When you think of Lawren Harris, do you imagine snow-capped mountains and ice-blue sky? While he is best known for these iconic images that have become an accepted part of our Canadian identity, Harris spent his formative years in Toronto, often painting a complex and culturally diverse neighbourhood called the Ward. Come experience these remarkable Toronto works for the first time (or again), along with his best northern landscapes, in The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris, on until September 18. See Toronto’s early days from Harris’ perspective, along with archival photos and maps of the Ward and a response to those images from contemporary Canadian artists.
We asked Anique Jordan, a Toronto artist who created two extraordinary works for the exhibition, to share her thoughts about Lawren Harris’ complicated legacy and how her work is focused on creating a more inclusive Canadian history.
AGO: What about Lawren Harris’ work interests you?
AJ: My interest in Lawren Harris began as an interest in Canadian and Torontonian archives, specifically in the stories that are absent from them. I wanted to uncover what the invisible parts of Toronto’s history – its people, its architecture, its spirit– look like. A lot of work that I do looks at the spiritual aspect of Lawren Harris’ work and also looks at some of the things that are missing from his work.
AGO: What were some of your observations?
AJ: His work made me think about some of the ideals of Canadian art history and what it means when we remove images of people from landscapes and from spaces. For me, Harris’ paintings from the ward and his northern landscapes are an entry point into questioning: who has the power to construct these official “histories”? And what are the implications of omitting, erasing or making invisible particular versions of history? What if Canadian history and art history could offer a nuanced, complex memory of people, places and moments?
AGO: What was most surprising when you first came across his work depicting the Ward?
AJ: I was most surprised by how much of this densely populated, immigrant community laid buried under Toronto, and until recently, was hardly mentioned. One of my works in the exhibition is a re-creation of the Black British Methodist Episcopal church that existed in Toronto in the early 1900s in the ward. Using a church congregation, I re-enacted a Black Victorian mourning scene with intentions to not only think about the fact that Black Canadian histories and Black histories in general are constantly omitted from the archives, but also with the intention to honour surrealism, sacredness and ritual. While these images are inspired by the past, they also free us to imagine the possibilities for a different present and future.
AGO: Lawren Harris painted Toronto at a particular time in our history. How does his work – and your work – help us better realize Toronto’s history and how can it help us understand our present/future?
AJ: We would have lost something important if we didn’t consider the role this work has in questioning and shaping a type of future we might not have once been able to imagine. We hold a responsibility to include these stories, without simplifying them, into the dominant narratives of our city’s building.
Tom Thomson first painted in Algonquin Park in May 1912 and returned there every spring, summer and fall until his death in 1917. Thomson had a small paintbox containing his paints and brushes, and created numerous small sketches during his visits to the park. He would then use the sketches to create large oil on canvas paintings in his studio in Toronto in the winter. The piece below, Sketch for “The West Wind”, measures just over 8 x 10 ½ inches and is oil on wood panel. One can see the quick, confident brushstrokes in the piece, and imagine how quickly the work was created.
By now, you’re probably more than familiar with comedian, actor, musician, author, art collector, curator, and inexhaustible multi-hyphenate Steve Martin, who helped bring to life The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris(on now til September 18). But you may be less familiar with why and how this charismatic fellow became involved with the Group of Seven painter. Martin tells all (and some jokes) in the videos below.
Curatorial intern Cat Lachowskyj shares her recent findings made during her work in the AGO Photography Collection. A graduate student at Ryerson University in the Film and Photographic Preservation and Collections Management program (FPPCM), Cat is currently writing her thesis on colonial photographs taken during the Younghusband Mission in Tibet (1903–1904).
What project are you currently working on at the AGO?
I’m working on preserving and organizing a collection of Tess Boudreau’s negatives and contact sheets that comprise one of the AGO Library’s Special Collections. We have a number of her photographs in the permanent Photography Collection, so it’s interesting to also have the negatives and contact sheets that reveal her working process.
Who was Tess Boudreau?
Boudreau has an interesting history, having lived in Nova Scotia, Montreal, and Paris, where she worked for Henri Cartier-Bresson as a caption writer for his photographs. As a skilled darkroom technician, she was able to find work easily in many major cities in Canada and Europe. In 1950 she met her husband, Kryn Taconis, who also had affiliations with Cartier-Bresson through Magnum Photo. The couple eventually left Paris for Amsterdam, and then moved to Toronto where Boudreau worked as a photographer in the arts scene during the 1960s, photographing artists, studios, and events. She passed away in 2007 in Guelph, which is when this collection was gifted to the library.
Can you explain the Tess Boudreau project in greater detail?
Because the materials had been stored for some time at the house of one of Boudreau’s friends, unstable temperature and humidity conditions resulted in their curling and warping. I have been working closely with Katy Whitman, our Photography Conservator here at the AGO, to properly house the negatives and flatten the contact prints. I’m also pursuing research on Boudreau’s life and work so that this can be incorporated into a finding aid for the collection. This finding aid will help create links to Boudreau’s prints in the permanent collection.
Tess Boudreau, contact sheet, ca. 1960-1969, gelatin silver print with applied colour, 8.5×11″
Why might objects like these be useful for scholarly research?
Objects that provide us with more information on a maker’s process and greater context are often the most useful research tools. Negatives and contact sheets can reveal events that were not necessarily deemed important or worthy of a final print at the time of their creation. For example, many of the negatives show work that isn’t found in our permanent collection. By looking at these objects in particular, we can identify attendees of certain gallery events in Toronto in the 1960s, revealing networks and a history of Toronto’s art world that might not be common historical knowledge. The collection can also help us better understand Boudreau’s own artistic practice. Yellow markings on some contact sheets show Boudreau’s process of selecting a particular image to be made into a final print, and further markings indicate her notation method for editing prints in the darkroom.
Signature Partner of the AGO’s Conservation Program
We’re lucky: Our visitors are some of the best photographers in the city, and we are constantly marveling at your views of the AGO. Inspired by you, we’ve created a monthly round-up of favourite AGOxInstagram shots. This past June, we were floored by views of our current exhibitions The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harrisand Hurvin Anderson: Backdrop; studies of the play of light on wood; lone wanderers surrounded by art and architecture; an intimate wedding portrait; and a very cool photo by The Jewish Museum’s Director of Digital, JiaJia Fei.
Want to take part? Keep sharing your Instagram and Twitter photos with us by tagging @agotoronto or #agotoronto.
Images (left to right, by row): chasyyz, ryngreen, dishajaniii, joeybutta, sarahjasmine, kerenzayuen, ting_qiting, vajiajia
Congratulations to the winners of the 2016 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize Scholarship Program! The scholarship program, which was inaugurated in 2013, recognizes 3 full-time students—Canadian or international—who are entering their final year of study toward a bachelor’s degree of fine arts in photography at one of 15 participating post-secondary institutions across Canada. From a field of more than 100 applicants this year, the jury has awarded Catherine Canac-Marquis of Concordia University, Jeff Chiu of Ryerson University and Alexia-Leana Kokozaki of the University of Ottawa. The winners each receive $7,000 CDN toward tuition for their final year of undergraduate study. The field of applicants was so competitive this year that for the first time ever, the jury has decided to award an honourable mention prize of $1,000 CAD to Andi Icaza Largaespada of Simon Fraser University’s School for Contemporary Arts.
This year’s jury included:
Adelina Vlas, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art, AGO
Dave Jordano, 2015 Winner of the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize
Catherine Canac-Marquis, Glory Fades , 2015-2016, 20” x 25”
Originally from Quebec City, Catherine Canac-Marquis studied graphic design before relocating to Reykjavik, Iceland. Now living in Montreal, she is finishing up her Bachelor of Fine Arts with a major in photography at Concordia University. In 2015, she received two bursaries for academic excellence. She was selected to take part in the most recent edition of the Concordia Photography Collective and her work has been presented in several group exhibitions in Montreal and Toronto.
Jeff Chiu, Ryerson University, Ontario
Jeff Chiu, Ghost Money , 2015, 24” x 35”, Archival Inkjet Print
Jeff Chiu was born in Toronto, Ontario to parents who were raised in rural China. In his images, he tries to convey the experience of diaspora and life as a second-generation immigrant. He is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts at Ryerson University’s School of Image Arts.
Alexia-Leana Kokozaki, University of Ottawa, Ontario
Alexia-Leana Kokozaki, Tulle, Plastic, Pebbles (And Light) , 2015, 11” x 8.5” or 22” x 17”, Digital photogram. Vellum print and matte print, Courtesy of the Artist
Alexia-Leana Kokozaki is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Ottawa. Her work in photography and installation involves re-contextualizing familiar objects and figures within unusual spaces and narratives in order to pique curiosity.
For the first time ever, the jury is pleased to award an honourable mention on the basis of demonstrated potential.
Andi Icaza Largaespada, Simon Fraser University’s School for Contemporary Arts, British Columbia
Andi Icaza Largaespada, Jane, 2016, 20” x 24”, C-Print
Andi Icaza Largaespada is a multidisciplinary visual artist based in unceded Coast Salish territories. Incorporating elements of social research, ethics and sustainability into her practice, her work explores ways of belonging and resistance. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts at Simon Fraser University’s School for Contemporary Arts, and was the recipient for its Canon Canada Prize in 2015 and the Tanabe/Thorne Annual Award in 2016.
The Aimia | AGO Photography Prize is Canada’s most significant photography prize, and one of the most unique arts and culture prize programs in the world. Established in 2007, the Prize was the first major art prize to allow the public to choose its winner. Each year the Prize awards $50,000 to the winner, $5,000 to each of the other shortlisted artists and $7,000 to each of the scholarship winners.
Heirloom carrot salad with glazed Cerf de Boileau venison (part of our Lawren Harris Prix Fixe)
Looking for the perfect summer meal, at a steal? Our restaurant FRANK is serving up two mouth-watering, Northern-inspired menus that will make you want to sing from the mountaintops — or at least talk about singing from the mountaintops on Instagram.
Of course it wouldn’t be a true foodie’s summer without Toronto’s most popular dining event. For Summerlicious, FRANK serves up fresh and delicious seasonal fare with flair, including rhubarb and ginger pork ribs, Lake Erie perch, and Ontario gorgonzola with ice wine and balsamic reduction to finish. This three course prix-fixe is also available for lunch ($38) and dinner ($48).
Wondering just how delicious (and Instagram-worthy) these meals are? We invited Toronto instagrammers (@theeverydayfoodie, @pekopekolife and @dineandfash) to chow down on our Summerlicious and Lawren Harris prix-fixe menus.
#HarrisAGO menu is available until September 18, while #LiciousTO is on now til July 24, 2016. Make your FRANK reservation online or by phone at 416.979.6688, and share your meals with @agotoronto@frank_AGO.
How well do you know Toronto’s old Ward neighbourhood? Andrew Hunter, the AGO’s Fredrik S. Eaton Curator of Canadian Art, explores the historic Toronto of Lawren Harris: a city, in the 1910s as today, of great diversity and dense urban growth. Harris often painted in the Ward (St. John’s Ward), a downtown neighbourhood bordered by College and Queen, University and Yonge streets. The Ward was of deep significance to First Nations communities; it marked the end of the Underground Railroad for many fugitive slaves; it housed the city’s first Chinatown; and was home to the immigrant poor of Europe and the United Kingdom.
A founding member of the Group of Seven, Lawren Harris is best known for his majestic and modern painted landscapes of Canada’s north that seem to have sprung, fully formed, from the artist’s mind. But behind every painting was a sketch — or in some cases, hundreds of sketches. To celebrate the opening of The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris, Cynthia Burlingham, Deputy Director of Curatorial Affairs at the Hammer Museum, joins us for an intimate and rare look at the drawings of Lawren Harris. While her talk is currently sold out, you can watch the action live at 6pm on Friday, June 24 below, (or rewatch anytime!).