Shoultz aims to tell a story with every visual he creates, and “Neighbours” is no different.
“You walk down a street and you see lots of neighbourhoods and lots of stories behind the lights,” Shoultz said, adding that it’s difficult to create a story without animate objects. “In a way, the rabbits stand in for neighbours — they can be anybody, anywhere.”
Not only do the jackrabbits bounding through the foreground add a sense of playfulness to the painting, they also speak to the natural side of the city.
The cool darkness surrounding the homes in the painting is offset by the brilliant hues Shoultz used to create the northern lights and the lively winter sky.
“I find the night skies in Brandon to be quite colourful,” he said. “(And) you have the really comfortable smoke and steam rising out of people’s chimneys … that vision of Brandon at night, I’m going to try to capture it.”
“Neighbours Light Our Way” took approximately 10 hours to complete and is up for auction until 5 p.m. on Jan. 14. All proceeds go directly to Samaritan House Ministries.
Shoultz likes to refer to himself as “two-thirds Canadian.”
The Detroit-born artist was raised in Ann Arbor, Mich., and moved to Brandon to attend university in 1975 when he was 18 years old.
He has called the Wheat City home pretty much ever since.
“It’s just the right size … It’s simple and easy and the people are really friendly, and I’ve found a really good home here,” Shoultz said.
After graduating from BU with an education degree, Shoultz took a job as an art teacher in the Cree Nation of Chisasibi in northern Quebec.
While the position was an “amazing learning experience” for Shoultz, he realized he would rather be studying art than teaching it.
Shoultz and his wife moved to the East Coast, where he attended a year at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University, before moving back to Brandon to pursue a career in commercial graphic design.
“Along the way, I got hired by DC Comics to work mostly for them on comic books,” Shoultz said. “The very first page I got to do was Batman climbing through a porthole — Batman was my favourite, so that worked out nicely.”
Comic books played a huge part in his art education growing up, so the job was a bit of a dream come true.
Shoultz started drawing when he was five years old after he broke his leg and was immobile for an entire summer.
“I watched everybody else playing and I was sitting there in a cast, so I started drawing,” he said, adding that people and animals made up the bulk of his early subject matter.
In his teens, Shoultz turned to comic books for inspiration.
“We had art museums in the town I grew up in, but it was hard to get to those,” he said. “It was easy to get to a comic book store and see how 20 different people drew every week.”
Comic books were only 12 cents an issue then and Shoultz was able to attend a weekly master class on illustration, style, drama and narrative.
He spent nine years drawing for DC in his Brandon basement studio before giving teaching another shot.
He took a job at Crocus Plains Regional Secondary School and taught commercial art for several years and then moved into a position at Assiniboine Community College teaching design and visual communications.
“Art is a really interesting way to try and deal with the world and all of its complexities,” Shoultz said. “What I enjoy most about teaching is seeing the light go on in people’s eyes as they come to their own understanding.”
Shoultz was the dean of trades at ACC until last year and now works as the college’s senior academic adviser — a position that allows him more time to work on his own art and teach classes at the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba.
AGSM executive director Jennifer Woodbury met Shoultz 12 years ago when she first moved to Brandon.
“Curt was probably one of the first people I met because he was part of The Brandon Palette Club,” Woodbury said, adding that the group of Westman artists is one of the reasons the art gallery exists.
According to Woodbury, Shoultz is an artist who is able to straddle the often contentious line between community and contemporary art.
“He really believed that art was something you used to grow yourself as a person — as somebody who thinks and discovers new things in the world,” Woodbury said. “His work really demonstrates that.”
Woodbury describes Shoultz as an active member of the local arts community and a “booster for everything Brandon” — a quality she says can be quite infectious.
“All of the magic and enthusiasm that I feel about Brandon, I think I can credit from him,” Woodbury said.