Artwork by Gordon Appelbe Smith,  Squamish #8 (A8)

Gordon Smith
Squamish #8 (A8)

acrylic on canvas
signed lower right; titled on the reverse of the framing
28 x 22 ins ( 71.1 x 55.9 cms )

Sold for $11,800.00
Sale date: September 24th 2020

Mira Godard Gallery, Toronto
Private Collection, Ontario
Ian M. Thom and Andrew Hunter, “Gordon Smith: The Act of Painting”, Vancouver Art Gallery, 1997, pages 48 and 120
In 1981 Ann Morrison made a film for the CBC on Gordon Smith, documenting the artist on the edge of an artistic transition. Andrew Hunter remarks on Morrison’s documentary: “The film shows Smith in 1981, spending hours out in the landscape, driving through it to work, walking on the beach, cruising in his boat. He wants these spaces to become his paintings, but he wants to break from them as well. He speaks repeatedly of the ‘act of painting’ and a pressing need to break from the horizon line that dominates his landscapes, perhaps the last remnant of the modernist grid.”

Smith retired from the University of British Columbia in 1982, and began to travel throughout the province, taking trips into its dense forested landscapes. These trips marked the emergence of a new painterly approach for the artist, as he explored spontaneity. He left behind the tightness of his 1970s work and adopted a more sombre palette.

In 1985 Smith visited Shannon Falls, and his compositions took on a vertical form, moving away from the horizontal, as evidenced in “Squamish #8 (A8)”. As Ian M. Thom remarks, “The move to the vertical was continued in a number of landscape images of forest and rock face in the Squamish area. The use of colour was dark and brooding – deep greens, violets, grays and blacks with flashes of brighter red, blues and greens... Here brushwork and colour are used with an abandon perhaps not seen since the work of the early fifties.” This transformation in Smith’s artistic process was also characterized by the use of photographic sources in his work. It allowed him the freedom of improvisation as his work became more abstract, with a suggestion of the landscape.

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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.