The Group of Seven didn’t do heaps of paintings of this part of the world, so Fred Varley’s 1937 painting Night Ferry, Vancouver depicting a ferry crossing Burrard Inlet from Vancouver to the North Shore, is fairly well-known locally, and a number of people have written about it. But the accounts I’ve come across tend to be fairly cursory, usually something about how Varley painted it in a post-breakup funk after Vera Weatherbie ditched him, and how the turbulent colours probably have something to do with his emotional state at the time.
Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it seems to me there’s a bit more to it. There’s actually some pretty well-constructed symbolism here.
I was re-watching Antonioni’s Blow Up the other night and I thought, “I’ll be darned if that isn’t an Alan Davie painting hanging in David Hemmings’ studio.” And so I looked it up, and so it was. And it was then that I found out Alan Davie had passed on back in April.
For my money he was one of the greats. I like his paintings a lot, particularly the ones he did from the 1970s onward, after he tired of abstract expressionism. I like that he went his own way and didn’t seem to care too much that his popularity, and sales, took a bit of a hit for it. I also like the fact he was an unrepentant bohemian of the old school, with his jazz, poetry, and Jungian mysticism.
I’d mentioned him once before in this blog, in a post I wrote last year called “Painting and Dumb Ideas“. In that regard, it was interesting to see my sentiments echoed by Michael McNay in the Guardian, who wrote
Many of the greater painters of the 20th century have succeeded despite working out of a mishmash of oddball beliefs – Kandinsky and Mondrian among them. Davie falls into that tradition of artists who wished away the high renaissance and the enlightenment and the drift of consequent history, but whose art nevertheless prospered.
So I guess I’m not the only one who feels that way. Farewell, Mr. Davie, and I’m sorry to see you go. You left us a lot of paintings, but I think we could have used a few more.
The life and art of Frank Molnar, Jack Hardman, LeRoy Jensen. Eve Lazarus, Claudia Cornwall, Wendy Newbold Patterson; introduction by Max Wyman. Mother Tongue Publishing, 2009.
Last post I said I planned to review the individual books in a series of monographs entitled “Unheralded Artists of BC” as I worked my way through them. I’ve now read the first three, and I think it makes more sense to start my reviews with the second book in the series. The second book differs from the others in that it describes the work and lives of three artists, while the other five books each cover one. Starting with the second book will allow me to focus less on individual particulars of the artists’ lives (you can, and should, read the books for that) and write more generally about the series itself.
The books are visually quite impressive. The images of the artworks give you a real sense of what these artists were about, and the historical photos add a lot to the context. Having a certain bias, I tend to think the visual content in art books is generally the most important part. My overall evaluation so far is that the three books I’ve read succeed admirably in what they set out to do, calling our attention to a number of artists whose works did not get wide exposure during their lifetimes and may now be unjustly cruising toward oblivion.