Artwork by Gordon Appelbe Smith,  Abstraction

Gordon Smith

acrylic on canvas
signed lower right
27.25 x 34.5 ins ( 69.2 x 87.6 cms )

Auction Estimate: $35,000.00$25,000.00 - $35,000.00

Price Realized $42,480.00
Sale date: May 29th 2018

Private Collection, Toronto
Kevin Griffin, “Adventure and Loss part of Gordon Smith’s ‘black paintings’”, Vancouver Sun, October 27, 2017
Roald Nasgaard, Abstract Painting in Canada, Toronto, 2007, page 136
“It’s part of my life,” Gordon Smith said about painting: “It’s like breathing.” Curator and author Andrew Hunter writes of Gordon Smith, one of British Columbia’s most celebrated artists: "Smith chose long ago to be a painter, not a writer or a storyteller. He has no desire to explain or justify his decision in words, a language he does not feel allows him to probe the depths of his experience. He deciphers his world and lived experience through the language of painting." Despite the artist’s avoidance of providing explanations of his artwork, Smith’s abstract work is in part self-explanatory, as his style appears to parallel the international post-war movements of the 1950s and 60s. Gordon Smith has often described himself as being "one hundred artists deep" - referring to his constant openness to the influence of other painters. Roald Nasgaard writes that Smith has a “chameleon-like knack for reflecting his time, and yet his paintings over the decades have always surmounted his references by their sheer rootedness in place.”  

Gordon Smith’s “Abstraction” reflects the abstract art tendencies in Canada and the United States that emerged in the 1950s, in the composition’s expressive brushwork and adjoining planes of contrasting colours. Smith claimed as his “greatest liberating experience” the summer he spent in 1951 at the California School of Fine Art in San Francisco. He was inspired by the works of local artists such as Clyfford Still, Richard Diebenkorn, David Park and Bradley Walker Tomlin, and began to explore the physical qualities of paint, surface structure and abstraction as a young painter during the 1950s. Smith changed his style abruptly in 1960 to bright colours and hard-edge abstraction, influenced by the colour theories of Johannes Itten, Josef Albers and Guido Molinari.

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Gordon Appelbe Smith
(1919 - 2020) RCA, Order of Canada

Arrived in Winnipeg, Manitoba, from England in 1934, Gordon Smith studied at the Winnipeg School of Art under Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald. He enlisted in World War II, serving in London where he developed an interest in contemporary art. Following the war, Smith returned to Canada, settling in Vancouver and studying at the Vancouver School of Art, now the Emily Carr University of Art and Design. In 1951, Smith spent the summer at the California School of Fine Art in San Francisco where he took classes with Elmer Bischoff. Studying in the United States gave Smith invaluable first-hand experience with American painters; setting himself apart from most other Vancouver painters who only experienced the work by American artists second-hand.

Early in his career Smith found himself interested in a wide variety of subject material, especially objects that featured layers of horizontal and vertical lines, like trees and scaffolding. Through symmetrical designs coupled with weather patterns, Smith used an impressionistic style to convey the passage of time in his paintings. His painting, “Structure with Red Sun”, from 1955 won first prize at the First Biennial of Canadian Painting at the National Gallery of Canada. Smith’s work can be compared to Roger Hilton’s lattice work paintings from the early 1950s as they have a shared palette of browns, ochres, and oranges. Although Smith was knowledgeable about the global art scene, there is no evidence that he had direct contact with Hilton.

Throughout the 1950s Smith’s paintings were widely celebrated particularly “Red Painting” (1957) featuring lily-pads. However, in the late 1950s, Smith denounced the English influences of Modernism found throughout his oeuvre, particularly landscapes. Abruptly in the mid-1960s, Smith changed his style to hard edge abstraction and had a newfound interest in color theory from reading Johannes Itten and Josef Albers and visiting the Molinari exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Other Vancouver-based artists, such as Roy Kiyooka and Gary Lee-Nova, had taken up hard-edge abstraction at the same time as Smith. Smith avoided pop references in his paintings, and instead focused on creating works in color harmonies that used difficult colors, like purples, greens, and yellows. In the 1970s, Smith returned to painting semi-abstract paintings of the sea and shore near Vancouver.

Smith was named to the Order of Canada in 1996 and was named a Professor Emeritus at the University of British Columbia. In 2007, he received the Audain Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Visual Arts.

Literature Source:
Roald Nasgaard, Abstract Painting in Canada. Vancouver, Douglas and McIntyre, 2008

We extend our thanks to Danie Klein, York University graduate student in art history, for writing and contributing this artist biography.