21 November 2017




Lists and archives have been on my mind in recent days as I research our upcoming special issue on art books. I couldn’t find a comprehensive list of visual art publications released in Canada over the last year, so I’ve been spending hours online scoping out publishers, galleries and the like in order to to compile a list of our own.

It’s the first time Galleries West has tried a themed issue, and it’s a fun project that combines two great loves – reading and looking at art. It will be published on Dec. 19 – the last issue before the holidays – and it's recommended reading for last-minute shoppers who need gift ideas.

As part of this project, we're reaching out to people in the arts world – artists, curators, gallery owners and other people who enjoy art – to find out what they are reading. We'd love our readers to be part of this project, and would enjoy hearing from you. Simply drop a quick email to editor@gallerieswest.ca with “art book” in the subject line. Let us know your recommendation and please add a few words about why you like it. It can be something hot off the press (or just downloaded) or a musty old favourite, from Canada or elsewhere. Non-fiction or fiction are both fine, as long as the book has some link to visual art.

Archiving was also on my mind this week because of an update to the search function on the Galleries West website. One of the site's most useful features is the open-access archive of articles about Western Canadian artists and exhibitions from the last 15 years. The search box at the top of the page at gallerieswest.ca is now a comprehensive internal search, including separate tabs for Articles, Events, Locations and Tags. Try it out with the name of a favourite artist, or even one of our writers. And please send us your comments.

In keeping with the archival theme, this issue of Galleries West Digital has a historical flavour. Our cover story, by arts writer John Thomson, looks at the Polygon Gallery’s opening show, which explores North Vancouver's past and present. We also have stories about two senior West Coast artists – John K. Grande writes about Gordon Smith and Beverly Cramp tackles Sylvia Tait – and there’s also a preview of a Calgary show that features rarely seen paintings by Tom Thomson. Enjoy!

Until next time,



21 November 2017

Volume 2 Number 24
Copyright 2017

ISSN 2561-3316

Galleries West Digital is an online magazine published every second Tuesday to promote and advance the visual arts. Launched in 2016, it replaces the print version of Galleries West magazine, which covered art and artists in Western Canada for 15 years. Our award-winning website, gallerieswest.ca, the repository for all content, is an open archive of information about the arts in communities large and small throughout Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columba as well as Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

Editor Portia Priegert
250-382-0567 (Victoria)
Toll Free 866-415-3282
Consulting Editor Jeffrey Spalding
Reviews Editor reviews@gallerieswest.ca
Contributors Beverly Cramp, Paul Gessell, John K. Grande, John Thomson
Tom Tait
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Greg Girard, “Untitled (Grain Terminal),” 2013, archival pigment print, 40” x 50” (courtesy the artist, Monte Clark Gallery, Vancouver, and the collection of Roger Holland)


Polygon Gallery Opens in North Vancouver

The new $20-million Polygon Gallery on the North Vancouver waterfront has launched its first show, N. Vancouver, with impressive work that looks at the city, past and present. The 25,000-square-foot facility, jump-started by a $4-million gift from art collector Michael Audain in 2014 – he’s also the chair of Polygon Homes – replaces the former Presentation House Gallery and is the largest photo-focused exhibition space in Western Canada. N. Vancouver, on view until April 29, includes newly commissioned works from 15 regional artists, with existing pieces from various public and private collections. “It’s really important to me that the first exhibition in this new building really reflects a view of our hometown but also of the North Shore and its long history,” says Reid Shier, Polygon’s executive director. “Tension around land, ownership and use is a conversation that is very evident in North Vancouver.” Conflicts between nature and industry and the community’s evolution from a working-class enclave to a cosmopolitan metropolis, form the underlying spine of the show. The keynotes of history and progress are realized through a variety of styles and techniques. For instance, Rodney Graham, known for creating staged setups, meticulously restaged American realist Thomas Eakins’ 1871 painting Max Schmitt in a Single Scull in a local river. The piece is called, appropriately enough, Paddler, Mouth of the Seymour. Graham’s contemporary, Stan Douglas, went one step further. Douglas created a picture of North Vancouver’s historic squatter community entirely from scratch, melding aerial photographs from the 1950s with archival pictures of old shanties to create Lazy Bay, a digital rendition of a lifestyle that no longer exists. More ►
– John Thomson

Nick Cave, "Soundsuit," 2015, mixed media including gramophone horn, ceramic birds, metal flowers, strung beads, fabric, metal and mannequin, 9.3' x 4.9' x 4' (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa ©Nick Cave, courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, photo by NGC)


Canadian Biennial Goes International


On one side of the long gallery is Nick Cave’s gaudily decorated, life-sized mannequin, topped by a mouth-like gramophone horn. This kitschy sculpture, imported from Chicago, appears to be in a shouting match across the room with a primeval, over-sized, open-mouthed cedar mask created by the late West Coast Indigenous artist Beau Dick. Clearly, the curators behind the National Gallery of Canada’s fourth Canadian Biennial, on view until March 18, want to imply that Sound Suit, born of the concerns of a gay, black American man, is conversing with Bookwus Ghost Mask, an object rooted in ancient West Coast Kwakwaka’wakw culture. Both works are meant for use in performances. Both are excellent additions to the gallery’s collection. But what exactly are the two works shouting at one another? Sometimes art-based conversations are more than a little forced. For the first time, the biennial is exhibiting international acquisitions from the last few years alongside recent domestic purchases and donations. The goal is to see how Canadian contemporary art converses with foreign works. Since the gallery’s temporary exhibition spaces are filled this year with Canadiana to mark the country’s 150th anniversary, this was a chance to exhibit some international pieces. However, one could argue just as convincingly that, in this special year, the focus should have stayed resolutely on Canadian works. More ►
– Paul Gessell

Gordon Smith in his studio in 2009. (photo by Martin Tessler)


Gordon Smith’s ‘Black Paintings’


Gordon Smith’s fifth exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery, The Black Paintings, on view until Feb. 4, marks a full-circle return to the days of his youth. In Pachino 43, for instance, Smith paints on tarpaulin from the kitbag he used when he was a Second World War intelligence officer drawing maps from photographs. He landed on Sicily’s Pachino Penisula as part of Operation Husky, the launch of the Allied campaign in Italy, a test and precursor to D-Day, and was shot in the leg on July 20, 1943 in the Sicilian town of Leonforte. Smith is known for his West Coast forest interiors and landscapes, and like Claude Monet, in his later work at Giverny, has moved from a mix of figuration and abstraction to a more abstract, process-oriented style, even as he refers to scenes he has experienced. Painting remains a daily ritual, even at 98, and his recent paintings, which he calls Entanglements, are a sometimes chaotic, sometimes beautiful admixture of surface effects and suggested scenes. The Black Paintings are an altogether different initiative. Begun in 1990, and continuing to this day, they recall the experience of war Smith shared with young friends from the Fort Osborne Barracks in Winnipeg, from training in England to the war in Sicily. Though dark, even brooding at times, the work affirms one of the most vivid periods in Smith’s life. An earlier series of Black Paintings were lost or stolen but he returned to the theme, developing the sense of darkness and immeasurable, infinite space. Tanu (1995) captures that darkness, and though named after a village on Haida Gwaii, could equally recall Smith’s wartime experiences in Sicily. More ►
– John K. Grande

Tom Thomson, "Winter Scene," circa 1917, oil on board, 7.75" x 5.25" (courtesy Masters Gallery, Calgary)


Rarely Seen Thomson Paintings in Calgary


A show that opens today at Masters Gallery in Calgary gives art lovers a rare opportunity to view two dozen little-seen paintings by Tom Thomson, an iconic artist who continues to fascinate Canadians 100 years after his death in Ontario’s Algonquin Park. Gallery owner Ryan Green says one of the show’s highlights is an oil sketch Thomson did in 1917 on a slat he pulled from a shipping crate when he ran out of his regular panels. Titled Winter Scene, it shows a snowy creek and trees with a hill in the distance. “It’s a really beautiful painting,” says Green. Another work done at the same time on a board from the crate is now in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario. The works in the show, mostly owned by Calgarians, depict scenes in and around Algonquin Park, where Thomson loved to paint. “Thomson’s creativity was unstoppable,” says Green. “He was so sincere about making art. He had to do it … He loved what he was doing.” Like most of Thomson’s oeuvre, the paintings in the show are modest in size – but not in value. Green notes the sales record for a Thomson sketch, as the artist’s small plein air paintings on wooden panels are known, is $2.8 million. That’s what Early Spring, Canoe Lake, a work from 1917, the year of Thomson’s death, fetched at auction in 2009. More ►
– Portia Priegert


Sylvia Tait, "Florescence," 2017, acrylic on paper, 41" x 30" (collection of the artist, photo by Blaine Campbell)


The Surprising Range of Sylvia Tait


Sylvia Tait, a senior West Coast modernist linked to the Group of Seven’s Arthur Lismer from her student days, is having a major survey at the Burnaby Art Gallery. On the heels of her recent painting show at Vancouver’s Bau-Xi Gallery, it presents a surprisingly multidisciplinary artist. Tait is known for her colourful palette and intricately patterned abstract paintings. What we learn from the Burnaby exhibition, on view until Jan. 7, is the variety of other media she has explored, particularly drawing and printmaking, but also illustration, design and sculpture. Tait grew up in Montreal and studied piano as a child, but her passion was painting and drawing. She enrolled at the School of Art and Design at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts when Lismer taught there. Other instructors were Marian Scott, Gordon Webber and Eldon Grier, who had worked as an assistant to Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. Fellow students included Claude Tousignant and Guido Molinari. Tait graduated in 1953 at the top of her class. Her drawings from this period reveal a loose, lyrical style. More ►
– Beverly Cramp

Kelly Goerzen, "Boundary Bog Shoreline," 2017, acrylic on canvas, 48" x 64"


Kelly Goerzen’s Atmospheric Landscapes


Saskatoon artist Kelly Goerzen has loved the outdoors since she was a child. Back then, she would paint wildflowers and pore over nature paintings by Ernest Lindner. At high school, she took art classes with landscape painter Reta Cowley, who continued to mentor her after she graduated. Goerzen studied biology at the University of Saskatchewan and worked for a time as a fisheries biologist, painting when she could. After starting a family, she decided to devote herself to art full time. For many years, that meant painting watercolours en plein air. “I used to joke it was an excuse to go out and sit in the country,” says Goerzen. She began using acrylics a decade ago when life circumstances tied her closer to home, often working from her own photographs, including urban scenes. But watercolour techniques continued to inform her acrylics. Her show at Art Placement in Saskatoon, Familiar and Unfamiliar, on view until Nov. 30, includes Boundary Bog Shoreline, an atmospheric scene from Prince Albert National Park, north of Saskatoon, one of her favourite painting destinations. Her work here has a watery feel, and not simply because the image shows a small lake ringed by stunted black spruce. Goerzen says she pushes the surface transparency by using multiple thin layers of paint. “I want the paintings to be magical in some way,” she says. “I want to express the place because it’s intrigued me for some reason.” More Images ►
– Portia Priegert

Takashi Murakami (photo by Maria Ponce Berre, ©MCA Chicago)


Murakami to Vancouver and Other News


International art star Takashi Murakami will have his first Canadian retrospective at the Vancouver Art Gallery next year. The Japanese artist’s show, The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg, features 55 works, including a new sculpture and two multi-panel paintings created especially for Vancouver. It explores the influence of traditional Japanese painting and Buddhist folklore on Murakami’s art as well as  his engagement with media culture and globalization. Murakami, born in 1962, has been named one of TIME magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” and is active in a wide range of artistic undertakings, from curating and collecting art to projects that nurture young artists. The show is organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and curated by Michael Darling. It is on view from Feb. 3 to May 6.

In other news:

  • The Manitoba Craft Council and the Manitoba Craft Museum and Library have officially opened their shared space, the C2 Centre for Craft.
  • Wildlife Photographer of the Year is back at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, starting Dec. 8, after a one-year hiatus.
  • The TD Bank Group recently announced the appointment of Stuart Keeler as its senior art curator.
  • The Art Gallery of Ontario and the National Gallery of Canada will co-present a major exhibition about humanity’s impact on the Earth next fall.
  • Ryan Doherty is stepping down as the director and curator of the Southern Alberta Art Gallery in Lethbridge, Alta., after 10 years.


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