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Maxwell Bates & Philip Surrey: About Town
1 June – 26 August 2012
The paradox of the isolated individual within the crowded city is a well-trodden subject bordering on cliché. Yet its seemingly continual relevance is due to the fact that we have all experienced this feeling. Two twentieth-century artistic pioneers of Canadian modernism, Maxwell Bates and Philip Surrey, both explored this subject in their paintings and drawings. Focusing on work by these artists from the Firestone Collection of Canadian Art, About Town explores their investigations of the personal experience in the urban environment.
Calgary-born Philip Surrey moved permanently to Montreal in 1937 and the city became his muse. The artist developed and maintained a unique style in which he played with the effects of light and shadow, employed evocative colours to cast eerie hues, and sharply outlined his figures. Also from Calgary, Maxwell Bates is known as one of Canada’s earliest and most significant Expressionist artists, and as such concentrated on depicting a subjective experience, employing bold colours, flat planes and heavy outlines in his compositions. He had an early interest in so-called naïve art, feeling that raw illustrations served to better convey a pure psychic state.
Though both artists came of age during the Great Depression, neither engaged in the moralizing of the Social Realist movement of the time, in which many artists felt it their duty to depict social injustice. Rather than painting the reality of the city, Surrey formed new relationships between its elements to “make poetry of them.” Some of his urban characters have a certain joie de vivre, however most appear burdened by alienation and loneliness. Bates returned to Western Canada after spending five years as a prisoner-of-war in a German salt mine during World War II. Consequently, the figures populating the city streets, parks and restaurants in his drawings are, like Surrey’s, tinged with a sense of loss and isolation from mainstream society. As writer Art Price describes, “the figures of Bates’ world inhabit the marginal consciousness of us all.”
- Catherine Sinclair, Curator
Saturday 14 July 2012, 4:00 pm
Walking Tour: From Street to Canvas (in English)
We invited Jane’s Walk Ottawa, the grassroots walking tour experts, to lead a tour inspired by artworks and themes from the exhibition. Come see where they will take us!
Wednesday 8 August 2012, 5:30 pm
Curatorial Walkthrough (in English):
Join curator Catherine Sinclair for a tour of the exhibition.
Thursday 23 August 2012, 6:00 pm
Last Chance Tour (in English and French):
A free guided tour of the exhibition, just before it closes .
As a complement to your About Town visit, why not go on a walking tour to experience the Capital in a refreshing way? We’ve done a bit of research and would like to recommend a few options. Please email us with more suggestions!
Polytectures, an Artengine program, is an hour-long narrated soundwalk through Ottawa by Antoine Bédard (Montag) that explores the relationship between music and architecture. Click here for details.
Heritage Ottawa offers guided walking tours of historic neighbourhoods. The 2012 program can be found here.
Happy urban exploration!