There seems to a big void in my collected knowledge, which is not too large to begin with, when it comes to artists form our neighbor to the north, Canada. I’ve written about David Blackwood, the master printmaker whose work documents the world of the Canadian maritimes, on this blog a couple of times but beyond that, I come up short when thinking about Canadian painters. Based on what I know about other Canadian artists in other fields such as music, acting and writing, I figured there had to be a wealth of great painters waiting to reveal their work to me. I wasn’t disappointed.
This all came about because I had a comment the other day comparing my brushwork to a Canadian painter who I was not familiar with in the least, Tom Thomson. I am saving his story for another day because it is a big story with twists and mystery. But Thomson is considered one of the pillars of Canadian painting along with the artist whose work I am showing today, Lawren Harris.
While doing a search for Thomson, I stumbled across a mention of Harris and followed the link. The images of his work jumped out at me. Strong, simple images of the Canadian landscape with beautiful color and form with a sense of abstraction that I found irresistible. The Google Image page with Harris’ paintings just glows. How had I not heard of this guy or Thomson or any other Canadian painters?
Lawren Harris was born into a relatively wealthy life in 1885 in Brantford, Ontario, his family part of the Massey-Harris company that made farm and construction equipment. After attending college in Toronto, he headed to Berlin in the early years of the 20th century where he painted and started his involvement with Eastern philosophy and Theosophy, which he maintained throughout the remainder of his life. He was one of the founders of the Group of Seven which is a group of Canadian painters of formidable talent from around 1920 until the mid 1930’s , a group which deserves much more attention than I can give at the moment. In the 40’s, Harris headed out to Vancouver where his work became more and more abstract. He died in 1970. Buried on the grounds of the McMichael Art Gallery in Ontario, his work has sold for impressive sums in the years since. In 2010, the painting at the top of this post, Bylot Island, sold for 2.8 million dollars.
I really identify with a lot of the things I have read in my brief research into Harris, how he felt that art was “a realm of life between our mundane world and the world of the spirit.” I like the continuing simplification of his work and his expression of spiritual emotion through his explorations of color and form as he saw them in the starkness of the Canadian landscape. It’s hard to believe he has escaped my notice, and probably most of America’s as well, for so long. Just beautiful work…