Canadian art in recent decades has been characterized on a quantitative level by a notable expansion, connected with the strong population increase and economic development, and on the qualitative level by a preponderant influence of world art, despite the growth of consciousness national.
Painting. – Up until the early 1930s the Canadian painting landscape was dominated by the “group of seven” with its romantic and vividly decorative images of untouched nature. In 1933 it became part of the “Canadian group of painters”, aiming at greater representativeness on a national scale. In addition to almost all the “sects”, their new followers AJ Casson, E. Holden and L. LeMoine Fitzgerald, and artists of substantially similar orientation such as A. Robinson, among the founders of the new group, which survived until 1969, were E. Carr (1871-1945), painter of Indian life and woodland landscapes, Canada Comfort, whose salient feature can be seen in the tendency to maximum stylistic simplification, and numerous other artists.
Since the 1940s, artists who no longer pay exclusive attention to the landscape and paint human figures have multiplied (J. Humphrey, J. Nichols, L. Freiman, PN MacLeod, etc.).
The great modern artistic currents, from abstraction to surrealism, made their appearance in Canada accompanied by lively polemics with the traditionalists, around the beginning of the Second World War. In 1939 the Contemporary Arts Society was born in Montreal, founded by J. Lyman, a pioneer of new trends. In 1940 A. Pellan’s return from Paris introduced a nervous and decorative surrealism to Montreal, in which the influence of J. Miró is perceptible. The imprint of the French can also be seen in J. de Tonnancour, while a different tradition is in S. Cosgrave, formed in Mexico under the guidance of JC Orozco.
In 1948 it was established in Quebec, announcing its birth with a sensational political-artistic manifesto entitled Refus global, the group of automatists, headed by P.-É. Borduas (1905-1960). The automatism, which advocates the elevation of the subconscious to an active and creative force, is expressed in the last Borduas in purely abstract forms and in a gradual chromatic simplification, which in his Gabbiano (1956) practically reduces the range of colors to black and white. In addition to Borduas, the signatories of the automatic manifesto also included L. Bellefleur (born in 1910), in whose works the profusion of forms recalls the surrealism of M. Ernst and A. Masson, while the richness of colors is linked to Pellan, and J.-P. Riopelle (born in 1923), painter and sculptor, recognized as one of the world’s leading exponents of “action painting”, for which every single brushstroke has a life of its own. Borduas’ influence can be found in the paintings of A. Dumouchel (born 1916) with their mysterious shapes appearing against a dark background.
While Montreal’s modernism had French art as its point of reference, that of Toronto looked above all to New York. Its birth can be placed in 1953, when the informal group of “eleven painters” was formed (J. Bush, O. Cahen, H. Gordon, T. Hodgson, A. Luke, J. Macdonald, R. Mead, K. Nakamura, W. Ronald, H. Town, W. Yarwood). Among the most original exponents of this group, which has survived for more than a decade, we remember the prolific and versatile H. Town, who has constantly faced new techniques and ideas, W. Ronald, author of great works in a dazzling range of colors strong, and K. Nakamura, who instead produced a delicate painting, often almost monochromatic in various shades of green, and sometimes linear.
European and American influences intertwine in contemporary Vancouver painting, where the art of J. Shadbolt represents a genre of abstraction based on organic forms and that of BC Binning offers a more precise and architectural aspect of abstract painting. Significant artists such as G. Smith, J. Korner, EJ Hughes, B. and M. Bobak, L. Thomas have also been closely connected with both.
Another active artistic group of the western Canada was that of the “five of Regina” (R. Bloore, A. McKay, K. Lochhead, T. Godwin, D. Morton), which was formed in 1961. Members of this group, Lochhead already had a national notoriety as a surrealist painter. Bloore with his canvases with vast white surfaces and his aspiration to simplicity is perhaps the Canadian artist closest to Borduas. McKay’s abstract painting reveals a sensitive colorist, whose perception of nature is essentially poetic. Color, independent of any relationship with form, is also very important in Godwin’s kaleidoscopic compositions.
In the 1960s, a strongly realistic tendency led by veterans such as A. Colville and EJ Hughes and currently represented by painters such as K. Danby, DP Brown, Canada Pratt, J. Smith and T. Forrestall.
Sculpture. – In the interwar period, the major exponents of Canadian sculpture headed to the Sculptors Society of Canada, founded in 1928 by H. Hébert, F. Lorring and E. Hahn. E. Wyn Wood (1903-1966) had close ties with this association from the very beginning, making a highly original contribution to Canadian sculpture with his marble relief Passing Rain and his islands of tin and aluminum on black glass, which constitute a three-dimensional equivalent of the painting of the “group of seven”.
In the post-war decades, Canadian sculpture stood out for its artistic commitment and inventiveness in the exploration of new techniques. The most frequently used materials are bronze, mahogany, welded steel and stone.
- Archambault of Montreal (born 1915) began as a potter and became a world-renowned sculptor with his 1950 Iron Bird (now in the National Gallery in Ottawa). He contributed to the decoration of the Canadian pavilion at the Universal Exhibition in Brussels (1958) with a terracotta mural, that of the Uplands airport in Ottawa with screens of metal figures, that of the Wilfrid Pelletier hall in Montreal with a bronze triptych Characters winged.
- Kahane (born in 1926) devoted herself almost exclusively to wood sculpture and mainly dealt with the human figure, usually presented in a stylized or semi-abstract form. In his works the everyday life of ordinary people is observed with spirit and sympathy.
- Harman of Vancouver (born in 1927) was strongly influenced by the sculpture of classical antiquity and in his figures in bronze and welded steel he aims at the union of the Greco-Roman heritage with the ways of feeling of contemporary art.
We also remember G. Gladstone (born in 1929), A. Vaillancourt (born in 1932), R. Murray (born in 1936) and G. Smith (born in 1938), who are dedicated to sculpture in welded metal, and for the religious sculpture V. Tolgesy (born 1928) and G. Trottier (born 1932). In popular art, sculpture is represented by the stone works of the Eskimos, who boast a two-thousand-year tradition and have obtained international recognition with an exhibition organized at the Musée de l’homme in Paris, in 1969.