As for my father, when he retired he was alarmed to realize that his life had raced past him. In his agony he found only one place where he could paint. Within walking distance of his home was a ruined orchard, soon to be bulldozed to make way for yet another housing development. Even in the bare autumnal branches of the decaying trees he found a few blackbirds or a waning moon to take joy in. And as he captured these, he found his way through to some of the finest work of his career. “The landscape,” said Cézanne, “thinks itself in me, and I am its consciousness.” And it was exactly this kind of
symbiosis to which my father came in his last years. Having travelled beyond the snares of hope, he would have said, as Giacometti did, that he “lived only in order to see and draw, and drew in order to see better.” In spite of the lurking warning of his deteriorating health, at this time my father sprung back to life with a final purpose. Rejection had helped him articulate his philosophy for himself, and now his crisis of faith forced him to
gather still more closely to himself the values that upheld him. Now, in his urgency to achieve at last the expression he felt he had been born for, he moved beyond consciousness to work from a deep inner well.
In 1978 my parents left their woodland home and moved to a pastoral setting in eastern Ontario where they would be closer to my sister and me. But in 1983, a few weeks after one last ill-considered trip to England, where he collapsed outside Canterbury Cathedral, my father died suddenly from a heart attack. For twenty more years my mother continued valiantly living alone, painting and drawing, keeping faith for as long as she could, although she often found it hard to find her artistic way without my father’s passionate conviction.
This unusual artist couple had a long-lasting marriage which greatly influenced their work. Although my father’s quixotic, difficult temperament sometimes made my mother’s life hard, their generally sustaining relationship was built on respect. Nobody else understood so well, nor shared their excitement as well. In terms of their art, they relied on each other's criticism to guide their paintings and thoughts.
In many ways, my father was a feminist before his time, believing that his wife was his equal and should be free to pursue her chosen work. He willingly helped with chores and child-minding when he could seize time from his long hours of work in the Art Advertising Department at Simpson's and the ongoing house building. My mother's beauty, intelligence and conviction were steadying for him as he confronted a mechanised world where he was unable to share his lifework widely. Troubled by her husband’s great sacrifice in going out to work, my mother always put my father’s work first, which sometimes hampered her own chances of success. But this was a sacrifice my father never demanded of her.
As for my mother, for most of the other women who attended the College of Art at that time, there were only two life choices available. Some married, gave up their art and restricted themselves to homemaking. Others, like Marie’s friend, Eugenia (Betty) McNaught of the Peace River Country, chose to live single and pursue their art unimpeded. Marie Cecilia Guard found a middle path. Unable to paint and draw full- time, but supported and encouraged by Ken, she was a lifelong artist.
In spite of the loss of her life partner, macular degeneration and serious arthritis, she continued to paint impressionistic sketches, and, in her nineties, asked for a pencil to draw the hundred year old lady in the hospital bed next to her.
In 1993 there was a handsomely mounted and well-received retrospective exhibition of her figure work of the thirties and forties at Kingston’s Agnes Etherington Art Centre. And with this exhibition came the hope that perhaps at long last opportunities might come for people to see and appreciate her and my father's lifework. At that time, near the end of a shakily written journal entry she said: “My subject is color and light giving joy.”
Peri with Violets
My parents’ styles evolved over their long artistic careers. Although the influence of each on the other is interesting to trace, each preserved a distinctly individual approach.Unlike so many other artists of the time, rather than making occasional trips to the exotic north country, my parents lived deeply with the Ontario landscapes they portrayed. For Marie Cecilia Guard and Ken Phillips, a life without art would have lost its meaning. Perhaps the most important gift my parents gave me was the ability to see beauty everywhere and take joy in it.
To view the Ken Phillips webpage, please click here.
To view the Marie Cecilia Guard webpage, please click here
To view Peri McQuay's website please click here.
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