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Posts Tagged ‘Canada’

Do not try to do extraordinary things but do ordinary things with intensity.

–Emily Carr
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Emily Carr was one of the first artists that came to mind when I saw the question last week that asked if you name five female artists. She is most likely off many of your radars but I am sure some of my friends to the north in Canada recognize her name very well.
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Carr was born in 1871 and died in 1945 in Victoria in British Columbia. Aspiring to be an artist, she was trained in the tradition of classical painting methods early in her life. But the first decade of the 20th century saw her work take a radical turn. After a period of time in Paris, influenced there by the Fauvist and Post-Impressionist with which she met and painted, her work took on bolder colors and more expressive brushwork.
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She took this new found energy back to Canada where she opened a gallery in Vancouver in 1912. The gallery faltered as she failed to see the response that she had hoped for. Dejected, she basically put down her brushes for the next 15 years, doing little painting.
However, some influential people were aware of her work, especially paintings she had executed with the native tribes of Canada as her subjects, and in 1927 she was invited to show a group of work in an exhibit about the tribes of the West Coast at Canada’s National Gallery in Toronto. It was here that she met Lawren Harris and  other painters who made up the fabled Group of Seven, which were several great Canadian painters of the time who had distinct modernist styles. I have featured the brilliant work of Lawren Harris here several times.
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Encouraged by Harris, who proclaimed her as one of that group, Carr was rejuvenated and for the remainder of her life worked with great vigor, trying to capture the spiritual essence of her native homeland. Like Maudie Lewis, Carr is a Canadian national treasure.
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I am enchanted by much of her work and the spirit that is imbued within it. This has been a very cursory look at her life with just the highlights and a few images and a video. Please do some research on your own. It’s well worth the time.


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Took a break from the outside world yesterday and finally got to see the film Maudie which is about the late Canadian folk artist and national treasure, Maud Lewis.  Sally Hawkins lovingly portrays the artist and Ethan Hawke  serves as her rough and surly husband. It is an absolutely charming and moving film, one that I would recommend to anyone who is interested in the creative drive.

Or in the human spirit.

It captures that compulsive drive that so many self taught artists, particularly folk artists, possess. It is an inherent need and desire to have a means of expression using whatever is at their disposal. Looking around my studio now, I feel spoiled beyond belief by the materials I have on hand. Or by the fact that I am relatively healthy and can hold a brush easily in my hands. Thinking about Maud makes me feel a little guilty for not using all my advantages and painting even more.

It is, simply put, a lovely film. In these dark days filled with stupidity and hatred, it is a breath of fresh air — cool Nova Scotian air!— to focus on that image of a arthritis-wracked little woman sitting in front of her humble window in her tiny remote cabin, happily painting the world as she saw it and as she wanted it to be.

Here’s a little video that gives a brief history of Maud Lewis.

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Lawren Harris- Isolation Peak -1931

Lawren Harris- Isolation Peak -1931

I received a copy of the new catalog for the Lawren Harris show that is currently showing at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles before moving to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in the spring of 2016.  The show, curated by comedian/actor/ avid art collector Steve Martin , is the first major show in the US for the Canadian artist, who passed away in 1970 at the age of 85.  It’s a fabulous looking show if the catalog serves as any kind of indicator.

I’ve written a couple of times about his paintings and my consternation that they were somehow not known to us south of the Canadian border.  In his intro Martin writes very much the same thing.  We have embraced so many Canadians as our own in many other fields– Neil Young, Joni Mitchell,  Jim Carrey,  and so many others that it would difficult to list them all– yet for some reason we have either not embraced Canadian painters or Canada has not been willing to share them with us.

I guess I could understand the latter.  After giving us so many musicians, comedians and actors without so much as a thank you note from their neighbors to the south, they might want to keep something that they can call their very own.  Something that speaks of its Canadian identity, its roots and sensibility.

But that may be coming to an end.  You see, great painting, regardless of its origin and subject, transcends boundaries and speaks in a universal tongue.  And the Canadian painters I show here do that.  We may have been shielded from them for a hundred years or so but once they trickle through it will soon be a torrent.  And I’m only talking about a group of painters from the early 20th century.  Who knows what treasures are waiting to be discovered in that land to our north?

Maybe we will see them if we just show them a small bit of appreciation.  Let me be the first to say “Thank You” for sharing your richness with us.

Arthur Lismer-Bright Land -1938

Arthur Lismer-Bright Land -1938

Arthur_Lismer-Olympic with Returned Soldiers

Arthur_Lismer-Olympic with Returned Soldiers

Franklin Carmichael - Autumn in Orillia-1924

Franklin Carmichael – Autumn in Orillia-1924

Franklin Carmichael -Jackknife Village-1926

Franklin Carmichael -Jackknife Village-1926

Franklin Carmichael-Mirror-Lake-1929

Franklin Carmichael-Mirror-Lake-1929

Frederick Varley - Night Ferry Vancouver -1937

Frederick Varley – Night Ferry Vancouver -1937

Tom Thomson- The Jack Pine -1917

Tom Thomson- The Jack Pine -1917

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William McElcheran- Che Fa?I used a quote yesterday from William McElcheran, describing him simply as a sculptor.  I thought I should at least give him the benefit of showing some of his work here.  You might recognize his work even though his name might draw a blank.  He described himself as “Canada’s least-known well-known artist” because few people know the artist behind his public sculptures that dot Toronto and many other Canadian cities.  He is best known for The Businessman, a rotund  and haplessly human character that is satirical but not bitingly so.

McElcheran, who lived from 1927 until 1999, had an impressive work ethic  from early on that allowed him to pursue all manners of creative endeavors.  He was a talented draughtsman, painter and sculptor in many different materials as well as a highly accomplished  architect with over 20 churches and public buildings to his credit.  But it was his Businessman that carries his legacy forward.

William McElcheranBeside the obvious humor in his depiction of the Businessman character, I think that they work so well as sculpture because of the lightness and grace of the figures themselves.  There is a wonderful sense of balance in the figures that takes away any sense of heaviness which I think also takes away some of the ironical bite which makes them all the more palatable, especially for daily viewing in public spaces.

So, there is a little something to put with name behind that quote.

William McElcheran- The Pursuer

William McElcheran- The Conversation William McElcheran The Encounter William McElcheran Businessman on a HorseWilliam McElcheran- The Crowd

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Lawren Harris Bylot IslandThere 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.

Lawren Harris Mt Lefroy - 1930This 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?

LawrenHarris-North-Shore-Lake-Superior-1926Lawren 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.

LawrenHarris-Mount-Thule-Bylot-Island-1930I 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…Lawren-Harris-Isolation-Peak-1930lawren_harris_greenland_mountains_c1930-450x379

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