Photography by Daniel Vaughan
Gerald and Pamela McLaughlin’s Orland Mill Gallery
Some people never have to reinvent themselves because they fall upon their passion at a very young age. Such is the case with the gifted artist Gerald McLaughlin.
“When I was four, I discovered I could write on a bedroom wall with a crayon. I did a mural encompassing my room. My parents were not impressed. My Mom scrubbed it all off and I never did a wall painting until I got older,” laughed Gerald. “I have been an artist my whole life. My father had the foresight to enroll me in some art courses when I was nine, and I was the youngest in the class. I put a lot of classical drawing techniques in my head while learning, without much formal training.”
In high school in his home town of Oshawa, he maxed out his credits in art. Upon graduating, he backpacked through Europe for nine months, visiting museums in such art meccas as Rome, Florence, Amsterdam, and Paris. “Seeing all this classical art I had only seen in text books was an eye-opener.”
During a class tour he had a life-affirming experience. “I saw an amazing painting done in airbrush. I kept wanting to go back to the painting, and then I read an article on a fellow from Windsor who painted all these crazy vans. One of his hood murals hung in the Louvre. I was instantly impressed with the technique of airbrushing because of the vibrancy of colours you can use compared to the palettes of conventional oils or watercolour or acrylic. You use a suspension of dyes we call candy colours in clear resins. In airbrushing, you don’t physically touch the canvas with a brush. For that reason, some art purists don’t consider it a true form.”
One look at his paintings and many would immediately beg to differ.
At 19, he enrolled in Graphic Arts at Durham College in Oshawa. At the same time, he was introduced to a fellow named Custom Ed and started to work in his shop airbrushing. “After school hours, I worked at Ed’s. At Durham, it would be like going to kindergarten because I was already in the real world doing cool stuff. I didn’t finish the year but stayed long enough to learn some missing pieces of the puzzle.”
A bit nomadic, Gerald became the sound man for the popular Oshawa rock band Sphinx. He toured Canada with them for six years, while upping his game in the art biz. “I took an airbrush kit on tour and painted things on the side like bike tanks, t-shirts, and drum skins. I soon got notoriety. I left in 1985 to start VooDoo Airbrushing.”
At 24 years old, Gerald exhibited a solid work ethic. “If something is not important now, don’t waste time drilling down on it. You have to concentrate on what is very important first.”
In one year, his fledgling company sold more than 4,000 painted goalie masks. It was not long before he became renowned for the Canada (elephant) mask – a giant painted goalie mask. “A lot of people laughed when I told them what I wanted to do, but I ended up selling more than 300, mostly to Canadian Tire. I got bored of the small ones and thought of the big one. Artists will paint on anything,” he chuckled.
In 1987, he met his soulmate Pam, also from Oshawa.
“In the beginning, part of what intrigued me about him was he thought outside the box,” smiled Pam. “It took him into a different realm than oil painting. He pushed the envelope. When someone tells Gerald he can’t do something, he pursues it even further. I kept him at arms-length for two years. When I was in grade eight, I had a dream about meeting an artist when I got older. Maybe that’s what scared me when I first met him. Then one day, after our first official date, he came to my apartment, all decorated with pictures of exotic cats. Gerald, being Mr. Debonair. said he would paint me one.”
She pointed to the massive art piece and said, laughing, “Look at the date on the painting: 1996. I was a very patient girl. We have now been married for 29 years. Gerald likes to interrupt and say 58 years, doubling it because we have worked together every day, ever since.”
After the couple moved to Ajax, Gerald asked Pam to work with him in VooDoo Airbrushing.
“I was always creative, with an eye for design. He showed me how to do hand drawings and cut-outs for signs. Over time, I got into fibreglass, sculpting folksy whimsical stuff for him to paint. Together, we have that sense between us to know when things are right and wrong. Gerald has great intensity. He is the balloon and I am the string that keeps him grounded so he doesn’t float off. His mind never stops. He can’t stop. But he has a very good sense of business.”
In October 2017, the McLaughlins moved from Pickering to Brighton. “For a long time, we had been looking for one location as a home and a studio,” said Pam. “We found it by accident in July 2017. Gerald prepared an itinerary of 18 properties to look at from Prince Edward County to Warkworth. Many had outside structures like barns with only single-phase power, but we needed three-phase power for VooDoo Airbrushing. The realtor told us there was an old idled mill in Orland. Property 19 was the charm.”
Gerald remembered that famous artist Ken Danby had bought a mill, near Guelph, and converted it, so he was sold from just an external viewing. After two more visits and due diligence in the details, they bought their dream property.
Gerald said, “We were told by Lower Trent Conservation the structure sat on environmentally protected wetland. It might have been a deal killer for most buyers; we thought it was awesome.”
Part of the building is a magnificent, eclectic gallery Pam brightly named OMG! (Orland Mill Gallery.) It features the original wood floor and exposed timber support beams.
Another related company the couple incorporated years ago is Smoke & Mirrors Publishing.
Pam said, “The company was formed to market Gerald’s limited-edition prints. We had a mobile art exhibit we took across Canada to big consumer shows with up to 75,000 visitors, but our dream was always to have a bricks and mortar gallery.”
“Gerald as a photo surrealism artist. He can make inanimate objects look real. It doesn’t matter the subject matter, he paints it beyond well,” shared Pam.
After-hours from VooDoo the couple work on Smoke & Mirrors, building Gerald’s career. Approximately 30 per cent of OMG! displays are Gerald’s masterpieces. In the last few months, they have featured local artists from Brighton to Marmora to Cobourg. OMG! also offers full custom framing for any type of artwork.
“We have met wonderful people here in Phase 1,” said Pam. “Our goal – Phase 2 – is to convert the upper floor into a licensed café with local craft beers and wine, a place to go. Phase 3 is an event space with a stage for live entertainment, maybe even catered private events.”
“With 8,000 square feet of floor space, we could become the biggest art gallery in the area,” Gerald predicted. “My philosophy is, never give up. If you believe in something and it comes from the heart, you just do it, and people will rally around you. Surround yourself in excellence and beautiful things will happen. Our focus here is to make OMG! a hub, uniting local artists, promoting art in general. People need to support local artists because that’s how they make their living, plus art can inspire them and beautify their living space.”
“We did a lot of research on Northumberland, and liked the support for the art community,” said Pam. “We are close to everything, in the middle of like-minded artists of all kinds including musicians and writers. At OMG! everyone can feed off each other and create amazing energy instead of going off into their corners. These hills hide and cradle artists of all kinds. At OMG! we have created a place people will want to embrace, bringing our vision to life.”
The journey to Orland took many turns.
In 1997, the couple was flown to Bahrain, an island kingdom in the Persian Gulf. For three weeks, under the auspices of the sheikh, they set up a custom paint program for his boat manufacturing facility. “It was a trip of a lifetime. We painted seven boats,” said Gerald. “The last was for the Crown Prince who is now King. I told him if you ever want an ambassador from Canada, make me it. He never took me up on it, and I’ll have to remind him.”
Back home, some of VooDoo’s creations are featured at the prestigious Tom Thomson Art Gallery in Owen Sound under a special exhibit entitled, Saving Face: Art in Front of the Hockey Net, from December 7, 2020 to March 30, 2019, honouring the art of the goalie mask. Gerald, with the help of his fellow artist Steve Houston, completed an elephant mask for the exhibit, complete with an airbrushed portrait of Tom Thomson.
Heather McLeese, the Curator of Contemporary Art at the Thomson Gallery, has nothing but praise for Gerald’s contribution. “As the namesake gallery of Canada’s most iconic artist, we house the fourth largest collection of Thomson’s work. The exhibition illustrates a modern form of artistic story, bridging the gap between sports and art. It celebrates the airbrushing of the goalie mask as a work of art.”
“This exhibition started with former NHL goalie Curtis Sanford giving us 10 of his masks, and Gerald enhanced the show with another 15 masks. With the large-scale piece, the show is incredible. Part of what makes me excited is we sent out a form to schools for a template for kids to design their own goalie masks and have received back just under 1,000 submissions. All these unique pieces have filled the gallery space.
“The show brings a completely different audience into our gallery; a hockey crowd I don’t think we would ever get here. It’s our most successful show from a visitors’ standpoint and it feels like our summer traffic with a constant pace of new visitors, it is a remarkable show.
Gerald’s giant mask is re-engaging everybody, and there is a big hype in the community and we’re quite excited. Gerald has been great to work with, and after the show is over, we will relocate the mask to our local arena where it will be a public art piece for years to come. The mask will definitely have longevity in our community. I think it will become a landmark.”
From Gerald’s perspective, it is a huge milestone in his artistic career. “I think, to achieve true success as a visual artist, the creation of an iconic – or timeless – image solidifies this success. Whether this happens accidentally, was premeditated, or chosen by the general public for whatever reason. Think of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, or William Blake’s The Ancient of Days, or Katsushika Hokusai’s The Great Wave Off Kanagawa. More contemporarily Canadian, Tom Thomson’s The West Wind, or The Jack Pine, have definitely reached this successful level of timelessness.”
“I am very honoured to have my work associated with the art gallery that bears his name, and I only hope over the course of my artistic career, one of my creations may be deemed worthy of this type of success Tom Thomson and other great artists have achieved.”
To view more of Gerald’s art or for gallery hours, visit www.voodooair.com.
For a short history of Orland and its iconic mill, please continue to Dan Buchanan’s companion piece at www.countyandquinteliving.com/