Remington revisited…

The Frederic Remington Museum in Ogdensburg NY

Perhaps more than any artist, Frederic Remington can lay claim to have painted and sculpted the old American west. Today we might see this as a bit of romantic fiction, but there’s a certain affinity with his subjects, whether they be Native American, settlers or of course, horses. Somewhat surprisingly, Remington spent much of his life in upstate New York…just across the border in Ogdensburg. I wrote about visiting the Remington Museum in a past post:  “A day trip to Remington’s West”.

On a recent visit, I was struck by some paintings that are perhaps closer to home: studies of the local wilds, canoe expeditions, and cottages – we do all live in the same neck of the woods, after all. This set me thinking about connections with Canadian painting and painters, so I was fascinated to discover that Frederic was an active member of the Pontiac Club: A group of outdoorsy types centered around our Pontiac region in West Quebec. Probably not a lone painter, it’s interesting to speculate as to which of our Canadian painters he knew. In the meantime, here are a few of his “eastern compositions”:

Sketching Ann…

Ann sketching on the Rockcliffe Parkway

Ann sketching by the Ottawa River

One of the nicest comments I’ve had in a long time came this summer, when I was showing a little watercolour sketch featuring of one of our workshop participants. “Now I’ve been drawn by two artists” quipped Ann – “David Kearn and Arthur Lismer”!

I was, of course much honored to be mentioned in the same sentence as a stalwart of the Group of Seven, so I inquired: As a child, Ann was playing at the beach when her parents noticed someone doing a quick sketch of her. Introducing himself as Arthur Lismer, he handed them the resulting unsigned study – featuring a young Ann with an outsized piece of kelp!

“Ann plus kelp - July 1963” by Arthur Lismer

“Ann plus kelp – July 1963” by Arthur Lismer

Lismer was a keen observer of life and people, an accomplished draftsman with a keen sense of humor and humanity – you always feel his work is in the moment. He probably captured more of the informal moments than all the other members of the Group of Seven. Arthur Lismer had a lifelong passion for the arts and teaching. How many other unknown sketches like this must there be out there?

Thank you Ann!

Arthur Lismer

Arthur Lismer

Isobel Scott Kearn (1924 – 2016)

Mum and award-winning painting circa 1985

Mum and award-winning painting in the 1980’s

My mother painted and did so quietly. She started after I left the UK for Canada in the early 80’s and throughout my life over here, it did not really come up as a major subject of conversation. There was always lots to catch up on whenever I came back to visit and never enough time.

Mum was entirely self-taught and set out to capture the places and subjects that meant so much to her: the highlands and valleys of Scotland and the Lake District, flowers from her garden. She knew what she liked in a painting. These days, I’ve been enjoying her views of the places she and Dad once walked. Always true to the subject, her work has an unassuming sense of place and and an easy coherence.

I’m proud to share some of Mum’s work.


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

Happiness is a violin-playing goat!


Marc Chagall in Paris, 1921

At first glance, the art of Marc Chagall may seem a bit out there, surreal, even otherworldly. That’s basically how I felt, until a doorway opened for me upon listening to a short exchange in the well-known movie, “Notting Hill”. Whilst discussing Chagall’s painting “La Mariée”:

William (Hugh Grant) comments: “With a goat playing the violin.”

Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) replies: “Yes – happiness isn’t happiness without a violin-playing goat.”

“La Mariée” provides an example of a triumphant  visual portrayal of emotion. What might a visual representation of happiness possibly look like? How could it be made to appear in visual art? For some, its form might be this beguiling and unforgettable work.

Marrying figure with the purest colour, movement and rhythm, Chagall’s unique vision inspires and moves. He returned a powerful figurative motif to contemporary art: dreaming, remembering, relating- Chagall’s instinctive approach to his subjects transports us into his world. We respond intuitively to visual cues such as colour, value and texture and these unforgettable images convey more than form, they have depth of feeling. For me, Chagall’s paintings are as good a representation of joy and happiness as anything possibly can be.

Art is that marvelous vehicle which often conveys us to a place where we can reconnect with our own happiness – and when we do, others invariably share it’s effect.

Thank you Marc!

Opening 28 May at the National Gallery: Daphnis & Chloé, a major exhibition of Chagall prints.

Whatever your style, join us on May 30th for a day inspired by Chagall’s legacy – details on the courses page of David’s website.