vancouver). 



I am often asked how a person with such limited eyesight sees the world.

I took up painting as en experiment to see if i could capture how I see.  The portrait series began in April of 2011 and most of the portraits in the series were done from actual sittings which last between 2 and 3 hours.  I have completed close to 500 portraits, the majority of which are on 8x10 stretched canvass.  I work in Acrylic Paint as the density and texture of the paint has the right feel, and also because acrylic dries very quickly and travels well.  I have been living out of a backpack and doing portrait sittings across Canada and into the United States for the last four years.   I've been inspired by the work of Tom Thomson, Fredrick Varley, Vincent Van Gough, Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Gahan Wilson, and James Christensen.  The quick field sketches of AY Jackson and the Group of Seven are a particular inspiration to me, as I like to work quickly to capture a mood or feeling and to avoid being bogged down and restrained by the internal critic.

As a result of the damage I've had done to my remaining eye, everything I see has a halo of light around it - an aura.  I begin every portrait by taking time to observe the colour of the subject's aura, and use that colour as the base-tone of the portrait.  From there, I work at trying to capture the shadows, highlights, shapes, edges, and an overall feeling of the subject.  Over the course of a sitting the aura may change, at which point I will add in those colours and often shift the perspective of the portrait.  

When I finish a canvass I will invite my subject to put on my heavy prescription glasses and look through them at the completed portrait.  With one eye closed and at close range through heavy magnification, a kind of tunnel-vision is imposed, different areas are emphasized, and a 3-D effect occurs.  

With my glasses on, my subjects are forced to see themselves in a new way, and I hope that the literal aspect of that will translate to a figurative one as well. 


Betty Mitchell Award nomination: Outstanding new work, "What You Can't See" 1999

Just For Laughs, Frankie Award, Best Comedy, "The Canada Show" 2002

Critic's Pick, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Vancouver Fringe Theatre Festivals "The Canada Show", "The Big Rock Show", "Fringe Show", 'Freud V.S. Hid Ego"

Betty Mitchell Award, Outstanding Performance, "This is CANCER" 2007

Betty Mitchell Award, Outstanding Performance, "Evil Dead: The Musical" 2009

TWISI Award, Halifax, "This is CANCER" 2012

Critics Pick, Performance, Writing, Production, "Assassinating Thomson", 2013


Artist: Bruce Horak Filmed & Edited by: Natalie Watson

Watch a short feature which CTV Edmonton aired during the Edmonton Fringe Festival, 2014

Promo Trailer for Assassinating Thomson.