Monday, October 31, 2011

Tom Thomson in London, England

Thomson 'The Jack Pine' 1916-1917

Here it is - Toronto Star, art critic contributes a video he has made of the opening of the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson at Dolwich Gallery. It begins with showing a Thomson painting being packed and it follows it across the Atlantic to the Dolwich Gallery where it is uncrated and hung on display. Its a must see video art story for Canadian art lovers.

Please click here to view the video in the Toronto Star online.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Meet Bill Tomlinson - Figure Artist.

I had the pleasure of meeting Bill Tomlinson at Liz Dinkel’s studio in Belleville, Ontario, where he takes part in a life drawing group.  One afternoon during coffee break, we became engaged in conversation, and when I told him about ‘The Portrait’ and about me being a watercolourist, he told me that he has a friend named Clive Powsey and that I should check out his website. What a small world, for  Clive is not only one of our featured blog artists, but I have also long admired Clive’s remarkable skill as a painter.

 Bill lives in the area known as the Oak Hills, which is north of the city of Belleville, after having grown up in Toronto.

Like many artists, Bill has always had a relationship with the muse. “I've been an artist all my life. Essentially, that's just who we are. As for visual arts specifically, I remember doing a lot of drawing when I was a boy, and moving into oil painting when I was about 12, painting landscapes and women." (Some things never change!)”

Bill followed up his university education by spending several years in Japan where he studied calligraphy,  and by later attending the Ontario College of Art,  in Toronto. He followed his graduation from OCA with a long and rewarding career in teaching Now that he has retired, he has returned to his love of drawing and painting. While he now works in charcoal figurative drawing he has plans on returning to painting in another year or so.   

Although Bill loves art he has recently discovered a newer and greater love. Will married in 2,000 and has a 5 year old boy who Is the centre of his life.

Asked about “eureka” moments in his development as an artist he says; “I remember an incident when I was in university and taking one of my evening painting courses. I got up in the morning and rushed into the room where I'd been painting the night before. I'd been working on a portrait of my girlfriend, and was thrilled to see that I really had managed to paint the golden light of a lamp on her hair, and to see the effect it produced with the blue of her dress. That was an important moment for me.”

Less important, perhaps, but more entertaining, Bill recalls with a chuckle a much earlier incident in 6th grade when he drew hula girls on the back of his hand, and he wiggled his fingers and made their hips and grass skirts swing; much to the delight of his classmates and to the chagrin of his teacher.

 Its pretty safe to say that most artists have a niche or a media which turns them on.  Bill loves drawing the human figure, either nude or clothed. He abandoned painting recently to “hone up” on his skill of drawing the human form.

Bill speaks with fondness and love for art when he says:  “Art has brought me year after year (drawing after drawing, painting after painting) of experiences both frustrating and rewarding. Outside of the actual creation of art, my study of it has been wonderfully rewarding. For example, I remember visiting the drawing cabinets of the Louvre, and holding in my hands an original drawing by Andrea del Sarto, one of the great draughtsmen of the Renaissance. The lines that flowed over and described the figure were like music on paper and I was completely captivated by it. Three months later, during a rainstorm in Florence, I took shelter in a little shop/museum of marquetry where I browsed while waiting for the rain to stop. On my way out, I happened to glance up, and there was my reading boy in a fresco above the door. I felt a thrill of connection that I have never forgotten, not just with my earlier experience, but with del Sarto himself. I still have the sketchbook copy of the drawing I made that day at the Louvre.”

All of which takes me back to my first conversation with Bill.  Bill and Clive shared accommodations when they both studied art in Florence.  Small world, isn't it?

Bill’s work can be seen on his website by clicking here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Stormy Weather by Frederick Varley

Stormy Weather by Frederick Varley is one of the works on display in the Dulwich exposition of Canadian art in London, England.  I was reading an article from the web, about the showing when I came across this picture and a comment by Dulwich Gallery's co-creator, Ian Desjardin. Desjardin called it the "most definitive" of the Group of Seven works.  Click here.

My interest was immediately stoked by his words, so I took a close look at the work. My immediate response was, "What planet have I been living on? Why was I not familiar with this work?" Its nothing short of stunning.  The flow, the colours, the grand sweep of the picture takes my breath away.

The Dulwich Gallery writes this about the showing, on their website:

Above all elements Canadian, these are painters who knew how to handle paint and colour, and how to turn a small sketch executed on the spot into a high-pitched studio masterpiece." - Brian Sewell, The Evening StandardIn the early twentieth century in Toronto, Canada, the first stirrings of a new movement of painting were being felt. A group of artists started to engage with the awesome Canadian wilderness, a landscape previously considered too wild and untamed to inspire ‘true’ art. Tom Thomson paved the way for this artistic collective, the Group of Seven, and their works have become revered in Canada. This exhibition will reintroduce their stunning impressions of the Canadian landscape to the British public for the first time since the 1920s

To check out the Dulwich Gallery's site please click here.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven Touches Down in London

The West Wind
by Tom Thomson

The Canadian Media is buzzing today about the arrival of Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven in England.  And, its a huge collection.

Roy McGregor of the Toronto Star writes:
There are 123 paintings on loan from such institutions as the National Gallery, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the McMichael Canadian art collection and such private collectors as David Thomson. They include works by Thomson, A.Y. Jackson, J.E.H. MacDonald, Fred Varley, Arthur Lismer, Lawren Harris, Franklin Carmichael and Frank Johnston. Three of the Group – Lismer, Varley and MacDonald – were born in England, which may explain some of the interest, yet the clear star of the show is Thomson, who died under mysterious circumstances in 1917, three years before the Group was formed.

A collection of that size is nothing to sneeze about.

The Jack Pine
by Tom Thomson

The showing from my viewpoint is long overdue and its good to see that it will be moving on to Norway and to the Netherlands.

As a Canadian who has travelled in the UK it doesn't take long to realize how Canada is indeed a big country with a lot of unknown space - particularly in the minds of most of the English.  And, any Canadian who has travelled in England, will nod their heads in understanding when I write that you are instantly overtaken by the fact that Canadians are taken for Americans.   Canadians, for the most part have to accept that this goes with the turf with living between two countries who are big players on the world stage.

But, all that aside, the time is long overdue and welcomed for Canadian art to be recognized in England.

Please click here to read Rob McGregor's article in The  Star.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

'Point Atkinson Lighthouse of West Vancouver'' is a delightful Donald Flather work.  First and foremost, before I begin this critique, its important to know that Donald was employed outside the arts, as a teacher, throughout his life.  So, we find within Flather's website gallery, a wide variety of works from different stages of his development.

By way of background, Donald was known to have been a friend of Lawren Harris's and he enjoyed an association with 'The Group of Seven', which has led many to identify him with the group - an identity which has similarly been given to the late Kenneth Gordon of Winnipeg; an artist who was also a lifelong teacher.  

Point Atkinson Lighthouse, straddles the boundaries of impressionism. On one hand it has the realistic qualities of a Kodak photograph with its strong reds and blues, and its accurate representation of the lighthouse with the keeper's home and cabin.  But that's pretty much where it ends.  
From what I have seen in looking through the Donald Flather Gallery, he was influenced by the impressionists.  And, its how Flather's impressionism takes us where he wants us to go.
There are two levels to this work. There is a level of idyllic beauty where the sea has a certain simplicity and organization in the way its waves line themselves up along the shore and the colour of the rocks reveals the artist's fine sense of colour interpretation.

The strength of this work is borne out of its contrast.  While we have simplicity, and lovely colours and an idyllic scene on one hand - Donald artfully gives us a deeper side.  Take a second to study the rocks around the lighthouse.  Look at the rocks between the house and the lighthouse.  The rocks take on a physical quality.  they have the look of muscle with cords of veins and tendons beneath the surface and this gives the viewer a sense of underlying brute power. 

Further examination shows us trees which are permanently bowed by the power of a single direction wind, and rocks which have been eroded by millennia of pounding waves.

Please click here to view more of Donald Flather's paintings.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Secret Life of Donald Flather

Written by Daniel Wood
Beauitful BC Magazine,
Spring, 1999

As David Flather, then 28, stood in the doorway of his grandparents' Vancouver home four years ago, he was struck by a sense of erieness. His grandmother, Grace, had just died. His grandfather, Donald Flather, had passed away in 1990. Together with his aunt and uncle, David was there to begin the task of emptying the cluttered home of 54 years of occupancy. His grandfather had been a Vancouver school teacher and packrat of the first magnitude. His grandmother had rebuffed every effort to clean the house after her husband's death. She wanted nothing moved, believing her husband was still there, still inhabiting the place. And in a strange way, she was right.

The livingroom walls were covered with Donald Flather's paintings --- large, abstracted landscapes that had a familiarity David couldn't quite define. A half-dozen more paintings were stacked --- like a firescreen --- in front of the fireplace. In the hall, in the diningroom, in the bedrooms, every wall held more of his grandfather's artwork. When he pushed open the door to the upstairs studio, where David on occasion had watched his grandfather paint, he paused and asked himself: Where do I put my feet? Dozens of large, framed landscape paintings stood on edge, filling the room from wall to wall. They leaned against each other and against the room's shelving where hundreds of slide trays, jammed with Flather's travel photos, were stacked among the musty collection of art books. In the corner by the north window stood Flather's easel. For the first time David could recall, it held no painting. When he'd been a boy, he'd stand near the easel watching his grandfather: bald, portly, wearing a smock against the splatter of paint, intensely immersed in his art. "His strokes were flowing and certain," David says today. "He knew where the brush was going to go the moment it hit the painting."

His uncle, Barrie Flather, a Surrey, B.C. doctor, joined David. There were, he informed his nephew, hundreds of more paintings in the basement. They were everywhere. It was incredible. It was also a dilemma. The house was being cleared out, its contents dispersed. Donald Flather was a completely unknown artist, a modest man who eschewed self-promotion or publicity. If he'd sold more than three paintings in his lifetime, they didn't know about it. He never discussed his hobby and seldom bothered to show his work to his family even. He often simply finished a landscape and stored it in the basement darkness. Yet, the paintings seemed too beautiful to destroy. What to do? Was there a market for them? Would a gallery be interested? And where did Flather fit in to the development of Canadian art in the West? Overwhelmed by the number of paintings and inspired by their similarity to those of the Canadian Group of Seven, David decided to rescue the imperiled collection.

Flather was born in London, England in 1903 and immigrated as a child with his parents, members of the pioneering Barr Colony movement, initially to the Canadian prairies, then to an orchard on B.C.'s Shuswap Lake where his lifelong fascination with nature was cultivated. In the 1920s, his family moved to Vancouver to operate a greenhouse. He met his wife, Grace, a home economics student, at teacher training college and in 1927 he began teaching secondary biology and science in Vancouver. The couple had three sons. Barrie recalls that as a child the family went on endless nature trips, collecting --- in his words --- "all sorts of pondlife." The family house on East Boulevard in Vancouver's upscale Kerrisdale district gradually filled with Donald Flather's disorderly collection of animal bones, microscope slides of amoeba, roadkills, fossils, rocks, mushrooms, and shells, the volume of specimens gradually overwhelming Grace's fierce penchant for order.

Barrie remembers his father in his upstairs studio, his slide projector on, a landscape from a recent trip on the portable screen, and him in deep concentration as he reworked the projected image onto Masonite. Barrie could see that his father took painterly liberties with reality, distorting the scene in a slightly surreal way. At the time, the early 40's, the names that were occasionally heard around the house; Lawren Harris, Fred Varley, W.P. Weston, Emily Carr, Jack Shadbolt, A.Y. Jackson - didn't mean a thing to him. They were people his father knew through his work as secretary-treasurer of the Federation of Canadian Artists. At that time, Barrie had never heard of the Group of Seven.

While the European and American art world had gone through a dramatic transformation in the two decades on either side of 1900, Canada had remained stuck in an colonial back eddy, its painters churning out landscapes-by-formula: realistic, romantic, grandiose, and dull. Art, the prevailing view held, was meant to be morally uplifting. In 1920, a fraternity of seven young artists from central Canada opened a show in Toronto that challenged the conventions. Influenced by French impressionism, cubism, Art Nouveau, and a northern mysticism from Scandinavia, the Group of Seven announced that they were dedicated to producing a truly made-in-Canada art form, unhindered by the insipid landscape traditions of the British academy style. For a while they painted Ontario, but soon grew restless with the limits imposed by the low relief of the Canadian Shield. By 1928, four of the Group of Seven were making annual summer pilgrimages to British Columbia. A fifth member, Fred Varley, moved to Lynn Valley in North Vancouver in 1926 and began teaching art. They were drawn westward by the province's extraordinary scenery, dominated by verticality, clouds, the rhythmic repetition of ridges, huge rainforest trees, and dying native coastal villages.

Lawren Harris, Canada's most influential artist, first brought his ideas to B.C. in 1924 when he began his regular, summer painting trips to the Rockies. (He moved permanently to Vancouver in 1940.) Like several other members of the Group, Harris was deeply affected by Theosophy, a turn-of-the-century mystical belief which held that spirituality was present in all things. The massive, glaciated mountains of B.C. dwarfed the human intruder, confirming his view that the land itself was divine. His paintings- with the landscape whittled down to the bone - became metaphors for archetypal truths. Peaks became abstract triangles, symbolic of paradise. Clouds become emblematic, flying saucer-like ovals. Light shafts equalled transcendence. A burnt tree stump represented death and redemption. In his paintings, the land was elemental: the place where nature and spirit met.

His influence on artists in B.C., was enormous. He told a frustrated Emily Carr in 1927 she should not- despite years of rejection -give up. She didn't put down her brush until shortly before her death in 1945. He affected W.P. Weston, the best-known B.C. landscape painter and art teacher of his time, who learned to simplify the overwhelming complexity of the province's terrain. He argued passionately with a young Jack Shadbolt who felt Harris's symbolic religiosity was too geometric, too pat. Shadbolt, in defiance, began painting exploded natural forms. Harris organized music evenings in his home in Vancouver's Kitsilano district. He led regular horseback and hiking trips to sketch in the Coast Mountains around the city.

It was into this milieu that Donald Flather, an untrained, hobbyist painter, stepped with his 1941 offer to help Harris found the Federation of Canadian Artists. He became the nascent organization's secretary-treasurer. At that time, there was in Vancouver - and in Victoria - not one commercial gallery showing contemporary art. British Columbia was a resource-exporting province, predominately blue-collar, proud of its starched, British heritage and smug in its parochialism. The artsy 'Lotus Land' moniker lay 30 years in the future. Serious painters like Victoria's Emily Carr lived in poverty. (Jack Shadbolt recalls Carr holding up two of her landscapes to him, saying, "You can have either one for $15." He demurred and spent his money on an artbook instead. He enjoys the irony that had he bought one of Carr's oil paintings then, he'd have realized a 500,000 percent profit today.)

Flather's landscape paintings, showing the influence of Harris, Carr, and Weston, soon began appearing in the annual, juried exhibits of B.C. artists at the Vancouver Art Gallery. In the shows' catalogues from the 40s his name appears just above Harris, Lawren. The catalogues list the prices - all under $100 - of paintings by Jack Shadbolt, Gordon Smith, Toni Onley, Jock Macdonald, and Arthur Erickson, each unknown then and each famous a generation later. Flather's work was inexplicably unpriced, as if he wasn't interested in selling his landscapes. By about 1950 -for some unknown reason - Flather stopped exhibiting completely.

What Flather's paintings show is the same gradual shift from realism to impressionism that occured among the Group of Seven a generation earlier. Like Varley, his brushstrokes become thick and textured. His trees evolve into feathery, Carr-like flames. Without buying into Harris's mystical Theosophy - Flather was, after all, a science teacher and a dedicated member of Kerrisdale's Ryerson United Church - he begins reducing landforms to abstractions. Dead snags are burnt-out candles. Talus slopes are inverted pyramids. Like Harris, he revelled in painting blue shadows on snow and the coruscations of light on moving water. His storm clouds -like Weston's - are transformed into malevolent cocoons.

But in the art world of the late 40s and early 50s, the tectonic plates of convention were shifting. The landscape painters, the impressionists, the figurative artists all soon found themselves on the wrong side of the faultline that lay between them and modern art trends. Realism was out. Abstract expressionism was in. Flather - like Shadbolt - tried his hand at complete expressionism at that time, but his surreal paintings, without any horizon, become groundless, colourful patterns that reveal nothing of the artist's deeper feelings.

It may be that it was so ingrained in Flather's unassuming - even reticent - nature that he simply couldn't express himself artistically other than by imitating styles explored earlier by those who challenged convention. He was not an innovator. So, for over 40 years, he'd retreat several times a week to his upstairs studio and quietly paint, either landscapes drawn from photographs of recent travels or flowers taken from his garden. If friends or relatives came by, he'd offer them a painting. He gave away about 100. Other than that, he was tight-lipped about his work and artist friends. Says Barrie of his father: "Painting was his escape. He painted all the time and never talked about it. He was an enigma. He spoke through his art: it was his emotional outlet. He revealed himself through his paintings."

Flather's next-door neighbour for 47 years, well-known dance teacher, Kay Armstrong, remembers him not for his painting at all, but for his seemingly boundless creative energy. She could hear him playing the organ in his livingroom... or sometimes the violin. She knew he had an elaborate pottery workshop in his basement with wheel and kiln for making ceramics. She could see the handmade birdhouses he hung in his backyard to attract songbirds. Sometimes in the early morning he'd stand on his porch whistling and sometimes she'd she him prowling outdoors with his camera taking pictures of dew on spiderwebs.

But his most visible hobby was gardening. Around his castle-like, stucco house - with brick fretwork framing the windows and a weathervane-topped turret above the front door --- Flather publicly pursued his horticultural obsession with the same enthusiasm he pursued his painting in private. His backyard was filled with chrysanthemums and fruit trees. He was proud of the apple tree on which he'd grafted branches producing 35 different species of apples. Clemantis and wisteria grew upward on trellises - over the house's eaves and electric wires. Across the street - he'd secretly drilled a water pipe under East Boulevard - he planted a garden on the abandoned B.C. Electric right-of-way. There, he grew household vegetables and bizarre flowers in such an abundance that Armstrong grew accustomed to his gift of fresh produce on her doorstep. Grace Flather put the vegetables up in meticulously labelled Mason jars. Armstrong didn't know that Donald Flather was preserving the flowers, too: in dozens of Georgia O'Keefe-style paintings.

Says Armstrong of her neighbour of almost a half century: "You wouldn't have had any sense he was an artist. He never talked about his paintings - never. You'd see them. The place was bulging - BULGING! - with them, but he didn't talk about them. They were, I guess, a personal thing to him, his babies."

After his retirement in 1968, he had even more time to explore the land that he - like his Group of Seven predecessors -wanted to define in paint. Sometimes, he'd head in his camperized GM pickup to his Crispair Farm on Shuswap Lake near Celista, B.C. to photograph and sketch and tend the orchard there. Sometimes, Flather and his wife would set off across country, collecting scenes for possible future reference. The Maritimes, Ontario, the Prairies, Northwest Territories, Baffin Island... Donald Flather took thousands of photographs and his wife took extraordinary - and useless - notes recording every single purchase (and the price) of every item bought along the way.

But Flather's great love was British Columbia. In dozens of road trips and hundreds of hikes into the province's backcountry, he saw it all. As his paintings testify, he had a special affinity the yellowing, autumn aspens and willows of the Chilcotin, the high lakes and peaks of the Rockies, the dead snags and pines along Howe Sound, the snow-covered terrain of the northern Okanagan, and the dramatic spire of Black Tusk near Whistler. He tended often toward the overtly romantic, toward Art Nouveau-style natural patterns, toward cliches. He paints an innocent doe in a field and tiny snowdrifts caught in the bare branches of red osier dogwood. He paints sunsets. He paints flowering plants
wherever he went.

When he died of cancer in 1990, five of his landscapes were hung at the funeral service in Ryerson United Church. Most of those in attendance had absolutely no idea Flather painted.

David Flather and his uncle Barrie decided the long-hidden collection of artwork deserved recognition and removed 318 paintings from the Kerrisdale house for storage after Grace's death. Except for a dozen currently on display in two B.C. art galleries, the rest are stacked - along with Flather's thousands of slides - under blue plastic tarps in a warehouse. On the back of each painting, in the same bold print he used on school chalkboards, Flather has succinctly recorded the artwork's history. When Flather's slide images are compared to the resulting paintings, it's clear what artistic liberties he took with reality. It is also clear whose art styles he tried to emulate.

His spare, almost stark 'Sunset Beyond the Sunshine Coast' (Autumn, 1979) shows a view westward past Howe Sound's Anvil Island. An unnatural dagger of wind-driven clouds, the emblematic silhouetted ridges, the coppery sky and water reflections are so Lawren Harris it would be easy to confuse the two painters' works. 'Aspens in the Early Spring' (Loon Lake) is an ominous grey-green landscape of swirling, feathery trees and reeds which mimick Emily Carr at her most surreal. 'Pulpit Rock' (Entrance into the canyon of the South Nahanni River) shows a brooding, Northwest Territories landscape that bears in style a great similarity to the paintings of W.P. Weston. Often, the warehouse paintings appear unsigned. But in close inspection, the name D.M. Flather is seen, concealed amid swirls in the lower right-hand corner.

Expert opinions of those who have seen photos of the paintings today are varied. Charlie Hill, curator of Canadian art at Ottawa's National Gallery, feels Flather is like many other good amateur artists in the country. Jack Shadbolt admires Flather's fortitude in painting.

Vancouver art dealer, Robert Heffel, knows of only one example of an artist who was discovered posthumously. His name was Vincent Van Gogh. For many artists, however --- W.P. Weston and Emily Carr come to his mind --- significant fame and sales occur only after the painters have died. "He's good," Heffel says as he inspects photos of Flather's paintings. "He's an amateur, but I wouldn't call his paintings amateurish." He considers it possible that Flather, too, could be recognized after his death. After all, W.P. Weston's work went into critical limbo for a half century. But at one of Heffel's recent annual art auctions, a 1932 Weston landscape called 'Jotunheim', showing identical brown, roiling clouds to Flather's 1972 'Pulpit Rock' painting, sold for $71,500.

Whether Flather's reputation as an artist will survive the criticism that comes with showings, whether the paintings sell, whether they come to form a missing piece in the province's cultural history is, to Heffel, less important than Donald Flather did what he did. He painted for over 50 years, totally unrecognized, every week, every month, every year. That he appeared to conceal the paintings from scrutiny makes his dedication more bizarre. "He was trying to express the beauty he saw," says Heffel today. "He painted just for the love of painting. From that point of view, that's a good story. It's neat."

On Kerrisdale's East Boulevard today, Flather's curbside ginko tree still sends out green shoots from its base each spring. His lilacs still bloom along the deserted train line nearby. His clemantis turns pink each summer and his apple trees produce fruit each fall. The place where his old, clandestine pipe passes under the boulevard's grassy median on its way to the illegal garden across the street --- still tended by the Armstrongs --- is deep green year-round from a subterranean seep. It is sort of like Flather's lifetime of paintings --- hidden from sight, quiet, fecund, and hinting at the resilence of dreams. 

reprinted with the permission of David Flather
To view this article and visit the gallery and see other information about Donald Falther, please click here.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Port Carling visitors discover 'the wall'

The Portrait has presented a few murals from across Canada, but this one in Port Carling, Ontario is exceptional.  If you click on the picture, you can enlarge it a bit to catch the drama of what is really happening.  Failing that, please check the article written by John Goddard which appeared in the Toronto Star this summer.  Its quite a story!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

John Newman Draws from his Art to Fight Back

I had the pleasure of listening to Mary Hynes on the CBC's Tapestry today. (October 2nd, 2011). She presented the story of John Holmes, a lifelong artist, who was struck down by a stroke.  John fought back by learning to draw with his left hand.

Please click here to be taken to John's Facebook page.
Please click here to be taken to Mary Hyne's CBC, Tapestry webpage, where you can listen  to John's story.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What's in a Picture? Looking at Sir John

We find in this, picture, Sir John A Macdonald, an aging leader.  He has the rumpled look of his age.  His jacket is loose, wrinkled and suggestive of homespun. He looks like he just stood from behind his desk, and hadn't taken the time to tighten his vest. His posture is somewhat slumped and he holds what appears to be a pair of spectacles as if he is about to make a point in conversation.

When I look at his face I see a benign, paternal appearance - suitable for a man who has been called the Father of the Canadian Federation.

Its said that pictures are worth a thousand words.  Think of that famous picture taken by Josef Karsh, of Winston Churchill.  Karsh set his camera up, looked through the lens, stepped to one side, then reached out and snatched Churchill's cigar out of his hand.  The British Bulldog leaned forward in his chair and glared.  Karsh snapped and one of the most famous pictures of Churchill became history.

But what has this unknown photographer told us about Sir John?  To answer that I suggest that you take a look at the street names found in the centre of Ontario towns and cities.  Macdonald's name is noticeably absent. And if that isn't enough, take a walk through Gananoque Cemetery, in Kingston and you will find a pretty ordinary grave. You won't find Macdonald resting beneath a ton of marble and a heavy statue.  All of which suggests that Canadians weren't fully aware at the time of the importance that Macdonald played in birthing our newly formed country.

I found this portrait on the Government of Canada's site, 'The Canadian Heritage Information Network'.  They in turn accredit the national archives as its source. Please click here.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

AJ Casson Group of Seven Artist from the CBC Archives

AJ Casson was a member of the Group of Seven. The video you can see, if you click on the link below is from the CBC archives.  Its a good story of a man of dignity and character, who gives up his art to become the caregiver for his wife who is suffering from Alzhiemer's disease.

picture from Wikipedia
To view the video please click here.

Friday, October 7, 2011

David Alexander - where art and social consciousness meet.

I recently had the pleasure of looking over a selection of David Alexander's paintings. It seemed somehow appropriate that David should follow Greg Freedman on The Portrait, for in some respects the works of both artists provide social comments on life.

David's paintings are soul searching.  They are a social examination of the effects of the oil industry on human life and on our earth.

It is one thing for me to critique landscape paintings.  But my experience and observations of art fail me when I look at David's social commentary.  But, that being said, there is a common denominator which runs through the selection of works David has provided.

For one thing, the pictures are direct, simple and uncluttered.  David cuts to the chase. His works take us from the citadel of nature, where trees (an ancient life symbol), rise above  and look over a great pit in the earth where we presume oil is extracted.

David takes us on a journey from the oil pit to the Exxon Valdez. The ship is a black and red, obese, bulk carrier of unrefined oil. The colouring is significant for in psychological terms, black and red are colours of violence.

He takes us from there to what appears to be a black, tower, garden ornament  which is topped off with a globe. There is a wrenching contradiction between its ornamental design and  its purpose.  David calls this 'The Apotheosis of Oil'.  There can be no  mistake that it is  shaped like a black oil tower, capped off with a glass light globe.  The title Apotheosis tells us that David sees that society has elevated oil to a divine level.  

When I look at these works, I find myself in the end look at his Titan which has a face of a child. David sums it up when he says: "I wanted to show the Titan as an enigmatic symbol that was also a paradox, a primeval force of nature wearing a youthful mask."

David expresses it well, for the paradox is that we are dependent upon the oil industry  While oil  gives us fuel to drive our cars and provide us with the lifestyle we know, it also takes from the earth we depend upon for life itself.. 

Well done David. Where would we be without artists with a social conscience to interpret the lives we live.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Meet David Alexander - An Expressionistic artist.

I had the pleasure of meeting David Alexander, on a sunny afternoon, in Gallery Plus, in Belleville, Ontario. I was immediately taken by his unassuming, soft spoken manner and by the painting he had with him at the time.

David is a recently retired teacher from high school and the continuing education fields. He is married and has no children and has been a member of the collective gallery 121, in Belleville for over ten years.

David has been affiliated with a variety of art organizations over the years. On the local scene he has been associated with the ArtPlus Gallery and he is a member of the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Quinte Arts Council. He has also had associations with a couple of Toronto galleries and he is an alumnus of the Ontario College of Art. His works have been shown at Artisans du Monde in Montreal, and in other locations in Ontario.

David first realized that he had artistic talent when his friend's father,  introduced him to oil painting.  His enthusiasm helped him persevere through the learning curve until he learned how to paint.

David says that he was never discouraged even though he met many cautionary roadblocks thad made him realize that a career in art would be challenging and financially unrewarding.

When he looks back over his life he sees how it has been enriched by his experiences in art.  David  says that has he has been influenced by the work of such artists as Rosenquist, Anselm Keifer, Edward Munch, Rene Magritte, Van Gogh, Kathy Kollwitz, and Puvis de Chavannes.

David is presently working on a series of paintings, drawings and sculptures based on environmental and social commentary themes.  Stylistically, he is an expressionist who enjoys communicating his love of life through his work.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Count Berthold Von Imhoff, Prairie Painter, revisited

Join  'The Portrait'  today, to listen to CBC personality, the late, Peter Czowski, interviewing advertising executive Ray Penner, on the art and life of Count Berthold Von Imhoff.

Question: Was Von Berthold, a real count and if he was, why was he crawling around on top of scaffolds in small town churches?
Count Berthold Von Imhoff, a German immigrant to St. Walburg, Saskatchewan painted exquisite religious mural sand frescoes in churches across the province from 1913 to 1939.  He transformed sparse walls and ceilings into works of art. Most of the time he didn't charge the poor parishes for his expensive materials or labour.  In this CBC radio interview, Imhoff enthusiast Ray Penner, discusses how Imoff made the prairie churches of Saskatchewan his masterpiece.

Broadcast Date: November 19, 1991            

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Back from the Past: Kenneth Gordon's Hay Stacks

Readers of 'The Portrait', may recall my critique of Kenneth Gordon's 'Hay Stacks', from January 2010.
This is the first time that I have recycled a painting but I am presenting it to round off my autumn harvest theme.

Kenneth Gordon's work sits comfortably alongside the painting of Paraskeva Clark and Carl Schaefer.
Its interesting to compare how he treated the same subject with the others.

Paraskeva Clark

Carl Shaefer

Fredericks-Artworks Blog, copying policy

The Canadian Copyright act, section 29 reports on fairdealing, that it is not an infringement to reproduce someone else's work for research, study, criticism, review or to report. Which pretty much sums up what this site is about. All content sources, be they artists, printed references, and website url's are respectfully identified on this site. http://http//

Mission Statement
A Portrait of the Visual Arts in Canada, is intended to celebrate the richness of Canada's visual arts, and to promote the arts in Canada.

Statement of Intent
I make every effort to credit the sources of information used in this blog and to obtain the permission and cooperation of all the works presented by living artists. I try, as much as possible to use works from public sources eg. national and provincial collections, of deceased artists. If for any reason, any artist disapproves of anything written about them or their work the artist is encouraged to request withdrawal of the content.