Sunday, April 15, 2012

Lights Out!

Canadian Painting from the 1960s

I spent a lovely Sunday afternoon at the Vancouver Art Gallery with my friend and mentor, Jacqui.  Ever since we went and saw The Modern Woman at the VAG a couple of years ago, fine art has been a dimension to our friendship and we try to go to exhibits a few times a year.

We went to see Lights Out!, deciding to come back another time for the other exhibits.  Lights Out! opened a week before Beat Nation but does not seem to have received the same amount of praise as the latter.  I think this may be because something billed as "Canadian painting" does not have the same cachet or sense of excitement.  Canadians are guilty of being self-deprecating and thinking we are boring.

I thought Lights Out! did a good job of situating Canadian art of the 1960s within its socio-political and art historical contexts.  My history nerd self loved the timeline at the beginning of the exhibit, which traced the themes of rising Canadian nationalism and optimism, among other currents of the decade.  It was great to be visiting the exhibit with Jacqui, as she recalled arriving in Canada from England in October 1966 just at the apogee of the decade.  Also, she being a painter, it is always enriching to discuss the technical aspects of a work as well. 

I was excited to see a Riopelle in the exhibit--I guess it could not have been omitted as it would have been incomplete without one--as I was introduced to him when I visited the National Gallery of Canada with my aunt last June.  This survey of Canadian painting was also well balanced, giving attention to art from the Maritimes, Prairies, and British Columbia, instead of focusing solely on Ontario and Québec as is sometimes the case in treatments of Canada.

Lights Out! succeeds in dispelling the notion that Canadian art is dull or that this country's only painters of note are Tom Thompson, the Group of Seven and Emily Carr.  If you have not seen it already, it is well worth a visit. 

(Image: Greg Curnoe, "Myself Walking North in the Tweed Coat," 1963 via Vancouver Art Gallery)

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