Post-Banff: wandering studios

We received some questions after the Banff posts, like “What happened to all those landscape paintings you did then? Your website only shows a few”. Another, “When was your first exhibition, and where?”, Did the doctor continue to back you after you returned to Toronto?” and “Did you have a studio?” That’s what I mean when we say these blogposts create themselves.
To answer the first question, I gave all my paintings to Dr. Wilfred S. Goodman, who had made the Banff 1959 experience possible in the first place. These paintings are now spread out amongst his extended family including five adult children and grandchildren. We are in the process of receiving digital images of these paintings and will post them onto my website once they've all arrived.

My first exhibition auspiciously took place at Galeria Alberto Misrachi Mexico City's oldest and finest galleries, in 1963. All works were large watercolours done in San Miguel de Allende. This was followed by my initial solo show of watercolours, at the First Unitarian Church in Toronto.

Before that, in 1958 and 1959, I’d participated in annual group shows each spring at Hart House with the Colour and Form Society (of which I was President for a year). The Colour and Form Society was an innovative group formed by immigrant artists.
In 1965 my first major exhibition took place at Roberts Gallery in Toronto, featuring watercolours, and acrylics on paper and canvas.
Then in 1966, “Living Tapestry”, an acrylic on canvas (see photo) won First Prize at the major OSA (Ontario Society of Artists) exhibition held at the Toronto Art Gallery, now the AGO. One of the three jury members for this major OSA exhibition was none other than A.J. Casson, the last-surviving “Group of Seven” member. Since Casson was a renowned landscape and figurative artist, I felt all the more honoured to receive this Prize, and took pride in such recognition by him, for an abstract painting. (Keep in mind, this was just seven years after Banff 1959 and those changes in my style).
Speaking of 1959, to answer the question whether Dr. Goodman continued to sponsor me when I got back to Toronto, he paid for my tuition for the first semester at Ontario College of Art. But once the styles of my work changed in rapid succession (you could say ‘spiralling upward’ ), it was harder for him “to follow” me. And by now, understandably, his growing family (five children), and recently-acquired farm north of Toronto, needed his full attention.
The other question was, ‘Did I have a studio?’ No, I had to improvise. This was because of my nomadic way of living and shoestring budget. I moved from one place to another, renting rooms in boarding houses.
Also, in those days there were decrepit houses declared “unfit to live in”, but if the water source was still connected, I’d squat, and do my watercolours and acrylics (which also need that precious commodity: water). I lived in at least a dozen different dwellings within a few years - - - like a gypsy, without a permanent studio.
Hope this answers some of the questions which have come in from cyberspace. 


A question from Ireland

Someone wrote from Ireland to ask “where do you think Art is going, and is it still relevant today?” They also asked if I’d post a few more Aphorisms (see below).
Well, in terms where Art is going or if it’s still relevant today, true Art that is visionary, or which embodies the “Zeitgeist”, always points the way. Yet its message comes from the here and now.
Statesmen and pundits who keep a close eye on the ‘barometer’ or pulse of their citizenry would do well to observe today’s art forms --- whether it be plays, poems, paintings or contemporary performances.
Politicians like to keep the public at bay (“Don’t Worry, Be Happy”), while artists throughout time have always signalled there is still much work to be done, they warn us – if we can read and understand their messages - that “The Roses Have Thorns.”

Throughout the years, I’ve written several essays on Art. They’ve never been published on paper because we have never sent them to a publisher. The Aphorisms were submitted to a few publishers, but were returned by the ‘Thank you, but no thank you’ method - - -despite the fact the late, renowned poet Irving Layton gave them a ‘Bravo!’, which we enclosed with the submissions to the publishers, but this fell on deaf ears and blind eyes.

 To conclude this topic re: my “writing harvest”, I also write Apologues: Stories for the Young and Young at Heart” (otherwise known as children’s stories.) 
Meanwhile, to oblige our friendly person in Ireland and for you, here are a few more of my Aphorisms. Signing off for now, Henri

The deeper the whale
The more visible
its ‘tail’.

When the children
are full of awe and wonder,
we send them to school.
Ater graduation
they are dull and empty.

We see many ads
What to do or take
When we have a headache,
but never how to prevent one
I wonder why.

When we look at lakes and forests,
waterfalls or snow-capped mountains - -
With financial gain in mind,
We have seen nothing at all.

We can be so Holy,
we can be so Passive,
We will go out and kill
to prove our ideals.

Waves were aflame
with foam in glowing colour
just before the Sun departed.


Banff, 1959 - Conclusion: "Open Sesame!"

There was a Swiss piano teacher that Summer in the Music Department at the Banff summer school, 1959. He loved hiking up to the higher elevations, above the timberline.
Often I joined his group, into that realm where Pika, Mountain Goat, and Bighorn Sheep roam. (This time I went along for the hiking, not field painting.) The change in my work also raised eyebrows of my landlady, Mrs. Parkin and her friends.
Later when I got back to Toronto, Dr. Goodman (who became the recipient of all my Banff landscape work) found the latest changes difficult to understand. The faculty must have noticed something within that I was not aware of. How about me? Well, I discovered a freedom with unlimited horizon. To be no longer enslaved to the conventional “real” in Art opened many doors, the most important being “Imagination”.
I always had a vivid imagination, but it was the faculty there who awoken it again. (However before attending the School, I’d already begun to break away from monotony of greys, greens and browns of mountain scenery. I included warmer colours. 

“Echoes of Native Art”, done later at the School and won all those awards I mentioned earlier, ventured already into ‘surrealism’.  No more crawling like a caterpillar. Instead, soaring as a “flutterby”. Once imagination is tapped, inspiration follows. Charlie Chan says, “Human mind like parachute. Works best when open”.
When Ali Baba approached the cave, commanding “Open Sesame!” , the grotto opened, revealing a bounty of treasure. In another story, the Genie in the bottle granted three wishes, after which he was liberated from the bottle, exclaiming, “I am free! I am free!” In my case, Aladdin’s lamp was rubbed, and imagination leapt out.
To experience, to explore, to discover: this is what creates real adventure. Who would have thought the pleasure and joy of all those happy adventurous moments doing field painting, ‘en plein air’ in the Canadian Rockies, would be the last time I’d paint landscapes?
Another type of joy would replace it, such as that of Schiller’s “Ode to Joy”, set to music by the immortal Ludwig van Beethoven. My outlook had changed, and now I was looking in, having “crossed the Great Divide”, in Banff National Park – of all places -- from “Landscape to Mindscape”.


Banf 1959, part 6

One week before the final days of the Summer session and end-of-season exhibition, my work became more and more imaginative. The whole experience was like magic. On stage, a magician makes some things disappear into the ‘unknown’, while I was making things ‘appear’ from the unknown. There in the Canadian Rockies of all places, I crossed the “Great Divide”, or what I call evolving from “Landscape to Mindscape” (c).

What is “real” in art? We think that landscapes, still life and figurative works are real. We recognize the imagery; we see, translate and therefore ‘identify’ with the work. It is all a soothing exercise. In reality, of course, whatever an artist depicts on paper or canvass – say a mountain landscape or waterfall, pine trees and mountain flowers -- we cannot actually smell the fresh pines, swim in the lake, climb the mountain or take a refreshing dip in cascading waterfalls.

Often such imagery makes us “identify” with them. There are several reasons for this, mostly sentimental. Of course, representational works are recognizable, and can easily be ‘critiqued’. (“The best sailors are on the shore.”) However, one cannot argue about taste and preferences. All of us know what we like, don’t we?

In a sense the so-called “real” is in fact “surreal” or abstract. We don’t deny the existence of these phenomena in Nature, on the contrary; they are the blueprints, building-blocks and foundation that inspire and guide us. But in my case, such phenomena was used as a launching pad.  Returning to those weeks at the Banff school, I’d discovered a hidden bonus. Tossed into garbage bins were tubes of oil, watercolour, gouache -- still with lots of paint, caps half on, but perfectly useable. Plus brushes of all kinds, including sable; these had been discarded by others. Material I welcomed and made good use of! 

Towards the end of that Summer session, many students and a few faculty were really surprised how swiftly my work had changed. Having set my compass to this uncharted direction of that vast ocean called Imagination, I embarked with joy on this new voyage of exploration, never to look back. With one exception: the person who sponsored my trip to Banff.

Dr. Wilfred S. Goodman of Toronto asked if I could visit his parents at their farm in Baldur, Manitoba before returning to Toronto. An eventful overnight bus ride from Winnipeg aboard the “Grey Goose Line” made this possible. While there. I did an oil painting showing their pond. 

This was the very last landscape painting I ever did. It is now with the Goodman family, together with all my other works from that eventful and pivotal summer, Banff 1959. More on that later. Signing off, Henri