A lot of people consider the Prairies (my, ahem, home region) to be the least scenic part of Canada -- something to be endured, rather than enjoyed, on a cross-country drive. But the art of Dorothy Knowles puts the lie to such notions. For six decades, Knowles has made stunning paintings of her native Saskatchewan. Her prolific career has also included stints at the famed Emma Lake workshops, where I think she was probably the only artist that Clement Greenberg encouraged not to pursue abstraction.
In any case, I really like Knowles' paintings in nostalgia-panging and other ways, and with them being showcased at the McMichael gallery, I got to chat with the 83-year-old artist on the phone this week. Our condensed exchange is out in today's National Post. An excerpt:
Q I grew up on the Prairies, and I appreciate your beautiful depictions of them. But many Canadians still think, "There's nothing to see there," don't they?
A I've heard that said about the Group of Seven -- that they didn't find Saskatchewan interesting. But if you grow up in it you see it with a different eye; you have an attachment to the hills or the sky or the space, to the edges of the roads with the flowers. Driving up to Emma Lake this year, there were wild lilies all along the roadsides. When you grow up in it, you look for things that interest you like that.
Q What do you think of as the Prairies' most beautiful feature?
A Oh, the sort of openness. And the skies are just wonderful; they're so changeable. I go visit [my husband and painter] Bill [Perehudoff] in the nursing home and he looks out and he says, "The clouds are beautiful today." He's still looking at those clouds, even though he's had a stroke.
So the sky is particularly beautiful here. And there's just so much of it.
A couple of other things I should note: this exhibition, "Land Marks," is created and circulated by the Moose Jaw Museum and Art Gallery, and has had prior stops at the Esplanade Art Gallery in Medicine Hat and the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon. One more fun fact: Knowles also had a lot to say about the supportive community of artists in Saskatchewan, and recounted the days when Saskatoon's main art centre was in the basement of the King George Hotel. That was before meatpacking empresario Fred Mendel came along to start an above-ground museum. Interesting stories there.
(Image of Dorothy Knowles' The River, 1967 provided via the McMichael Gallery and Mendel Collection)
Friday, July 30, 2010
Posted by Leah Sandals at 9:57 AM