This show is a response to requests. A few people have asked me about certain paintings they had seen 10 or 12 or 18 years ago. Flattered my work was remembered, I also shared their curiosity. So here is a selection of my early paintings to let the interested few see them again and to treat myself to a minor retrospective. All the better that they will be new to most people.
It has been so long since I have seen most of these paintings, I think of them as found-objects or ready-mades. They were discovered in several recent archaeological digs that occurred when I changed my place of residence. Many had been buried in a basement, unseen by human eyes for over 10 years. Others were returned from being on indefinite loan to friends. Others were rescued from being thrown out with other junk during a major house-cleaning at my parents'.
Most of this work was done while I was in my 20s (at a time when I think I would have thought that by the time I was in my 40s I would be recognized as one of Canada's great artists). I am now in my 40s. I am not generally recognized as one of Canada's great artists and am very thankful that when boyhood dreams of becoming a cowboy are not realised, it is not the least bit disappointing. This is the lot of most artists, if not of most ordinary people.
When I painted these paintings, I did not trouble myself with what to paint, I just went ahead and painted, much like I just go ahead and do what I do now. But, after the fact, when I see this work a decade later, I can sense the dilemma which is the real dilemma of most artists of our time (whether or not they think about it). The problem is what to paint. The problem is to serve up your fellow creatures with something meaningful, and not just something that is meaningful, but something that is seen to be meaningful. For this to really happen, collective goals are needed, convictions are needed, icons are needed. Things that define and determine the meaningful are needed. This is more a social problem than an artistic one.
Whether or not what we do is recognized as having any social purpose, those of us with the creative itch are going to scratch away anyway. We hope the different drummer we march to isn't drowned out completely.
For my part, I am quietly pleased with both the consistency of vision and variety of approach when I see these paintings gathered here now for the first time together. For a moment every morning when I wake, I still experience the mystical wonder they remind me of. We are here. We are still here. I can detect in these paintings the emphasis on a strong central image, a "presence", an "aura", or a spiritual quality that I still consider the most important element in my current work. "Style" has never meant much to me. Loyalty to a style has meant even less.
The work on view here was selected because -- 1. the pieces are related in size, following Petteplace Gallery's Gord White's insistence that only big works work in this lobby; -- 2. they are a fair representative cross-section of what now must be called my "early work"; -- 3. they all welcome a "literary" reading, which I hope will appeal to the journalists and news people who are going to be faced with them every day this month; -- 4. they have a religious feel to them which seems appropriate because the show will span Good Friday and Easter.
One by one these paintings have been on view before. They received next to no critical acclaim or recognizable recognition when first shown, in fact many of them have been rejected at least once from a juried show. Nevertheless, here they are again, not so much to give the arts establishment a second chance to discover a little known but enormously significant Canadian artist, but because some of the paintings are getting quite musty and mildewed and it is time they were aired out before going back into storage.
IN ADVANCE OF THE
GREAT CANADIAN ICON
at the SPECTATOR GALLERY
March 31 - May 4, 1987
ABOVE: INSTALLATION SHOT IN SPECTATOR LOBBY:
featuring ABORTION (left, with OMEGA over it), and
FOR INFINITY ON INFINITY MAKE A CHAIN (to the right).
BELOW: DURHAMS RESPONSIBILITY
The hockey sweater is based on the19th century banner (now in the Dundas Historical Society Museum) that led the protest marches in Dundas when Lord Durham was about to make his report on how Canada was to be run in response to unrest in Upper Canada and Mackenzie's failed revolution.