Slow to Judge

One that almost bit the dust...

One that almost bit the dust…

You won’t be surprised when I tell you that towards the end of term, I have a pretty big pile of demos waiting to be “dispositioned”, that is: either 1) keep, 2) rework or 3) “file under circular”. Whenever I demonstrate something in class, into the pile it goes, for a while.

At the end of the teaching day, I become a bit “art blind” – I can’t see what’s pleasing and what’s not. That’s why it’s good to be “slow to judge”.

Time adds clarity – here are a few recent pieces I was about to toss, but am glad I kept:

Remembering Gerald Smith (1929 – 2015)

Gerald Steadman Smith (1929-2015) with some of his large format portraits.

Gerald Smith (1929-2015) with some of his large format portraits.

A Memorial Exhibition of the Art of Gerald Smith runs at the Ottawa School of Art until Monday 29th February. Gerald was a longstanding instructor at the Ottawa School of Art, teaching for 19 years until 2013.

Gerald was a light-keepers son, brought up on a small island off the coast of Nova Scotia. He was inspired to follow a path in art after seeing an exhibition by the Group of Seven.  Moving from the maritimes, he obtained his Masters in Studio Art and taught in Saskatchewan, following which he and his family came to Ottawa. Gerald was a prolific artist, producing over 800 works.

Until fairly recently, I knew none of this… it’s curious how little instructors at the Ottawa School of Art actually see of each other on a daily basis. We come and go to suit our teaching requirements. Gerald and I both taught portraits, so we were invariably scheduled on different days. I knew him for his large-format portraits and remember that we were introduced by a mutual student, in a coffee shop near Ottawa U. I believe we were both attending a seminar. I liked him immediately. Thoughtful and understated, he accepted me as a fellow art traveler.

I only glancingly learned about his full range of art: his large paintings of heads, wonderful figures in gallery settings, seascapes, even ringing abstracts and sculptures. Fine examples of all of these are on display in the Memorial Exhibition.

Two from Gerald Smith's Art Gallery series

Two from Gerald Smith’s “Art Gallery” series

The Exhibition includes a wide range of Gerald's art

The Memorial Exhibition includes a wide range of Gerald’s art

The last time I saw Gerald was at a solo exhibition of his at the Shenkman Centre in 2013. This was to be his last solo show. It was all quiet at the end of the day and he showed me ’round each of the works he’d selected. It was the first time he had exhibited some of his “Art Gallery Series” of paintings in decades. Then we just sat and talked –  about exactly what I can’t remember. I very much regret not having known him longer.

The Memorial Exhibition runs for only 10 days and closes this Monday evening. It’s an all too brief tribute to a wonderful artist, instructor and person. If you can find yourself downtown this weekend, I highly recommended it – well worth the detour.

Gerald Steadman Smith Memorial Exhibition at the Ottawa School of Art

The Gerald Smith Memorial Exhibition at the Ottawa School of Art

David & France’s Spring Break Art Camp at the Shenkman Centre


Children’s camps!

Children’s camps! Why do we love to participate in them??? Because, quite simply, we probably have more fun than the campers do!

When school and fun go hand-in-hand, much is learned of course, however more importantly, curiosity develops into a powerful tool for continued education.

We aim to create new memories and expand horizons. Building confidence is the order of the day, so that children may have an increased chance of delving further into their world, independently, when the “teacher” is not nearby.

Our Spring Break Camp for for 9 to 12 year olds – “The Magic of Colour” – runs with the Ottawa School of Art at the Shenkman Centre from the 14th to 18th March.

Further details and book on-line at the OSA website:

Let your whole family know!

Emily Coonan and Montreal’s Beaver Hall Group

Emily Coonan, Girl in a Dotted Dress, about 1923

Emily Coonan, Girl in a Dotted Dress, about 1923

The Beaver Hall Group was the first Canadian artist association in which women played a central role. The group included wonderful painters such as Emily Coonan, Prudence Heward and Lilias Torrance-Newton. The Group of Seven’s A. Y. Jackson and Edwin Holgate were also prominent members. A major exhibition of the Beaver Hall Group, “The Colours of Jazz”, is currently showing at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and there’s still time to catch it, running until the 31st of January. More than the Montreal counterpart to the Group of Seven, this explores the contribution of Montreal artists through the first half of the 20th century.

The show’s quite extensive… if overtly portrait centric…and includes some large figurative works by the astoundingly effective Prudence Heward – certainly one of Canada’s best painters of the era – and the wonderful portraits of Lilias Torrance-Newton.

Torrance-Newton, Prudence Heward

Torrance-Newton; Prudence Heward

I find that the most interesting of their number is the unassuming Emily Coonan. Unlike the other women in the group, Emily was from humble roots and a Roman Catholic to boot. Seems she was a bit of a loner. It’s her portraits of girls that stand out. Always understated, they feel as if she was just painting for herself. In fact she stopped exhibiting in 1930 although continuing to paint for the rest of her life. There’s an affinity for her subject, simply stated, deeply human, these girls seem to show some discomfort with formality, the idea of being painted – as though they would like to get back to their lives outside the paintings.


Emily Coonan, Girl in Green, 1913 (gift of A.Y. Jackson to the Art Gallery of Hamilton)

In 2014, Charlie Hill was retiring from his longstanding role as Curator of Canadian Art at the National Gallery. When asked if he could take but one painting with him, which would it be. It was not a Thomson, a Riopelle, nor a Colville but, “Well, I recently bought an absolutely fabulous Emily Coonan with a young girl and a cat in an interior that I would take, but I can’t.”

Emily Coonan, Girl and Cat, 1920

Emily Coonan, Girl and Cat, 1920

France and I are looking forward to the January 30th start to our Saturday winter workshops. Come join us for a wonderful season of painting. We’ve 6 themes and we could work in some lessons from Beaver Hall into a marvelous winter of painting! All the details are on my website:

We hope to see you there!

A Favorite Art Place!

The Victoria Art Gallery, Bath, UK.

The Victoria Art Gallery, Bath, UK.

Whenever I’m in the UK, I try to squeeze in a visit to the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath. It’s a haven from the busy city center and at the moment, the Christmas Shopping crowds. It’s a very welcome break at any time of year and certainly one of my favorite art places.

The permanent collection occupies one room, howbeit a large one. It still has the feel of bygone days where art was packed in somewhat more so than today – hung high to the ceilings. Eclectic works are indeed still hung one over another, sometimes a little too high to see them properly. It’s part of the appeal and the quality is generally quite good, with some local interest (a Turner watercolour of Bath Abbey for example) and also a few surprises, including a small Paul Klee (then again, most Klees are small).

As with all collections, it takes on the patina of the passage of time, care and attention, underscored by the love of volunteers. Downstairs, there’s a more contemporary space for rotating exhibitions. I don’t always get to these, however last week, I just sat and enjoyed. I’d love to hear about your favorite art spaces: museums or commercial, large, small, far or wide, please drop me a comment!

The remainder of my Christmas shopping dissipated my reverie and I returned to the build up to the Holiday Season. On this frenzied but happy note, France and I would like to wish you all a wonderful Christmas!

Jean Baptiste Greuze and Thomas Gainsborough

Jean Baptiste Greuze, Thomas Gainsborough

Robert McGregor

Robert McGregor

Walter Sickert and Frank Brangwyn

Walter Sickart, Frank Brangwyn

Paul Klee

Paul Klee