Friday, March 2, 2012

Ken Phillips and Marie Guard by Peri Phillips McQuay

My parents, Ken Phillips (1909-1983) and Marie Cecilia Guard (1908-2003),
were that rare entity, a Canadian artist couple. They attended the Ontario College of Art during the dynamic years of 1928 to 1935 (when Marie completed a post-graduate year), as well as the Grand Central School of Design in New York in 1930. Their teachers included Arthur Lismer, J.W. Beatty, J.E.H. Macdonald, and Emanuel Hahn. By 1936 they had every reason to look forward to a brilliant future. In spite of the difficult economic climate of the Depression era and alhough they were only twenty- eight, my parents were exhibiting regularly in the prestigious O.S.A. (Ontario Society of Artists) and R.C.A. (Royal Canadian Academy) shows. Indeed, my parent's powerful, full-length female nudes were given pride-of-place in these shows. One of her paintings had travelled across Canada, and one of my father's wood engravings had been acquired by the Art Gallery of Toronto. Very much in love with each other and with art, they were at the beginning of a lifelong adventure together, a quest to convey in pictures the spirit which lay deep within all things.

The advent of the Second World War, poverty, ill health and changing taste forced the couple to stop marketing their art. All the same, they devoted their lifetimes to painting and drawing.

When it became impossible to afford to live in Toronto my parents moved to land in what is now Mississauga, where they camped and then built a house in the woods. Passionate about his art, my father, KEN PHILLIPS, made the best of commuting to his job in Simpson’s advertising department. Perhaps inspired by his favorite teacher, Arthur Lismer’s, caricatures, he drew everywhere. In his noon hour he would sketch swift glimpses of tramps playing cards in Grange Park, then, while on the commuter train,
he would whip off a few lines to capture a slumped stock broker, or the fleeting clouds out the train window. The fresh, unretouched quality of drawing was particularly suited to his impetuous style. In a vivid shorthand, he was able to interpret          character, light, atmosphere, and tone. Once he was home, in  whatever minutes he could spare, he painted his new country      surroundings.

                                                            Marie by Ken Phillips

In the sudden prosperity after the stagnation of the Depression and World War II, development in Toronto was burgeoning. Everywhere buildings were being torn down to make way for the new. Within a decade there appeared a new city hall, provincial court house, conservatory of music and a host of parking lots to serve the expanding population. My father's love of early Toronto architecture ran deep in his blood. Now,
realizing that the beloved city of his youth was dying, he became vigilant, going out almost every noon hour to capture the last moments of the old buildings that had enriched his life. Although he had a great feeling for the structure and solidity of buildings, it was the complex layering of life and surroundings as well as the architecture, which compelled him. Needing to balance Toronto's concentration on growth and change, he was drawn ever deeper in search of his city with a tangible soul.

The climax was his sequence of elegiac studies of the demolition of the grand old theaters of Toronto. He worked breathlessly, accompanied by the harsh thud of the wrecking ball and the shrieking wrench of the bar and chain. Clouds of dust smothered him as he sat hunched on his stool, whipping his pen across the paper while walls folded inwards and crumbled.

upper unidentified panting: Ken Phillips by Marie Cecile Guard. 1933

To view the Ken Phillips webpage, please click here.
To view the Marie Cecila Guard webpage, please click here.
To visit Peri McQuay's webpage, please click here.

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