BCD #25

Blind Contour Drawing #25 –
“Dishcloth on Line #3 ”
– Mary Pratt 1997

Mary Pratt grew up on one of the most well-regarded streets in Fredericton, New Brunswick. She was one of two daughters to a Harvard-educated provincial cabinet minister.

She was heavily influenced by her maternal grandmother, Edna McMurray, who was the co-founder of the first Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (IODE) chapter in New Brunswick. Pratt, like her grandmother, served her community on several boards and communities during her lifetime, especially with matters of the arts and education.

Pratt attended Mount Allison University, studying Fine Arts under Alex Colville, Ted Pulford, and Lawren P. Harris. It was Colville who influenced the development of her style and her subsequent move toward realism. Harris was less enthusiastic. In her second year, she met the artist Christopher Pratt they married in 1957. Harris was quick to inform her that there could only be one artist in a marriage and she was not it.

Despite his forewarning, Pratt kept up with her practice even after they moved to Scotland so that her husband could attend the Glasgow School of Art. They had two children while there and even though she had very limited time, she continued to paint. They moved back to the Maritimes in 1961, to Newfoundland, Christopher’s home, had 2 more children and Pratt continued to work. The couple separated in 2004.

While she was frustrated by the lack of time she could work, she kept up with her practice by focusing on the ordinary things she found around her home in rural Newfoundland. She began to experiment with the use of light and found that she couldn’t sketch fast enough so started to take photos of mundane moments that she described as having an erotic charge. Months later, getting the slides back, she would reassess if her subject still held that special quality and only painted those moment that she loved.

This portrayal of the ordinary helped Pratt earn national recognition. She started to show her work in 1967 and by the 1970’s her focus was turned towards the everyday objects of women’s domestic lives.

In 1996, Pratt was named Companion of the Order of Canada. In 1997, she was awarded the Molson Prize for visual artists from the Canada Council for the Arts. In 2013, she was made a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. She was also awarded nine honorary degrees from various universities throughout Canada. Pratt was also the first Atlantic woman to have a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada.

Pratt suffered severe near-sightedness, which is reflected in the focal depth of her paintings. She also found difficulty walking and using her hand by middle age because of Rheumatoid arthritis. She continued to paint until her late 70’s.

Her subject matter elevated the mundane scenes of domesticity. Pratt’s art was powerful and political. It was derived from what she called an erotic charge for the moment she captured and then painted.

Born: March 15, 1935, Fredericton, New Brunswick
Died: August 14, 2018, St. John’s, Newfoundland

BCD#24

 

Blind Contour Drawing #24 –
“I have spoken with this green person”
– Rachel Berman 2010

Once known as Susan King, Rachel Berman reclaimed her birth name as an adult after she successfully discovered the names and of her biological parents and her own birth story. She was born in New Orleans in 1946 and was raised by foster parents in Victoria B.C. She abandoned the foster system at an early age and lived a tough life.

She was a self taught artist and traveled and worked in the U.S., Ireland and in Canada, she eventually settled in Victoria B.C. where she grew up. She worked as a greeting card artist. Her quirky animal characters, Mooky McBeth and Vanessa Vanilla eventually became characters in children’s books. She was nominated for the Governor General’s award for English Language Children’s Literature-Illustration in 2009 and 2013.

Berman’s paintings were exhibited in many places but most frequently with The Ingram Gallery in Toronto. Her gallery paintings are hauntingly beautiful. She drew from her experiences in the streets of London, Dublin, New York, Toronto and downtown Vancouver. She never owned a camera but spent hours sketching in housekeeping rooms, worn hotel lobbies, cafes, and metro stations. The mysterious figures and hidden stories in her paintings are a reflection of the struggles and mysteries she lived through herself. She once said that her paintings were autobiographical, her search for herself.

Berman suffered from HIV and hid her illness from her loved ones for a long time. She was ashamed of her early drug addiction and lifestyle. However, she felt AIDS made her grateful: “It did give me time to think, not about what the disease has taken away from me but what it has given me, and for which I now am most grateful, for life is most generous … – I have to live today like it is the best day in the world — & I now have the wisdom to know that it is.”

She was known to deliver envelopes stuffed with drawings, philosophy, calligraphy, rambling love letters and poetry, usually by bicycle in the early hours of morning to friends, loved ones and even strangers. She was an apparition in an overcoat and described as a “quiet observer of life, a thinker and a humanist.”

Born: 1946, New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Died: May 28, 2014, Victoria

BCD#23

Blind Contour Drawing #23 – “Reason over Passion” Joyce Wieland 1968

Joyce Wieland was born in Toronto in 1930. She was the youngest child of emigrants from Britain. Wieland and her 2 older brothers struggled to survive after both of their parents died when she was still in grade school. Despite being poverty stricken, she was able to study fashion design at the Central Technical high school in Toronto. It was there that she met working artists like Doris McCarthy. McCarthy was an independent spirit and committed to her art practice. She became an important mentor for Wieland.

After graduating in 1948, Wieland worked as a graphic designer. She met artist, Michael Snow at a graphics firm in Toronto. They married in 1956 and had a 20 year relationship.

Before she married, she moved into her own apartment studio, which at the time was not the common for young women. She lived alongside other artists and became part of the city’s growing boho scene. Her independent nature led her to travel and she was able to visit Europe a few times in her twenties. She began to achieve some success with her paintings in the late 1950’s and had her first solo show in Toronto in 1960.

Between 1962 and 1971, Wieland and Snow lived in New York. Feeling connected to the city’s counter culture vibe, she continued to paint but also explored other mediums. New York was teeming with pop art and conceptual art, and artists were responding to the political and cultural issues of the time, including the war in Vietnam, feminism, and environmentalism.

Wieland had learned filmmaking and animation techniques while working in commercial design, so she began to create films. In a short period of time, she was screening her work alongside her American colleagues. Her work was well received due to their political edge and wit.  In 1968 the Museum of Modern Art in New York presented Five Films by Joyce Wieland. Her films are known internationally.

Wieland had a healthy relationship with sex and was passionate about feminism. Much of her artwork explore these themes. Besides film and paint, she also started to work with fabric. She intentionally used fabric to express her political ideas because traditionally it had been used by women. She created quilts and mixed media pieces that challenged the notions of what is art and what is craft, what is masculine and what is feminine. She was a leader in bringing these materials and mediums into the fine art world.

On Canada Day, July 1st, 1971 the National Gallery of Canada presented her solo exhibition, True Patriot Love. It was the first time the Gallery had given a solo show to a living Canadian female artist. At that time she returned to Toronto to live and work. By the 1980’s she was focused on painting and in 1987 the Art Gallery of Ontario held a retrospective of her work.

Wieland maintained a studio practice in Toronto until her health began to decline. She was cared for by a group of female friends until her death on June 27, 1998 from Alzheimer’s disease.

Born: June 30, 1930, Toronto
Died: June 27, 1998, Toronto

BCD#14

Blind Contour Drawing #14 – “Holding Boots” – Annie Pootoogook 2003/04

Annie Pootoogook, was raised in Cape Dorset, an Inuit settlement located on Dorset Island at the southern tip of Baffin Island in the Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut. Many members of her family, including her mother and grandmother were artists.

She began her art career in her late 20’s and immediately challenged people’s perceptions of Inuit art. A natural storyteller, Pootoogook created drawings of daily life. She once said she could only draw what she had lived. This included scenes of cozy domesticity watching Dr. Phil on TV, and of cutting up raw seal on the kitchen floor. It also included domestic violence, ATM cash machines, and alcoholism, which startled those who looked to Inuit art for wholesome Northern traditions.

Pootoogook worked out of the Kinngait Studios, a co-operative that supports and buys work from artists working in Cape Dorset. At first, there was almost no interest in her work. After sending some of her early work to the co-op’s sales team in Toronto, a stern note was sent back. “‘This stuff’s never going to sell,’ they said. ‘Stop doing it.'”

However, Pootoogook gained the attention of The Feheley Art Gallery and had a small exhibition in 2003. This was her first solo exhibition and extremely important for her career. The curators at Feheley were very supportive of her and her work despite criticism.

She gained attention internationally, when she won the Sobey award in 2006 and was invited to Germany’s famous Documenta 12 art show in 2007. She showed in major shows in the following years in North America and Australia. However, away from home and living in Montreal, she succumbed to alcoholism. She returned to Cape Dorset briefly but unfortunately it didn’t last. By 2010 she was living on the streets with a panhandler, William Watt. They continued an on-and-off relationship for the remaining years of her life.

Her life with Watt was hard. They camped in parks or under bridges. She began to complain to friends and family about the way he treated her. “One morning she came up to me,” her friend Ookik Nakashook remembers, and said ‘I am tired of being kicked out. Last night he kicked me out without boots so I had to go look for boots,’ said Nakashook. “That was during the winter. And I told her, ‘Don’t put up with that.'”

She stayed with Watt even though he continued to abuse her and take any money she made from her drawings. Tragically in 2016, her body was pulled from the Rideau River on the morning of Sept. 19, a short walk from the shelter where she had been living.

Shockingly, a comment from an Ottawa officer read “And of course this has nothing to do with missing or murdered Aboriginal women … it’s not a murder case, it’s [sic] could be a suicide, she got drunk and fell in the river and drowned who knows … typically many Aboriginals have very short lifespans, talent or not.”

An internal investigation was filed and the officer was suspended. Many feel that it is a minor punishment for obvious racism against this vibrantly talented woman.

The investigation into her death has recently been reopened.

The story of Annie Pootoogook’s life was coloured by despair and tragedy, but also by extraordinary talent, positivity, strength and creativity. The troubles that weighed on her in her last years were unimaginable, yet for a long time she was able to manage them, and even to make art from them. She took her experiences, whether joyful or difficult, and made them into a body of work that changed Canadian art.

Born: May 11, 1969 – Cape Dorset (Kinngait)
Died: September 19, 2016 (aged 47), Ottawa