Artwork by Gordon Appelbe Smith,  West Coast #2 (1974)

Gordon Smith
West Coast #2 (1974)

acrylic on canvas
signed lower right; signed, titled, inscribed “April” and stamped with the artist’s name on the stretcher; dated 1974 on the gallery label on the reverse
56 x 65 ins ( 142.2 x 165.1 cms )

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

Price Realized $40,120.00
Sale date: November 19th 2019

Marlborough Godard, Toronto
Private Collection, Toronto
Roald Nasgaard, Abstract Painting in Canada, Toronto, 2007, pages 134-36
Kevin Griffin, “Adventure and Loss part of Gordon Smith’s ‘black paintings’”, Vancouver Sun, October 27, 2017
One of British Columbia’s most celebrated painters, Gordon Smith has often described himself as being “one hundred artists deep” - referring to his constantly evolving style and 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 inplace.” Smith changed his gestural abstract style abruptly in 1960 to a bright colour palette and hard-edge abstraction. By the following decade, the artist had returned to quasi-figurative subjects, depicting the British Columbian shorelines, such as “West Coast #2”. The acrylic on canvas painting references landscape in its title, while the composition appears to be a combination of varying horizontal bands, each band depicting a detail of a different abstract shoreline landscapes. Simplified images of rock, grass, water and sky are stacked onto one another to suggest a deconstructed shoreline. Nasgaard remarks that “since the mid-1970s Smith has been a consummate painter of the west coast landscape, the edge of the ocean and the depths of the forest, and the lily ponds, working somewhere on the spectrum between the naturalistic and the abstract.”

“It’s part of my life,” Gordon Smith said about painting: “It’s like breathing.” Curator and author Andrew Hunter writes of the one- hundred year-old artist: “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.”

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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.