Art College, Growth, and the Group of Seven…

Group of Seven and Tom Thompson

Years ago, I attended the Alberta College of Art in Calgary and was a painting major for all of a year before shifting into photography. I had grown up as many of us do, with easy to understand representational art in the house. Very commercial. The type of art you would find at the local gallery. Generally, landscapes with horses (we do live in Alberta you know). Exceptional work by some exceptional artists.

So, pencils and paint brushes in hand, I entered college with the idea that this is what art was all about. I knew about modern art but thought that “my” type of art would be nurtured and supported. Not so much. I remember one instructor in particular – Dave Casey. He would get us going on drawing a still life, and would walk around the class looking over your shoulder at what you were up to. If he thought you were being too “precious”, he would pull out his trusty giant red marker and draw a line through your work and tell you to start over. Sigh… You would think I would not like this, Mr. Casey character very much, and possibly want to poke his eyes out with a Staedtler Mars Lumograph – but no. He taught me some very valuable lessons about letting go of what I believed to be “good art”, and start to open up to art that I didn’t really like specifically because of biases I had developed during my upbringing. As a matter of fact, the college seemed to be bent on removing that part of my brain. Kinda like a – LabARTomy.

Enter Art History and our dear professor Hannah White. Over the course of her classes, and with the help of my new open view of art, I was able to begin to understand the various art movements and yes, start to actually appreciate them. Even Impressionism, Cubism, Abstract Expressionism and more.  This, despite the fact that apparently, my father had a trained monkey that could do almost any of the work produced by these so called artists. Dad was never able to produce this monkey unfortunately, as I would have taken him around the world and made a fortune.

So, as you may or may not know already, I switched majors and became a photographer. Looking back, sadly, much of this came from the pressure to make a living and I believed I could never do that through painting.

So, how does the Group of Seven enter into this? I held onto the stubborn idea of what good landscapes looked like. Upon refection, I probably still do to some degree. My first paintings in twenty eight years would have been well received by my dad. But recently I picked up a copy of The Group of Seven and Tom Thompson by David P Silcox and was mesmerized by the work again. I was then treated to seeing some of this work at the Glenbow Museums “Masterworks from the Beaverbrook Art Gallery” and I began to realize that this was something that I wanted to explore. The internal arguments were (and still are) highly annoying. – no no Grant, you have to make the tree look like this, here, let me show you, there ya go – But what if I make the tree look like this? – Well, that would be silly, trees don’t look like that – But I’m going for the way the tree and the rest of the landscape make me feel and trying to simplify and convey that to the viewer – feel schmeel… and on and on it would go.

So, where to from here? I’ve decided that I’m going to let go of what I think I should be doing, and just letting what happens happen. Paint and sketch with simplification in mind. Reduce the noise and volume of the landscape to it’s forms. Hopefully, that trained monkey won’t show up and start painting next to me.