GORDON SMITH: A Canadian Treasure
As Canadians reflect on our country’s 150-year anniversary, citing people and places that make us special, I decided that my contribution to the exercise would focus on a Canadian treasure – Gordon Smith. Not only is he an internationally recognised artist but he is also a life-long educator and a kind and generous man. The list of his awards and public honours is lengthy beginning with First Prize, Biennial of Canadian Art, 1955, including his appointment in 1996 to the Order of Canada, several honorary doctorates, and, most recently, the 2016 Vancouver Mayor’s Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement.
My enthusiasm for all things Gordon Smith was evident in an earlier article I wrote (https://artappreciation101.wordpress.com/2012/12) and that enthusiasm was most recently rekindled at the end of last month during a family visit with Gordon at his home. The highlight was viewing with him one of his diaries that was full of copious notations, sketches and photographs. There were observations of places visited, details about paintings he admired, photographs of people and places important to him and a wonderful photograph taken with his late wife Marion upon his return from the war.
We also had the opportunity to see first hand what new direction his creative muse has been taking him in – imagine, at 97 years he paints almost daily. New works that we saw in his studio are reproduced below.
Following our visit we set out on a tour to discover some of Smith’s projects which bear witness to his generosity to the communities of West and North Vancouver. First stop was the West Vancouver Community Centre where Gordon has contributed to the Centre’s public art program with two creations. One can be found in the atrium of the Centre – a massive 12-by 20-foot assemblage made from found driftwood and other objects that he and an assistant gathered from beaches in and around West Vancouver. Entitled Beach Tangle 2009 it is a striking work that brings the surrounding nature into the building.
Next stop was the West Vancouver Museum to enjoy the Ann Kipling exhibition Drawing the Line, and to see some of Kipling’s works that Gordon donated to that gallery two years ago as part of a major donation of 50 works of other artists from his personal collection.
For me the highlight of our tour was North Vancouver’s Gordon Smith Gallery of Canadian Art cited as “the first gallery in the country dedicated to young audiences”. This gallery opened in 2012 and is housed in a North Vancouver School District building. It is the home of the Artists for Kids teaching collection consisting of some 500 works from major Canadian artists collected over the past 20 years.
Gordon Smith was one of the founding patrons and is credited with successfully encouraging many of Canada’s leading artists to donate works to the collection and to be involved with their hands-on artist and teacher-led programs.
The Gordon and Marion Smith Foundation For Young Artists, established in 2002, is a charitable organization raising funds to support the Artists for Kids Program (enquiries can be made to: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Gordon’s work, Reflections, 2014, was selected for inclusion in the new collection at Canada House in London, England, where he was invited to be part of the official opening ceremonies and to meet the Queen in late February, 2015. Canada House boasts one of the largest Canadian art collections outside the country. Reflections, 2014, has pride of place in the Cockspur Street lobby of the Queen Elizabeth Atrium.
For those of you who wish to learn more about Gordon Smith’s art I strongly recommend Gordon Smith: Don’t Look Back, Black Dog Publishing, 2014. In my judgment, this is the definitive book on the life and work of this wonderful Canadian. This thoughtfully researched record of his life with exceptional reproductions of his paintings was made possible through the dedication of Gordon’s long-time friend and dealer, Andy Sylvester, owner of Equinox Gallery in Vancouver.