November 25th: Abstraction and Emma Lake

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Ahoy, ahoy!  It’s been a very cozy weekend here in Sackville.  The roomies and I have been drinking tea, and doing incredible amounts of homework. We’re all in different programs, but we are always all very busy during the last week of school!  Depending on which one of us you are, you have essays to write, photos to develop, lab reports to finish, songs to learn or conversations to transcribe…always go-go-go and never a dull moment!

So, now to throw us back to Thursday….
Abstraction in the Canadian art world began to take off during the late 1930s and early 1940s.  Paul Emile Bourduas was an influential player in the Canadian abstraction movement and encouraged his pupils to create spontaneous work.  He also wrote Refus Global, which is a social commentary on a call for reform in Quebec, and a separation of Church and state.

You can read it here:

As an early figure in this movement, many of his pupils were intrigued by him and his home in Saint Hillaire became a sort of artistic retreat for him and his students, where they would have discussions and suppers and develop new ideas and techniques related to the movement.  The importance of centres like this for artists to gather was very central to the implementation of the abstract art movement in Canada.

Emma Lake in Regina, Saskatchewan was the site for many summer school art programs put on by the Regina College School of Art.  In 1955, Kenneth Lochhead, one of the instructors of the time, decided it would be most beneficial to have major summer workshops out at the Emma Lake property rather than just the regular summer school programs.  He hoped he would attract some bigger names to the workshops and it would be a way for artists of the prairies, who were seldom paid much attention to by the larger city centres, would gain attention from the public.  The workshop proved to be such a roaring success, that it is still held annually each summer, as a way of connecting artists and bringing them together to share work and ideas.

To me, there is nothing better than a workshop to get creativity, ideas and conversations going.  Workshops can occur within almost any profession, and if they are done effectively, everyone involved walks away with a fresh perspective and new ideas.  They keep things moving, they allow for the evolution of ideas and most importantly, they bring people together who otherwise may not have had an opportunity to meet!  This was the original goal of the Emma Lake workshops and it proved to be more successful than anyone could have ever hoped!

Thats all for now!



November 23rd: Guest Lecture

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Ahoy, ahoy!  I know, I’ve been terrible with updates lately.  This weekend, I owe you two posts!  Schoolwork always begins to pile up around this time of year, but I cannot neglect my lovely blog followers now, can I?

On Tuesday we had the pleasure of having Chris, a guest lecturer come into class.  I really appreciate and value when professors incorporate guest lectures into the curriculum.  Your knowledge of a topic or an idea can be expanded on so much by a guest lecture, or it can even cause you to begin thinking in an incredibly new and different way.  The lecture I enjoyed the most by an artist this year was the opening of Feed, an exhibit by Tonia DiRosio.  This exhibit was all about her experiences with video and learning to cook from Italian relatives and friends.  I think the reason why I liked this talk so much, is because it had so much to do with the artist’s attempt at reconnecting with her own family history and heritage.  It was mostly film that was produced from this project, and the whole exhibit is being wrapped up tonight with a big pasta supper at the Legion.  I know that many people would not necessarily correlate the concept of recipes and learning to cook with art, but the way the work was presented was what made it interesting.

The exhibition was not just about cooking pasta, it was about far more than that.  It was about the traditions that go into cooking an Italian meal, who cooks it, when do they cook it, and how.  What ingredients are used?  Is a recipe followed?  How do these women know what to cook?  Through film and photography, DiRosio explored these and other themes of an Italian household.  Enjoying the meal afterward with family and friends was another part of her study.  I enjoyed her talk and exhibit so much.  It was almost like a visual ethnography project about the concept of cooking practices in Italy.  Her films are for the most part, unaltered, so you are able to view them much like you would a documentary.

Italian cooking may not seem like a very “Canadian” topic, but that is what I think is one of the most interesting things about art in both Canada and the United States of America.  Because these two countries really make up the “new” West, there really is just an unimagineable amount of influence coming at artists from every direction.  In DiRosio’s case, she is influenced by her Italian heritage.  In her work, heritage meets present day and manifests itself through her films and photography.  I always find it interesting how those living in North America of European descent are so interested in their roots.  I find that often, if you ask someone from Canada about their nationality, they are quite likely to define themselves as Dutch, German, French, English, Scottish, Hungarian…a myriad of different associations with European countries, where the only real connection is that this is what they’ve been told by their parents or grandparents.  Seeing someone actively seek out their European heritage is an interesting connection to Canadian art, as so many of us living here are of European descent!

Thats all!


November 18th: The Contemporary Art Society

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Ahoy, ahoy!  Here’s my third post of the week!  It’s been a bit of whirlwind, coming back after an absence of a few days, but I’ve definitely missed exploring new topics through this blog.  This Thursday, we learned about Modernist movements in the Canadian art world, and how contemporary ideas were slowly beginning to take the place of traditional ones.


The Card Game


The above painting is by John Lyman.  I really liked this painting when it was shown to us in class, though it was the recipient of bad reviews when it was first shown.  The brushwork is free flowing and how the paint is being used is really central to the effect that this work has on the viewer.  It is layers thickly, and the colours are extremely vibrant.  Though the scene is a simple card game, the use of light and shadow and the colours are what stand out in portraying the female figures around the table lantern.

Lyman was one of the first to recognize that many Montreal based artists needed a way to make their art known when he discovered Goodridge Roberts, literally starving on the streets.  He lent Roberts a helping hand in order to get his name out there, and wanted to look for a way to do the same for countless other Montreal artists.  During the 1930s the Canadian art scene was very much based out of Ontario, and artists from Quebec wanted to be recognized on the same level as artists from Ontario.

The Contemporary Arts Society was founded in 1939 by Goodridge Roberts and John Lyman.  The society was based out of Montreal.  This association of modern artists was easy to join in on.  One simply had to have an interest in promoting modern art to Canadians and to not be a member of the Royal Canadian Academy.  The Royal Canadian Academy, at this point in time, had gained a very conservative reputation, and this was an image that Contemporary Art Society was directly opposing.  One did not even have to be an artist to join, as the Contemporary Arts Society had members who curators, collectors and critics in their midst, as well as active contemporary artists.  However, though it was open to any and all artists interested in joining, almost every member was from Quebec.  The Contemporary Arts Society did not receive much attention outside of Montreal, but it definitely made an impact on the art scene and perception of modern art within the city.

That’s all for now!


November 16th: Canadian Identity Revisited

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Ahoy ahoy!

As has been discussed at length beforehand, so much of Canadian art was about trying to identify a Canadian identity.  However, this focus on Canada as a country unto itself began to be more central to Canadians everywhere following World War One.  Many citizens of Canada were now second or even third generation Canadians, with very few authentic ties to their mother countries.  Establishing ourselves as a nation was a business, and the search for Canadian symbols began.

The establishment of the Royal Canadian Mint in 1931 marked the establishment of a uniquely Canadian currency, with designs that are related to Canadian identity.  Emmanuel Hahn was mentioned as one of the original designers of some of Canada’s currency, the design on both the dime and quarter are still in use today (the Bluenose and the Caribou).  Our sense of nationalism was developing and the currency designs reflected this.

The other interesting aspect of Canadian culture was the development of our own popular culture icons.  In 1934, at the height of the Depression, the Dionne quintuplets were born in Ontario.  These five little girls were an instant sensation, though the methods involved with their upbringing were highly questionable.  As a result, these five little girls were a new Canadian symbol and often used in advertisements of the times such as these:

Palmolive advertisement

Karo Syrup advertisement

There were even dolls made of the quintuplets, taking the use of the quintuplets image to a whole new level.

Dionne quintuplet dolls

The use of the quints image in advertising was only the beginning of Canadian symbolism being used to promote products.  Over the years, various different Canadian images have been used in advertising in a hope to sell their product, and we can still see it today in very familiar beer commercials.

I felt like this commercial was the most clear example of the use of Canadian imagery.  I’m sure the Group of Seven would approve of the heavy focus on Canadian landscape being the factor in shaping who we are as a nation!

The nation debate still continues today as a point of contention in the concept of Canadian identity.  The art canon itself is undergoing changes related to the revisitation of First Nations art and the inclusion of artists from marginalized groups whose works were not recognized in the past.  Additionally, we also learned that the examination of Canadian sculpture is a largely bypassed area when it comes to Canadian art history, so there is a whole other medium that needs to be explored.  What is being a Canadian to you?

Thats all for now!


November 9th: Social Art and the Eastern Group of Painters.

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Ahoy, ahoy!  I know I have been rather absent in my posts, but don’t worry!  This week you’ll be getting THREE posts coming at you instead of two, because I have to do catch up from class last Tuesday, which was rather centred around more social art and artists of the Depression era in Canada.

The Eastern Group of Painters was formed in 1938 as a response to the Group of Seven.  This newly formed group was much more modernistic, and focused on the concept of art for art’s sake, and appreciating the aesthetic value of what art had to offer.  This is not to say that all of the artists associated with the Eastern Group were abstract artists.  Indeed, Jori Smith, one of the more prominent, female members of this group, found that abstraction didn’t fulfill her and she was much more inspired by nature, but simply in a different way than the Group of Seven’s works.

The Eastern Group of Painters took Canadian art in a new direction, moving it away from the traditional holds of landscapes and bringing it into the modern art world.  In Europe, exciting new works were being executed by artists such as Dali’s The Persistence of Memory and Picasso’s Guernica.  These works were taking the European art world by storm, drawing many critiques, and subsequently, interest from viewers.  It is only natural that a similar movement would take hold in North America, though the art canon of Canada was, at this time, seen as much smaller than that of Europe.  The other point of interest about the Eastern Group of Painters is that many of them were from Quebec, and felt as though their voices were being marginalized by the Ontario Group.  This opposition may have been what drove many of them to create such radically different works from the Group of Seven’s and to look for inspiration in different forms of art.

Pegi Nicol MacLeod’s Descent of Lilies is an abstract, dreamlike work from this group of painters.  It embodies the concept of abstraction that was one of the principles upheld by the group:

A Descent of Lilies

This new Group opened the doors for artists who were inspired by ideas other than nature, and was also empowering to women artists, who were often seen as left out by the Group of Seven.  As the world moved forward into the Depression and War eras, it is only natural that art would begin to change as well.  Canadian identity was shifting and becoming more prominent.  Merely establishing ourselves as a land of scenic views and nature was not enough.  Second generation Canadian artists were taking inspiration from society, not nature.  Nature was not new, it was what they had always known, and thus, society was the new frontier when it came to topics that would be depicted in paintings.

That’s all for today!  I went to New York City last weekend and I’ll share a bit about the MoMA, Guggenheim and Met in my next post!  Sorry for falling a bit behind!


November 4: Paraskeva Clark

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Ahoy, ahoy!  Welcome to the weekend.  Mount Allison’s football team has made it to playoffs for the first time in twelve years, and will hosting Acadia this Saturday!  On another note, next weekend I will be going to New York City!  Can’t wait to visit the Guggenheim and MoMA!  The Guggenheim has an exhibition on of posters created in North America from the interwar years, which I talked about in my last post, so I am really excited about that!  It’s going to be a whirlwind of adventure, that is for sure!

In class on Thursday, we watched a film on Paraskeva Clark.  It was a pretty basic film, covering a bit of her life story and ending with her selling a bunch of paintings at a gallery show.  Clark lived to be eighty-eight years old, and was a member of the Canadian Group of Painters, which formed after the Group of Seven split up.  The Canadian Group of Painters was much more diverse than the original Group of Seven, and had over 20 members.  Clark was also commissioned as a war artist during World War II.  In the video we watched, I really liked listening to some of the things Clark had to say.  One thing she said about art, was that you do it.  It’s not about creating, it’s about doing. Creating makes you seem like a god, and you are just doing what you know, which is art.

I really liked this idea.  I am not by any means much of an artist myself, but I do enjoy writing, which is somewhat like an art form.  When I write, I never think of myself as creating a poem or a story, or a commentary on something.  I just do it, and let the words flow as they come, be it written or typed.  Of course, I do let myself think a bit about what I plan to do, and I go back and make corrections and edits, maybe change a few things here and there.  But I never think to myself, “I am now creating a poem”.  The creative process of writing is essentially just doing it.  Yes, you will reach blocks sometimes, and yes, you will have to go back and edit and re edit, but it is all part of the process of doing writing.  And art is the same way.  You do not create.  You do.

Paraskeva Clark stopped painting at age 80 and died in 1986.  She seemed like a fabulous person, intelligent and witty.  Her desire to do art, as she would have said, was not driven by the want of money, which I respect.  There is a biography out about her, which you can buy on

That’s all!


November 2: Art Between The Wars

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Ahoy, ahoy!  Well, we are full swing into November and winter is definitely creeping up on us here in Sackville.  Last class we covered a lot of ground, and we are moving out of landscape painting and into paintings that represent social activity and people instead.

The Great Depression affected everyone.  After the Wall Street crash of 1929, millions of people were put out of work.  Artists, especially, had no one to sell their art to.  In an effort to help provide these artists with work, various different programs sprung up that put artists to work, mostly by decorating public buildings.  Two such programs were operated by the United States Department of the Treasury which were the Public Works of Art Project and the Section of Painting and Sculpture.  Another program was the Federal Art Program which was operated by the Works Progress Administration.  Each program was slightly different from one another and provided many artists with a source of income, though it probably was fairly small.

Public Works of Art Project

This project was the first of it’s kind.  It commissioned artists to sculpt and paint public works intended as either monuments or decorations.  Two of the biggest projects that came from this organization were the murals for the Coit Tower in San Fransisco and the monument to six famous astronomers at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.  The murals at the Coit Tower sometimes included commentary on what was happening in the world as they were being created.

A Part of the Coit Murals


Section of Painting and Sculpture

In the United States today, you can still view murals painted under this program in older postal buildings.  This program awarded money based on artistic talent, so it was a constant competitive atmosphere for artists who were involved.  It also allowed for the best possible art to be what would adorn federal public buildings.

Mural in the Wakefield, Rhode Island post office.

Federal Art Program

In addition to murals and sculptures, the Federal Art Program also commissioned posters.  There were hundreds of thousands of works created by many artists under this program, including Jackson Pollock, before he became famous on his own!  This was the last program of its kind, and ended with the advent of World War Two.

Promotional Poster from 1941

These different programs encouraged artists to continue working, though it may not have been in the style they wanted.  The work created from these projects, especially the murals are still around for viewing today!

Thats all for now!