All About ‘Strange New Worlds’ Star Bruce Horak’s Other Career: He’ll Paint a Portrait of YOU

Bruce Horak

Trish Lindstom Bruce Horak

Bruce Horak is fast becoming a fan favorite as Hemmer on “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.” The U.S.S. Enterprise’s Aenar engineer has started to bond with the ship’s crew, particularly Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding), and seems to be just a bit less cantankerous with each passing scene. And after everyone aboard has learned that Hemmer is blind, it’s a non-factor in him doing his job.

Horak himself is legally blind after childhood cancer left him with only 9% vision, according to a 2019 interview with the Calgary Journal. That doesn’t stop Horak from acting and it doesn’t prevent him from pursuing his other great professional interest: painting.

Horak has incorporated painting into an ongoing one-man show that he performs throughout Canada, where he lives. The show, “Assassinating Thomson,” is staged in theaters and art galleries, with Horak painting a portrait of the entire audience while sharing both his personal experiences and the saga of Canadian painter Tom Thomson’s unsolved murder.

Horak has also spent years painting portraits of people as part of his “The Way I See It” series. In a May 2022 interview with Heavy, he said he’s painted more than 600 of his intended 1,000 portraits in the series since 2011. He’s created portraits via in-person sittings and, pivoting in the face of the pandemic, through Zoom sessions. Anyone can make an appointment for a portrait session through his website.


Horak’s Paintings Interpret the Subject’s ‘Aura’

Bruce Horak as Hemmer

ViacomCBSBruce Horak co-stars as Hemmer on “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.”

Heavy on Star Trek recently spoke by telephone with Horak specifically about “The Way I See It” and “Assassinating Thomson.” Here’s what he had to say:

How do you reply to someone who asks, “What do you do for a living?”

I tend to say that I’m a performer/creator, and that captures pretty much all of the things that I like to do. That’s the elevator pitch, I guess, for me as the performer/creator. Beyond that, I create my own theatrical shows. I write, produce and perform in them. I’m also a visual artist. In the last 10 years, I have picked up the paintbrush and attempted to capture the way that I see things in acrylic paint, and that has led to the portrait series. It’s also led to painting landscapes, still life and things like that. I’m also a composer and musician. So, all the above. It seems that performer/creator is the easiest blanket statement, if you will.

What do you get from painting that you don’t get from, say, composing or acting?

Well, painting is a solitary practice. Composing music tends to be more of a group thing for me, especially when I’m working with other musicians and singers in theatrical productions. Performing is a collaborative work and painting is solitary. It’s mine. The thing that I enjoy about painting is that I get to explore how I see the world, how my vision works, and oftentimes when I’m writing shows, or performing music, it’s attempting to interpret the rest of the world or be a conduit for the rest of the world. Painting, it’s coming strictly from me. It’s my own internal impression of the world.

You’re aiming to do 1,000 portraits. What number are you on? Why 1,000? And what happens when you hit that magic figure?

I’ve done 634. I’m almost 365 away from the 1,000 portraits. I decided when I first started back on April 1, 2011, when I painted portrait number one, to do 1,000. I read somewhere that about 10,000 hours of practice will make you a master of something. I thought if I did 1,000 portraits, that would be roughly 10,000 hours of practice. Although, initially, I misheard it and only heard 1,000 hours. So, I thought I could get that done in a year. As I was working on it, somebody said, “No, actually, it’s supposed to be 10,000 hours. It’s an arbitrary number.” Anyway, I had set myself this initial goal of 1,000 portraits. Part of that was just to give myself an objective, give myself a goal to work towards. I don’t know that I’ll ever truly achieve mastery, but maybe someday.

What happens when I reach it? I guess I’ll just keep going. I’m curious to see what the 1,000th portrait will look like. Every 100 portraits, I do a self-portrait, and that’s been interesting, to watch the evolution of the work. I certainly saw that a lot in the first 300 or 400 paintings. These were really changing and the style is different. It looked like a whole other artist worked on this, but as I put them all together, I see now that’s just the evolution of my expression. I’d like to eventually be sitting with huge names and painting the portrait of David Suzuki, people like that. I’m hoping I have a huge showing to put 1,000 portraits on one wall. That’d be extraordinary. Beyond 1,000? Couldn’t say.

Oh, so you might actually stop after 1,000?

Honestly, I doubt it. I love being able to not only sit in the studio and paint, but what has evolved since I started. I’ve always enjoyed sitting with someone, chatting, getting to know them, and interpreting how I see them — their aura — and trying to capture things like the floaters in the iridescence that I see in the world. Also, I try to capture the conversation that happens in the portrait setting. When the pandemic hit, I moved the practice online. Now, people are sitting at home, in front of their Zoom cameras, and they’re comfortable. We’ve all become much more at ease, sitting in front of our Zoom screens and chatting. Doing portrait sittings over Zoom, I get to sit with anybody, anywhere. I’ve sat with people in Hungary, New Zealand, which I wasn’t able to do when a studio was set up in Toronto or I had one in Calgary for a while. It was only accessible if you came in and sat for me. Now, with this incredible technology … not to get into the whole “Star Trek” thing, but it makes the world more accessible. It’s extraordinary, the fact that the practice has moved to the computer and moved online. It’s actually opening things up even more. I just love it, so … beyond 1,000, the sky’s the limit.

Tell us about “Assassinating Thomson,” which blends performance and painting.

I paint a portrait of the entire audience while I tell the story of how I became a visually impaired visual artist and the story of Tom Thomson, who was a famous Canadian landscape painter who died mysteriously. There are all sorts of theories about who did it. I purport to solve the mystery in 65 minutes. That show, I’ve been touring for almost 10 years now and it continues to go. I have had incredible people come to see it. The mayor of Calgary came, and he’s in one of the portraits. Notable Canadian celebrities have sat for me.

 

Has anyone from “Strange New Worlds” sat for you yet?

I have not, at this point, sat with anyone from “Strange New Worlds” to do their portraits. I want to, definitely. Getting the opportunity to sit and have that experience with anyone in the “Star Trek” universe would be extraordinary. I’ve done some digital sketches of various “Star Trek” characters, which are up on my Instagram. I’ve done Anson Mount, Ethan Peck and a few of the others, but actually sitting, not yet.


Fans Draw Hemmer: ‘It Feels Like a Whole Other Level to the Portraiture’

You’ve talked about the portrait painting a bit in a few previous interviews. How much has your heightened profile from “Strange New Worlds” carried over to people signing up for portraits?

I did a couple of portraits in the last couple of weeks that were set up because people had found me through “Star Trek,” which is great because, in the portrait sitting, we have a commonality to discuss right off the top. “How did you find ‘Star Trek?'” “Who’s your favorite engineer?” That just opens it right up. The other side, of course, with Instagram is that I’m starting to see fan art come up now, and people doing their drawings of Hemmer. That is amazing. It feels like a whole other level to the portraiture.

Last question. You mentioned hoping to do a gallery show with all 1,000 portraits once you’ve completed the “The Way I See It” series. If you’re sending prints and canvases to people upon finishing them, how can you display them in a showing?

I document all the portraits, so I’d be able to do prints of some of them. They’re all over the world now in private collections. I’ve got a box or two or three or six in my closet that I could put up, but I’d say the majority of the actual canvases are lovingly gracing the homes of the subjects. If I do a complete gallery installation, I’d probably reach out to people to see if I could borrow the canvases for a showing, but if not, certainly I’ve got reproductions that I can use. It’s exciting to think about, and it’s getting closer.

Horak charges $450 Canadian for a portrait, but also offers a pay-what-you-can option. Visit his site, www.brucehorak.com, to learn more about his portraits, upcoming performances of “Assassinating Thomson” and, soon, convention appearances.

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