Blind contour drawing #4 – “Motifs in a Garage” 1950 Hortense Mattice Gordon
Gordon was the eldest member and one of only two women belonging to the Canadian abstract artist collective called the Painters Eleven. Ray Mead considered her to be his mentor.
She knew she wanted to be an artist at an early age and attended Saturday morning art classes while in high school. At the age of 17, Gordon moved from her family home in Hamilton to live with relatives on a 200-acre fruit farm near Chatham, Ontario. Along with her cousins, she studied and painted china. Her work became popular so she rented a studio to sell the china she painted and to teach locals. She was a keen student and spent much time with her cousins visiting galleries and studying art in all forms.
In 1916, her father died and when she returned home for the funeral, she was asked by John Gordon to consider teaching at the Hamilton Art School. She took the position in 1918 and a few years later she married Gordon who was a fellow artist and the administrator for the school. They often traveled to Paris in the summers, where she explored and studied the European masters and the new and exciting ideas of Fauvism, Cubism, Dada and Surrealism.
Gordon was a remarkable teacher. She worked hard during the Depression to incorporate more technical and applied arts into the curriculum and struck up relationships with businesses to help get her students hired. She was also dedicated to several art organizations and societies promoting women in the arts.
While teaching and being heavily involved in the administration of the school, Gordon found the time to paint. Her interests moved from figurative to landscape and still life. She began to incorporate much of the ideas she was witnessing in Paris into the treatment of her work. After the death of her husband in 1940, Gordon’s style became much less inhibited. He was almost 20 years her senior and his alcoholism and conservative views about art strained their personal and working relationship.
She created the opportunity to study with Hans Hofmann between 1941 and 1945 at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. His influence and friendship pushed her to try non-objective painting. Here Gordon found her voice. She studied Cubism and began to paint expressive sharp angles and bold colourful shapes.
Her new style gained her recognition on a national scale. She was named honorary president of the Contemporary Artists of Hamilton in 1948 and soon after joined the Painters Eleven. This was a collective of Canadian abstract artists including Jack Bush, Oscar Cahen, Tom Hodgson, Alexandra Luke, Jock MacDonald, Ray Mead, Kazuo Nakamura, William Ronald, Harold Town and Walter Yarwood. The group was formed in 1953 and formally disbanded in 1960. She was delighted to meet with other painters because she felt isolated in Hamilton with the new path she was exploring. Within this group, she was inspired to create more non-objective art and she was given the opportunity to participate in high-profile exhibitions in New York and Toronto. She became a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.
Gordon exhibited for over 50 years in Canada and the U.S. but never lived to see her art in a public institution .
Quote from Hofmann:
“Hortense Gordon was indeed an extraordinary person – always directed toward the future and progress in life and art, and determined to do her very best in her work, and the results and consequences have been remarkable and beautiful. She never stood still, never looked back and never ceased to give to others, a truly creative artist with a deep faith in the ability of her students.”
Born Nov 24 1886
Died Nov 6 1961