UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Discussion of five Canadian painters : Ronald Bloore, Brian Fisher, Yves Gaucher, Roy Kiyooka, Arthur McKay, in the context of the artistic and critical sensibility of the 1960's Kirby, William James Gordon


Creative expression does not exist alone for the artist in moments of inspiration but, rather, exists also for those who participate in what the artist has created. Genuine artistic expression, in other words, joins together both the artist and the viewer in an unique form of communication. The significance of such a close relationship became very evident in the 1960's when the so-called minimal and reductive trends in art began to emerge as a reaction against the excesses of New York Abstract Expressionism. This significance increased even further with subsequent experiments in monochrome and monotonal painting.which had been introduced in the 1950's by Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko and Ad Reinhardt, who are generally considered to be principal innovators of this trend. The main channel into Canada for these new approaches came through the Emma Lake Workshops in Saskatchewan, with the Newman workshop in 1959 having the most impact. This paper will focus on the work of five Canadian artists: Ronald Bloore, Brian Fisher, Yves Gaucher, Roy Kiyooka and Arthur McKay, who, at one time or another, have been concerned with such monochrome experiments, and who are among those who have brought attention to bear on the nature of the visual object. Through their painting, they have turned perception into an act of "communion" or "participation with," rather than "reaction to," a work. In order to place their work from the late 1950's in a broader and more accurate context, a chronological discussion of the background and stages in the development and acceptance of the new trends in art, is undertaken in Chapter 1. This survey focuses on the principles and directions in art, which were introduced following Abstract Expressionism, and presents a chronological analysis of critical comment and public recognition through exhibitions during the 1960's. The artists and their work are introduced in Chapter 2, and this is followed, in Chapter 3, by a discussion of the creative process that characterized their method of working and their approach to the act of painting which is relevant to the viewing of their work. As is the case with most innovative trends, the critics and the public had some difficulty in naming or defining the new art, as it was not easily related to anything that had existed previously. The problem with overall terms and definitions, as always, was a general leveling process which missed individual approaches and points of view. The artists generally feel that strict formal analysis and description is the best and most secure basis to work from, and that only through such a direct translation of the information actually on the canvas, should an interpretation be attempted. The issue of the two principal views of contemporary art criticism, which propose either a formal or a subjective approach, is put forth in Chapter 4 through the expressed views of major art critics from 1955 to the end of the 1960's. When people are confronted by an image or approach that they have never seen before, they have no range of reference with which to compare it, and consequently they often misinterpret it, or do not see it at all. A discussion of the question of interpreting or attaching outside references to the imagery employed by the five artists is also presented in Chapter 4 with specific reference to their work. It is generally accepted that, along with an increasing intellectual acceptance of the apparent extreme artistic solutions being proposed in the 1960's, an increasing optical acceptance was also taking place. Work that in the late 1950's looked radically simplified, uncoloured and virtually invisible, now appears much more varied and 'available' to a sensitive, perceptive viewer. Chapter 5 includes a survey of this change in attitude in which the public became more accustomed to give a greater effort to viewing such works. In the process of expanding the boundaries of perception, the artists in this paper have, to various degrees, introduced unusual visual relationships into their work. Subtle interactions, illusions and ambiguous situations require time to sort out, and the very act of visualizing these works and of giving them the attention that they demand, defines the quality of the experience that they deliver. The nature of perception, and of the visual experience as a whole is also discussed in Chapter 5 with reference to the use of colour, illusion and ambiguity in the work of the artists. In order to fully describe any visual experience, then, it is necessary not only to be concerned with what is on the canvas in measurable terms, but also with what is "actually" seen and directly sensed in the viewing process. This interaction between the viewer and the work of art is analyzed in the Conclusion, Chapter 6. As Art McKay has observed: “Art will not yield its full meaning if approached in terms of any abstraction taken from life like thought or language. It must be sensed, reflected upon and then talked about.” The following discussion is an attempt to look at the factors that have influenced the way we look at "difficult" monochrome painting today and to discuss the fuller commitment necessary for viewers to achieve a more complete response from the work of art. What is important now is "to recover our senses -- we must learn to see more, to hear more, to feel more." [footnotes omitted]

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