Roses DO have Thorns

Posted by Kitara Julian On 9:34 PM

The longest time I lived in one place during the ‘60s was 579 Jarvis Street, Toronto, 1965-67, the old ‘Massey’ family mansion which had been converted into apartments; I was assistant manager. Furniture was sparse but solid. The canvas “Living Tapestry’ (see post of October 4) was painted there, along with many other works, all painted in the kitchen which had a square table (and of course the essential tap water on hand).

My first solo exhibition at Roberts Gallery in 1965 was a success:“sold out”. Then in 1966 I received First Prize at the OSA show. On top of all that, there was the solo exhibition in Paris, May 1966 (more on this in a later post).

Meanwhile my thinking, inspiration and intuition were spiralling upwards, and changes in my work were noticeable since that 1965 exhibition at Roberts Gallery. Abstract or non-objective art (and Surrealism) allows you to give imagination free reign, within the discipline required from skill, in turn learned from experience.

Roberts Gallery was conservative with mostly “Group of Seven” or post-Group of Seven artists. There I was, an abstract artist. The dealer was so pleased with the success of the ’65 show, he offered me another solo exhibition to take place in February 1967. (For a novice, this was quite a coup.)

In preparation, I worked from first daylight to dusk, for nearly two years. (I always work in daylight, which allows you to judge and see colour at its best.) My paintings were becoming simpler, almost minimalist, but required complete awareness in order to prevent the ‘blank’ areas of the canvas from being splattered. Freedom and awareness was required in unison. It was vital for these blank or ‘void’ areas to remain pristine for my composition and imagery to maintain its strength.

For me, it was exciting and uplifting - - - through the joy of free creative exploration - - - to realize you can travel to far-away galaxies, enter microscopic realms, coral reefs, or go to Antarctica --- without actually having to ‘be there’. Virtual reality, forty years ahead of its time! Not only “the sky is the limit”, but the whole universe.

Back to Jarvis Street, one painting after another was born on that kitchen table (or depending on the size, on the floor). Since they were all done with acrylic, and mixed with water, I had to keep my canvas perfectly flat. Otherwise, the paint would drip and run downwards.

And then came the exhibition: here you can see some paintings at Roberts Gallery, done forty-two years ago. Notice their space-like quality, or what I call “micro-macro” nature. Keep in mind these were created long before NASA images of space we’re so familiar with today. (We were still two years from landing on the moon.) But - - - this major exhibition of ‘67, with forty-two works, was not the success of the 1965 show.

Understandably, clients came back expecting to see more of the same kind of paintings from two years earlier. Instead, they were faced with an evolutionary change. Of the 42 paintings, three were sold. Robert Gallery kept another three. This was Toronto in February, cold and snow. The landlord was not amused that his ‘manager’ was the creator of all those ‘strange and weird looking things’.

The ‘blow’ at the end of the show, of having to take all those paintings back from the Gallery, was intense. Plus, the landlord gave me notice. I am sad to say, that reluctantly, I took 32 of these paintings, and burned them in the fireplace.

Not because they didn’t sell, but because I absolutely did not know what to do with them. Also, because of the blank areas of the canvas which could easily be damaged. So I took it into my own hands to determine their destiny.

After this trauma, the shock of burning my own work, awoke me to the need of preventing suffering like this from ever happening again. I removed myself from the art scene and it would be another 5 years before a return to painting. Five years of introspection, worldwide travel, exploration and healing which in turn, set the stage for further evolution in my work. Signing off, Henri

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