Defying convention: Women Artists in Canada, 1900-1960

Florence Wyle

Florence Wyle – Co-founder of the Sculptor’s Society of Canada in 1928

Can you name a handful of women artists? Seems like an easy question but when I asked some of my friends and colleagues, most of them were not able to – and neither was I.  It is a task many have failed at before.

Emily Carr

Emily Carr

It is startling how little is known about women in the arts and their achievements.  “Defying Convention” at the Winnipeg Art Gallery now features the work of more than 30 women artists from across Canada who shattered social and cultural barriers in the decade from 1900 to 19060.

“It explores the obstacles, influences, and achievements that shaped their artistic identities” explain curators Paula Kelly and Stephen Borys. “These artists not only challenged 19th-century ideals of domestic womanhood, they joined the Modernist movement that resisted academic tradition and embraced innovation of every kind.”

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Lucille Casey MacArthur

The exhibition spans six decades during which profound social and cultural shifts were prompted by growing demands for gender equality on many fronts. In their own time, these women received widespread acclaim, exhibited their works in North America and Europe, and influenced the landscape of Modernist art in Canada. Yet today, most are not well recognized by the public at large. “Defying Convention” addresses this deficit in the historical perception of women’s value as artists.

Emily Coonan

The Fairy Tale by Emily Coonan, c. 1911

I loved this work of art by Emily Coonan whose beautifully textured oil painting shows the impact of European Post-Impressionism which the painter explored in studies at the Art Association of Montreal. Coonan later joined the influential Beaver Hall Group from Montreal that helped galvanize the Canadian Modernist movement and was remarkable for its inclusive membership of women artists.

“The women in Defying Convention seized the Modernist potential for intuitively expressing contemporary life around them, the people who inhabited their worlds, and their desire for self-expression”, says co-curator Paula Kelly.

“By asserting their identities as artists, they also resisted the social prescription that a woman’s sphere was primarily the home. Instead, they occupied multiple roles as artists and activists, mothers and mentors, wives and lovers, teachers and community builders.” They worked as instructors, illustrators, and entrepreneurs to further their goals. Some had supportive families, spouses and partners, while others remained single to maintain a self-determined lifestyle, e.g. Emily Carr.

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The work of these artists represents the lives and experiences of women from across Canada: from Nunavut to the Prairies, from British Columbia to Eastern Canada. Their stories are as rich and diverse as the styles they explored. The art they made reveals the insistent nature of their personal visions.”

Farmer's daughter

Farmer’s daughter by E. Prudence Heward, 1938

I could not stop looking at this painting by Prudence Heward. Several of her figurative paintings depict young women in landscape settings, including  this oil painting called “Farmer’s Daughter”, painted toward the end of the Depression. The uncertain and defiant gaze of the young woman epitomises an era exhausted by the struggle for survival.

The current exhibition runs until September 3 and is drawn entirely from the WAG‘s permanent collection.

With a focus on Canadian women artists working within the same period, Defying Convention invites dialogue about the significant gender imbalance apparent in the European shows.

 

Interesting further reading about amazing international women artists:

Article ‘List 5 women artists’

Important female painters

 

 

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In search of lost time – what real and woven trees can teach us

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“Without a trace” – woven willow by Ken Clarke, 2016, at the Duthie Gallery on Salt Spring Island.

How long does it take to weave a tree? Canadian artist Ken Clarke would know – a long time. Ken has woven thousands of fine willow branches into the shape of a magnificent tree, which dazzles the eye and mind of the observer.

A piece of art like this only comes to life through a vision, complete dedication and focus. It’s not an endeavour for the impatient.

Everybody seems to be busy these days – even busier than 150 years ago when Alexis de Tocqueville already observed that North Americans are “always in a hurry.”

We have too many choices and tasks. We are leading a scattered life dominated by an urgency to make every moment count. Trying to do everything at once, multi-tasking is what usually makes me feel pressed for time. So how do we manage to focus on the essential? As I have noticed that I feel better when I give undivided attention to one thing, my answer to my question is – focus.

But what to focus on when so many things need doing?  While I am looking at the intricate patterns of this woven willow, I am starting to wonder about my own busy life and how I try to manage my precious time on earth.

Life is not about making a choice. It’s about making the right choice. As I am walking around the woven willow tree in the Duthie Gallery Sculpture Park on Salt Spring Island, I remember the following passage by Hermann Hesse from his essay “Trees: Reflections and poems.”

“So the tree rustles in the evening,
when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts:
Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful,
just as they have longer lives than ours.

They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them.
But when we have learned how to listen to trees,
then the brevity and the quickness
and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts
achieve an incomparable joy.
Whoever has learned how to listen to trees
no longer wants to be a tree.
He wants to be nothing except what he is.
That is home. That is happiness.”

 

 

 

Further information:

Ken Clarke:
Ken Clarke is a sculptor and artist in Vancouver British Columbia specialising in architectural and water features, and figurative and organic fine art sculpture.

Also watch Ken Clarke’s video on Youtube.

Duthie Gallery Sculpture Park

The Duthie Gallery on Salt Spring Island, Canada, represents art for the landscape such as Michael Dennis’ monumental figures, Brent Comber’s site specific installations, Peter Pierobon’s Illuminati and sculptures and Ron Crawford’s singular stonework.

More represented artists:  http://www.duthiegallery.com/artists/

Photo credit: Dean Baltesson and Daniela Herold, Copyright 2018

Learning from ‘the man and the beast’: amazing Picasso exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery

Conversation with Picasso

“Go and do the things you can’t. That is how you get to do them.”

Things I have learned from Pablo Picasso:

– keep an open and curious mind – it will inform your creativity
– be open to change
– keep exploring and learning, don’t get stuck in your ways
– be free in your expression, don’t censure yourself
– be succinct and clear
– reduce to the max

Conversation with PICASSO

“I begin with an idea and then it becomes something else. ”

Conversation with PICASSO

“Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.”

Conversation with PICASSO

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

“Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) remains one of the most celebrated artists of all time. Contemporary art critic Robert Hughes wrote: “No painter or sculptor, not even Michelangelo, [was] as famous as this in his own lifetime.” Picasso was a champion of abstract art, which has come to define the avant-garde in the 20th century.

A Spanish-born artist who spent his adult life in France, Picasso’s artistic production spans over six decades, making him one of the most prolific artists of the modern era. His celebrated Blue and Rose Periods (1901-1906) marked his first decade in Paris. These early canvases are known for their deep, cool palette, often featuring people from Picasso’s circle of friends, while the Rose Period brought warmer, brighter hues of orange and pink, with figures from the theatre, ballet, and circus.

Cubism in its Analytic and Synthetic phases (1909-1919) developed when Picasso joined forces with French artist Georges Braque, and the two began experimenting with the composition of the object and picture plane. As they dismantled and re-assembled forms into various states, often with multiple perspectives and angles, Cubism was born.

While embracing elements of Classicism and Surrealism in both artistic and literary circles into the mid decades of the last century, Picasso never stopped exploring new themes and techniques in his art. His total artistic output is estimated in the thousands, including paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, and ceramics. He married twice and had four children by three women.” (Source: WAG)

For more information about the amazing exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG) – ‘Pablo Picasso, man and beast’ (May 13 until Aug 13, 2017), click here.

Seen and liked: Blue Whale exhibition and Henry Moore Sculpture Centre

 

 

Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), Toronto

The Art Gallery of Ontario is known for its extraordinary collection of Henry Moore works. The Henry Moore Sculpture Centre opened in 1974 to house Moore’s original gift to the AGO, now totalling more than 900 sculptures and works on paper.

The collection of the AGO includes more than 80,000 works spanning the first century to the present day. The gallery has 45,000 square metres of physical space, making it one of the largest galleries in North America.

Click here to read more about the Henry Moore Sculpture Centre.

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Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), Toronto

In 2014, nine rare blue whales became trapped in ice off the coast of Newfoundland and died. Their loss represents about three percent of the Northwest Atlantic’s blue whale population. Blue whales usually sink when they die, but in an unusual occurrence two of the blue whales washed ashore in Trout River and Rocky Harbour, Newfoundland and Labrador, offering an unprecedented opportunity for research.

Working with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Research Casting International and the local communities, scientists of the Royal Ontario Museum de-fleshed and recovered the bones of this endangered species, transporting them to Ontario. After a two-year process where the bones were buried in manure, and de-greased, one of these awe-inspiring animals is now displayed at the ROM.

Click here to read more about the exquisite Blue Whale exhibition.

Urgent environmental issues converted into dramatic form by Thaddeus Holownia

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I am not prepared for what I am going to see when I enter the Corkin Gallery in Toronto. At first glance, I only see photographs of little strange birds facing downwards as if falling out of the sky. Some look as if they are asleep, but others are charred beyond recognition. I am starting to understand that I am looking at something very tragic, captured as a reminder or warning by photographer Thaddeus Holownia. But what exactly is it?

The Canaport bird kill exhibition shows many lingering images. ‘A fast shutter for slow violence’, journalist Geordie Miller called the art of Canadian photographer Thaddeus Holownia, who took pictures of some 200 creatures killed by human error. “Drawn to a deadly light on a foggy night, songbirds begin to fall from the sky. By evening’s end, more than 7,500 are rendered flightless, lifeless. Twenty-six species of songbirds felled by one flame, a flare from the natural gas burn-off at the Canaport Liquefied natural Gas terminal in Saint John, New Brunswick, September 13th, 2013.”

The disastrous event is represented on a 17-foot-high scroll – called Icarus, Falling of Birds (2016) – and several individual photographs. The viewer cannot help but be affected by their immediacy and immensity.  I left the gallery with a sense of sadness and discomfort, but also a genuine interest in the work of Thaddeus Holownia, who manages to artistically capture dramatic urgent issues in a very unique way.

Click here for the whole story and article by Geordie Miller (Canadian Art, Feb 2017).

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“The work of Thaddeus Holownia deals with how how humanity changes landscape,
how the forces of nature mould human structures.

His work calls attention to various ecological and political issues;
and his art practice conveys these precarious relationships.”

(Corkin Gallery, Toronto)

 

Further information:
canadianart.ca/reviews/thaddeus-holownia/
Corkin Gallery, Toronto

Contemporary Art from North North America – Oh Canada …

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‘Uncharted galvanized hut’ by Chris Millar, 2008.

Curiosity. Humour. Absurdity. 

An epic art exhibition is taking over Calgary: Comprised of more than 100 artworks by over 60 artists and collectives from across the country,  Oh, Canada: Contemporary Art from North North America, is vast in scope and size – so big that no one gallery space in Calgary is large enough to host the entire exhibition. The exhibition, organized by the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), is the largest survey of contemporary Canadian art ever produced outside Canada! In order to bring this ambitious survey of contemporary Canadian art to Calgary, four local art institutions have partnered to co-represent it (Esker Foundation, Glenbow, Illingworth Kerr Gallery and Nickle Galleries).

Oh, Canada is huge in both scale and scope: 61 Artists. 4 Galleries. 1 Exhibition.

“Over 800 artists from every province and territory were initially considered for ‘Oh Canada’. Following 400 studio visits, 62 artists and collectives were selected, focusing mostly on those less known outside Canada”, says Denise Markonish, the Curator of ‘Oh Canada’. “These artists hail from as fas west as the Yukon, as north as Nunavut and as east as Newfoundland and Labrador; they cross multiple generations, and wok in all media, from painting to performance.”

The overall selection is fabulous! I particularly enjoyed Chris Millar’s work, as the natural born storyteller draws us into his ‘own private universe of wondrous tiny details’, holding our attention while unfolding his outrageous tales and phantasies. Millar’s paintings are dense mixtures of images and phrases, whereas his sculptures are sprinkled with visual clues for the viewer.

Does Oh, Canada define a country as large and intricately layered as Canada? “Not really”, says Markonish, “though it provides insight – through more than 100 artworks – into some of the country’s most noteworthy art practices and ideas, including a deep and continuing interest in the land, craft and identiy politics”.

As for me, a new Canadian since December last year,  Oh, Canada  is but one snapshot among many possibilities, intended to encourage dialogue, debate and a deeper exploration into the breadth and excellence of Canadian art today.

 

 

ABOUT the museum:
Glenbow is Western Canada’s largest museum, with over one million objects in the collection including works of art, cultural artifacts from around the world, and photographs and documents relating to the history of Western Canada. The exhibitions, programs and events are designed to create memorable experiences for all Calgarians.

About Chris Millar
Born in Claresholm, Alberta, Chris Millar grew up in Sherwood Park. He completed a fine arts diploma at Grant MacEwan Community College in 1998, and a bachelor of fine arts in painting at the Alberta College of Art+ Design in 2000.

Seen and liked – Large-scale installations by Ai WeiWei in Vancouver and Phyllida Barlow in London

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AI WeiWei, Art Gallery Vancouver, Canada, 2015

Simply fascinating! ‘Ai WeiWei’s large-scale installation BANG comprises of 886 antique stools and replicas from the Qing dynasty (1644-192) that has been installed by traditional Chinese craftsmen. Three-legged stools were often handed down through generations and could be found in nearly every Chinese home until the 1960s, when industrial manufacturing replaced carved wood with plastic. They are arranged in an expansive rhizomatic structure that suggests ‘directions in motion with no beginning or end’. Like traditional furniture, BANG is always detachable, connectable, reversible and modifiable, with multiple entrances and exits. Any one stool in BANG can be interpreted as symbolic of an individual in relationship to the rapidly developing and complex structures of contemporary society.’ (Vancouver Art Gallery, 2015)

Phyllida Barrow, Tate Britain

Phyllida Barlow, Tate Britain, London 2014

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Phyllida Barlow at the Tate Britain 

What a treat at the Tate Gallery in London – the circuit walk through British Art provides a chronological overview from the 16th century to the present day, showing famous and less famous works together. In Fall 2014, I went to see Phyllida Barlow’s large scale sculptural installations at the Tate, where the sculptor unveiled her largest and most ambitious work in London for the Tate Britain Commission 2014. The Commission invites artists to respond to Tate’s collection and to the grand spaces of the Duveen Galleries. Phyllida Barlow’s large-scale sculptural installations used inexpensive, everyday materials such as cardboard, fabric, timber and polystyrene.

More about the artists:

Ai WeiWei is one of the most prolific international artists practicing today. Performance, photography and installation  are equally associated in his visual repertoire, in addition to projects in writing, design and architecture. After returning to China from the United States in the early 1990s, Ai’s work focused on cultural traditions that had been discarded during the Cultural Revolution.  He began collecting Chinese antiques and furniture and integrating them into his artistic practice as a means of addressing historical and cultural values in the context of art. (Info: Art Gallery Vancouver, 2015)

Phyllida Barlow has been described as one of the great art teachers of her generation. Barlow, who turned 70 last year, has spent her adult life making sculpture, enjoying her greatest success by far over the last 10 years. She’s taught everyone from Martin Creed to Rachel Whiteread, but it’s only now, that Barlow is getting her dues as an artist. She creates on a massive scale, using cardboard, rags, rubber, tape, tarpaulin, paper, polystyrene.

Interview in the Guardian