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BCD #32

Blind Contour Drawing #32 “Mother Earth Struggles for Survival” 1975
Daphne Odjig

If ever an artist felt grateful for an illness, it was Daphne Odjig. In 1932, at the age of 13, Odjig was hit by rheumatic fever and forced to withdraw from school, dashing her ambitions of becoming a schoolteacher. However, her disappointment quickly gave way to delight; living at home on Manitoulin Island’s Wikwemikong Reserve gave her an opportunity to grow close to her paternal grandfather, an Odawa-Potawatomi stone-carver, and her mother, and Englishwoman who had met Odjig’s father when he was based in England during World War I. Odjig’s adolescence was nourished by her connections with her parents and grandfather, each of whom encouraged Odjig’s creative interests.

 

But Odjig’s grandfather and mother died when she was just 18, and she set out for other parts of Ontario, moving to Toronto during World War II. It was in early adulthood that Odjig first encountered racism, and the shock triggered a withdrawal from her heritage. She spent her years in Toronto visiting art galleries, exploring European paintings and admiring the Cubist styles of painters like Picasso. But she gave herself the last name “Fisher” (an Odawa translation of “Odjig”) and felt, for the first time in her life, isolated.

 

The retreat from her indigenous origins did not last long. After marrying her first husband, Paul Somerville, and moving to British Columbia to raise their two sons, she enrolled in art classes, where she was encouraged to paint “realistic” pieces. While she briefly followed this advice, she soon decided that she wanted to paint how she felt, a decision that catapulted her towards innovative new styles.

 

In 1962, Odjig married her second husband—two years after Paul died in a car crash—and after they relocated to Winnipeg, a new phase in her artistic production and motivation began. Over the next two decades, Odjig’s style grew to amalgamate her First Nations spiritual heritage with the modernist techniques she had admired years before. Her pluralist approach and two-dimensional representations of indigenous mythology, colonial history, and personal and collective memories relied on vibrant colours and a dark “formline” that anchored the works’ meaning in place. On her formline, Odjig remarked: “If you looked at my painting before I got my formline on, you probably wouldn’t distinguish what I’m doing. But by the time I got my formline on, everything is in balance, and it’s there.”

 

Odjig’s art punctured the boundaries separating First Nations art and a broader Western audience. Picasso called her a “remarkable artist,” and she was awarded with every accolade available to artists, including the Order of Canada. She was one of four artists in the world chosen to paint a memorial to Picasso by the Picasso Museum in France, and her pieces have been featured on Canada stamps.

 

Yet, to Odjig, true success was achieved by her activism, which operated as an extension of her role as an artist. In 1974, after serving a six-month artist residency in Gotland, Sweden, she and her husband returned to Winnipeg to open Odjig Indian Prints of Canada, a craft shop and small press that eventually morphed into the New Warehouse Gallery, the first Canadian gallery to exclusively represent First Nations art.

 

As curator, Odjig encouraged young artists by buying and selling their work. She organized the Professional Native Indian Artists Association, more famously known as the “Indian Group of Seven,” and illustrated a range of books, from school readers to a collection of First Nations erotica. Before her breakthroughs, the mainstream art world saw indigenous art as “exotic handicraft or cultural artefact more properly housed in a museum than in a public gallery.” But Odjig’s collaborative intervention with other First Nations artists changed the field of possibilities. “We acknowledged and supported each other as artists when the world of fine art refused us entry,” she explained. “Together we broke down barriers that would have been so much more difficult faced alone.”

 

Perhaps Odjig’s journey as an artist and activist is best captured by Roots, her triptych about the disintegration of identity that occurs as a result of abandoning heritage, and the potential for regrowth upon rediscovering those lost origins. “You find out who you are and are proud. … Only when you discover yourself can you be secure.”

Born: September 11,1919, Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve on Manitoulin Island Ontario
Died: 2016, Kelowna

Sources:

 

“Daphne Odjig.” NativeOnline. http://www.nativeonline.com/daphne_odjig.htm

 

Devine, Bonnie. “Daphne Odjig: 1919 – 2016.” Canadianart, 6 October 2016. https://canadianart.ca/features/daphne-odjig-1919-2016/

 

Fernandes, Andrea. “The Grandmother of Canadian Native Art: Daphne Odjig.” Mental Floss, 28 June 2009. http://mentalfloss.com/article/22099/grandmother-canadian-native-art-daphne-odjig

 

Lahey, Anita. “Odjig’s Lyrical Line.” Vernissage, Fall 2007 (excerpt). https://www.gallery.ca/sites/default/files/documents/news/Biography_Daphne_Odjig.pdf

 

Nathoo, Zulekha. “‘Indian Group of Seven’ Artist Daphne Odjig Dead at 97.” CBC News, 2 October 2016. https://www.cbc.ca/news/entertainment/daphne-odjig-dead-1.3788123

 

 

BCH #31

Blind Contour Homage #31 “Oil Refinery” – Ella May Walker

Walker was an artist with an eclectic range of talents. Born in Minnesota in 1892, she moved to Saskatchewan as a child, studying piano and eventually earning a music degree from McGill University. Upon moving to Edmonton with her husband in the 1920s, she refocused her attention from music to art when she met the Group of Seven member, Arthur Lismer. By the 1940s, she had become an accomplished sculptor and painter, moving between many mediums, including oil, watercolour, gouache, pastel, tempera, and charcoal. She was also an athlete and a “part-time nudist”—a passionate, determined, and avant-garde woman for her time and location.

Walker’s paintings and sculptures tell stories of Edmonton’s pioneer days and depict landscapes from a city undergoing growth and change. Her fascination with the history of the region would lead her to make speeches accompanied by her own illustrations. From the mid-1930s to the late 1940s, she exhibited almost yearly, including several solo exhibitions at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Saskatoon Art Centre, and the University of Alberta.

In 1942, inspired by her paintings of historical and contemporary subjects, Edmonton Mayor John Wesley Fry encouraged Walker to write a book. Her collection of short stories, Fortress North, portrayed the growth of Edmonton from its early days as a fort to its urbanization in the 1940s. Her stories were illustrated with her paintings and drawings of historical and contemporary scenes. To complete the book, Walker conducted extensive research, interviewing pioneers and First Nation’s people, and exploring the Provincial Archives of Alberta. Determined to create the most accurate reflection of the city, she reportedly wrote letters to federal ministers and the Prime Minister in search of information. This research would lead her to write several articles for the Edmonton Journal and The People’s Weekly about Edmontonians both past and present.

Among Walker’s many contributions, one of the most significant was her involvement with the Archives and Landmarks Committee, whose primary goals included identifying places, sources, material, and events of historical interest in the city. Upon her recommendation, many historical landmarks in the city were preserved.

On April 6, 1960, just a month before her birthday, Walker died after living with cancer for two years. Fifteen years later, the city would recognize her contributions to the City of Edmonton Archives, which helped shape Edmonton’s growth and expansion. Her sons donated works of art and records to the city’s archives, and established a scholarship in her name. Awarded annually to a student in the Faculty of Extension at the University of Alberta, the scholarship is a fitting tribute to a woman who dedicated much of her life to educating through art.

Born: Minnesota, 1892
Died: April 6, 1960 Edmonton


Visit the events page to see where Marlene’s Blind Contour Homage will be showing.  This is a series of paintings celebrating the work of Canadian female artists.

BCD#30

Blind Contour Homage #30 – “Parachute Riggers” – 1947 Paraskeva Clark

 

Born Paraskeva Avdeyevna Plistik in St.Petersburg, Russia, Clark was one of three daughters to working class parents. Her mother made artificial flowers to supplement the family’s income and her father managed a grocery store. They worked hard to afford their children an education. After graduating in 1914, she worked as a clerk in a shoe factory and attended evening classes at the Petrograd Academy of Fine Arts. She was recruited to paint sets for theatres and met her first husband Oreste Allegri Jr., an Italian scene painter. They married in 1922 and had a son, Benedict. They made plans to emigrate to France but Allegri drowned during the summer. Clark decided to move to Paris and live with her in-laws. Even though her late husband’s family was well connected in the art world, she had little time for art while caring for her son and doing domestic work for them.

When her son was 6, he was sent to boarding school during the week so Clark took a job at an interior design shop. There she met Philip Clark, a visiting Canadian accountant. The two kept a long distance relationship until he revisited in 1931 and they decided to marry. They moved to Toronto and shortly after, her 2nd son, Clive was born.

Clark’s entry into the Toronto art world was facilitated by her husband’s membership in the Arts and Letters Club (he was a talented pianist). She was encouraged to send her “Self Portrait,”(1931–32), to the annual juried exhibition of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in November 1932. It was the first time she exhibited. She exhibited extensively after that and was accepted to the Canadian Group of Painters in 1936.

As a young woman, she faced many financial challenges in Russia. Clark felt passionately about the role and responsibility of the artist: “Those who give their lives, their knowledge and their time to social struggle have the right to expect great help from the artist. And I cannot imagine a more inspiring role than that which the artist is asked to play for the defence and advancement of civilization.”

These beliefs and her strong attachment to her homeland fuelled not only her art but her political activism. She was appointed by the National Gallery of Canada to record the activities of the Women’s Divisions of the Armed Forces during World War II. “Maintenance Jobs in the Hangar #6, Trenton RCAF, Station,” 1945 is part of that series.

Clark’s eldest son, Benedict was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1943. Her concern and sadness over his illness would seriously affect her productivity as an artist. He never lived independently. In 1974, she shared a show with him during which the National Gallery of Canada purchased her piece “Myself” (1933). Many exhibitions of her work and new projects featuring her art came about in these later years of her life, including a 1982 film by the National Film Board of Canada, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Lady.

Philip Clark died in 1980, and after living for a time in a nursing home Paraskeva Clark suffered a stroke and passed away on August 10, 1986, at the age of 87.

Clark had been a member of the Canadian Group of Painters, the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour, the Canadian Society of Graphic Art, the Ontario Society of Artists, and the Royal Canadian Academy. Much of her art now resides at the National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Ontario.

 

Born: October 28, 1898, St.Petersburg, Russia
Died: August 10, 1986, Toronto

 


Visit the events page to see where Marlene’s Blind Contour Homage will be showing.  This is a series of paintings celebrating the work of Canadian female artists.

 

BCD#28

Blind Contour Homage #28 – “Sweet Peas” 1911 – Edith Hester Macdonald-Brown

Thanks to a frustrating tangle of social, historical, and geographical circumstances, very little is known about the African-Canadian artist, Edith Hester Macdonald-Brown.

Born in Nova Scotia in 1880, Macdonald-Brown may have attended art school in Montreal before returning home, where she married William Brown. Because her works are signed “Edith Macdonald,” it is generally believed she painted them before marriage.

However, although she must have created many pieces, few survive. The rest fell victim to the racist policies inflicted upon her community, Africville. A neighbourhood founded in the mid-1800s on the outskirts of Halifax and populated predominantly by African-Canadians (many of whom settled in Nova Scotia after escaping slavery south of the border), Africville suffered for decades from deficient infrastructure. According to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR), the City of Halifax denied requests from the residents of Africville for clean water, appropriate sewage systems, and garbage removal. Yet, despite their social and political neglect, Africville was a thriving and close-knit community, building together a school, church, and shops.

But in 1964, the City of Halifax decided to take Africville’s land for its own development. Claiming interest in Africville’s health and living standards, it forced all residents to relocate to different neighbourhoods across Halifax. Some home-owners were paid for the price of their house; most were forced out with little or no compensation, all while their homes were bulldozed and their sense of community was torn apart.

Sunday Miller, the Executive Director of the Africville Heritage and Trust, explained to Mallory Richard (a blogger for the CMHR), that the citizens of Africville had tried “to create a community that the government wasn’t willing for them to have. When they took them off this land and forced them to be a ward of the government, which is what happened for those who went into social housing, you took their dignity from them.”

Dignity was not the community’s only casualty. While some of its artifacts remain—displayed in the Africville Museum—many were destroyed, including all but four of Macdonald-Brown’s paintings. In fact, hardly anyone even knew that Macdonald-Brown’s art existed until David Woods, artistic director of the Black Artists Network of Nova Scotia (BANNS), curated the 1998 exhibition In This Place: Black Art in Nova Scotia. Through his own “door to door” research, he uncovered Macdonald-Brown’s work in an effort to counter the widely held assumption that Nova Scotia doesn’t “have any black art.”

The only Macdonald-Brown painting ever to be exhibited is Sweet Peas (1911), a still life of a vase of flowers, but it has gone missing. Macdonald-Brown’s granddaughter, Geraldine Parker, now holds the four extant paintings—one still life and three landscapes. They depict a vibrant Romantic countryside—scenes whose inspiration remains a mystery. For instance, her 1906 untitled oil painting of a herd of cattle suggests not only a rich pastoral setting, but also, perhaps, a metaphor for colonial conquest—an observation about race and power that would bear great relevance on the fate of most of Macdonald-Brown’s oeuvre.

Born: 1880, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Died: 1956, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Sources:

Canadian Women Artists History Initiative: Artist Database. “MacDonald-Brown, Edith Hester.” https://cwahi.concordia.ca/sources/artists/displayArtist.php?ID_artist=5711

Johnson, Adrienne. Through African Canadian Eyes: Landscape Painting by Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century African Canadians. MA Thesis, Concordia University, 2015.

Richard, Mallory. “The Story of Africville.” February 23, 2017. Canadian Museum for Human Rights. https://humanrights.ca/blog/black-history-month-story-africville

Simmonds, Veronica. “Uncovering History.” The Coast, February 16, 2012. https://www.thecoast.ca/halifax/uncovering-history/Content?oid=2958695

Virtual Museum Canada. “1906: Expanding History: Edith Hester Macdonald-Brown.” https://150ans150oeuvres.uqam.ca/en/artwork/1906-untitled-by-edith-hester-macdonald-brown/#description


Visit the events page to see where Marlene’s Blind Contour Homage will be showing.  This is a series of paintings celebrating the work of Canadian female artists.