Jock Macdonald: Evolving Form
Hopefully you are not reading this blog on your mobile while stuck in another Vancouver traffic jam. [ There is a big fine for that now you know...] Doesn't living in our urban jungle of construction , closed roads, jaywalkers , bikers and paving crews make you yearn for some personal space? for some quiet contemplation of life ? an escape to the Canadian wilderness? [ or perhaps you are just wishing for a little more open road to move your life along?]
I expected to find a little of that much needed serenity at the newly opened Vancouver Art Gallery [ VAG] exhibition entitled " Jock Macdonald; Evolving Form". Up until viewing this show I always included him as a contemporary with the Group of Seven landscape artists of his day although he is often linked to belonging to the "Painter's eleven". [Google this group and all will be revealed"] Until this exhibition, I had seen very little of his actual work up close and personal but thought I knew what to expect. I was looking for that Canadian breath of tranquility and serenity that shows up in our well known paintings of mountains and lakes and trees of his generation. [You get the picture] . I did get my meditative boost of serenity that goes with viewing great art , but not in the way I expected.
The VAG literature for the exhibit describes Jock as " a pioneer of postwar abstraction in Canada" and one of " the greatest teachers of the century". That's quite a compliment! This is a major retrospective of his work and the VAG notes that it includes many "previously unknown" works for the first time.
There are a few of his early works and yes, they include mountains . I can't honestly get excited about these pieces. They are neither breathtaking nor contemplative and I just felt they didn't measure up to the vibrancy and emotional impact of others of his day. [ These paintings were early days for Jock in British Columbia . His emotional attachment to his new home perhaps wasn't fully realized at the time of these paintings?]
But then we move on to the " automatics" in watercolours and inks on paper. These are worth a whole blog on their own, and I will need to go back and spend a full visit just absorbing their inescapable captivation and colour. I quote from the artist -
" These semi-abstracts I call " Modalities" - this new word I dug up from the dictionary and so far as I can think it is the only classification which interprets the expression of this work. It means "expression of thought in relation to nature" and was considered by Kant to relate to creative expressions which did not relate to nature ( objectively), nor relate to abstract thoughts ( subjectively) about nature, but rather included both expressions"[ excerpt form Joyce Zeman's book entitled "Jock Macdonald"] . [ See one example of this work below].
[ I also note that Macdonald was passionate about Kandinsky's work and I do feel that these reverberate with Kandinsky for me] .
" Art now reaches the place where it becomes the expression of ideals and spiritual aspirations. The artist no longer strives to imitate the exact appearance of nature but rather, to express the spirit therein" JM 1940 .
Macdonald truly succeeded in giving me something both ephemeral and earthly ; an energy of the earth and beyond. Did his spirit know something that he did not ? Many of the works on display were completed in mid to late 1960. It is said he was at the height of his painting success. After finishing classes for the Christmas break in December , he left the classroom and died unexpectedly the very next day.