Sunday, October 25, 2015

Lawren Harris

The impetus of this post is a column in the Sat. Star about Steve Martin curating an exhibit of Lawren Harris paintings, which are being loaned from Canadian museums to the Hammer Museum in LA, then will go to the Boston Fine Arts museum and then will be on view in Toronto at the AGO in 2016.  The on-line version of the column is a bit better, as it has a few more photos.

The full details are that the show has opened in L.A. and will remain there until Jan. 24.  The paintings will be in Boston from March 12–June 12, 2016.  (Interestingly, we may be in Boston at the tail end of spring break.  If it doesn't cost extra to see this exhibit, I'd go just to see how the staging/hanging works in two different locations.)  Then the exhibit comes to Toronto from July 2 – September 11, 2016, and I'll check it out a few times, I am sure.

What's somewhat interesting is that Steve Martin is only interested in one period and perhaps one aspect of one period of Harris's career, i.e. the paintings of the North.  Very early in his career, Harris was essentially a realist painter and he has some quite nice paintings of houses and city blocks.  Then during his most famous period with the Group of 7 he focused on landscapes and particularly the arctic views.  This is what Martin is honing in on, particularly where the mountains are starting to get just a bit abstracted.  (This is also the focus of the Harris paintings in the AGO and the McMichael Collection, though they have some of his earlier paintings as well.)

What I hadn't been aware of, until I saw an exhibit focused on Harris in Vancouver in 2014, was that for over half of his career, Harris painted abstracts.  He actually had apparently wanted to become part of the U.S. art world, though that didn't happen for a variety of reasons.  While I thought a few of the abstracts were interesting, his landscapes are probably his most enduring works.  This piece in Macleans discusses the two shows and hints that there will be another exhibit heavily featuring Harris at the McMichael in 2016, so I will definitely keep my eyes open for that.

Martin is probably correct that focusing on a single aspect of Harris's work is the most likely to get him attention in the States, but it is worth noting it is just one aspect of his work.

I'm sort of intrigued that I have probably seen all these paintings in their home galleries, even including the paintings from Hamilton and Saskatoon.

Lawren Harris, Ice House, Coldwell, Lake Superior, 1923

Lawren Harris, untitled (Mountains near Jasper), 1940

While less obstructed than the picture in the Star article, my photo from the Mendel Gallery in Saskatoon has a bit too much glare.

Oddly, the painting that Martin says he saw in London, Ontario belongs to the National Gallery (in Ottawa).  I did see that particular Harris on my trip to Ottawa (though my photo is just a bit blurred), but not another one that is definitely in the Idea of North exhibit.  I am also including one non-Arctic painting that I liked a bit better.  That also might break up the monotony just a bit.

Lawren Harris, North Shore, Baffin Island II, 1931

Lawren Harris, Afternoon Sun, North Shore, Lake Superior, 1924

Well, if nothing else, that article has drawn my attention to Museum London, which I should visit one of these days.  It looks like I may have missed a decent exhibition on modernism last year (who knows perhaps that was when they had the Baffin Island painting on loan from the National Gallery).

Museum London has a few paintings by Harris, including a few that are definitely in the scope of Martin's exhibit, though I don't know if this one made the cut.

Lawren Harris, From the North Shore, Lake Superior, 1927

To round out this discussion, I really ought to return to the magnificent Harris paintings at the McMichael and the AGO.  Many of them are already featured in publications about the Group of Seven or the Thomson Collection, so I won't link to those paintings, even though a few have been borrowed for the current show.  However, Grounded Icebergs is a relatively new donation (2005) to the AGO, and I don't believe they have decided how to integrate it into the collection.  It was one of the few standout pieces in their recent landscape show.

Lawren Harris, Grounded Icebergs, ca. 1931

I'm not sure there is much more to say.*  Here, as in so many of these other northern landscapes, Harris is tapping into the sublime, austere north in these paintings, and the most appropriate response is appreciation and awe.  If you have a chance to catch these paintings in person in L.A. or Boston (or obviously Toronto), then it is certainly worth a look.

* Of course, there is always more to say.  I actually was just at the AGO and will go ahead and post a few more Harris paintings in a separate post.  I also recommend scrolling about 1/3 down this post to see Douglas Coupland's ultra-abstract take on Lawren Harris.

1 comment:

  1. The Lawren Harris show at the Hammer was definitely worthwhile. A quiet reflection of the Canadian landscape.