Artwork by William Hodd McElcheran,  Smug Man

William McElcheran
Smug Man

bronze sculpture
signed, dated 1994 and numbered 1/9 on the base (incised)
28.5 x 11 x 18 ins ( 72.4 x 27.9 x 45.7 cms ) ( overall )

Sold for $21,240.00
Sale date: November 20th 2018

Provenance:
Private Collection, Toronto
Literature:
Kinsman Robinson Galleries, William McElcheran: Humanism in Bronze, exhibition catalogue, Toronto, 2010, pages 2-6
Some of the artist's most celebrated sculptural works are the portly bronze businessmen inspired by his corporate-working clients. After graduating from the Ontario College of Art in 1948 at the top of his class, McElcheran went on to become chief designer for Bruce Brown and Brisely architects where he helped co-ordinate the planning and designing of churches and university buildings. With this shift to a more corporate career path, McElcheran still sought to work on his own practice and began building a client base of corporate professionals—his inspiration for his businessmen series.

McElcheran spent a significant amount of time in Pietrasanta, Italy, living near a foundry and other artists skilled in bronze casting. Exposed to an Italian style of modern art, the simplified smooth forms of the artist's figural work can be seen and has been coupled with a mastery of the bronze material from his experience working with experts in the field of casting.

The artist saw the businessman as the anti-hero everyman. Capturing humanism in witty and satirical sculpture, he sought to uncover the human qualities of these figures. In the artist's self-penned poem “Endangered Species”, McElcheran explores humanism and is particularly poignant to his businessmen sculptural series. He wrote:

“Eyes shifting, watching for movement, nose sniffing for traces,
Ears attentive for sounds above or below the buzz of the city,
watching, smelling, listening, prey and predator.
Calculating, (no time for contemplation), basking, bronzing at
appointed times — but reachable.
Aiming to more than survive, fracturing infinitives and anything
else that impedes or endangers.
Non-hero, non-poet, non-philosopher, endangering and endangered
— in our millions.”

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William Hodd McElcheran
(1927 - 1999)

Born in Hamilton, Ontario, he attended the Central High School under Hortense and John Sloan Gordon. He then studied sculpture at the Ontario College of Art under Emanuel Hahn and graduated in 1947, winning the Lieutenant-Governor’s Medal. He worked as a designer of church furniture for the Valley City Manufacturing Company, Dundas, Ontario (1950-55) and then settled in Toronto, where he became a chief designer for a Toronto architectural firm. He did designs for St. Stephen’s Church on the Mount, and McMaster Divinity College, Hamilton, and other churches (1955-61). Subsequently, he was able to work on his own and received a Canada Council grant in 1969-70. He also did decorations for St. Theresa’s, St. John’s Newfoundland, and the Augustinian Monastery, King, Ontario. He was artist in residence at St. Augustine Seminary, Scarborough, Ontario.

His sculpture “The Race” (a group of children running) was shown at the Canadian sculpture show organized by Dorothy Cameron and sponsored by the National Gallery of Canada and on the site of the new Toronto City Hall in 1967. This work was part of a series he was doing concerned with the shape of groups of people. By 1969, he was exhibiting at the Roberts Gallery, Toronto, and was described by Ms. Cameron as follows, “The art of William McElcheran is concerned with the irony and paradox of modern life; with the comedy of the commercial rat-race and the seriousness of play; with the dilemma of remaining ‘uselessly’ human in this computer age; and with life itself as an ultimate ball game for the survival of the soul. We, the players, are treated with a neat blend of tender satire, compassion and infinite hope.”

Subsequently, he exhibited at the Art Gallery of Hamilton in November of 1969 and the show was warmly reviewed by Paul Duval. A retrospective showing of his work followed at the Arts and Letters Club, Toronto, and a one-man show at the Roberts Gallery, Toronto, in May of 1971, featuring his polyester reliefs, bronze reliefs, and sculpture in bronze, stone and teak. Kay Kritzwiser, writing about the show, remarked, “McElcheran has steeped himself in the graphic information revealed by ancient Assyrian bas reliefs, where the role of every person was identifiable by posture or raiment. ‘You knew who everyone was – king or peasant. But I see the crowds on our street as a mass. They may be Bay Street executives, clothing salesman, or a big developer – you can’t tell. We don’t know who our kings are. We hide the power’…. Throughout McElcheran’s huge body of work (three galleries full) run similar references to ancient culture. But his people are contemporary, cloaked in frightening sameness, marching sheep-like on the streets, up the escalators, into stadiums…. McElcheran revels in the new freedom for expression he finds in relief sculptures, even if it’s something of an indulgence…. Relief is not compressed sculpture, McElcheran says. He sees it as a raised drawing, a three-dimensional presentation of drawing and design.”.

His “On the Boardwalk”, a wooden sculpture (of a plumb woman in a bathing suit) was exhibited at the Royal Canadian Academy’s 90th Annual Exhibition, 1970, and reproduced in the exhibition catalogue. From a taped interview with Dorothy Cameron for the Toronto City Hall exhibition catalogue, McElcheran explained, “For thousands of years artists have painted, modelled and carved the human form. I am thankful for this spadework, but I am not going to stop now and say that nothing more can be down with this infinite theme. The Greeks lived before Freud; the Renaissance came before Darwin. Today we have something else to say about man! The artist is one of the few people who still have the freedom to choose. In the face of fifteen thousand years of human thought, out of the confrontation of this vast environment of human creativity, he has the power to choose what he loves and infuse it with his own spirit.”

Source: "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume 4: Little - Myles", compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1978