Artwork by James Williamson Galloway Macdonald,  Prehistoric World

Jock Macdonald
Prehistoric World

signed and dated 1945 lower right
7 x 10 ins ( 17.8 x 25.4 cms ) ( sheet )

Auction Estimate: $6,000.00$4,000.00 - $6,000.00

Price Realized $10,200.00
Sale date: December 3rd 2020

Estate of Grace and John Davenall Turner, Calgary
By descent to the present Private Collection, Alberta
“Jock Macdonald: The Inner Landscape / A Retrospective Exhibition”, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, travelling to the Art Gallery of Windsor, The Edmonton Art Gallery, The Winnipeg Art Gallery, and The Vancouver Art Gallery, 1981 - 1982, no. 36
“Art School: Banff 1947”, Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton, March 10 - June 3, 2012
Joyce Zemans, “Jock Macdonald: The Inner Landscape / A Retrospective Exhibition”, The Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 1981, page 122 reproduced
In “Prehistoric World”, one of the earliest of the artist’s fully developed “automatic” paintings, Macdonald follows Pailthorpe’s edict by taking the brush and laying on paint. Only when this initial phase was complete did the artist embellish the painting with a whimsical flourish. A strange hybrid form emerges from the painted surface.

To elaborate this form, Macdonald added the antennae-like details. The compositional format of this painting is of special interest, for it was one that Macdonald was to employ frequently in future years. In order to fill out the rectangle, he encircled the central image with an irregular closed shape, which frames it against the white ground. That mandala shaped device, often abutting the edge of the picture frame, is in turn enclosed in a border of colours, which echo those of the central character. It seems apparent that Macdonald worked his composition from the centre to the periphery, not only filling out the rectangle with the framing device but also establishing a sense of motion through a system of expansive lines and the extension of shapes. This elaborate triple framing enhances what is, in reality, a very small painting - a private world inhabited by fantastic creatures, through overlapping wet washes, colour transitions, exquisite richness.

Lots 48 and 49 were collected by Grace and John Davenall Turner, founders, in 1945, of the Canadian Art Galleries, strong promoters of the work of contemporary Western Canadian artists and Macdonald’s dealer when he moved to Calgary. They have remained in the family’s collection.

Introduction to Automatic Painting in the Work of JWG Macdonald (1897-1960)

A pioneer in abstract painting in Canada in the 1930s and, in the 1950s, a member of Painters Eleven, the group of artists who promoted and brought recognition to abstract painting in English Canada, Jock Macdonald exhibited throughout his career nationally and internationally.

Macdonald arrived in Vancouver in 1926 to take up the post of head of design at the newly established Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts. A designer by profession, he had also studied painting during his studies at the Edinburgh College of Art. In Vancouver, overwhelmed by the landscape, he went camping in the mountains with Group of Seven member and head of painting at the VSDAA, Fred Varley, and fell in love with the rugged B.C. landscape. Macdonald quickly found that landscape painting, even that inspired by the expression of the Group, was not enough for him. In 1932, he became one of the key pioneers in the exploration of abstraction in Canada, creating what he called “abstract and semi-abstract creations of pure idiom ... statements of the new awakening consciousness.”

In 1938, Macdonald exhibited four of these abstract paintings at the Vancouver Art Gallery to a surprisingly positive response.

Yet by the end of the decade, Macdonald found himself stuck and searching for a new approach to abstraction. He found the answer in the work of British Surrealist artist (and psychiatrist) Grace Pailthorpe, who taking refuge from wartime Britain in North America, arrived in Vancouver in 1943. Macdonald heard her lecture at the VAG, shortly after her arrival, and realized he had found a kindred spirit. Pailthorpe’s introduction to surrealism and automatic painting would shape his art and teaching for the rest of his life. In her lecture, she described surrealist art as “purely psychic and automatic, intended to express the real process of thought ... the expression of the subconscious.”

Invited to critique his work, Pailthorpe found it rigid and lacking ease, still strongly influenced by his design training. Jock joined Pailthorpe’s class on automatic painting and spent three months of intensive study with her. Provided with large sheets of wet paper, ink and aniline colour, students were instructed to “just take a brush and put on a great big splash and to stop working as soon as conscious effort took over from the unconscious.”

Automatic painting provided the breakthrough experience for which Macdonald had been searching. His discovery of automatism is the key to all of his future painting. His method of constructing a painting changed dramatically and he found that he could paint almost continuously when the mood was right. The automatics were created with colour, not line as was the case in his early work. After the initial creative process, line was used to draw out the themes and images hidden within the painted surface. A painter-colleague of Macdonald’s recalled that Jock “was doing them with a great amount of joy, more or less experimenting and getting a great kick out of doing them...”

In 1946, the Vancouver Art Gallery held a solo exhibition of these works. In 1947, an exhibition of the automatics was mounted to positive reviews at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and in 1947, the year of Jock’s move to Toronto, the University of Toronto’s Hart House Gallery featured an exhibition of the automatics.

Macdonald introduced several generations of students at the Banff School and at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto to automatic painting and its basic principles would shape their artistic practice. He wrote to Alexandra Luke about her automatics: “Things are beginning to move ... One cannot account for what comes forth and in truth it doesn’t matter. However, now that you find things definitely suggestive of nature forms, you can be sure that the door is now open – Excellent!” - Joyce Zemans, C.M.

We extend our thanks to Joyce Zemans, art historian, curator, professor at York University, former director of the MBA Program in Arts, Media & Entertainment Management at the Schulich School of Business, and curator of the exhibition: “Jock Macdonald: The Inner Landscape” (AGO, 1981) and author of several publications (NGC and ACI: on JWG Macdonald, for contributing the preceding essays.

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James Williamson Galloway Macdonald
(1897 - 1960) Painters Eleven, Canadian Group of Painters,

Jock Macdonald was born on May 31, 1897 in Thurso, Scotland. A graduate of the Edinburgh College of Art, Macdonald emigrated to Canada in 1927 to become head of design and instructor in commercial advertising at the newly established Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts (now the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design). Inspired by the natural environment, Macdonald and his colleague Frederick Varley, head of drawing, painting, and composition, spent much of their free time on weekends and summer vacations on sketching and camping trips in the Garibaldi Mountains. When the Depression forced severe salary cuts in the art school budget, Macdonald and Varley decided to found the B.C. College of Art. It quickly established a reputation as a centre of new and stimulating ideas in a variety of art forms including music, dance and photography as well as the visual arts. The school operated for two years before declaring bankruptcy, but its influence on the local cultural community of the period is now legendary. Macdonald himself was infected by the exciting ideas fostered at the College and he began experiments in abstraction. He soon found landscape painting in the tradition of his Group of Seven contemporaries too confining whereas abstraction opened up new vistas of expressive freedom. During his twenty years in B.C., Macdonald was active as artist, teacher, exhibitor, and arts organizer. He was a member of the B.C. Society of Artists, with whom he exhibited regularly; a charter member of the Federation of Canadian Artists; and a member of the Vancouver Art Gallery Council for eleven years, serving on its judging, exhibitions and hanging committees, and implementing its popular Saturday morning classes. The Vancouver Art Gallery accorded Macdonald his first one man show in May 1941 and five years later mounted a solo exhibition, of his "automatic" watercolours. Macdonald moved to Toronto in 1947 and became instructor of painting at the Ontario College of Art. In 1953 he was instrumental in the founding of Painters Eleven, a group dedicated to the promotion of abstract art. He wrote later: "In training young students I believe it absolutely necessary that the student be provided a program of study which forces him to observe nature very closely in many diverse directions. After some two years of such study I encourage the student to expand his inner self and begin to expand his personality. I am quite aware that the young student is often intuitively aware of his consciousness of the twentieth century and could create in modern ways but I believe that every student should, first of all, increase his vocabulary of form and colours by observing nature forms and be initiated into the laws of balance and dynamic equilibrium." Jock Macdonald died at the age of 63 on December 3, 1960.