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.

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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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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.