Dave Benning credits Gene Simmons for opening the doors to his artistic career.
The KISS frontman helped to get Benning and his portraits noticed when celebrities came to Vancouver to perform at the River Rock Casino Resort.
Over the years, his acrylic paintings were signed by many stars at the Richmond theatre: Robin Williams, Russell Brand and Alice Cooper, to name a few.
In 2012, Simmons even invited Benning to Los Angeles to paint rock star portraits on the walls of his new restaurant, called Rock and Brews.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, the bartender at the Vancouver International Airport decided he’d had enough of serving drinks after 25 years and, while laid off, he picked up the paintbrush full-time.
That’s when Port Moody resident Brendan Raftery stepped into the picture.
The lead singer of BC/DC, a commercial printing technician, a typewriter enthusiast and a friend, Raftery suggested the pair combine their crafts.
Using Raftery’s old school typewriters, Benning took off the shells of his dusty Olympias, Smith-Coronas and Olivettis to use as a canvas for themed imagery.
He painted scenes from the movies Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Godfather and The Adam Project and T.V. programs such as Star Trek and Stranger Things.
He created a tribute to Tom Hanks — another typewriter aficionado — with his film characters like Forrest Gump, Castaway, Toy Story and Saving Private Ryan.
Still, about a year ago, Port Coquitlam resident Derrick Hill called Benning and Raftery to pitch a project: Why not paint Terry Fox on his Marathon of Hope?
With a bit of digging, Hill came up with the perfect typewriter — a medium-sized Smith-Corona series Five Silent Super model that was made in Canada and rebranded for the Eaton’s department store in 1958, the year that Fox was born.
The machine had been on a floor of a collector’s car in a Vancouver back alley.
Although the typewriter had never been used, Raftery got to work dusting off 60 years by disassembling it, cleaning it, adding new ribbon and priming it.
The make, Raftery told the Tri-City News, "is in my top three for favourite machines."
"I just love working on those ones, and this one stood out because it was almost brand new. Rarely do I come across an older machine that’s immaculate," he added.
"I gave it a deep clean, but it barely needed anything for fixing."
Benning, meanwhile, scoured for suitable images of Fox and painted them, as well as quotes from his Marathon of Hope in 1980, on the shell. During the process, he was reminded how Fox also used a typewriter to seek sponsorships.
In all, the tribute typewriter took about two months to complete, Benning said.
Recently, they presented the finished project to the Fox family, a gift that is now part of the Fox Family Historical Collection; the pair also showed it to Bill Vigars, the Canadian Cancer Society's representative on the Marathon of Hope.
"It was a real, real honour and it’s something I’m super proud of," Benning said.
As far as he knows, Benning and Raftery are the only ones turning typewriters into works of art (their next project is a John Candy-themed machine).
And they’re gaining plenty of rave reviews for their creations. At the Fan Expo at the Vancouver Convention Centre in February, the duo displayed a “restored” Olympia typewriter with a Twitter theme; their motif of rust and decay was a commentary on society’s prolific use of social media, especially since 2020.
Participants were invited to type a 140-character message on the vintage piece.
"A lot of the kids had never seen a typewriter before," Benning said.
"It was kind of cool to get their reaction and see how they operated something so retro."
Benning said he likes polishing up heirlooms, and harkening to a simpler time for communication "when you didn’t need power and Wi-Fi to run your devices."
On April 30, the pair will be at Brave Brewing (2617 Murray St.) to show off their customized typewriters, including the Terry Fox machine.
Visitors can write a letter to their moms, and pop their notes in a stamped envelope for Mother’s Day. Donations are accepted for the Terry Fox Foundation.
To learn more about Dave Benning’s artwork, you can visit his website.