Canadian History Final Summative - Bram Monson

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The following exhibition will examine the evolving styles of Canadian artwork from the 1920s until present.


Visual Arts of CanadaA collection of primary documents throughout the 20th and 21st century.

1Canadian History Final Summative TaskBram MonsonCHC2DMrs. Glick05.06.15

ForwardCanada celebrated the end of the Great War with a decade of optimism and prosperity. Due to Canadas large effort both on the homefront and the battefront, Canadians had a growing feeling of self-confidence. The country was recognized as its own entity by the League of Nations, and its ties to the British Empire were weakened. The Great depression of the 1930s caused a decline in Canadas art industry, as it was an unnecessary luxury for most people (Miller 2003). The difficult period brought artists to examine the social and political formalities surrounding them.When the Second World War was declared in the 1939, Canada entered independent of the British Emipire. The Official War Artists program was re-established, and recruited painters from across the United States and Canada. These artists illustrated their first-hand accounts of battles and events throughout the war. A large portion of the works produced as part of the program are in a realist style. The combination of a strong economy and optimism, resulted in a large population increase in Canada in the 1950s. Collective social ideas about life and art shifted significantly. In the 1960s in Quebec, a quiet-revolution took place, in which artists painted radical examples of abstract forms. This was an effort to challenge the authority of the Catholic Church, and gain more artistic and social freedom. Throughout the 1970s and the 1980s, Canadian Aboriginal artists were accepted into the mainstream art community, and gained international recognition for their work. The final decades of the 20th century saw rapid economic, social and political development. In the 21st century, the economy became stronger, the unemployment rate fell, and inflation dropped., and Canadians flourished. Compared to the state of the arts at the beginning of the 20th century, it could be said that the arts in Canada at the end of the century were flourishing as well (Miller 2003)The following exhibition will examine the evolving styles of Canadian artwork from the 1920s until present. Importantly, the social, economic and political conditions within Canada had, and continue to have, a profound influence on the development of the artistic landscape.

The Historical Origins 1920 1939 In the years proceeding the Great War, Canadians experienced a time of optimism. Importantly, women acquired the right to vote, and Canada was moving towards independence from the British Empire. Canadas large effort in the war and its participation in the peace conference at Versailles provided Canadians with a greater sense of national identity. These nationalistic feelings were reflected in the arts. The Group of Seven were a group of strongly nationalistic artists that believed the a countrys art had to flourish before it the country itself could grow. Its members consisted of Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson, Fred Varley, Arthur Lismer, Franklin Carmichael, J.E.H. MacDonald, and Tom Thomson. Prior to the groups establishment in 1920, several of the members were good friends, who had been painting Canadas northern regions together for many years. The groups goal was to capture the spirit of Canada. They went about doing so by painting the distinct lush landscapes of Canada. While their early work initially received criticism, by the mid 1920s, they became accepted among the Canadian public and critics. Significantly, the group introduced Canadianism, an entirely new style of landscape painting. This style, for many, had come to symbolize Canada (Miller 2003). Wild Mustard, A.Y. Jackson, 1920

LEFT: Oil on wood depicting the Ontario countryside of Brockville. Painted by A.Y. Jackson, the piece incorporates basic, curving forms and temperate color, resulting in a powerful and distinct image (Varley 2013).

7Following Black Tuesday, and the devastation of the global stock market downfall, art sales became almost non-existent. Canadas economic decline in the Great Depression was due to its reliance on exporting raw goods. Thus, many freelance artists were forced to become teachers or commercial designers to make ends meet (Miller 2003). Artists who were able to sustain themselves throughout the decade began to examine new styles such as regionalism and abstractionism. Within these styles, they commented on the political and social conditions that surrounded them, and the challenges of life for many Canadians (Miller 2003). Sisters of Rural Quebec, Prudence Heward, 1930

RIGHT: Oil on canvass illustrating a predominantly geometric outline, exhibiting sharp angles and contrasting colors of the two sisters. The bodies are in opposition, and there is not sense of unity. The painting illustrates the challenges of life throughout the period.

9Exhibit No. 11940 1950When Canada entered the Second World War in 1939, Prime Minister Mackenzie King was intent on playing a much smaller role than he did in World War I (Miller 2003). Despite Kings original intentions, as the War was prolonged and Britain became weaker, Canada was forced to increase its contributions. In 1940 Canada, along with Britain and the United States, established a war artists program. The Canadian government recruited a total of 19 artists to take part in the program. By the end of the war, approximately 800 paintings were produced, capturing factory workers on the homefront, the war landscapes of Western Europe, and the German death camps. These paintings were used as a means to communicate pivotal events to the public, solidifying Canadas national identity (Cruxton, Wilson 2000).Malnutrition, Aba Bayefsky, 1945

BOTTOM: Acrylic on Canvass by Canadian war artist Aba Bayefsky, from early 1945. The painting, titled Malnutrition, depicts a starving German-Jewish boy that the artist came across at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The mood and colors of the painting are dark; and the abnormally skinny boy reflects the horrific conditions to which those in the camps had to live through. Importantly, the painting is a reminder to Canadians and soldiers alike of the evils of Nazism (Cruxton, Wilson 2000).

13The Hitler Line, Charles Comfort, 1944

LEFT: Oil on Canvass by Canadian war artist Charles Comfort. The piece depicts Canadian soldiers in combat on the Hitler line, a German defense front located in central Italy. The painting provides insight on the effectiveness of the Canadian forces throughout the war. As seen in the painting, Canadian soldiers are emerging victorious, successfully securing the region from the Germans. This was a key battle in the war, which solidifies Canadas national identity (Miller 2003).

14Exhibit No. 21950 - 1969 Canada saw a decade of stability and prosperity in the 1950s. Suburban areas expanded their borders and the baby boom generation began, as soldiers returned home. In addition, daily luxuries such as the television became more affordable. As the Canadian population became more free of economic burden and the traditional social customs, artwork began to reflect these trends. Ideas of the Group of Sevens Canadianism were revived, and combined with abstract expressionism. These styles highlighted freedom and spontaneity, and expressing the inner spirit. A group of French-Canadian artists known as Les Automatistes emerged. This new style used fantastical abstract colour schemes that reflected a world without societal restrictions. Despite Canadas promising future, many anticipated a nuclear war abstract art calmed the publics anxiety (Miller 2003).

Pavane, Jean-Paul Riopelle, 1954

TOP: Oil on canvass by Jean-Paul Riopelle titled, Pavanne. Riopelle was a French-Canadian artist, who was founding member of Les Auotmatistes, a group which painted extreme examples of abstract expressionism in effort to attain more artistic freedom. Pavanne is an extreme example of the dramatic shift in the outlook and perspective of artists of the 1950s (Miller 2003).17

Reason over Passion, Joyce Wieland, 1968

BOTTOM: Quilted cotton by Canadian artist Joyce Wieland displaying a variety of vibrant colors, and text which reads, Reason Over Passion. The piece captures the political atmosphere in Canada of the time; particularly, the emergence of a new feminist movement. Wieland chose the medium of quilting, a craft within the traditional domain of women, to exhibit the piece. In doing so, Wieland manages to create a work art, through a medium which was rarely seen in the past (National Gallery of Canada n.d).18Exhibit No. 31970 1989Throughout the 1970s, the majority of the Canadian population was under 30 years of age. The quality of Canadian life reached new levels. Canada had developed a standing as a secure and peaceful country. Its economy was stable, thus enabling the government to invest in more cultural and social projects. Many provincial and municipal governments began allocating funds towards public art exhibitions. These funds enabled Canadian artists to explore otherwise experimental techniques such as conceptual art, installation art, film, and performance art. In turn, Canadians accepted these new art forms as a reflection of their society (Miller 2003).

Flight Stop, Michael Snow, 1978

TOP: An image of public installation in the Eaton Centres atrium, in Toronto. Titled Flight Stop, the piece was funded by Torontos Municipal government. Since installment, the piece has become an iconic symbol to Canadian artists and critics. 21Significantly, Aboriginal and First Nations Canadian artists in the 1970s became accepted on a national and international scale. Their style and unique forms such as woodcarving, paint, print, and textiles, represented the often silenced Aboriginal voice. Norval Morrisseau is known as the Abori