RMG paints a picture of Canada

Vol ‘n’ Tell is an ongoing series of blog posts written by RMG Volunteers. Raechel Bonomo is an Oshawa native, art enthusiast and second-year Print Journalism student at Durham College.

Rolling Canadian hills dominate the walls of Robert McLaughlin Gallery’s (RMG) main gallery space. In a corner, tiny fish can be seen swimming through space while totem poles hang on the opposite side of the room.

As part of the gallery’s Talk and Tour series, curator Linda Jansma took the public through a look into the career and life of one of Canadian’s prominent painters Jock Macdonald in Jock Macdonald: Evolving Form.

Jansma said the exhibit came together through a long process that began in spring 2011.

“This exhibit traces the artistic transition [Macdonald] underwent,” said Jansma. “His career as an artist journeys in a perpetual state of evolution.”

In 2012, Jansma was in the process of writing a grant to receive funding from the Department of Heritage for the exhibit when she received a strange email.

The sender was Jock’s nephew, Alistair Macdonald.

He asked Jansma about the collection of Macdonald pieces at the RMG for an exhibit he was curating at the Edinburgh Gallery in Scotland. During their correspondence, he notified Jansma about 40 letters written by his uncle stored in the Scottish gallery’s archives.

This was the missing piece to Jansma’s puzzle, she said. That fall, she took a five-day trip to Scotland to view the letters. The content of the letters led her to uncover the lost work of Macdonald.

She explored the various styles and periods of Macdonald and brought back with her paintings, drawings and methods unseen before by Canadian audiences.

Macdonald was born in 1897 in Thurso, Scotland. After his time in the army, he studied design at the Edinburgh College of Art. Macdonald immigrated to Canada in 1926 to take up a teaching job as head of design at the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts.

One of his greatest contributions is as a founding member of Toronto-based abstract group, Painters 11 formed in 1953.

In the early stages of his career, Canadian Group of Seven member Lawren Harris’s work inspired Macdonald to paint abstract landscapes. This influence is visible in his work In the White Forest, 1932. This piece, among 92 other original works, is currently up in the RMG.

“Intuitively artists create within the structural forms of nature,” is a quote from Macdonald posted above his landscape works in the exhibit. There is a notable predominance of nature as his main influencer in the majority of his work, Jansma said.

“Jock always painted the fourth dimension of nature,” said Jansma. “It is how we’re suppose to feel about it, not how we see it.”

In the 1940s, Macdonald met British surrealist artists Dr. Grace W. Pailthorpe and Ruben Mednikoff. According to Jansma, they taught Macdonald surrealist painting methods such as automatics. This technique involves painting in quick-paced series, and dating work down to the very time it was created. Macdonald was diverting away from his traditional landscape work and producing surrealist-style paintings such as Fish Family, 1943 included in the RMG exhibit.

Many art historians credit 1957 – 1960 as Macdonald’s pre-eminent years as a painter. During this time, he painted an average of 50 paintings per year until he died suddenly from a heart attack on Dec. 3, 1960.

Jansma described Macdonald as the “pioneer of post-war abstraction in Canada.” According to her, he had a substantial influence on Canadian painters then and in future generations.

Pete Smith, Postscript, 2014

Pete Smith, Postscript, 2014

Bowmanville painter Pete Smith credits Jock Macdonald as one of his biggest influences and the catalyst to his current exhibit Postscript in Gallery A, located in the lower half of the RMG.

Smith told the RMG his exhibit is “an aesthetic research project into the work and life of Jock Macdonald. In this sense, it will function as a postscript: a sprawling, artistic labyrinth of additional information and my idiosyncratic response to the concurrently held exhibition, Jock Macdonald: Evolving Form.”

Evolving Form is the first major retrospect of Macdonald’s work in more than 30 years and can be viewed at the RMG until May 24.


Top Image credit: Jock Macdonald, Rim of the Sky, 1958; oil on canvas; Collection of The Robert McLaughlin Gallery.


Interview with Pete Smith – The first Gallery A A.I.R.

“Hot Topics” blog posts come from the desk of Sam Mogelonsky, our Communications & Social Media Coordinator.

From December 1, 2014 to February 1, 2015, Gallery A will welcome its first Artist in Residence (A.I.R.) Pete Smith. The RMG caught up with Pete to discuss his upcoming residency and plan of work while at the RMG. Keep watching this space for updates on his project or visit the gallery! For more information about his project, visit www.jmdrp.ca

RMG: Hi Pete! Firstly, who are you? What is your work about?

PS: I am an artist, writer and educator who lives in Bowmanville. Primarily rooted in painting (and the discourse that surrounds it’s contemporary production), my work negotiates the intersection between the analogue and digital, the painterly and the graphic, the human and the post-human. In this sense, I consider my works metaphors for the overall digital presence in contemporary life.

RMG:  What inspired you to make work?

PS: My current interest in digital technology as a conduit for image making came through a course I was asked to teach at OCAD University. In this class, I was required to learn the Adobe Flash animation program. It ended up completely changing my art practice (and really my life, quite frankly.)


RMG: Why were you interested in the Gallery A residency at the RMG?

PS: I was approached about the program last winter, and it sounded like a lot of fun. As an educator and a parent, I’m pretty limited in terms of artist residency opportunities. Consequently, I’ve never done one before. The fact that it was at such an amazing public institution with such a rich history of supporting Canadian abstract painting made the opportunity even more exciting. It sounds kinda trite and cliché, but I really am just so happy to be here.


RMG:  What will you be doing during your residency? What do you hope to achieve?

PS: Hopefully a whole lot. Elizabeth Sweeney, (Manager of Public Programs and ArtReach), asked me to do something I hadn’t done before… So I’m definitely doing that here. The basic idea is that I will be remixing the RMG’s permanent collection of works by Jock Macdonald. Originally, my show was supposed to run in February concurrently with that exhibition. Things have changed a bit from that (it now opens in January), but there will still be some overlap with the Macdonald survey show. Linda Jansma and I will be giving our talks on same day.


RMG: Can you tell us a bit more about your Jock Macdonald re-mix video? What was the inspiration for it and how did you make it?

PS: The Jock Macdonald animation is called “JMDRP_2(Double Parker Mix)”. It was made in flash animation. The music is a mash-up I made of a Charlie Parker song. It’s two versions of the same song that have had their time signatures manipulated played over top of each other at the same time. All of the imagery that I make during my 9 week residency will be rooted in still imagery selected from this animation. JMDRP stands for Jock Macdonald Remix Project.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NavQPS1tMOU]

Video stills taken from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NavQPS1tMOU&feature=youtu.be. Copyright Pete Smith, 2014.

Pete Smith is an artist, critic and sometimes curator based in Southern Ontario. He has exhibited his work extensively since completing his BFA from York University in 1998 and his MFA from the University of Guelph in 2007. Recent solo exhibitions include: Blind Carbon Copy at P | M Gallery in Toronto (2012), New Drawings at Colorida Gallery in Lisbon (2012), Newspaper Drawings at Joan Ferneyhough Contemporary in North Bay, Ontario (2010) and Proverbs for Paranoids at Elissa Cristall Gallery in Vancouver (2009). Smith has given public presentations on the state of contemporary painting as well as on his own work at The University of Western Ontario (2009), OCAD University (2007), The University Art Association of Canada Conference (2007) and the University of the Fraser Valley (2008). His writings on art have appeared in Canadian Art and Border Crossings magazines. He has held teaching positions at The University of Guelph, The University of Western Ontario and The University of Toronto. Currently, he is a lecturer in the Drawing and Painting Department at OCAD University. Visit www.petesmith.ca.