Wednesday, 25 September 2013

In the footsteps of Tom Thomson and the group of Seven- in the GTA Sept. 2013

Good Morning from a cool but sunny Ottawa morning.
I am just back from Toronto where I was teaching, (with the help of some of my students), a most awesome workshop, based on the group of seven. We were 15 people all together, and I'm very fortunate to have had a great group.
Our workshop started in Kleinburg, at The McMichael Art Gallery-our only somewhat rainy day, but it cleared up very quickly. The workshop was opened with ceremony, by observing the "graves" of most of the group, singing Oh Canada, and "pinning" our American participants with Canada pins, to make them honorary Canadians for the week, while quoting a great Canadian and Artist, J.E.H.MacDonald:

Every day advanced the passing of the leaf, and soon our painters had to go in quest of the desirable 'spot of red.' The hills that had been crimson and scarlet with maple were changed to purplish grey. The yellow leaves were following fast. They realized one night of breaking cloud that there was a growing moon, and they looked at old star friends from the car door - the Dipper lying flat among the spruce tops, and one rare night bright Capella dimmed in a jet of Aurora. After such a night the trees could resist no longer, and they saw many a one cast off all her leaves in one desperate shower. Birch woods, that were dense yellow in the morning were open grey by night. But the wild cherry leaves still hung as though the high fifes and violins were to finish the great concert of colour. They were another of the notable little graces of the bush, daintily hung in every shade from palest yellow to deep crimson against the big blue-gold hills of the Montreal Valley. (J. E. H. MacDonald)

How appropo for our plein air week, with the leaves just starting to turn. 

We viewed the gallery with my student and McMichaels' docent, Cheryl Ward (Thank you Cheryl!). The collection included several pieces from every member of the group and Tom Thompson too. Thompson died before the group was formed. It was critical to view the work, as we study composition, plein air painting, and consider the current movements in art at that time, that influenced the group. We're talking about Impressionism, Fauvism, and Art Nouveau. 
After a great lunch there, we were treated to a little sun, and painted, en plein air, right there at the conservation area that is part of the magic of McMichaels. 
When our day was done, the traffic surrounding our way out was intimidating enough. So we decided to spend rush hour in the local pub, Chartreuse (great food and service). A really hard way to end the day. There's a really funny comedic waiter there who never disappoints, had us all laughing. 

Tuesday, we started at Thoreau MacDonald house, where his father, J.E.H. Macdonald moved his family, in 1916 (?-various different dates in different material as to the year, but 1913-1916, in there)). He wanted to get away from all the Who-ha of living in the big city. This was a 10 acre farm when he moved in, and this influenced others in the group to move north and out of the city. The house is now on a 2 acre lot, surrounded by trees, and is a protected public park. A whole day to paint! 

Wednesday was a really special day for us all. We started out at the AGO where the collection of artwork is truly awe inspiring. Their collection of group of seven is really very impressive. Alyson Wiley, another one of my students and docent there, arranged a great tour for us.  Seeing this collection took me to a different time and place, thinking what it would be like to be alive in this exciting time of change in the art world. 

We had just enough time to see the groups' work, and toddle down the street, to the Art and Letters Club, which was founded in 1908, with many of the group of seven as quite involved with the goings on there. We had a superb lunch, and a tour with their curator. Scott James, was very knowledgeable about everything, they have a very interesting and thorough collection of historical art books, especially covering early 1900s'. We could have stayed a long time, but fortunately/Unfortunately we had to leave.

Why? Because we had a meeting in the prints and drawings archives room back at the AGO. We were met by the curator of this area, which houses over 70,000 pieces of artwork. The curator had chosen out unusual sketches and paintings by the group of seven for us to have a look at. These pieces are hung in matts that protect them, but no glass, etc., allowing us to look very close up. We could ask to see anything in the collection, and also viewed drawings by Degas, and many Japanese prints. A truly awesome experience, just being up close like this with art. I love the idea that public art really is accessible. I do have to thank Alyson for this though, as she is the one who arranged this special visit. 

Thursday and Friday had us back at JEH, painting all day, critiquing at the end of the day, with totally glorious weather.

A great group, great weather. The only glitch was my Friday morning breakfast, when I wanted to serve porridge to everyone. Lawren Harris fed his colleagues a breakfast cereal called Roman Meal every morning when painting on location. There are bits and comments in various journals, describing this feeding frenzy each day. I got a kick out of this fact, and thought we could share a laugh over this. I had all the ingredients, but forgot a pot to cook it in!

Here's my offering, 3 paintings I did of the House itself, Thoreau Macdonald House. If you hear me refer to the house as J.E.H., that's my short form name for J.E.H.Macdonald. The City of Vaughan, who own this house, officially call this house Thoreau  MacDonald House. Thoreau was J.E.H.'s son, and he was also an artist and

also lived in this house.

What insight, to provide this house for exhibition and workshops in the GTA. I certainly do appreciate this! In painting outdoors, I find it useful to contrast the complex and overwhelming amount of foliage with something completely different, whether that's in value, colour or texture. In this case, the house provided a lovely uplift in value to the deep rich treatment of trees, bushes and grass.