1928 - 2004
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Toni Onley was a British Columbian artist widely known for his distinctive landscapes in watercolour and oils. He was born in Douglas, on the Isle of Man, England in 1928 and studied art at the Douglas School of Fine Arts from 1942 to 1946. Initially, he painted traditional landscapes in the styule of British painters John Cotman and Peter DeWint.
He immigrated to Canada in 1948, settling in Brantford, Ontario and won an award at the Western Ontario Annual show of young artists in 1955. He exhibited with the Royal Canadian Academy and The Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour. His work began to attract the attention of art critics.
After the death of his wife, Onley moved his family to the BC interior. In 1957 he won a scholarship offered by the Instituto Allende in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. His three years of study in mural and fresco painting there proved a turning point in his art. He was influenced by his American (Yugoslavian born) teacher, James Pinto whose abstract impressionistic paintings set Onley on a new direction of non-objective work.
During this period Onley held several exhibitions in BC and began working with collage. A prize awarded by the Royal Canadian Academy for a work from his Polar series of collage paintings enabled him to undertake further studies in England.
Onley made his first trip to the Arctic in 1974. He published several works about his travels, his art and his life including Onley’s Arctic Diaries and Paintings of the High Arctic, Toni Onley’s British Columbia, A Tribute and an autobiography, Flying Colours: The Toni Onley Story.
Onley’s other love, flying, enabled him to travel to various centres to teach. He loved to fly into remote backcountry areas to paint and drew many of his pencil sketches from the air. He tragically died in 2004 when his float plane plunged into the Fraser River 48 km (30 mi) east of Vancouver while he was practicing takeoffs and landings.