The video and photos are from a trip to the Ottawa Art Gallery (oaggao.ca/ottawa-art-gallery) in the summer of 2018.
The Ottawa Art Gallery
As Ottawa is Canada’s capital, it is already home to large museums such as the National Gallery of Canada. To set itself apart, the Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG) focuses on artwork with a local or regional connection—works by local artists, works inspired by the city or region and works donated by local collectors.
The Ottawa Art Gallery is a small, non-profit organization founded in 1988 by a group of local artists and community leaders. It moved to new, greatly-expanded premises in April, 2018. The artwork is arranged thematically, so you can often find works with wildly contrasting styles next to each other. Here are some of the works featured in the video.
Max Deen & Eliza Griffiths
The video opens with British artist Max Deen’s mixed-media work Waiting for the Tooth Fairy.
This piece was inspired the artist’s experiences with brutal ice storm that hit Ottawa in 1998. While driving during the storm, he came across a fallen tree. He connected this image to memories of his relationship with his late mother, with the fallen tree on the mattress representing her absence and the area below the mattress (a space filled with toy trucks) representing childhood, a bright and playful place where one may be unaware of things going on outside that safe little zone. He discusses this piece in this video from the OAG
Next to Deen’s work was a portrait by Montreal-based artist and former Ottawa resident Eliza Griffiths:
Isah Qumalu Sivurapi & Norval Morrisseau
Scattered throughout the gallery are works by indigenous artists. This soapstone sculpture entitled Ijitualik (meaning One-Eyed Figure) is particularly striking.
The artist, Isah Qumalu Sivurapi, is from the community of Puvirnituq, on the northeast coast of Hudson Bay in Nunavik (Northern Quebec). Members of this small community of around 1200 people were encouraged to develop their artistic talents and are now well known for their Inuit sculptures and prints. The above artwork focuses on a mythological being, something that falls into the category of takushurnaituk—meaning ‘things never seen before’.
Another work dealing with the theme of mythological beings is Anishinaabe artist Norval Morrisseau’s painting of Thunderbird, a powerful spirit capable of controlling the weather and influencing the destinies of people
The Group of Seven
The paintings in the next section of the video are from the Firestone Collection of Canadian Art. These works were donated by the descendants of an avid art collector in the city—Otto Jack Firestone.
Among the paintings on display were works by Group of Seven members such as A. Y. Jackson, Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris and A. J. Casson as well as their contemporaries such as Yvonne McKague Housser and Carl Schaefer. These highly influential Canadian landscape artists were inspired by Ontario’s rugged wilderness and rural tranquility and by the icy majesty of the Far North. Together, the artists helped establish an identifiably Canadian painting style during the 1920s and 1930s.
Jack Shadbolt & Alfred Pellan
I love the vibrant colors and energetic composition of these paintings by Vancouver-based artist Jack Shadbolt and Alfred Pellan, an important figure in Quebecois art. In Shabolt’s painting Mountain Summer, the brownish hues of the mountain rocks are nearly lost amidst the riotous colors of flowers and butterflies—an explosion of life during the short, but intense Canadian summer.
Alfred Pellan’s ode to fall is more abstract, evoking the colors and energy of the harvest season and its autumn leaves.
Representations of Geography by Leslie Reid, Meredith Snider, Barry Ace, Jenny McMaster, Alexander Laquerre & Jason St-Laurent
Many Canadian artists are inspired by the country’s landscapes and geography. Perhaps this is because the country is so massive and much of the national identity is tied to the land—the coasts, the prairies, the Rockies, the Arctic, the Canadian Shield and other prominent geographical features.
Leslie Reid’s photo collage Flight Line: Erasure pays homage to her father and to the land. The work is composed of images of the Ottawa region and of the Far North that were taken from the air and on the ground between 1930 and 2017. Many of the aerial photos were taken by the artist’s father, whose work with the Royal Canadian Air Force. involved mapping northern regions of the country as part of government plans to develop those regions. All these things are in the photos—aerial mapping, Northern communities, government offices and views of the city.
Meredith Snider’s painting Mind Map Ottawa: Five Cardinal Points represents the artist’s memories of the routes she took during a series of drives from downtown Ottawa. She traveled approximately 100 kilometers in each direction (North, South, East and West).
Barry Ace’s mixed media works are honor blankets for each of the five Great Lakes (only three are shown in the photo).
The works are created from Hudson’s Bay blankets, which have a long history in Canada and were often used by the Hudson’s Bay Company when trading with indigenous fur trappers. Thus, as heritage symbols, they are complicated—they are associated with the settling of the nation as well as with 19th century colonialism and capitalism. You can read this Mental Floss article for more information: A Brief History of Canada’s Iconic Hudson’s Bay Blanket
The decorations on the blanket are made from things like:
- traditional materials like horse hair;
- silver dollars (the design of the coins honor indigenous people, but the coins can also represent commercial power and nation-building, things which helped marginalize these same people )
- electronic components like diodes, resistors and and microchips, which represent technology—technology that can help preserve indigenous cultures and can also erode them.
Thus, the blankets not only represent the Great Lakes, but also the forces (trade, colonialism, capitalism, nation-building and technology) that have buffeted indigenous cultures in Canada. Barry Ace discusses his work and creative processes in this video from the OAG:
Local artist Jenny McMaster has produced a series of mixed-media maps of nearby areas. The map below shows the town of Almonte. You can see more of her work at her website: jennymcmaster.typepad.com
In the silkscreen print shown below, Alexander Laquerre has created the shape of each local Ottawa-Gatineau neighborhood from its name.
Laquerre also creates drawings celebrating Ottawa’s iconic architecture, and his drawings of the Parliament Buildings, Alexandra Bridge and the Chateau Laurier appear near the end of the video.
Jason St-Laurent’s sculpture 196 Nations in Order of Size is exactly what the title says. Blocks representing each member country in the United Nations are stacked on top of one another from the floor to the ceiling.
Interestingly, the blocks can be removed and re-arranged just in case countries break apart, grow or cease to exist.
World War II Art
On this wall is a selection of paintings from the Second World War, a significant event in the development of Canada’s national identity.
Darker Themes: Works by Carl Stewart, Janet Kaponicin & Bozica Radjenovic
Some of the works in the Ottawa Art Gallery have darker stories behind them. Carl Stewart’s ,mixed media work Nice Shoes, F***** (the asterisks are mine) is a memorial for Alain Brousseau, a man who was killed in a homophobic hate crime when he was thrown off the Alexandra Bridge, which spans the Ottawa River. The length of the textile—80 metres—is the distance he fell. The case is described in this article: Death by hate: The life, power and symbolism of Alain Brosseau
Janet Kaponicin’s Tragic History behind the Parliament Building deals with a similar kind of senseless murder, with the events of the two cases being around 150 years and several hundred meters apart. This artwork is about a the story of a teen Algonquin girl murdered by British soldiers behind Parliament Hill.
The story is described in this article: Death on the Hill: An Algonquin artist’s 30-year struggle to preserve the memory of a Parliament Hill tragedy
Bozica Radjenovic’s mixed media piece Included/Excluded looks quite playful, but the red knitted wearable sculpture represents conflict and bloodshed, likely inspired by the artist’s experiences during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. To me, the red balls of yarn spilling out from the suit emphasize the frailty of the human body..
Let’s end with Stefan St-Laurent’s not-quite-life-sized sculpted caricature of Queen Elizabeth II, which is situated at the entrance to the Ottawa Art Gallery. It strikes a wonderful balance between being respectful and being fun.
The gallery is relatively small but is conveniently located behind the Rideau Centre and the admission is free. If you are in town and are interested in art, be sure to check it out.
This section includes discussion questions, an art challenge and links to online photo galleries and websites.
About the Video & Music
The video footage and photos were shot with a FUJIFILM X100T camera. The two songs features in the video are from my free background music series:
he lovely first song is Somewhere Deep in the Sea by Jessica Yip, I recorded that and the song is part of my Free Background music series (a collection of songs that you can use for free for non-commercial purposes). Information about the song and download links are on my website: longzijun.wordpress.com/2018/07/09/free-background-music-40/#38
The short jazz outro is my own work and can be found on this page: longzijun.wordpress.com/music/free-background-music-2/
Higher resolution images (e.g. 2048 x 1365) can be viewed online at:
- Ottawa Art Gallery website: oaggao.ca/ottawa-art-gallery
- Which of the paintings or sculptures are most attractive to you? Why?
- How can art serve to help create a feeling of belonging to a particular city, region or country?
- Who would you say are the artists who best represent your country? Explain your answer.
Create a work painting, drawing, sketch, sculpture or mixed media piece that represents your city or neighborhood.
~video, photos and text by longzijun
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