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.
Installation of Alexandra Luke: Push and Pull at The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, 2023. Photo by Toni Hafkenscheid.