Bob O’Connell doesn’t know how he got the nickname ‘Superbob.’
“People still call me that,” he said sipping a coffee, speaking with a gravel in his voice.
O’Connell is 71 and painted a Phantom Lake scene which was put up near Pioneer Square as part of the Main ARTery showcase banners. That’s not bad for someone who didn’t pick up painting until much later in life.
“Just mostly pencil drawings,” O’Connell said of his earlier artistic work. “I did a few charcoal things, but I found it hard to work with. Then I found painting. I find painting shows off more. A painting can show much more than just a pencil drawing.”
O’Connell’s artistic talents were recognized at a young age by his mother.
“Even before I hit school, I was drawing,” he said. “When I got into Grade 1, I was the best artist in the whole class.”
Like most people, O’Connell’s mother was a big influence in his life.
“I was the dumbest kid in class,” he said, recounting a story from elementary school.
“She figured it out. She sent me to the optometrist, I got glasses and then I was the smartest kid in class after that. My mother pushed me.”
After finishing grade school, O’Connell began a nomadic lifestyle, jumping from job to job, drawing when he could. He worked as a railroad flagman in B.C. and worked in the oil patch, on a farm, as a janitor and, at one point, even ran beer in northern Alberta.
Each job helped shape him, but some were more artistically stimulating than others.
“I did a lot of drawing on the farm,” he said.
“All those animals are so complacent, and there were some nice old buildings,” he said, contrasting picturesque farmland to the badlands of the oil patch.
“Ever see pictures of Mars?” he asks.
“That’s exactly what it looks like.”
There might not be a better artist to respect Flin Flon’s natural history. After living across the western provinces, O’Connell walked into a Prince Albert employment centre looking for a new job in 1981. He found his job at Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting (HBM&S), and moved up to Flin Flon.
“I didn’t want the job because I was collecting pogey,” he said laughing. “But thank God I got it. Twenty-nine years here, now I’ve got a pension.”
The trip to Flin Flon was a turning point in O’Connell’s life, not only in gaining a steady job, but also finding inspiration in the nature of the Canadian Shield.
“Especially in all the rocks,” he said. “It’s kind of a piss off, trying to go up some of these hills in the winter time.”
It was the community spirit that Flin Flon and the North is so known for that convinced O’Connell to stay in Flin Flon for almost 30 years after a life of switching jobs.
“The people treated me so nice here,” he said.
“When I walked into this town I did not know one body. And now they’re all my friends.”
When you walk down Main Street, near the provincial government building, look up and glimpse the work of a bonafide artistic superhero.