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Jock Macdonald's first retrospective in three decades opens at the Vancouver Art Gallery
Jock Macdonald, The Black Tusk, Garibaldi Park, B.C., 1932. Oil on canvas. Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery. Gift of Michael Audain and Yoshiko Karasawa Photo: Rachel Topham, Vancouver Art Gallery.

VANCOUVER, BC.- The Vancouver Art Gallery presents the first major retrospective of Jock Macdonald, a remarkably innovative and cutting-edge Canadian artist, from October 18, 2014 to January 4, 2015. Featuring over a hundred artworks, Jock MacDonald: Evolving Form is a scholarly yet accessible presentation of Macdonald’s career, which spanned across the country and greatly influenced the history of Canadian art of the last century.

Jock Macdonald (1897--1960), a pioneer of post-war abstraction in Canada, was a painter who worked in a variety of forms, including automatism—an art form practiced by surrealists—in the early to mid-twentieth century. “It has been over three decades since the last solo exhibition of Jock Macdonald’s visionary artwork toured the country. We are pleased to introduce this significant artist to an entirely new generation of Canadian audiences.” said the Vancouver Art Gallery’s Director Kathleen S. Bartels.

“Jock Macdonald was a fascinating figure in Canadian art. Upon his arrival in Canada he was not a painter and in the course of his first two decade in the country (1916-1936) emerged as one of our most interesting artists. His exploration of both the landscape of British Columbia and ideas of modernism (notably automatism) make his work unique in Canadian art.” said Ian Thom, Senior Curator-Historical at the Vancouver Art Gallery. “Macdonald was also a distinguished teacher and influenced students in Vancouver and Toronto in particular. In the latter city, he became one of the founding members of the Painters Eleven. The group was pivotal to bringing abstraction to a larger public in English Canada.”

Born in Scotland, Macdonald moved to Canada in 1926 to pursue a career in teaching at the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts (now Emily Carr University of Art + Design). After forming a close friendship with Frederick Varley, Macdonald, with the encouragement of his wife Barbara, established himself as a painter. Moving to Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island in 1935, he developed a deep understanding of the landscape and painted major works depicting Nuu-chah-nulth culture, developing a distinct approach to the landscape of this region and his own approach to modernism. During this period the formation of his expressive approach and use of “modalities,” or imaginative forms, established him as one of the most innovative artists working in Canada.

Upon his return to Vancouver in late 1936, Macdonald continued teaching and became a fundamental member of the local art community, participating in drawing excursions around the province with artists such as Lawren Harris, whom he met in 1940. Both artists expressed their spiritual relationship to the landscape through their art. In 1943, Macdonald met the surrealist artist and psychiatrist Dr. Grace Pailthorpe, and with her encouragement, began to create automatic drawings. This investigation into depicting the authentic or unconscious realm became a lifelong interest.

Macdonald was invited to teach across the country and spent time in Calgary before settling in Toronto. His influence upon young, upcoming artists encouraged the exploration of progressive ideas in Canadian art from the early to mid-twentieth century.

Jock Macdonald: Evolving Form is organized by the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, The Robert McLaughlin Gallery and the Vancouver Art Gallery, and is curated by Michelle Jacques, Linda Jansma and Ian M. Thom.

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