I’ve had a long love of books, and some of my most prized books are art books. This is a review of books from my collection that can be found on shelves in my studio. I will provide links when possible.
If I had to recommend the one essential book about painting of any kind in Canada it would be Abstract Painting in Canada by Roald Nasgaard. This great resource is published by Douglas & McIntyre and the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. It is an in-depth history of Canadian abstract painting from the 1920s to the turn of the millennium. Covering the many regional variations, schools, movements, and players in abstract painting in Canada, from the Automatistes of Montreal, to the east coast conceptual scene, to the west coast lyrical abstraction, to Toronto’s Painters Eleven.
European art movements such as surrealism played a role in shaping the careers of many Canadian abstract artists, and many artists looked to Paris as well as New York as the centre of the art world. While artists such as Jean-Paul Riopelle, and Paul-Emile Borduas, and Jean McEwen lived and worked in Paris, some such as William Ronald moved to New York. Still many more such as Painters Eleven remained in Canada, determined to create opportunities to exhibit their work and break away from the overbearing shadow of the Group of Seven and Canadian artistic conservatism.
Today there are many interesting painters working in all regions of Canada. But sadly it’s still hard to see their work. Canada is a huge, thinly populated country, and though there are many great galleries and museums, cuts by the Conservative government to museum exhibit transportation services means it is very costly to ship exhibitions from city to city let alone coast to coast. Add to this very little media coverage and only a handful of arts publications, and we end up with isolated groups even within our larger centres such as Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.
Canadian abstraction differs from American abstraction most obviously in scale, and while early Canadian abstract painters did work on a large scale it was never as massive as most American painters. The use of materials and finish is also very different. While American artists used industrial materials such as household paint or enamels and took pride in a workman-like, expressive handling of the paintings surface, Canadian painters tended to use traditional artist oil paint and worked their canvases to high degree of finish in a European manner.
Of the artists in the book whose work I admire I would list Jean-Paul Riopelle, Paul-Emile Borduas, Francoise Sullivan, Jack Bush, Jean McEwen, Claude Tousignant, Ron Shuebrook, Otto Rogers, Betty Goodwin, and Francois Lacasse.
It is a large book of 432 pages, with 200 fine colour illustrations that present the colour and texture of the paintings well, though as with all book illustrations it is hard to get a good impression of the scale.