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Canadian Art Today: Circa 1970

“With their artists competing on an international stage, Canadians can no longer complain of their country as a cultural backwater nor luxuriate in the nostalgic charm of provincialism. In art as in political, social and economic activities, Canada is fully involved in the world of today,”
– Dr. R. H. Hubbard, former Chief Curator of the National Gallery of Canada.

Guido Molinari, Untitled, 1964. Image: artnet.com

Walking down Bloor Street in Toronto last night, we stopped at a bookshop’s outdoor display and there, right in front of us, on sale for $1.99, was a copy of Canadian Art Today, originally published in 1970 by Studio International.

Edited by William Townsend, a professor at the University of London, the slim book is filled with contributions from Canada’s art elite at the time: R.H. Hubbard, then chief curator of the National Gallery of Canada, Doris Shadbolt, then curator of the Vancovuer Art Gallery, curators Dennis Reid, Pierre Theberge and David Thompson.

“Canadian artists were dependent for generations on the artistic traditions of France and England and it is only since the last war that contemporary American influences have made a decisive impact,” writes Townsend.

Hockey team sponsored by N.E. Thing Co., c. 1970. Image: aaa.si.edu

“Notable were the visits to the Emma Lake Workshops in Saskatchewan of Barnett Newman, Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski and other American artists, in the late fifties and early sixties, and the pioneering advocacy of Clement Greenberg. The advancing movement of Canadian art, springing from the immediate post-war explosion in Montreal and the Refus global of Borduas, has now converged with the developments of American art following abstract expressionism.”

Jack Bush, December (C65), 1961. Image: artnet.com

A cursory glance through the book reveals many interesting essays, including one profile of ‘Seven Abstract Painters’ – Henry Bonli, Kenneth Lochhead, Ronald Bloore, Arthur McKay (of the Regina Five) Kenneth Peters, Bruce Parsons and Mollie Lawrence and, in French, a 1955 extract from the “Manifeste des Plasticiens”.

7 Responses to “Canadian Art Today: Circa 1970”

  1. Zeke says:


    So where did it go?

  2. Andrea says:

    The book? I bought it, of course, and it’s now part of my art book collection

  3. Zeke says:


    I knew what happened to the book, silly! :-) I was wondering what happened to Canadian Art’s involvement with the rest of the world.

  4. Bill says:

    I’d say Canada’s involvement in the global art world shifted from painting to photography a la Jeff Wall some time in the mid-80s.

  5. The best example of the art story surrounding Emma Lake
    and the Regina Five, that is not in the book, is the fact that Barnett Newman, had such a great influence on the artists there at the time of his visit, all of the Five certainly joined his efforts for creating abstract ideas.
    His Voice of Fire which caused so much controversy when it was purchased should have been discussed in
    that historical context so that Canadians would know
    why and how his contact with Canada was so important.
    The other point of the book, is that finally in 2007-9 we are seeing collectors buy, hold and recover the art,
    at very solid values, collectors now recognize the abstraction of the period. One person forgot in the book
    that was highly influenced is Marion Nicoll of Calgary, worth investigation if you do not know her work.
    Thanks for the article, hope many understand how good some of the work was by reading.

  6. mmm says:

    “luxuriate in the nostalgic charm of provincialism”

    Paging Douglas Coupland!

  7. barbara says:

    there is no doubt that the art magnet of Paris, has shifted to NY sometime during the second world war. esthetically and art market wise the leads had left France. today europe is taking a piece of the lead again, london, berlin are pretty interesting places for emerging artists. but for cultural reasons it is easier for canadians to dialogue with the us or with france. one is a neighbor, the other has quebec as an obvious connection. see somebody like Pauline Gagnon, she is showing in Montreal at the Galerie Monaro at the end of the month. Her style is rather influenced by a lirical photorealism which looks for some of its refinement in asian art, but she use to paint in an abstract way that owed as much to the us as to the french history of abstraction. well, she s french speaking and it was very natural to find a place to show in Paris, and she did. but if you look up her curriculum, her career was built in between Canada and the US, primarily montreal and ny. and because of her style she is appreciated in Japan too. the Asian continent is today one of the most powerful. The global scene has shifted and even though the old know routes are the most traveled, new path are attractive.

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