Bucket of water reflected absence of realism masterpieces in publicly funded institutions

ABOUT ART, Janice Guinan

Published on July 15, 2014
Susan Paterson's oil painting Passed Down captures memories of bygone times. Paterson is one of eight realism artisits that will be participating in a show in Truro on Sept. 5.

A year ago today, on July 16, 2013, Alex Colville passed away and our country and the world mourned his death.

He has been referred to as a national treasure, an icon of Canadian culture and one of the most-beloved Canadian painters of all time. Who does not know his painting “To Prince Edward Island, of a woman on a boat looking through binoculars? He designed our 1967 Centennial coins, was made a Companion of the Order of Canada and received the Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts. His awards and accomplishments are too vast and incredible to write about in just one column. Colville always remained true to his own internal vision as art trends came and went and was described as the most prominent realist painter of the Western World. His famous works hang in galleries and collections internationally and he called Nova Scotia home.

            A few months ago at a symposium on realism at the Dalhousie Art Gallery, it was said that if Colville was alive today his work would get no funding. This symposium was held during Capture 2014: Nova Scotian Realism, an exhibition featuring paintings by 28 realist painters. Regrettably, I listened as academics ripped the works apart declaring it 'not art,' These experts were not even sure what to call paintings that looked real anymore. Apparently an actual bucket of water in a hallway was considered art, as anything can be art and nothing can be art. Only realism had no place in our modern digital age. I felt profound sadness as I gazed at the exquisite masterpieces on the walls and the artists, many of whom were present, being treated with disrespect and disregard. To not find appreciation and marvel at the skill alone that it takes to create realism baffles me. The true depth of bias against realism within the art establishment was evident for all to hear that day.

            This exhibition took four years to organize, evolving from the vision and tenacity of the eight prominent realist artists who refused to let prejudice stop them. They call themselves, PLANS (Professional Living Artists of Nova Scotia), Tom Forrestall, Paul Hannon, Ed Huner, Joy Laking, Gordon MacDonald, Shelley Mitchell, Susan Paterson and Steven Rhude.

Gordon MacDonald recounted their first meeting as a group, “It took only minutes to realize we all had similar observations about our type of work and its place in the province. We all made a living at it yet saw an absence of our type of work in publicly funded institutions. The public liked what we did but the institutions they paid for didn't.”

 Perseverance paid off as this exhibition broke all attendance records in Dalhousie Art Gallery’s history and received a wonderful review in Canadian Art Magazine. It surpassed all expectations and verified that people still love and value realist painting. Capture 2014 is now touring the province into 2015.

PLANS also felt that another exhibition, Across the Surface, by just the eight founding artists might keep the dialogue open and gather momentum for change. It opens in Truro on Sept. 5. Now where is that bucket of water?



Janice Guinan is a local artist who passionately believes in the importance of visual art. Her About Art column will appear each week in the Truro Daily News. Guinan also writes a weekly column for the Colchester Weekly News. Both can be viewed online at www.trurodaily.com.

   Contact her at janice@janiceguinan.com .