A Fresh Foray with New Artists

10 Jan 2012

I get excited and a bit chagrined whenever I discover oil painters of the past that I've never heard of. I realize that I'm no walking encyclopedia, yet I like to think I've got sound footing in oil painting. But the history of fine art oil painting is vast, so I'm going to cut myself some slack and just celebrate that I've discovered this batch of artists—early twentieth-century landscape painters who were part of the collective known as the Group of Seven—that are really rocking my world!

J.E.H. MacDonald—Sometimes when I look at an artist's work I get the feeling that he or she just sees differently. I felt that when I saw MacDonald's paintings. His colors are surprisingly varied and sometimes his choices seem out of place—jewel colors that are almost garish mixing with subtler earth tones—and yet they work. I was also really taken with the artist's shapes. The way he handles his brush to create such interesting forms on the canvas really made the works interesting in an abstract sense.

Lake McArthur, Yoho Park by J.E.H. MacDonald, oil painting, 1924.
Lake McArthur, Yoho Park by J.E.H. MacDonald, oil painting, 1924.

Arthur Lismer—To incorporate artifice into a landscape painting can be off-putting to some, but I found myself quite drawn to Lismer's stylized way of painting. He developed a style that allowed him to turn simple and straightforward elements like cliffs, trees, or the ocean into elements that are highly unique. I'm all for a painting that looks like a painting, and not necessarily a photo-realistic representation meant to trick the eye. 

A September Gale, Georgian Bay by Arthur Lismer, oil painting, 1921.

A September Gale, Georgian Bay by Arthur Lismer, oil painting, 1921.


F.H. Varley—I'll admit that I kind of gasped when I saw Varley's work. His ability to create an atmospheric sense of space really bowled me over. With the slightest strokes he creates a mountain range, or by building up layers of blues, greens, and grays he creates a vast night sky that seems to soar up and out.

Landscape No. 1: Mountains, B.C. by F.H. Varley, oil painting, c. 1934. Moonlight at Lynn by F.H. Varley, oil painting, 1933.
Landscape No. 1: Mountains, B.C.
by F.H. Varley, oil painting, c. 1934.

Moonlight at Lynn
by F.H. Varley, oil painting, 1933.

Seeing these works has really injected me with new energy. That coupled with instruction from contemporary artists whose names I do know—very well—has me raring to go, including DVDs like Visual Concepts in Still LIfe with Sherrie McGraw, Painting Light: The Cape School Method from Camille Przewodek, and Alla Prima Portraiture with Rose Frantzen. All of these together are sure to guarantee inspiration and strong technique for a new year! Enjoy!

 


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Comments

Ron Unruh wrote
on 11 Jan 2012 7:15 AM

Oh Courtney, I cannot believe that you have never before heard the names or seen the work of the Group of Seven. I am not faulting you personally but dumbfounded that their work would not have been included in your own art education. They are not new or emerging as you know now. They are renowned in Canada and internationally. They shattered all the rules a few decades ago and became easily identifiable because of the characteristics to which you have referred. The colours they have portrayed and the shapes may seem exaggerated, and yet for Canadians or those north of a certain parallel, they appear true. Canadians love the Group of Seven. If you ever have the opportunity to travel to Toronto, make a point of going to the McMichael Art Gallery where much of the collection that did not go private has been gathered for public display. The gallery has a fine reputation and has numerous amenities that will make the trip a memorable artist's delight.

skynanny wrote
on 11 Jan 2012 8:06 AM

Hi Courtney, I'm  so glad you are enjoying the group of Seven. As a Canadian whose hobbie is  art, I have loved and admired these artists and their works for many years. I live in northern Ontario near Algonquin park where some of these works were painted  and enjoy trips to the McMicheal Gallery to view and get inspired by the Group paintings. In a town near us, Huntsville Ont. there are wall murals on the sides of stores which mimic these epic pieces of Canadian Art.

Another great Canadian Artist Doris McCarthy  painted beautiful northern scenes and some amazing ones of  the Arctic iceburgs. She was a great inspiraton to me also. I was able to visit her and view her works a few years ago when she opened her Gallery in the University of Toronto Scarbourough site. When I think of these Artists and thier works I think of strength and endurance and the theme man & nature and survival in  a beautiful but  rugged landscape. Jacquie

Verna K wrote
on 11 Jan 2012 9:55 AM

Ah ha!!  A barrage of mail from the Canadian contingent!  Every Canadian school-aged child and hence most adults know about this amazing group of artists.  I almost spilled my morning coffee when I opened AD today and saw Lake MacArthur.  As a nacient artist and newly minted senior citizen, I made the hike up to that mountain just over a year ago with a 25 pound back pack (I told you I was new) and painted that exact scene as thousands before me have done.  And since we are on the subject, you might be interested in the work of Robert Genn, a most influential Canadian artist.  It is my goal to take his heli- tour up to the Bugaboos and paint with him (before either of us croaks!).

Thanks for sharing with us/me.  I learn so much from you.  Happy painting.

Verna Korkie :-)

on 11 Jan 2012 11:02 AM

Hi Courtenay; I am happy to see you article on the "Group of Seven" They were a major force in the development of Art in Canada - They were also the founders of The Federation of Canadian Artists which is an organization that functions as a professional association for Artists and is headquartered in Vancouver,B.C.Their work is pretty amazing.

Barbara Pistak

on 11 Jan 2012 12:12 PM

Courtney, Thank you for apprising your readers of the illustrious Group of 7. As an art student at Ontario College of Art, I was taught by the late A.J.Casson, the last living member of the G of 7. Other artists tremendously influential in this group was the founder, Lawren Harris. Tom Thomson is the most well known, mainly to his over-whelming influence to the group and to his misterious early death. The Group said that Thomson was the best colourest painter they had ever seen. Other super painters are J.W.Beatty, George Sotter, and Robert Pilot.

Enjoy, T.M.Bernard

stewardy wrote
on 11 Jan 2012 2:54 PM

Seeing pictures from the the wonderful Group of Seven takes me back to Canadian classrooms in the fifties - long ago and far away now - but they are still such beautiful original painters.  Another Canadian painter of interest might be Emily Carr who painted the West Coast and old cedar poles carved by the indigenous tribes. Her pictures still make me shiver at the sight of all that heavy green rain.

Isha

stewardy wrote
on 11 Jan 2012 2:59 PM

Seeing pictures from the the wonderful Group of Seven takes me back to Canadian classrooms in the fifties - long ago and far away now - but they are still such beautiful original painters.  Another Canadian painter of interest might be Emily Carr who painted the West Coast and old cedar poles carved by the indigenous tribes. Her pictures still make me shiver at the sight of all that heavy green rain.

Isha

YaYaB wrote
on 12 Jan 2012 6:32 PM

Just a note to add to all the other fans of the Group of Seven - the colours that seem so odd are not invented, they're real.  Often Rocky Mountain lakes are this startling shade of blue of blue green, depending on the mineral content of the water.  Deep rivers can look unusual also.