Answers to questions about my mentor Jock Macdonald

"Evolving Form", the major retrospective of work by my late teacher and mentor Jock Macdonald, is now on view at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.  In addition to the website we put together in homage to Jock (please see post below), here are some answers to questions someone recently posed to me, which we thought we would share:

How did it come about that you studied privately with Jock? When and where was that?

Spring and summer of 1959, I painted on my own in Banff National Park.  Later I was guest artist at the Banff School of Fine Arts, where faculty referred me to Jock Macdonald. Jock was teaching at the Ontario College of Art (OCA) in Toronto.  So I returned to Toronto and enrolled at OCA, September 1959.  Although enriched by Jock’s Composition and Still Life classes, overall the system - with its focus on commercial art by the other faculty - did not jive with me. 

I aired my feelings to Jock.  He understood and suggested I leave the College, saying he’d come and visit me at my rooming house on Walmer Road.  So I left OCA in Feb 1960.

True to his word, Jock came to see me some Saturdays from May until November. His untimely and sudden passing in early December, 1960 was a great personal loss, and a loss to the art world.

What made Jock unique as a teacher?

He was a human being with an enormous amount of insight into the capacity of other human beings and with the ability to bring out in them things which many other teachers could not do.

He simplified and made you see things in a different light. He understood the need for freedom of expression. He protected you if you had trouble.

I have never experienced such encouragement and protection from any other artist or art teacher. He was a great teacher.

It was as if he carried a small vial of oil, then dripped a bit on the tiny flame burning within his students.  Jock stressed (once the foundation work was done) freedom of expression. 

He said if we worked with our head, heart and hands in tandem, the painting will show life and spirit.  Without the heart, it is only paint on canvas. 

Jock Macdonald had the unique ability to see things in us, our potential we did not even know was there, and bring it out.  Jock would never say what to paint or how to paint, but his words stimulated me.

What makes him unique as a painter?

"All Things Prevail", Jock Macdonald, Lucite on Canvas, 1960

Jock Macdonald evolved from “landscape to mindscape”, from the conventional and familiar to the realm of abstract, or not-so-familiar. He did it all – drawing, painting and in a multitude of media.  In all these he expressed his expertise and his ‘head, heart and hand’ approach. 

The retrospective shows how Jock evolved by constant experimenting, exploring and searching.  An artist, a human being, on a quest, lifting a little of the veil of the mystery that life and the universe presents us.

Do you think he is underrated in Canada by the general public? If so, why would that be?

Yes!  Maybe after the exhibition,  this will change this somewhat, I hope.  Jock was a kind and modest man, he was not part of the Establishment very much alive in Toronto in those days. He was also not a ‘pusher’’, amongst other things, that may have had something to do with it.

Do you think he fully came into his own as a painter in the last four years or so of his life?
Yes, definitely.  This is something I said a long time ago.  He believed that the process of an understanding of the totality of life, the meaning of all its forces, the unseen powers of nature - was gradual and very slow.

In the same manner, he viewed his life as a gradual development towards an understanding and expressing of these spiritual laws. He realized in the last four years that he was finally reaching the culmination of his life’s search.

His canvasses became softer and more spiritual in quality. Jock Macdonald was concerned with the idea about unseen forces behind all matter, and wanted his paintings to express this concept.
You only have to look at his later works – how confident, strong and mature they are.  He had found himself a ‘handwriting’, a style for all to see - - only to be taken away by “going over the horizon” at the height of his career.