In August we flew into Halifax with limited expectations but hopeful the NSCAD plus the Nova Scotia Art Gallery would pull out some surprises and on reflection and digging more into the art scene, it was better than I thought it could be. The hope is always to see some great contemporary art and at least some good moderns. The upside was that all the galleries were free – Nova Scotia Art Gallery is free one evening a week and NSCAD is open to the public.
Nova Scotia Art Gallery has multiple exhibits on from Maud Lewis, to Vimy Ridge remembrance plus a selection of folk art and contemporary art…A little bit of everything.. but the quality was there. For both institutions you just had to dig..in. The stories and connection to art history are great, Arthur Lismer, Gerhard Richter, John Baldessari, Augustus John, Alex Colville and Maud Lewis plus my two favourite artist; William Kurelek and Bryan Jungen all are represented here.
The art swings from the serious to the frivolous and back again… the challenges of a small city. The Maud Lewis you may have heard.. her life story was the focus of the movie called Maudie. The long story short is that she was self taught, lived in 150 sq ft hut in Nova Scotia and she had terrible arthritis from childhood. Her work is simple and absolutely charming, you take it for what it is. We accidentally drove by the old location of the hut/house by the highway 217 near Digby.. the hut is now in the exhibition.
The next part of the show was the Vimy Ridge remembrance with Arthur Lismer’s war artist Halifax port sketches, which were a great surprise. He captures the people and ships about to leave on the first WWI convoy.
The picture below of the Olympia Docking with Soliders also painted by Lismer was not on display but thought it was great to see full colour “Dazzle” (camouflage) being used (Source: Halifax Shipping News).
There were other first world war images by Lismer and other war artists, the most notable was by Augustus John a study for The Canadian Opposite Lens, unfortunately, I cannot find the actual study (Canadian Soldier, 1917/8) on the internet, John was attached to the Canadian forces as a war artist and made a number of memorable portraits of Canadian infantrymen. The end result was to have been a huge mural for Lord Beaverbrook and the sketches and cartoon for this suggest that it might have become his greatest large-scale work. He produced studies for a proposed Canadian War Memorial picture, although the only major work to result from the experience was Fraternity.
However, like so many of his monumental conceptions, it was never completed. In 2011, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge finally unveiled this mural at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa The Canadians Opposite Lens. This unfinished painting is 12 feet high by 40 feet long. (Source: Wikipedia and 1310 news)
From the war, the themes swing back and forth with the result that you get a series of images by William Kurelek, one of my favourite Canadian artists. There are a series of 5 Inuit images from his series plus one from his prairie boy series, “Waiting for the bus, 1976” which like the Maud pictures, is just charming.
The final part of the collection was the modern and contemporary art. The headliners are Alex Colville, Three Girls on a Wharf, 1953 and Ocean Limited, 1962 and Emile Borduas, Composition, 1959. The Borduas below just pops with its black and white, applied with a palette knife and evident energy.
The Three Girls on the Wharf appears to be an homage to Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1909 or possibly Matisse’s, Three Bathers, 1907
The Ocean Limited stark presentation contrasts with the Three Girls intimacy but both are diffident, excluding the viewer. Ocean Limited is full of contrasts – the name/title with a possible comment on the future/technology.
Almost forgot Brian Jungen, another great piece of work.. merges his culture with modern products to create a completely new First Nation’s /original vision… always fresh and impressive. The way the beer can lurks beneath the slightly raised lid, suggests something lurking ready to pounce with the skull on the top… suggest a quiet truth. The cooler is carved on all sides this image only captures part of it. Worth going to Nova Scotia just to see it… thanks Sobey’s.
The NSCAD has had an important history and the graduate art was on display. Arthur Lismer (member of group of seven) was the dean of NSCAD from 1916-19. One of the coolest things is that Gerhardt Richter one of the worlds greatest contemporary artist taught in 1978 at NSCAD. (Source:Canadian Art Magazine)
Further in the 70’s had Joseph Beuys, Eric Fischl, Vito Acconci, Sol LeWitt, Michael Snow, Joyce Wieland, Hans Haacke, Claes Oldenburg, A.R. Penck, Krzysztof Wodiczko and John Baldessari.
The last piece is interesting as it referenced in a piece at the Yarmouth location of the Nova Scotia Art Gallery.