Art Deco in Canada

Art Deco in Canada

A Painting About Newfoundland – Celebrating Art Deco in Canada

When I set out to explore and photograph St. John’s Newfoundland, I expected to find the vividly painted character homes on the iconic Jelly Bean Row and the Battery of the harbour. What I did not expect was to fall for a building that would transport me back to my days as a teenager when I would watch sockless Don Johnson in his white linen suits, on Miami Vice. As soon as I walked up to the side door of South Beach Residences, I could hear the sounds of Jan Hammer and feel the warmth and swaying palms of Miami, and then the cold Newfoundland wind knocked me back to reality. Art Deco in Canada is very much alive, and not just in Newfoundland.

Art Deco in Canada

South Beach Residences, side door – St. John’s Newfoundland 2023 – Brandy Saturley

What exactly is Art Deco? The Canadian Art Deco Society describes it as a 20th century phenomenon that emerged during the period between the First and Second World Wars. It was a new style for a new modern era. Combining the affluence of materials with the artistic simplicity of specific design, the Art Deco style often focused on geometric forms composed primarily of angular elements, like highly stylized chevrons and zig-zags. Other characteristics of Art Deco include: sunbursts, sweeping curves, ziggurats (staggered or tiered pyramid shapes), a liberal use of sleek-looking material, as well as Egyptian influences and motifs focusing on birds and floral patterns. Recognized as a popular, non-revolutionary modernism, Art Deco was a self-conscious split from the past.

Art Deco in Canada

South Beach Residences, Newfoundland, Canada – Brandy Saturley 2023

When I was in Toronto delivering my goalie’s mask painting to the Canadian Olympic Committee Art of Sport event, I found myself at the old Maple Leaf Gardens building , which is now a Loblaws, amongst other things. Few may realize that one of Canada’s most celebrated sporting venues, Maple Leaf Gardens National Historic Site of Canada (below), is an example of Art Deco architecture. This Toronto landmark exhibits the style through its symmetrical yellow brick façade and dome with crowning lantern. Other prominent characteristics of Art Deco within the Gardens include its simple brickwork pattern, and use of metal along the building’s patterned window arrangement. Many of the original fittings, fixtures, fabric and design components relate to the Toronto Maple Leafs and survive to this day, contributing to the heritage value of the building which is now a rehabilitated building, housing a local grocery store and upper floor arena.

Art Deco in Canada

Maple Leaf Gardens – Brandy Saturley 2013

Painting South Beach Residences – Art Deco in Canada

As my work continues on this new series about my time exploring Newfoundland in late 2023, I am flipping back through moments, photographs and things that made an undeniable impression on my psyche.  These things that draw my attention are the things that become part of my visual storytelling in their own way and in a time that means something to my work. When I found this photo I had taken and decided that this would be the subject matter for the next painting, I then began to delve deep into the history of this building holding my attention.

Brandy Saturley in studio, Victoria, Canada – 2024

Built Before Newfoundland Became Part of Canada
In the optimism which followed the end of WWII, local architect William J. Ryan designed and built the first Art Deco building in what was then the Dominion of Newfoundland. Completed in 1947, with a building envelope constructed with concrete, mixed and poured by hand, its distinctive and creative form stood in strong contrast to the local architectural vernacular. Over the years, South Beach became home to architects, a radio station, a bookstore, and an art gallery. Which brings us to today, and the six years it’s taken to restore and transform this exceptionally well engineered building into the modern Residences of South Beach.

It’s been a labour of love. Today, the iconic Art Deco landmark is known and loved far and wide. Pedestrians stop for selfies. Filmmakers and artists celebrate its design and colour palette. Morawetz included it in his ‘Art Deco Architecture Across Canada, by Tim Morawetz’.  A captivating book showcasing more than 150 Canadian Art Deco buildings.

The Finished Painting – A Little Miami in Canada

A pop modernism style painting about an art Deco masterpiece. Painting visual stories of my travels across Canada.

Art Deco in Canada

I’ll Meet You in South Beach, Newfoundland – original acrylic painting on wood panel, 2024, Brandy Saturley

See more photos of the painting here.

Sources Consulted