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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.

BCD#27

Blind Contour Homage #27 – “Riding the Sea Goddess” – Jessie Oonark

Environmental and socio-historical calamities combined to produce the conditions from which one of the most celebrated Inuit artists would emerge. Jessie Oonark, born in 1906 in Chantrey Inlet on the Arctic coast, spent the first five decades of her life travelling Nunavut with her nomadic hunter family. She married her husband Qabluunaq when she was quite young, and together they had twelve children. But their difficult living conditions—impacted by the collapse of fur prices in a declining European trade market—became untenable in the 1950s, when the caribou population dwindled. During this time, Oonark lost her husband and four children to illness and starvation.

Responding to the emergency, the Canadian government airlifted the Inuit of Chantrey Inlet to Baker Lake, where Oonark worked various odd jobs, such as cleaning and sewing. It was in Baker Lake that a visiting biologist recognized Oonark’s drawing skills—the story goes that Oonark saw some children’s drawings and, upon announcing that she could do better, accepted the challenge to prove it. The biologist gave her paper and a set of pencils. Over the next couple of years, Oonark would send her drawings to the biologist’s home in Ottawa, and he would send more art supplies. Despite her late start, Oonark quickly gained renown as an outstanding artist within the Baker Lake community, and her work was sent by other residents to the West Baffin Co-operative in Cape Dorset, where her drawings were turned into prints—an essential shift that meant wider distribution, broader recognition, and archival potentials for Oonark’s artwork.

In 1966, the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs provided Oonark with studio space and a small salary, enabling her to continue drawing, as well as to create textile arts (Oonark’s acclaimed untitled tapestry, measuring at over 22 square meters, hangs at the National Arts Centre). She gradually became recognized as among the most important and influential Inuit artists, celebrated by galleries across Canada and inducted into the Order of Canada in 1984, a year before her death in Churchill, Manitoba.

Often drawn as fragmentary forms and shaped into non-linear images, Oonark’s drawings and wall hangings consistently represent stories of shamanism and dreaming. Although Oonark didn’t practice shamanism herself, she had witnessed her father’s work as a shaman, and perhaps she used these memories to fulfill what Josephine Withers describes as the responsibility of shamans and artists “to record and give shape to the personal and collective memories of the community.” A shaman’s role is to summon spirit helpers, such as a bird, bear, walrus, or caribou, and seek guidance in the search for game. Many of Oonark’s drawings—Flight of the Shaman and A Shaman’s Helping Spirits are two examples—represent the shaman’s spiritual work.

Indeed, the significance within Oonark’s pieces is layered and complicated. They suggest multiple meanings and, from different angles, suggest new narratives. Her drawings implicitly acknowledge the mutable nature of the oral stories from which she draws, and which she intentionally alters. For instance, speaking of her piece Big Woman, Oonark notes that she changed the common version of a story about a stone woman: “This woman who is turning into a stone, in Chantrey Inlet. The Stone itself is really colourful because this woman has a fancy parka… She turned into stone… because she never wanted to get married to anybody, not anyone at all. The woman is supposed to be in a kneeling position, but I just drew it in a standing position anyway.” Here, Oonark’s remark reveals how her art resists single interpretations, so that many of her pieces have a shape-shifting quality, with non-linear narrative suggestions indicating ambiguity.

Although it has been over thirty years since Oonark’s death, her work continues to influence Inuit art produced today. All of her eight living children are also artists.

Born: 1906, Chantrey Inlet, Nunavut
Died: 1985, Churchill, Manitoba

 

Sources:

Billson, Janet Mancini and Kyra Mancini. Inuit Women: Their Powerful Spirit in a Century of Change. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2007.

Bonesteel, Sarah. “Canada’s Relationship with Inuit: A History of Policy and Program Development.” Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. June 2006. https://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100016900/1100100016908#chp2

Fowler Museum at UCLA. “Power of Thought: The Art of Jessie Oonark.” Press Release, February 8, 2004. https://www.fowler.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/PowerOfThought-release.pdf

“Jessie Oonark.” North American Women Artists of the Twentieth Century: A Biographical Dictionary. Edited by Jules Heller and Nancy G. Heller. Routledge, 1995, pp. 420.

The National, CBC Television. “A Tapestry from the Late Inuit Artist Jessie Oonark Getting New Life.” News Release. April 4, 2014. https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.kpu.ca:2443/docview/1324596840/fulltext/F60F055876C943FEPQ/1?accountid=35875

National Arts Centre. “The National Arts Centre Celebrates the Return of the Magnificent Oonark Tapestry.” News Release, April 4, 2013. https://nac-cna.ca/en/media/newsrelease/6120

Withers, Josephine. “Inuit Women Artists: An Art Essay.” Feminist Studies, 1984, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 84 – 96.


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#29

Blind Contour Homage #29 – “Island of Rocks” – Florence McGillivray

“She was the best.” Tom Thomson on Florence McGillivray

Although relatively unknown now, Florence McGillivray was a leading Canadian artist in her time. Born to a wealthy family (her father was a Scottish immigrant with a well-situated farm in Whitby, Ontario), McGillivray’s early talent as an artist was encouraged through private lessons with esteemed southern Ontarian artists. McGillivray capitalized on this good fortune by charging 25 cents to her friends and classmates for lessons sharing what she had learned. She added to her earnings by selling her paintings in local fairs.

This youthful shrewdness characterized McGillivray’s entire career; talent, good fortune, and keen curiosity ensured that she remained abreast of leading artistic movements, figures, and techniques. Travelling to Europe in 1913, she studied in Paris’s Academie de la Grand Chaumiere, earning admiration when her painting Contentment was exhibited in the prestigious Salon des Beaux-Arts. In Paris, she was mentored and encouraged by Matisse, Simon, and Menard, and she studied “Realist, Nabis and Fauvist palettes and pictorial construction,” which she imported to Canada when she was forced home after the outbreak of World War I. Back in Ontario, she mentored Tom Thomson, who declared McGillivray one of the best painters in Canada. In fact, Katharine Lochnan (McGillivray’s great-great niece) and art historian Sarah Stanners argue that McGillivray had the single greatest influence on Thomson’s work, solving the mystery behind the European styles in Thomson’s work.

Yet, despite her connection with the Group of Seven, McGillivray’s name does not receive the same level of recognition. This oversight is due in part to her family’s wealth; her comfortable lifestyle meant she was not forced to sell her paintings. But she has also been overlooked because of her gender. Art historian Regina Haggo explains that it “was difficult for a Canadian woman to become a professional artist a hundred years ago. Women were supposed to get married, have babies and stay at home. And because McGillivray was female, her work was undervalued by critics and ignored by art historians. … Moreover, taming nature with a brush was a job for a man. Women were deemed to be intellectually incapable of painting landscape. A woman artist was expected to paint pretty images of domestic life.”

But McGillivray rejected expectations for female artists. Instead, she used “the palette knife, masses of colour, and a strong black line around forms” to develop her signature style—a method influenced by her interactions with European artists, but cultivated independently as she experimented throughout her career. Her entire life was spent seeking creative inspiration and education. Just as she painted landscapes of the Gatineau valley, Labrador, and Newfoundland, she also travelled widely abroad—to Trinidad, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Alaska, and beyond—in search of new vistas and styles. When she died in Toronto in 1938, she left behind an enormous body of work. Only in recent years has it been rediscovered and celebrated for its significant contribution to the Canadian modernist movement.

Born: 1864, Whitby, Ontario
Died: 1938, Toronto

Sources:

Allen, W.C. “Following Florence.” Gatineau Valley Historical Society. http://www.gvhs.ca/publications/utga-following-florence.html

The Florence McGillivray Project. “Florence’s Stories.” https://florencemcgillivray.ca

Haggo, Regina. “Florence McGillivray Tamed Nature with a Brush.” Hamilton Spectator, January 7, 2017. https://www.thespec.com/whatson-story/7050268-regina-haggo-florence-mcgillivray-tamed-nature-with-a-brush/

Lochnan, Katharine and Sarah Stanners. “The Group of Eight.” Canadian Art, October 10, 2017. https://canadianart.ca/features/the-group-of-eight/

Murray, Joan. Tom Thomson: Design for a Canadian Hero. Dundern Press, 1998.

Prakash, A.K. Independent Spirit: Early Canadian Women Artists. Firefly Books, 2008.

 


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.