Time can be saved, wasted, and lost, but not stopped. We can have all the time in the world yet no time at all. Time as a concept is one of the great mysteries of the world. It is defined as the continued sequence of existence and events in the past, present, and future. Generally speaking, it measures duration; in more philosophical terms it is debated as being either linear or cyclical; and in science, the modern understanding of time is based on Einstein’s theory of relativity. This exhibition explores how artists have marked the passage of time through seasons and hours, aging, captured moments, and referencing the past.
Art can be a reflection of our times—it has the power to express and capture moments through light, colour, subject, or social commentary on contemporary issues. The RMG is dedicated to collecting with intention in order to reflect the diverse voices and contemporary issues that make up the continuing story of Canadian art. Since 1967, the gallery’s Permanent Collection of over 4,700 artworks has evolved through the acquisition of new artwork and the exploration of different themes and topics through exhibitions. Featuring a variety of works from the Permanent Collection, this exhibition reflects on the inevitable passing of time and the lessons we can learn from the past.
Join us on November 9th at 7pm for Alexandra Luke: Life and Art – a lecture by local artist and curator Margaret Rodgers.
Alexandra Luke (i.e. Margaret McLaughlin, 1901-1967) was an important artist linked to the beginnings of abstract painting in Canada and a founding member of Painters Eleven, Ontario’s first abstract painting group (1953-1960). Born Margaret Alexandra Luke in Montreal, the Lukes had been an established family in Oshawa and returned in 1914. Luke graduated as a nurse in 1924 and would go on to marry Clarence Ewart McLaughlin in 1928, grandson of Robert McLaughlin. Always interested in the arts, Luke did not begin formal training until 1928, when she took classes from Jan Ampel. Her early work were landscapes, influenced by the Group of Seven style, in particular, A.Y. Jackson. She was drawn to abstract art by 1933 but did not begin experimenting with it until 1945. She was highly influenced by Jock Macdonald whom she studied under at the Banff School of Fine Arts. Each summer from 1947-1952 she travelled to Provincetown, MA to study under Hans Hofmann, who was considered be one of the most influential abstract expressionist teachers. Luke’s experience with Hofmann had a profound impact on her work, in particular his push/pull spatial theories around colour and form.
Luke was instrumental in organizing the first Canadian all-abstract exhibition in 1952, which opened in Oshawa, and toured across the country. The following year, she exhibited work in the exhibition Abstracts at Home, which led to the first official meeting of Painters Eleven at Luke’s cottage at Thickson’s Point near Oshawa in 1953. Abstract art for Luke was a spiritual journey, saying: “I feel very strongly that Abstract painting is a genuine searching for truth and purity in art.”
Luke painted under a pseudonym that combined her middle and maiden names. This allowed her to avoid confusion with her husband’s first cousin, the painter Isabel McLaughlin. In having a different artist name, it created a personal mythology. The two names represented two distinct lives and worlds. As Margaret McLaughlin she was a wife, mother, and wealthy socialite in Oshawa; as Alexandra Luke she was an artist, intellect, and bohemian. Alexandra Luke holds a special place in the hearts of the RMG and the wider community of Oshawa. She was a patron of the arts in Oshawa and the gift of her personal art collection created a starting point for the gallery’s permanent collection. This exhibition draws from the RMG’s rich collection of artworks by Alexandra Luke that highlight important developments in her artistic journey. Despite the push and pull between social duties and artistic pursuits, Luke’s dedication and passion for abstract art was steadfast.
Clean and healthy waterways contribute to the social, economic and environmental wellbeing of a community. Oshawa’s main watershed, the Oshawa Creek, has a history of contamination connected to early industrial development. The creek flows 50 kilometres from its headwaters in the Oak Ridges Moraine to its mouth on Lake Ontario, and played a central role in Oshawa’s historical foundation as a settler community. The lake and the creek were an ideal source of power for early industries but had an environmental impact polluting the waterway with metals and other contaminants. Industrialization along the creek also had an impact on the Indigenous populations who used the Creek for transportation and subsidence, with dams and pollution making the pathway less accessible and healthy. Recreational use of the creek was also effected with quality of water being connected to quality of life for early residents.
The Creek was deemed polluted and unsafe for human consumption as early as 1902 due to over 50 years of industrial activities along it. Since 1958, the health and quality of the Oshawa Creek has been monitored closely by the Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority, and today in cooperation with the City of Oshawa. This exhibition pulls together a selection of photographs to reflect on the history of industry along the Oshawa Creek and to consider the effects rapid development has on the quality of health and life in a growing city.
The Thomas Bouckley Collection is a photographic collection originally compiled by Oshawa historian and collector Thomas Bouckley. It consists of over 3500 images that depict the visual history of this community and is searchable online.
Queering the Collection brings together a selection of artworks from the RMG’s permanent collection and seeks to expand upon the established interpretations of these artworks by looking at them through a queer lens. The artworks were selected taking into account records and documentation that suggest these artists lived outside of gender and sexuality binaries and in doing so, questions why these facts have been historically removed from conversations about the artist and their work.
“Queer” as a term is often used as shorthand for the wider 2SLGBTQIA+ community. Historically used as a slur, it was reclaimed during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s as a way to refuse stigmatization. Today the term remains controversial, but is rooted in the urge to challenge normative systems and relations, question accepted boundaries, and reject societal expectations. It is a way of being in the world, a shared sense of understanding and community with other queer people. In the current global context, when the rights of queer people are being simultaneously recognized and all but erased, examining historical queerness feels increasingly urgent, acknowledging that we have always been here, and provides a sense of ancestry to young queer people.
Queerness has always been present in the arts but has been historically dependent on artists remaining invisible and unnamed. Rediscovering and acknowledging the queer stories of these artists, explicit or covert, adds a valuable layer to the interpretation of their work. The featured artists have used their artwork as an outlet to explore themselves, seek change, and redefine the world around them. Some artists lived openly, sharing their lives and experiences publically through art, some we may only be able to speculate about, while others lived quietly during a time when their private lives were criminalized. They have used their artwork to express the pain of losing loved ones to AIDS, the joy of queer relationships, and the banality of everyday life; essential human experiences often only permitted in private spaces for many queer people in history and even today.
Queering the Collection invites viewers to consider a new lens of interpretation when looking at these works. In questioning how society interprets our histories, we establish foundational methods for being curious and questioning how we live today, and think critically about our role in the world.
Installation of Queering the Collection at The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, 2023. Images by Toni Hafkenscheid.
Painters Eleven was the first abstract artist collective in Ontario. They were founded in 1953 at the cottage of artist Alexandra Luke on the Oshawa/Whitby border. Rather than having a common philosophy or style, Painters Eleven banded together around their shared desire to support abstraction and exhibit together. As Jock Macdonald noted: “The meaning of our group is the fact that we think alike about creativeness in art and the unity established is our power.” Rather than a manifesto, the group settled on a statement: “There is no manifesto here for the times. There is no jury but time. By now there is little harmony in the noticeable disagreement. But there is a profound regard for the consequences of our complete freedom.” (1955)
The Robert McLaughlin Gallery’s collection began in 1967 when artist Alexandra Luke, a member of the Painters Eleven, donated thirty-seven works from her private collection. Luke’s donation of art included work by all of the members of Painters Eleven and helped to establish the RMG’s unique focus on collecting and exhibiting the work of Painters Eleven. Today, the RMG’s collection of paintings, drawings, sculptures and prints by Painters Eleven has grown to over 1000 works, including works from before and after the Painters Eleven years (1953-1960). The RMG has regular exhibitions featuring works by the group, pulling together different aesthetics or themes.
The Covid-19 pandemic laid bare the heightened and continued economic and domestic disparities women experience in the workforce. Over the last three years, women were laid off at a higher rate, and those priviledged to be able to work from home still bore the brunt of the caregiving and domestic labour. This widening inequality has sparked a renewed interest in the work of feminist scholar and activist, Silvia Federici, who founded the Wages for Housework movement in the 1970s, which fought for governments to recognize that unpaid domestic work done by women is a form of gendered economic oppression. As Federici famously said: “They call it love, we call it unpaid labour.”
Artist Mary Rawlyk’s artwork explores how housework goes unnoticed and unpaid. During the 1970s, Mary Rawlyk was a full-time mother, housewife and a trained printmaker. Struggling to find time and energy to make art, she wrote: “There are times when I feel my very soul and creativity are extinguished by household trivia. Many prints never reach completion because of domestic disruptions.” She began reading feminist texts and discovered she was not alone in her dissatisfaction with the domestic role, and realized that her art could be a way to express her struggles. Rawlyk developed a series entitled Unpaid Labour (1973-1977) that explores domestic labour through imagery of the household objects she used such as a stove, iron, and sewing machines. Her series entitled Housewife (1982), incorporates a portrait of herself within the domestic objects, a personal reflection on feeling invisible and isolated in daily domestic tasks. A more overt political comment on women’s roles is seen in Canadian Apron Flag (1982) which replaces the maple leaf with an apron, it’s ties mimicking hands on hips—a confrontational gesture.
The Robert McLaughlin Gallery has a rich history of supporting and collecting women artists. With a collection of 35 prints by Mary Rawlyk ranging between 1972-1982, this exhibition pulls together a selection of work that explore her personal struggles with housework and how these gendered domestic demands enable a wider political structure that controls women’s lives.
Mary Rawlyk studied art at Mount Allison University (1960-61), and took classes at the Nova Scotia College of Art (1963-66) and Brighton Polytechnic (Brighton, UK, 1971-72). She has had solo exhibitions at Art Gallery of Burlington, Agnes Etherington Art Centre, and The Robert McLaughlin Gallery. Rawlyk’s work can be found in private, corporate and public collections including the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Art Gallery of Guelph, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Art Gallery of Ontario, and The Robert McLaughlin Gallery. Rawlyk currently resides in Burlington, Ontario.
Feeling connected is a fundamental psychological need. In nature, ecosystems depend on interactions and connections in order to thrive. Similarly, humans flourish through connections that are physical, emotional, and social. However, the desire to connect can go beyond relationships. As we have seen through the pandemic, there are benefits to connecting to nature—it can calm your nervous system and help to experience the world around you more deeply. Exploring personal and collective histories can also connect us with our roots, and situate us within the wider community. It provides a sense of belonging and understanding that can help shape perspectives and a sense of self.
The RMG believes that art cultivates connected and caring communities, and engagement with the Permanent Collection plays an important role in fostering this. With over 4,700 artworks, the shape and understanding of the Collection is continuously evolving through the acquisition of new work and exploration within exhibitions. This thematic Permanent Collection exhibition takes inspiration from the title of a new acquisition by Shellie Zhang entitled The Ties that Bind.
After two years of feeling disconnected, this exhibition pulls together artwork that reflects on the different ways we seek connections, whether through relationships, finding peace and perspective in nature, or exploring shared histories.
This exhibition is funded in part by the Government of Ontario through the Ontario Trillium Foundation.
Born in 1926 in Vancouver, BC, Kazuo Nakamura was interested in art at an early age. As a teenager, he would pore over his uncle’s Japanese art magazines and explore the city with a sketchbook in hand. In 1939, he began his formal art training at the Vancouver Technical Secondary School where he was taught by Jock Macdonald—an artist known for his modernist approach and a future fellow member of Painters Eleven. In 1941, his art training was cut short when he and his family were sent to a Japanese internment camp in Tashme, BC. Between doing labour in the camp and attending high school classes in the evening, Nakamura still found time to sketch and paint. He and his family spent two years interned before the Canadian government forcefully relocated them to Hamilton. Nakamura would eventually settle in Toronto where he picked up his formal art training again at the Central Technical School (1948-1951). In Toronto, he quickly became a part of the Toronto art scene thanks to his relationship with both Albert Franck and Jock Macdonald.
Kazuo Nakamura was a founding member of Painters Eleven (1953-60), Ontario’s first abstract art collective. In 1953, he was approached by William Ronald to participate in the Abstracts at Home exhibition that played a central role in the formation of Painters Eleven that same year. Although sharing in the other members’ use of abstraction, Nakamura’s work was distinguished within the group by his use of more subdued brushstrokes, simpler structures and monochromatic palette. When reflecting on the influence of Painters Eleven to his art, Nakamura believed he benefited most from the opportunities for exhibition. He also developed lasting relationships that continued post the disbanding of the group.
Nakamura’s fascination with science and mathematics is evident throughout his career through his use of patterns, linear perspectives, and geometric forms. From the earliest landscapes and abstractions to his later mathematical explorations, Nakamura was seeking patterns in nature. He considered his most important work to be his Number Structure series, done later in his career, where he explored how the language of numbers reveal patterns and structures in the natural world. Curator Dennis Reid summed up what Nakamura was seeking: “Kaz was passionate about understanding the universe he lived in and conveying that understanding to others.” Nakamura’s Number Structure series connects all of his artistic explorations together, directly linking his interest in science and art. In 1956, Nakamura explained in an interview with art critic Robert Fulford his belief that science and art are deeply connected: “…I think there’s a sort of fundamental universal pattern in all art and nature… In a sense, scientists and artists are doing the same thing. This world of pattern is the world we are discovering together.”
Drawing primarily from the RMG’s permanent collection, this exhibition pulls together works that reflect the scope of Nakamura’s artistic career and his constant search for truth and understanding of the world around him.
Canadian art has been shaped by generations of artists finding inspiration and perspective in their life experiences. For many artists, travelling to new places is an exciting avenue to find new perspectives and discover something that sparks their imagination.
This exhibition features a variety of Canadian artists who travelled abroad to develop their artistic skills or find inspiration. Their travels often shaped their art, introducing new ideas and styles to Canadian audiences.
Canadian artists Alexandra Luke and Isabel McLaughlin were instrumental to the history and development of The Robert McLaughlin Gallery (RMG). Their invaluable support helped shape the gallery, including substantial financial support for the building and donations of artworks. Pulling together works by Luke and McLaughlin from the RMG’s collection, this exhibition celebrates these two incredible women as not only influential benefactors, but also important artists in their own right, who contributed greatly to modernist painting and abstraction in Canada.