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Canadian Art: Remembering and Honouring Canada’s Role in the Wars

Every year on November 11th a somber tone blankets Canada, as a Canadian artist this national day of Remembrance has bled into my artwork. Some Canadian artists’ express their thoughts through poetry, music and even film. My chosen mediums are painting and photography and I have used these mediums to honour the day in many different ways.

When I was younger my first encounter with ‘Canadian wartime art’ was through the eyes of painter Alex Colville. A celebrated Canadian painter, illustrator and lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Navy, Colville’s work from the fields of war and beyond, touched my soul and captured my attention. In fact, he was the first Canadian artist to which I could relate at the age of 12, perhaps this was because I came from a family, like many of my generation in Canada, that had grandparents and even parents active in Canada’s military. His paintings appeared ‘simplistic’ and ‘designed’ these paintings edited out what was necessary and focused on a central ‘tone’ thorough muted palettes. At closer look, his technique was incredibly detailed and rigorous, not unlike that of regimented life in the military.

Over the years I have come to express my thoughts on Remembrance Day, influenced by the poetry of Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, with his iconic poem, “In Flanders Fields”. A poem heard annually on November 11th, since the day I was born. He was inspired to write it on May 3, 1915, after presiding over the funeral of friend and fellow soldier Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, who died in the Second Battle of Ypres. According to legend, fellow soldiers retrieved the poem after McCrae, initially dissatisfied with his work, discarded it. “In Flanders Fields” was first published on December 8 of that year in the London magazine Punch.

So much art created out of war, and we are thankful for all the expressions, giving us a unique window into the souls of the artists who experienced it first-hand and perhaps into the souls and minds of those on the battlefields. Many of these great works cataloged in the Canadian War Museum, a journey into the past, one that we hope not to repeat in the future.

Remembrance Day, was first marked in Canada on Nov. 11, 1919. That date marked the one-year anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the First World War. This Sunday marks the 100-year anniversary of the end of the war.

To celebrate the 100-yr celebrations of Remembrance Day, and that crimson red poppy which signifies the day and honours those who have served and are serving in the Canadian Military. Paintings and photographs created between 2011-2018 honouring ‘Poppy Day’ and our Canadian military.

  1. Remember Us – a symbolic painting honoring the Canadian Women’s Army Corps and their roles in the military

2. Poppies For Louise – a symbolic painting with Canadian flag imposed on the horizon and red poppies in the foreground, symbolizing remembrance and freedom

3. Golden Ram – a somber landscape painting with Big Horn sheep and red poppies against the Rocky Mountains of Golden, BC

4. Aerial Landscape Flight – an early abstract piece of the forest floor appearing like camouflage, river and log booms below – red objects dropping from the sky like parachutes – an overall tone of conflict, nature versus man

5, 6, 7, 8. THE 100 POPPIES PROJECT – Photography from 2017 Remembrance Day project which honoured the 100th anniversary of Vimy, in which a donation was made to the the Veterans in exchange for 100 poppies as photographed in the project

9 and 10. The People of Canada Portrait Project – a crowd-sourcing portrait project between myself and Canadians across the country, in which Canadians send in photos and I paint their portrait and a background based on my interview with the subjects. Currently 11 portraits have been completed, how fitting as we head into Remembrance Day 2018. Below are portraits, ‘Vimy Jam’ honouring a meeting at the 100th anniversary Vimy celebrations in Vimy France and ‘Golden Days’ at Rideau Hall.

There we are, 10 artworks for Remembrance Day – some painted on canvas and some photographic. On this Remembrance Day my hope is that we continue to come together as we work towards tearing down borders on a course to becoming one world. Honoring the past, on a course set for the future.

Peace.

 

Vimy Jam – A Serendipitous Painting Inspired by Vimy 100

Serendipity is defined as; the phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for, meaning something beautiful coming together, that was not forced or planned in advance that put smiles on the faces of all affected and in doing so alters future events. This is the story behind a painting inspired by Vimy 100 celebrations in France.

In the past few weeks, serendipity found it’s way into my art, through a portrait project I began over four years ago, thanks to a very enthusiastic Canadian.

The People of Canada Portrait Project is a crowd-sourced, collaborative art project, where I ask Canadians to send in photos of themselves and share a bit about their ‘Canadian’ perspective. Initially this project came with a very ambitious goal of completing 20-25 painted portraits for Canada 150. This could have happened had I not been called on to exhibit solo exhibitions in public galleries in Alberta for Canada150. As the project is completely self-funded, and with me being the only artist painting the portraits, I decided to extend my deadline and allow the project to unfold more authentically. I wanted to take my time to paint these portraits and honour the stories of the people who had taken the time to send me creative snapshots of themselves. A new plan emerged and I included one of the portraits in my travelling exhibitions in 2017, and used these shows as an opportunity to spread the word about the project.

Fast forward to June 2018, now ten portraits towards my goal. I had a window of time in my studio schedule, an opportunity to paint more People of Canada portraits. Feeling the energy of Canada Day coming around the corner I looked through the submitted photos and felt a good story, energy, and message emanating from one photo. Submitted by an enthusiastic piper hailing from Sherwood Park Alberta, RCMP Pipes & Drums ambassador Bridgette Hardy-Crytes. The photo features the piper caught by surprise by the brush of eagle feathers to the head by Jeff Ward, an Indigenous performer with the Sons of Membertou, from Cape Breton. The photo was taken at Vimy 100 celebrations in Vimy, France where the two were brought together by the events of the day and their musical talents.Painting Inspired by Vimy

I began to sketch out the painting and think about creating a unique background to capture the day and place. The painting began, I emailed Bridgette to let her know I was working on the piece and that I had some questions for her to answer, I also asked about the man in the photo and if I could contact him for his perspective on the day.

So, here comes the serendipity. Bridgette tracked down Jeff and spoke with him on the phone after not seeing him since Vimy. The call lead to Jeff sharing a video of the day that had been uploaded to YouTube, and Bridgette sharing this information with me, now I was able to enjoy the mood of the day and story behind the photo, as if I had been there myself. What happened that day the photo was taken was an impromptu ‘jam session’ while Indigenous performers and the RCMP Pipes & Drums band were waiting in the wings to perform. Vimy was a pivotal battle which saw Canada and the Allies, including Mi’kmaq soldiers, win an important battle of World War I. This video shows musical artists collaborating, it conveys the spirit of coming together. A coming together on what once was a battlefield, where many lost their lives. A coming together that symbolizes the spirit of reconciliation, likes and not differences, the spirit of love.

The tone of that day was the tone in my studio, and I listened to the ‘jam session’ on loop as I finished the painting. From my studio on Vancouver Island to Sherwood Park, to Cape Breton, to Vimy Ridge in France; thanks to the Internet and technology our miles apart were erased, allowing me to capture the emotion of the day on canvas.

There will be more to this serendipitous story as I work to compile the answers to my questions from both Bridgette and Jeff.

For now, you can enjoy the painting, a little video of my process in creating the painting.

and this fantastic video of the ‘jam session’ that inspired ‘Vimy Jam’.

It was a celebratory Canada 151 indeed! And a great contrast to my experiences painting Canada over the last decade. A new chapter in this serendipitous story influenced by my travels across Canada. For more about the People of Canada Portrait Project visit http://www.peopleofcanada.ca