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.”

IMG_6502

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

 

 

Advertisements

SEEN AND LIKED in EDMONTON – Part 1

IMG_0295

There are no boring places as long as you keep an open mind and like to explore.  I found exquisite art, architecture and places in Edmonton, and even if I had not, I remembered an Eric Weiner quote: “When you relinquish the spectacular, you are rewarded with the quieter joy of the ordinary.” How true.

West End Gallery

IMG_0427

“My paintings are all about emotion and light.  If the viewer has felt the emotion I felt when I painted the piece, then we have clicked. “– W. H. Webb

I had the pleasure to see Prairie Aspects, a solo exhibition of new work by W. H. Webb at the West End Gallery.

His highly realistic work, signed W.H. Webb, is often mistaken for photography.  It is not until you look very closely at the canvas, that you see small dots and dashes of acrylic paint that reminds of watercolour. These markings tighten up to a photograph-like image when you take a step back.

“Webb’s views of the often stark Alberta landscape are intensively worked in a manner reminiscent of the traditional school of watercolourists. Fully realized and meticulously crafted, his acrylic paintings express a deep seated admiration for the impressive and rugged vistas of Alberta; particularly the brilliant beauty of winter’s snow covered open spaces and hard bright skies.”

img_6145.jpg

by W.H. Webb

The Front Gallery

“Connectivity” is the title of a fab exhibition by Dave Thomas and Allan Thomas at the Front Art Gallery – a forty year landmark in the heart of the gallery walk district.  The exhibition closes on May 17th, so make sure you get to see this first joint show of the two artist brothers before it is over. More information about their art work in my upcoming interview with both artists on ‘Art Because’ next month.

IMG_6159

LOL by Dave Thomas

img_6155.jpg

By Allan Thomas

Peter Robertson Gallery

Mark in your calendar a wonderful upcoming exhibition showing art work of Jonathan Forrest (May 24 – June 9). Forrest currently divides his time between Vancouver Island and rural Saskatchewan, where his “rustic” studio, an old church built in the late 1940s, offers the ideal space for Forrest’s ongoing exploration of the complexities of colour and paint application.

“Over the last 25 years, Jonathan Forrest has explored vibrant and engaging colour and form through paint”, says Gallery owner Peter Robertson who represents a roster of emerging, mid-career, and senior Canadian artists. “The bold and colourful geometric paintings in his latest exhibition are created from thick, yet smoothly articulated planes of glossy acrylic against matte grounds. Graphic shapes in the works appear to shift as their surfaces reflect in changing light.”

The Art Gallery of Alberta – a must see!

IMG_6079“There is no must in art, because art is free,” said the great Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky.  The beautiful Art Gallery of Alberta – designed by architect Randall Stout and first opened in 2010 – has been taking that motto to heart, offering free admission to all children and youth under the age of 18 – as well as anyone registered as a student in an Alberta post-secondary institution, regardless of age.

Today is the last day of the amazing exhibition of Peter von Tiesenhausen: Songs for Pythagoras  (more information in my upcoming post ‘Seen and liked Edmonton II’ next week).

For Peter von Tiesenhausen, the landscape of Alberta has been a primary source of inspiration, with sustainability being a constant thread that has woven its way through his work over the course of his long career. Addressing ideas of time, life, nature and re-generation, this exhibition engaged audiences with important issues related to extraction, production and our impact on the environment.

IMG_6136

Exhibition Songs for Pythagoras by Peter von Tiesenhausen

The Neon Sign Museum

The Neon Sign Museum, the first of its kind in Canada, features a collection of functional historic signs that tell a story about Edmonton’s neon past. The City has collected 20 neon signs, all of which have been restored and installed on the east wall of the TELUS building and the south wall of the Mercer Warehouse building on 104 Street and 104 Avenue. The museum is outdoors and is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. No admission is required.

The Churchill Wire Centre

IMG_6085A 1886 telephone directory would have been easy to print. Four subscribers joined Edmonton’s first telephone exchange established by Alexander Taylor. Within twenty years, this creative entrepreneur had connected 500 patrons to the revolutionary telephone and sold his company to the city.

Outgoing calls were transmitted through telephone exchange equipment, with switchmen and operators connecting each call to the receiving line. Edmonton built the first municipal exchange on this site in 1907.

The next year, the city became a telecommunications leader when it installed the first automatic dial phones in North America. Built in 1947, this beautiful two and a half storey building was designed by City Architect Maxwell Dewar.

The Edmonton City Hall

City Hall’s award winning architecture was designed by Edmonton architect Gene Dub and opened in 1992. Gene Dub’s design combines the old with the new by incorporating materials such as marble and granite from the old City Hall into the new building. It is also designed as a ‘people place’ – a place for civic government and a gathering place for Edmontonians.

The McLeod Building

IMG_6059

Kenneth McLeod was a former Edmonton alderman, contractor and real estate speculator, who in 1912 announced the construction of the McLeod Building, which he claimed would be the tallest in the city, 25 ft (7.6 m) taller than the Tegler Building. Architect John K. Dow was instructed to copy the Paulsen Building in Spokane, Washington. The construction began in 1913 and was completed in 1915.

Public Art Collection of Edmonton

“Catching Neutrinos” (2005) is the title of this sculpture by Darci Mallon that commemorates the centenary of the Edmonton Journal. The shape refers to the cylindrical form evident in almost every aspect of the printing process: printing press rollers, curled lead linotypes, and paper rolls. The vertical form evokes trees and the poster pillars once used to announce events. The medium, granite, is also used in paper production as the supporting core for the enormous paper rolls. Authentic Journal headlines from the last 100 years spiral up and around the granite and are from notable events specific to the history of the city.

IMG_6091

Photographs by Daniela Herold

 

 

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

IMG_8350

“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

“A colony of things” – B.C. artist James Mulchinock on driftwood and baseball marks

photo 4James Mulchinock, you gather, arrange and transform easily accessible objects—or their residue—such as driftwood, coat hangers, baseball marks. Have you turned your childhood passion for collecting into an integral part of your art practice?

James: I think most artists become collectors through necessity. Depending on your approach and medium, you need collectible stuff as the raw material for both ideas and even as material for the work.

Have you entered the hoarding zone yet?

James: No, but give me time and space. Having a childhood passion for collecting helps, especially when faced with the choice between keeping or ignoring interesting stuff one encounters in day-to-day travels. I’m inclined to keep. It may take years before I use it, but that day always seems to arrive.

You told me that you always have a clear concept of what you want to achieve before starting a piece of art. What is the story behind the two large driftwood pieces in “A colony of things”?

James: The two large pieces in Colony of Things using drift sticks started as both concept and process. Years ago, I did a quick study sculpture using drift sticks. At the same time, I was painting more and more on raised wood cradle canvasses, so I thought a lot about painting above the actual traditional painting canvas. Is it possible for me to paint on a non-canvas (surface of beach stick ends) surface a couple inches out from a wall? That’s the idea. But it sat, like a lot of ideas, for a few years. Finally, the itch to create from that one concept was too much to ignore any longer.

James Mulchinock, for the last month these 2 large wall stick sculptures caught my eye every time I was passing by them in our gallery XChanges. First as close-up, unique items with their own beauty and second as part of a group or colony of hundreds of individuals. The sticks’ individuality is disguised when incorporated into the larger mass. In fact, the viewer is hard pressed to identify this mysterious mass as originating from the beach.

James: The large wall stick sculptures are part of a series about the transformation of hundreds of natural wood beach drift sticks into a state of duality. The original organic character of these beach sticks is transformed from an item of utilitarian function into a relief surface of uncertain scale, texture and colour.

photo 1Does that mean your exhibition A Colony of Things is about the dual behaviour of individual marks and objects?

James: Indeed. This larger mass hides the individuality of its members by the sheer volume (300-2000) of collected items or marks.

Your exhibition also contains several paintings (for lack of better word) with a reference to baseball. I am not a baseball fan at all, but these pieces of art keep fascinating me. Tell us more about the concept behind them and why your back hurt so much working on them, you could not get out of bed for a day or two?

James: The baseball drawings, Painting the Corners, came about after several seasons traveling with my son’s elite baseball team to the various baseball parks across British Columbia. When you have hours to kill waiting for the team to complete pre-game warm-up, you notice things: weathered structures around the ball field, marks of baseballs left on dugout walls, cleat spike marks on dirt, grass, and wood. Baseball is not kind to baseball diamonds. However, for an artist, the marks left behind tell a story of the game itself: dreams, emotions, repetitive skill development, it’s all there in what’s left behind.

Making the drawings was a simple trial and error process of what works to capture that erosive quality about the game. I settled on coating baseballs with compressed charcoal and dropping them on pristine drawing paper. Months later, I attempted to do two drawings in one day. With over 500 marks involving repetitive major body motions, I pulled muscles in my lower back. I had to go on the 15-day disabled list.

Your paintings capture the story of specific games in a very special way. How?

James: They represent the violent, yet delicate population of marks made by a baseball on a surface. It explores the controlled randomness of repetitive mark-making and is part of a larger project of documenting chance marks. While each mark leaves a delicate trace of individuality, as a mass they transform into something with its own form and distinctive character.

The marks left by baseballs, bats, and cleats on the worn and impacted surfaces of baseball diamonds strike me as a metaphor of youth, the role of sports in growing up, and even the drama and decay of dreams and ambition in life.

baseball painting by James

What do the Toronto Blue Jays have to do with your paintings?

James: The series is based on six games played by the Toronto Blue Jays professional baseball team during three months of their exciting and successful 2015 season. My process is to drop a charcoal-coated baseball onto the drawing paper, which has a penciled 1:1 scale rectangular strike zone representing where the real life pitch crossed home plate.

I have always been interested in collecting: childhood collections of similar cultural and non-cultural items such as postage stamps, leaves, and hockey cards. When organized and mounted for display, the individual items yield to the collective appearance of the group. Even prosaic and utilitarian collections of firewood, nails, and lawn trimmings have perhaps unintentional meanings when brought together. This work explores and transcends the formalistic qualities of known natural materials and ready-mades. Both series takes the familiar and transposes it into the mysterious.

photo 3Being an artist can sometimes be frustrating. What are the obstacles you have run into preparing “A colony of things”?

James: Installing Colony of Things involved the same technical challenges and frustrations experienced by any installation artist. In this case, it was hanging a very heavy wall sculpture on a stud-and-drywall gallery. We were once taught how to draw, paint, and make art. But most of us aren’t carpenters or welders. Yet, we forge on into those trades unprepared to meet the requirements. So, figuring out how to do something in a trade you’ve had no training or experience in can be very frustrating and potentially dangerous. If you’re smart, you cultivate friendships with carpenters and welders.

James Mulchinock, thank you very much for this interview.

image1

 

 

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.

AGO19

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.

The beauty of cast drawing

I never thought I could enjoy spending hours and hours sketching or painting a cast. Being an aries, accepting slow progress has not really been my forte. However, since becoming a student at the Academy of Realist Art in Victoria, founder and teacher Noah Layne has taught me an important lesson: slow progress is still progress.

“Cast drawing is a wonderful way to work on one’s ability to see and record shapes and sharpen one’s eye”, says Noah. He rightly insists that if you manage to sketch or paint one square cm or inch perfectly, you will be able to do the same on a canvas the size of a skyscraper – it’s just a matter of focus, perseverance and time.

IMG_9661crop

 

My third semester at the Academy was amazing, using both comparative measurement and sight-size techniques, then starting to capture a cast of my choice in oil paint.

I never thought I would say this, but I loved it. Every second, every square inch!

Thanks, Noah!

IMG_9659crop

More information: Noah Layne Academy of Realist Art