Chris Rantala battles the wall of wind and snow kicked up between the buildings along Cumberland in the North Core. With a bit of difficulty he manages to get the heavy signboard he’s just completed safely off the back of his truck. He carries the signboard into Espresso Joya, a new espresso bar and gallery. With its arrival, Thomas White, the owner, beams with delight, thrilled with its look and weight. “It certainly won’t get blown over by the wind,” he states.
Chris Rantala is a full time Thunder Bay artist, who has found a supportive community willing to commission him for a wide variety of projects, many you have seen as murals. He’s done about five large murals and twenty smaller pieces that can be found in town and in Kakabeka. He’s also taken commissions for signage, elaborate goalie helmets, funky motorcycle tanks, paintings of children, people in canoes, general portraits both human and animal, trains, classic cars, fighter planes and even an image of a wood chipper with delivery trucks.
Chris laughs with an understanding of the sentiment involved in the wood chipping commission, “Some of it’s not art, but it pays the bills.” However, he doesn’t put down the commission work at all. His love of the antique and Thunder Bay’s past has melded well with the desire of the people who commission him. He does his research, visiting the Thunder Bay Museum and the Archives, looking at old photos and old film reels.
“Creating a scene is a bit like being an archeologist,” Chris says. “I find it really interesting; digging up old imagery and discovering stuff you’ve never heard of before. I never knew there were racing tracks in Thunder Bay back in the 1930s.”
Despite his enthusiasm for making a living as an artist and his success with multiple commissions, he’s excited about his prospects as a future graphic novelist, sketching out characters and ideas for what will be his break into more personal work. A big project like a graphic novel will stretch his imagination and talents, as he has to battle with an intricate story line and create many hundreds of images. His elaborate and detailed sketches indicate his love of a future past where technologies, fashion and design elements are jumbled into something similar to that of the steam-punk mix.
He spent his childhood in Kakabeka and lives in the house his father built. His artistic influence came mostly from his father and a talented aunt and uncle duo. He adds modestly, “There’s the cliché that I was born with a pencil in my hand. I was drawing as early as I can remember. I was drawing pictures of cars and houses on the back of my dad’s envelopes when I was three years old.”
“I was always aware that I was going to be an artist. I remember when in kindergarten we were put in smocks with easels set up. I painted a steam engine with a caboose. The painting was shown to the principal and my parents. They were all impressed that I was doing more than stick figures. From that day forward that’s what I knew I wanted to be; an artist.”
He went to Sheridan College, in Oakville, studying classical animation, character design and layout. Figure drawing is enforced at Sheridan and this had a huge influence on Chris. As important to him was the study of scene setting where characters had to be dropped into an historically accurate scene, complete with a suggested storyline and perspective.
In his third year at Sheridan, Chris’s father passed away. Chris greatly admired his father for living a self-employed lifestyle; building houses and replicating Victorian furniture from old Sears catalogues. Chris’s father had encouraged him to follow his passion.
More recently Chris completed a snow sculpture of Little Red Riding Hood for Winterfest, with help from his girlfriend, Becky Davis. Chris has created a few sculptures of his own, hoping to do more with his own spin, creating personal works involving humour and surprise elements, mixing the familiar with the new. Meanwhile he’s got his plate full of upcoming commission projects. And he’s continuing to sell his work at craft and art shows. Chris Rantala can be reached at email@example.com.