Artwork by Gordon Appelbe Smith,  Untitled

Gordon Smith

acrylic on canvas
signed lower right; signed and dated 1973 on the stretcher
44 x 50 ins ( 111.8 x 127 cms )

Auction Estimate: $30,000.00$20,000.00 - $30,000.00

Price Realized $23,600.00
Sale date: September 24th 2020

Marlborough Godard, Toronto
Private Collection, Toronto
Ian M. Thom and Andrew Hunter, “Gordon Smith: The Act of Painting”, Vancouver Art Gallery, 1997, pages 39-40
In the early 1970s Gordon Smith was experimenting with colour and hard-edge painting, and according to Ian M. Thom, the artist seemed to be ‘in crisis’ about his painting. “The hard-edge works were, perhaps too far removed to really satisfy him on an ongoing basis,” notes Thom. “He felt the need to return to an image, and the struggle was to define both the image itself and the approach to it.”

From 1972-74, Gordon created his “Seawall” series of paintings, which marked a new direction in his artistic practice. The paintings are composed of a grid formation and simplified landscape view, reminiscent of the west coast landscape. The grid formation is evocative of the grid Smith employed in his compositions of the 1950s, but the small cells of the grid have fluctuated to transform into a large window. The handling of the paint has evolved, in that the glaze allows undercoats of paint to be visible, creating a sense of movement within a more complex composition. Thom’s observation on the “Seawall” series is that, “The geometrics of the hard-edge paintings are still present but in a muted form. The paint is applied in numerous layers, which build up a sense of inner light in a way that is quite different from his earlier practice.”

The inspiration for these “Seawall” paintings came from walking along the shores of the west coast beaches and sailing the waters of Howe Sound. Critic Joan Lowndes remarked that the paintings have “an extraordinary luminosity and deep sensitivity to the subtle harmonies of colour seen on the west coast.”

Share this item with your friends

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.