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

 

Homage series to Canadian women artists

 

I’ve been passionate about art history for many years and always find myself paying particular notice to the women sprinkled within the texts. It is refreshing to find that recent works are more inclusive.

In the past year, I’ve created blind contour drawings of art by women as a means of studying their work and learning about their lives, careers and contributions. I’ve been sharing some of these on Instagram and here on my blog.

I’m embarrassed to admit that even though my passion for art history is strong, up until a few months ago, I knew very little about women in Canadian art history.

The drive to study and learn more has resulted in a new and challenging series for me, an homage to these amazing women. I’m captivated by their skill, their dedication and ultimately their enduring and often rebellious artwork. Looking back, I can see their remarkable contribution to my identity as a Canadian, particularity a Canadian woman.

In reverence to their struggles and their gifts, I’m working on a collection of works that I aspire to share in hopes of introducing them and their work to fellow Canadians.

BCD#8

Blind Contour Drawing #8 “Girl on a Hill “ Prudence Heward 1929

Despite the popularity of landscape painting during her lifetime, Prudence Heward was a Canadian painter primarily known for her figure painting of defiant women.

She used bold and rich colours that challenged conventional representations of passivity and created portraits of complex, brooding and independent modern women. Many of her subjects returned the viewer’s gaze. She also painted nude subjects and one painting titled “Hester” (1937) of a naked black woman provoked hostile reactions in the press.

Born into a wealthy family, Heward took her first drawing lesson at the age of twelve and soon started painting at the Art Association of Montreal. After living out World War I in England as a volunteer with the Red Cross, she returned to the Art Association in 1918.

For two summers, Heward painted with Maurice Cullen in the rural areas outside Montreal. In 1925, she went to Paris under a scholarship. There, she met another Canadian student, Isabel McLaughlin, who became her lifelong friend. The two returned to Paris in 1929 and took sketching classes at the Scandinavian Academy, before traveling together to the Mediterranean town of Cagnes.

Heward’s first major success was in 1929 when she won first prize at the Willingdon Arts Competition for “Girl on a Hill.” This piece depicts the modern dancer Louise McLea. It is remarkably modern for McLea is posing with dirty bare feet and is challenging you with her gaze.

Heward’s works were selected for numerous international exhibitions. She was invited to exhibit her work with the Group of Seven in 1928 and again in 1931, and held her first solo exhibition in 1932 at the Scott Galleries, Montreal.

She was associated with the Beaver Hall Group; a founding member of the Canadian Group of Painters and Contemporary Arts Society, and a member of the Federation of Canadian Artists.

In 1947, Heward died at age 50 in Los Angeles, while seeking treatment for the asthma that had plagued her all her life. While frail in a physical sense, she was as robust and defiant as many of her subjects when it came to her dedication to her work. Her work continues to draw attention from art historians due to the issues she revealed about class, gender and race in Canadian society.

The National Gallery of Canada held a memorial exhibition in 1948, the year following her death.

Born Montreal, Quebec July 2 1896

Died Los Angeles, California, March 19 1947

 

 

 

BCD#4

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