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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: tenth anniversary issue
([1969?])

Roditi, Edouard
[West coast art--Canada],   pp. [71]-78 PDF (10.0 MB)


Page 76

76      appearing to be up to date at a small cost
of intellectual effort or of imaginative
invention. Whether rural or metropolitan, a
square is always a square; whether painted
in Vancouver, Kalamazoo, New York
or Paris, a stripe remains a stripe, and a
monochrome by Barnett Newman can look
disturbingly like one by John Doe. Most of
British Columbia's younger painters of
recent years have therefore been, at one
time or another, devotees of Op art; a few
of them have achieved in it a personal
idiom, however limited in its scope, and
several have even managed to wean
themselves away from it.
Among these devotees of geometrical
abstraction, Michael Morris is the most
convincing, perhaps because he deliberately
avoids solving many of the problems that
he sets himself, so that he thus manages to
disconcert us by introducing a new element
of surprise in a style that no longer
surprises us as much as it once did.
Bodo Pfeifer, who was born in Germany
and, though now living in Western Canada,
has faithfully assimilated idioms that seem
more native to New York and Paris,
illustrates in his recent work the
international character of Op art, a style that
can indeed be mastered in extension
courses, through periodicals and
reproductions, at any distance from the
major art centres where it has been first
formulated and then more widely practiced.
At the Bau-xi Gallery, the work of Claude
Breeze, Jack Wise, Brent Gifford and
Paul Wong appeared to me to be particularly
promising. Born in China, Paul Wong
has developed in British Columbia a
genuinely Chinese style of "Chinese
writing" that might lead him very far. In
much of his recent work, broad black
brush-strokes fill almost all of his pictorial
area, so that his few isolated patches of
white achieve paradoxically the effect of
signs. Jack White, on the other hand,
experiments in a calligraphic style derived
from the psychedelic style of San
Francisco; at the same time, he reveals an
interested affinity with classical Islamic
calligraphy. Finally, Glenn Lewis
distinguishes himself as one of the very few
younger sculptors of British Columbia who
have devised a style that is at all personal:
his three-dimensional porcelain still-life
arrangements are exquisitely useless
objets-de-vertu for a truly sophisticated
collector.
The Museums of British Columbia, whether
in Vancouver or Victoria, still have far to
go before their attractions can compete with
those of our own Pacific Coast. To
celebrate Canada's centennial of
confederation, the Vancouver Art Gallery,
an institution which has already earned
respect through its courageous sponsorship
of local art in recent years, exhibited
throughout the Summer of 1967 a
remarkable collection of masterpieces of
Indian art from the Northwest coastal
region, produced by the Haida, Tlingit,
Tsimshian, Bella Coola and Kwakiutl tribes.
Many of the finest pieces had been loaned
to American museums and collectors, who
learned to appreciate this art at a time
when Canadians still neglected it and
relegated it all too often to the dusty
basements of provincial museums.
Most of the work exhibited had been
produced in the Nineteenth century, some
fine pieces even as late as the first quarter
of our own century. The art of the Tlingit,
Haida and Kwakiutl tribes, in particular,
seems to have been greatly stimulated by
early contacts with European and
American pioneers and fur-traders. The
remarkable Haida slate-carvings, for
instance, were produced exclusively for
trade with outsiders and not at all for use
or decoration within the tribe. The greatest
Haida artist whose name is remembered,
Charles Edenshaw (1839-1924), worked in
his maturity and later years mainly for
European and American patrons.
While I was visiting the exhibition in the
Art Gallery, I was fortunate enough to
become acquainted with a couple of
Kwakiutl craftsmen. It was interesting to
see that they were discovering there,
among the older pieces exhibited, a number
of types of masks that are no longer
produced or even remembered within the
tribe. Later, they accompanied me to the
Canadian Cottage Industry store at 750
Robson Street, where they generally dispose
of their own work; there they showed me
several masks that were exact replicas
of some of the less ancient ones exhibited
at the Vancouver Art Gallery. As in other
areas of art, it would appear that
contemporary demand favors repetitiousness
by narrowing down its choice of models to
suit the status-requirements of competitive
collectors who all want to own and display
more or less the same art objects.


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