A comparison of sorts. Two painters from two different time periods. One looked north and the other looks south. The north with its barren cold and blue in comparison to the south and its lush greenness. A famous anglo Canadian painter who went searching for simplicity and a relatively new British painter with Jamaican roots who explores complexities.
Lawren Harris and Hurvin Anderson. You should know which is which!
I didn’t purposely set out to compare them. I saw the ‘The Idea of North’ exhibit that features the Steve Martin paintings of Lawren Harris first. As much as I like the Group of Seven, Harris’s minimalist snow and ice paintings have never been my favorite. Still, it was an interesting collection to see. After I finished there, I headed up to the contemporary art floors. The fifth floor is still closed (new installation opening later this week) but I discovered that the fourth floor is devoted to the works of Hurvin Anderson. As I walked around the Anderson installation I kept thinking of similarities and differences between him and Lawren Harris.
below: Mountains in Snow: Rocky Mountain Paintings VII, 1929. One of the many famous Lawren Harris snow and ice paintings. Light, reflected light, shadows, and contrasts. The elements reduced to their simplest form. The landscape itself is almost secondary. Or the landscape is the medium, not the message.
below: The large painting on the right is ‘Pic Island’ painted about 1924. Pic Island is an unpopulated island along the north shore of Lake Superior. Today the island is part of Neys Provincial Park.
below: Two of Hurvin Anderson’s paintings from his Caribbean landscape collection. On the left is ‘Beaded Curtain – Red Apples’, 2010.
below: ‘Constructed View’, 2010. Anderson’s Caribbean paintings have grilles incorporated into them. These are the security features prevalent on houses and businesses in the Caribbean (and elsewhere in the world), metal fixtures over windows and doors to keep out the unwanted. They contain what’s inside. They are a barrier. They intrude on the landscape and cut it up. Again, the landscape is almost secondary. The message, or emotion, is more important. [aside – There is a grille in the painting above (right) but it’s more subtle.]
Lawren Harris painted his famous mountain pictures in the late 1920’s. In 1930 he visited Baffin Island and a few paintings resulted from that trip. I learned that although I associate Harris with icebergs and arctic scenery, most of his snow and ice paintings were from the north shore of Lake Superior or from the mountains around Banff Alberta.
The repetoire of both painters is not limited to landscapes. Harris painted many houses and street scenes from downtown Toronto including houses and streets that were demolished years ago. The examples of Anderson’s non-landscape work were interiors. Both men used bold colours but Anderson tends to show more detail in his paintings.
below: ‘Welcome: Carib’ The Welcome sign of the bar in juxtaposition with the red metal work covering the window. The picture beckons to us but keeps us out.
below: One of the paintings from Anderson’s Barbershop collection, ‘Flat Top’ 2008.
below: A selection of colourful Toronto houses in winter painted by Harris in the 1920s.
In the 1930’s Lawren Harris’s personal life went awry. The words on the wall at the AGO says that he divorced, remarried and moved to the states. That’s a bit of spin. He didn’t divorce his wife because that would be messy, apparently. Instead in 1934 he just married the wife of an old friend. And of course that turned messy and the new couple left for the USA for a few years before eventually settling in Vancouver BC. Harris’s post-1934 work is very abstract and was never as successful as his earlier paintings.
below: You can see the influence of the mountain paintings in this, ‘Painting No. 4’, about 1939, painted when he was a member of the Transcendental Painting Group. This was a collective of artists in New Mexico that Harris help to found.
below: Since I have no idea where the art of Hurvin Anderson is headed, I will leave you with one more of his present paintings (I’m not sure those two ideas actually go together!). ‘Foska Foska’, the interior of a shop behind yellow bars and black mesh.
The Idea of North – until 18 September
Hurvin Anderson – until 21 August
#HarrisAGO | #HurvinAndersonAGO