Other sculptors arrived during the 18th century: Gilles Bolvin from St-Nicholas d'Avesnes in Flanders, François Guernon dit Belleville from Paris and Philippe Liébert from Nemours. Local sculptors emerged as well. In 1651 the brothers Jean and Pierre LEVASSEUR settled as carpenters in New France; their grandsons Noël and Pierre-Noël became sculptors; they were the first of several generations of indigenous sculptors prominent in New France, who also had cordial contacts with new arrivals in their trade such as Chaboulié and Jacquiès dit Leblond. Little remains from that century, either in religious or secular sculpture.
The splendid baldachin (ornamental canopy) in the choir of the church of Neuville near Québec City is the oldest sculpture ensemble in Canada. Created between 1690 and 1700 for the chapel of the episcopal palace of Mgr de St-Vallier, this baldachin is a scaled-down copy of one in the chapel of Val-de-Grâce in Paris and shows the importance of European models to the colony (see ARCHITECTURE; ART; PAINTING).
In 1712 Jacquiès dit Leblond, a protégé of Noël Levasseur, created the altar-piece (screen located behind an altar) of the chapel of the Récollet convent in Montréal, now in the choir of the church of St-Grégoire-de-Nicolet opposite Trois-Rivières. The altar-piece in the Ursuline Chapel in Québec City, created by Noël Levasseur between 1732 and 1737, recalls a triumphal arch; even though mostly in relief, it creates a 3-dimensional illusion, heightened by the play of white decorated surfaces, black columns and gilded narrative panels, and statues in the round. In complexity, monumentality and latent baroque style it favourably echoes French prototypes.
Sculptors of the French regime did not limit themselves to religious work. Around 1727 one of the Levasseurs (probably Noël Levasseur) was commissioned to carve the royal arms to be placed over doors of official buildings in the colony. The example preserved in the Musée du Québec is the oldest surviving nonreligious sculpture in Canada. In 1700 Denis Mallet carved a ship's figurehead of a lion for Sieur Brouve; in 1704 a captain from Québec, Louis Prat, commissioned an anonymous sculptor to carve a figurehead of the archangel Saint Michael in armour for the bow of his ship, the Joybert, and a VOTIVE PAINTING preserved in Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré shows us this figure. This same Prat in 1715 hired Noël Levasseur to sculpt the decorations for his new ship, the Raudot.
The establishment of a royal shipyard in the colony encouraged naval sculpture. Noël, Pierre and Jean-Baptiste Levasseur won handsome contracts to decorate the vessels of the French navy. The frigate Castor was decorated with a figurehead of a beaver and of a shield of the arms of France. The rear escutcheon of the supply ship Caribou was given a bas-relief of this native Canadian animal. The different Amerindian tribes were also honoured; the Algonquin was launched in 1750, the Abénaquise in 1754, the Iroquoise and the Outaouaise in 1759. Unfortunately, no examples survive, and we know of their existence only through archival records. An agent responsible for the royal shipyards frequently complained about the poor quality of local sculptors; he was probably the one who sent Pierre-Noël Levasseur II to the sculpture workshop of the French arsenal in Rochefort in 1743, though the apprentice chose not to return.
While the wood sculptors of New France acknowledged the fashions prevalent in 17th-century France, from the few surviving examples it can be assumed that stylistically sculpture in the colony was somewhat different. The rich, round forms of the French baroque were usually subdued by a robustness which makes them essentially Canadian. This robustness was to linger in the sculpture of French Canada until well into the 19th century; it was probably also tied to the qualities and limitations of the material used by the sculptors of New France, that is, wood. In contrast to France, sculptors in New France almost never worked in stone.
The change in administration after 1760, the poor economy exacerbated by wartime destruction and the departure of French officials ushered in a lean time for sculptors in the colony. With the American War of Independence, warships were constructed in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu in 1775-77, some of which, including the schooner Maria and the frigate the Royal George, were given figureheads.
The economic situation improved in Canada in the last quarter of the century and steady population growth forced ecclesiastical authorities to open new parishes. The resulting wave of church construction was a boon to sculptors and a new dynasty, the BAILLAIRGÉ family, arose. François Baillairgé studied in France, 1778-81, visited London, and on his return introduced a fusion of 2 great artistic traditions and many new trends to the colony. He sculptured a huge baldachin leaning against the choir walls and a high altar for Notre-Dame-de-Québec. From 1816 he worked for more than 10 years on what was to be his finest work in the little church of St-Joachim near Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré: the placing and embellishment of the 4 monumental columns were inspired by the theoretician Jérôme Demers. Baillairgé was also involved with secular sculpture, including more than one-third of all ship figureheads made in Québec. He became sculptor of the king's shipyards in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and in Kingston. His plans for 2 military vessels have been preserved: the Royal Edward and the Earl of Moira. He also sculpted signboards for Québec merchants, and the mace of Lower Canada's legislative assembly.
This was the time when Philippe Liébert rose to the height of his career. In 1790 he made his reputation by carving the high altar for the chapel of the Grey Nuns in Montréal. Soon after, other parishes in the area (Sault-au-Recollet, Ste-Rose, Vaudreuil) commissioned similar work from Liébert. Louis QUÉVILLON became the most important sculptor of the Montréal region in the early 19th century; and his models came from Liébert. In almost all the churches built between 1800 and 1825 works can be found by Quévillon and his associates, including Joseph Pépin, René St-James, Paul Rollin and many apprentices. In order to keep up with demand, Quévillon standardized his works, and his altars systematically followed the Liébert model. The best-preserved example of work by the Quévillon group is in the little church of St-Mathias, near Chambly.
Secular works continued to be important in the early 19th century. England needed ships for its merchant marine, which had suffered heavy losses in the Napoleonic Wars. The shipyards of British North America now included Québec City, and Yarmouth, Lunenburg and Halifax in NS, various yards in the Saint John Valley and on the Miramichi R in NB, and Bath (near Kingston) and Niagara-on-the-Lake in Upper Canada. Of the 2112 ships built in Québec City during the period from 1762 to 1897, 1651 were embellished with figureheads.
Probably 10 000 figureheads were sculpted in Canada during the 19th century, and almost all of the sculptors in the country were involved, including Louis-Xavier Leprohon, Louis-Thomas Berlinguet, André Giroux and Jean-Baptiste Côté. Scotsmen like John Rogerson worked out of NB. Many carvers of ship ornamentations in wood were anonymous. Figureheads in the bows of ships were modelled on historic personages, local notables, Amerindians and members of the shipowner's family. There were also generalized images, such as women, animals (especially native creatures such as the bear, caribou, beaver) or simple scrolls. The sterns of ships were also ornamented, mostly with coats of arms or shields with armorial bearings, often amplified with other types of decorative devices. But it was the end of the age of traditional shipbuilding; as of the mid-19th century, sails were replaced by the steam engine, and metal plates gradually replaced the old wooden hull. New decorative solutions made obsolete the once lucrative business of ship decorators (see SAILING SHIPS; FOLK ART).
Sculptors were also involved in the woodworking business. Parts of FURNITURE such as chair backs were often ornamented with sculpture, and merchants, especially tobacconists, tavern keepers and sellers of navigation instruments, sometimes called on sculptors to make their shop signs.
The second half of the 19th century saw the appearance of a phenomenon that was to shatter the traditional wood-sculptor's market - plaster statuary. In 1824 the Italian Donati made a copy in plaster of François Baillairgé's carvings on the panelled vaults of the cathedral of Québec. Thirty years earlier Liébert had already used molds to make decorative elements for his altars; Quévillon also did so, probably using some molds that had belonged to Liébert. In 1846 Mgr Bourget, on his return from a trip to Italy, introduced Hector Vacca to the Montréal market. Carlo Catteli arrived at the same time and made plaster statues for Montréal churches. Around 1855, 2 French sculptors, G.H. Sohier and Alexis Michelot, set up an "Académie des beaux-arts" which, though it lasted less than a year, heralded the arrival of academic sculpture, made in plaster, in Canada.
Wood sculptors reacted slowly; they failed to see the extent of the change taking place or the impact of new techniques. As the Industrial Revolution took hold of Canada, wood sculptors gradually became obsolete. One of the most important wood sculptors of the time, Jean-Baptiste Côté, summed up the situation in a sentence: "My time is over." By scrounging whatever commissions they could, a few sculptors managed to survive.
Louis JOBIN, a sculptor who had trained in the workshop of François-Xavier Berlinguet, had to go to New York to complete his studies. He then worked for 5 years in Montréal and in late 1875 moved to Québec City. He carved the neogothic statues of the church of St-Henri in Lévis and in 1880 worked on the allegorical floats for the St-Jean-Baptiste parade; the agriculture float is preserved in the Musée du Québec. He was among the original carvers of ice sculptures at the early Québec winter carnivals. At the end of the century Jobin left Québec City for Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré, the last bastion of religious wood sculpture, where he tried to imitate in wood what a new generation of sculptors was doing in other materials such as bronze. His death in 1928 was also the death of traditional wood sculpture. On a much smaller scale, often created with a deep feeling for a lost past and mostly attractive to tourists, aspects of the wood-carving tradition in Québec have survived, particularly in the town of St-Jean-Port-Joli; however, these carvings have little in common with the monumental art forms in wood which once embellished the churches and ships of the New World.
It was fashionable for critics considering Canadian sculpture between 1880 and 1950 to mourn the demise of traditional wooden sculpture and the invasion of plaster and bronze, as though wood possessed certain authentic virtues missing in the other 2 materials. However, it was because of the limits of wood that the sculptors of the period, inspired by the needs of a new realism, often preferred bronze. Wood, like stone, sculpture is referred to as a subtractive method; also it is difficult to dissociate the finished sculpture from the tree trunk.
The preparations for a bronze object are called additive sculpture; a model is built in flexible material, such as clay, from which a mold is made into which molten bronze is cast. This technique provided much greater flexibility, offering sculptors almost unlimited opportunities for expression. Since there were no specific facilities in Canada to cast bronze art objects until the 1960s, sculptures, especially large monuments, had to be cast in the US or Europe and shipped back to Canada.
Stylistically the sculpture of this period may be considered under 3 headings, each corresponding to similar European movements of the period: realism, art nouveau, art deco. Canadian sculpture did not develop in isolation, and yet it showed a certain originality.
In Québec realism is represented by Napoléon BOURASSA (a multitalented artist who distinguished himself in architecture and painting as well as in sculpture) and by Anatole Partnenais and Louis-Philippe HÉBERT. Hébert was the most important, and it is thought he learned his art from Bourassa when they collaborated around 1870 on the Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes chapel in Montréal. The dominating ideology of this period in Québec attempted to define the people of French Canada in terms of their French Catholic origins; this too was important for Hébert. In sculpture he created memorable examples of his countrymen's history.
Hébert was also influenced by the French realist tradition, which he combined with his robust talent. His works included a number of bronze sculptures of Indians (including the famous Pêcheur à la nigogue beside a fountain) which he produced for the legislative building in Québec City; the statue of Maisonneuve at Place d'Armes in Montréal; and his proud monument Madeleine de Verchères, located in the middle of the Québec village of Verchères. Those of his works devoted to English rulers (Queen Victoria in Ottawa) or to contemporary personages are less inspired. Historical subjects stimulated his imagination, and it is here that he produced his best work (see PUBLIC ART). Hamilton MacCarthy is also known for his historical monuments, in particular his Sieur de Monts at ANNAPOLIS ROYAL (1904). The historical works of Henri BEAU and Charles HUOT have been largely forgotten.
The late 19th century was a period of expansion which saw the settlement of the Canadian West. It is therefore not surprising that many N American artists, English Canadian sculptors as well, concentrated with deep, often romantic feelings on Indians and subjects involving Indians. Emanuel Otto Hahn, a German sculptor who immigrated to Canada early in his life and married the sculptor Elizabeth Wynwood, is noted for his Indian subjects; Alexander Phimister PROCTOR, although known primarily for his animals, also included Indians in his sculptures. These "noble savages" were nostalgically perceived as the descendants of a vanishing race whose characteristics had to be captured before they disappeared under the wheel of civilization. Realism was the preferred style.
WWI greatly stimulated sculpture in the 1920s, as everywhere there was a call for monuments to commemorate Canada's participation in the war. Walter Seymour Allward was commissioned to create a memorial on site in France to the Canadians who died at Vimy Ridge; Alfred Howell was responsible for monuments in Saint John, NB, and Guelph, Ont; Frances Norma LORING for a memorial in Galt, Ont, and R. Tait MCKENZIE for works in the US, England and Scotland. Each contract afforded the opportunity to illustrate the courage of Canadian troops and to express pride in the achievements of the country's sons. Loring dealt with women's participation in the war effort on the "home front" in Girls with a Rail, which is part of a series preserved at the Canadian War Memorial in Ottawa.
Canadian sculptors did not escape the influence of art nouveau. The works of Alfred LALIBERTÉ illustrate the problems raised by applying to sculpture a style initially conceived to decorate flat surfaces. He broke away from the French academic influence of Gabriel-Jules Thomas and Antoine Injalbert to explore new avenues, and explored the possibilities of art nouveau's fluid line when, ceasing to be merely decorative, it animates interior space and sets it in wave-shaped relief. His romantic imagination may be seen in his 1920 monument Dollard des Ormeaux in Lafontaine Park, Montréal. His works also display a late 19th-century sensuality, and portray women as figures to be both feared and exalted. Woman - muse and source of the artist's inspiration - is also seductress! Laliberté worked in a variety of subjects, from the historical monument (Louis Hébert in Québec and Tomb of Sir Wilfrid Laurier in Ottawa) to jewels of the purest art-nouveau style, to self-portraits and folk scenes. The Musée de la province du Québec has 215 of his sculptures on the trades, customs and legends of French Canada.
Other Canadian sculptors were influenced by art nouveau. Marc-Aurèle de Foy SUZOR-COTÉ, whose sculpture cannot be neglected even though he is better known as a painter, was touched by it. His Indiennes de Caughnawaga appears to be sculpted by the wind, which the figures in their large coats are fighting. The wind theme of The Storm enabled Allward to drape the human anatomy of his figure, thus creating freer and more fluid forms. In Sun Worshipper by academic sculptor Florence WYLE, the figure is bent backward, its arm extended beyond the limit of the sculpture.
The influence of art deco appeared in the work of a number of sculptors in the 1930s, artists such as Elizabeth Wyn Wood of Toronto (whose bas-relief, Passing Rain, is famous) and Sylvia Daoust of Montréal. Two prolific sculptors of lesser talent were Émile Brunet, who produced the bas-reliefs and ornamental façade of the Musée de la province in Québec City, and Marius Plamondon.
The influence of art deco on sculpture may be seen in the elimination of surface detail and in giving space a more massive presence, making joints more defined and replacing the spiral art-nouveau line with straight or curved lines. It may be seen in the work of Phyllis Jacobine Jones, who produced the bronze doors of the Bank of Canada in Ottawa in 1938; in Orson Wheeler's works; in some of the later works of Florence Wyle; and in the larger-than-life-sized Chemin de Croix, sculpted by Louis-Joseph Parent in 1959 for the Saint Joseph's Oratory in Montréal.
In Europe during this period, modernism was to lead from cubism to constructivism. Canadian sculpture was awakened to modern styles only later. It was not until the work of Louis ARCHAMBAULT and Anne KAHANE in the early 1950s that the influence of Julio Gonzalez, Pablo Picasso and Jacques Lipchitz began to be felt in Canadian sculpture.
Some of the most inventive art made in Canada in the period 1950-80 was in the realm of sculpture. The period exposed sculptors to a great variety of new materials, and they responded with new kinds of constructions, multimedia works, installations and site-specific inventions, along with more traditional freestanding objects.
The new vigour of sculpture in Canada during this period was part of a widespread cultural coming of age, owing something to improved communications and transportation. Artists after 1950 had far more experience of works of art than their predecessors, because of colour photography, ease of travel and the frequency of touring exhibitions. The CANADA COUNCIL and related provincial agencies supported artists and assisted their travel, and encouraged the growth and programs of galleries and museums across the country. There is no simple explanation for the burgeoning of Canadian sculpture in the second half of the century. A new climate of experiment at art schools and universities was both a cause and an effect. Particular exhibitions, teachers and critics, symposia and major purchases stimulated sculptors of various regions. For some, reaction against influences was as important as response to them. Whatever the reasons, the proliferation of serious sculptors during those three decades was a new phenomenon (see ARTISTS' ORGANIZATIONS).
In Canada, as in Europe, the development of advanced sculpture lagged behind that of advanced painting. For centuries, sculpture had meant carved or modelled figurative objects, usually upright on pedestals or as part of an architectural complex, and made of wood, stone or bronze. Gradually, as in other art forms, sculpture also challenged traditional notions of form, content and technique, sharing in the aesthetic revolution known as "modernism."
At first, even the most adventurous Canadian sculptors (who were largely removed from the mainstream of innovative art) joined this revolution cautiously. While undoubtedly modernists, Québecois sculptors such as Louis Archambault and Charles DAUDELIN used more or less traditional techniques to make nontraditional images in the 1940s. By the 1950s these pioneers had been joined by others, but much of the most successful modernist sculpture retained a strong preference for the figure. John Ivor Smith, Anne KAHANE, George Wallace and William McElcheran all used the figure as a starting point, but simplified and stylized it, smoothing or elaborating its surfaces. Kahane worked in many materials, while the others preferred bronze.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s relatively traditional techniques still prevailed, even among those who departed from literal figurative reference. The use of smooth, carved or cast masses suggests an awareness of the British sculptor, Henry Moore, as in the meticulously finished marbles of Hans Schleeh. Even among those interested in alternatives, there was a conservative quality related to British and European sculpture of the time. Robert ROUSSIL'S works seem to amalgamate both Moore and a spiky expressionism. David Partridge developed an idiosyncratic type of relief made by driving nails of various sizes into wood. Ulysse COMTOIS, known for his brilliant, optically active paintings, also made elegantly crafted sculpture with geometric movable parts.
Armand VAILLANCOURT attracted attention for aggressively textured abstract castings. A peculiarly self-contained movement, "structurism," flourished after the 1950s, particularly on the Prairies, under the influence of Eli BORNSTEIN. Structurists such as Gino Lorcini and Ron Kostyniuk explored geometric permutations in shallow, elegantly crafted reliefs.
Since there were no indigenous models for advanced sculpture, it is not surprising that Canadians should have looked to Europe, especially to England, for inspiration. Many had studied in England or with British artists in Canadian art schools, but more importantly, Henry Moore was internationally acclaimed by the 1950s. His amalgam of natural and invented forms seemed a pattern for carrying the great tradition of sculpture into the 20th century. But another "new tradition," dating from the late 1920s, was becoming just as powerful: drawinglike, abstract sculpture constructed out of iron, steel and found objects. This radical rethinking of what sculpture could be, begun by Pablo Picasso and Julio Gonzalez in France, was being continued in New York, as were equally radical notions about painting. By the late 1950s and the 1960s it was obvious that the centre of important innovative art had shifted from Europe to North America, and Canadians began to find great stimulation on their own continent.
Art of the late 1960s was characterized by a new openness, a willingness to accept new ideas, new materials and techniques, and we see these expanded possibilities clearly reflected in Canadian art. A new generation of Canadian sculptors came to maturity in the 1960s, with far more adventurous ideas than their predecessors. Some, such as Les Levine and Michael SNOW, were painters as well as multimedia artists, but their 3-dimensional work established their reputations. Levine's vacuum-formed plastic modules introduced a generation of Canadians to the then most modish kind of environmental sculpture, and the thick stainless-steel versions of Snow's "cookie cutter" walking-woman image were greeted with enthusiasm. Others, such as Gord Smith, were exclusively sculptors. Smith, Yves TRUDEAU, Gerald Gladstone and Vaillancourt were all testing the possibilities of welded-steel construction.
Modernist sculpture gradually gained adherents across the country. If an earlier generation of Canadians responded most to Henry Moore's example, many sculptors of the 1960s and 1970s looked to the work of the American sculptor in steel, David Smith, and his younger British colleague, Anthony Caro. Otto ROGERS in Saskatoon worked with equal facility as a painter of landscape-derived abstractions and as a sculptor of vigorous, linear steel pieces. John Nugent in Regina was an early admirer of David Smith and an ambitious sculptor in steel. In Calgary, Katie Von Der Ohe exhibited complex pilings of interlocking forms. In Toronto, Ted Bieler received numerous public commissions and Sorel ETROG became known for a signature style of "knotted" bronze which owed a great deal to the later work of the French Cubist Jacques Lipchitz. In Québec, Françoise SULLIVAN, a modern dancer, choreographer and visual artist, abandoned her other activities to make painted steel constructions. Robert MURRAY was probably the most significant Canadian sculptor of his generation, internationally recognized for his severe metal constructions. He worked with fabricators to produce large-scale structures of inflected planes, richly coloured with industrial finishes.
The most exciting aspect of Canadian sculpture in the 1970s and 1980s was its diversity. Approaches varied from "orthodox" object making to a stretching of the limits of the discipline. The object makers ranged from Kosso ELOUL, whose modular constructions of rectangular solids can be seen on many public sites, to Roland POULIN and Peter Kolisnyk, whose works were the sparest possible indicators of sculptural notions, threatening to disappear into pure idea.
The "new tradition" of constructed sculpture in various materials became especially strong on the Prairies, although it had gifted practitioners elsewhere, such as Ontario's André FAUTEUX and Louis Stokes. In the West, Douglas BENTHAM, Alan REYNOLDS and Peter HIDE all developed intensely personal, potent ways of working in welded metal. Each was distinct, but collectively they seemed less interested in sculpture as "drawing in space" and more concerned with finding new ways of appropriating the mass and volume of the traditional monolith for abstract construction. The work of Michael Bigger, Tommie Gallie, Haydn Davies, Patrick Thibert and Henry Saxe testified to the range of the tradition across Canada, from Gallie's piled timbers to Thibert's suggestive "tables." Saxe worked in both orthodox steel construction and complex multisection works. David RABINOWITCH further extended the range with inquiries into the expressive possibilities of the weight and mass of steel, while Royden RABINOWITCH explored horizontality and layering. In Toronto, John McEwen commented on the new tradition of sculpture in steel with naturalistic images, flame cut from massive metal slabs. In Québec, Claude Mongrain, Roland Poulin and Jean-Serge Champagne evolved variations on the ideas of construction, incorporating unexpected combinations of materials.
Many sculptors in the 1970s and 1980s were fascinated by new technology and media: Michael HAYDEN used neon tubing in both static and kinetic works; Walter Redinger and Ed Zelenak used fibreglass; Don Proch used molded fibreglass, often covered with drawing, along with elements in other media. Mark PRENT'S nightmare images depended upon combinations of made and recycled objects in technical tours de forces. Richard PRINCE'S delicate, improbable machines were intimate kinetic constructions.
For other sculptors, the single discrete object seemed too restrictive. They made structures which responded to particular settings and sites, often on a scale which demanded that the viewer enter or move through the work. Like architecture, these sculptures depended upon physical participation as well as upon visual perception, but unlike architecture, they were without specific function. George TRAKAS and Melvin CHARNEY made arresting, often poetic, parodies of man-made structures. Robert Bowers and Mark Gomes also used everyday, often banal, objects as points of departure in more self-contained works. Roland Brener expanded this notion, employing stock materials in systematic ways; angle iron and industrial scaffolding were used with equal success.
While these sculptors explored challenging new ideas, they were still makers of objects, albeit unconventional ones. Other artists were more interested in process than in result, and their "sculptures" were often simply the by-product of an event or the symbol of an idea. Documentation of the event could become part of the final structure, as in Colette WHITEN'S works. Mowry Baden's environmental constructions existed more for the physical sensations they created in the "viewer" who moved through them than for their appearance. The size and shape of Robin Peck's objects were dictated by the proportions of their settings. For others, ephemeral moments or phenomena took precedence over the object. The work of these artists could incorporate film projections, sound, temporary or perishable structures, and the passage of time itself. While their works often involved a great deal of 3-dimensional equipment, and for this reason often got termed "sculpture," they seemed to have little to do with sculptural notions; they belonged to some other category, closer to literature or theatre, to the "happenings" of the 1960s.
The resurgence during the 1980s of interest in public art, as evidenced by programs allocating a percentage of building costs for art projects, in certain new constructions, would lead many sculptors to reconsider their attitudes towards the self-contained object. They would begin to think in terms of collaboration with architects to make publicly scaled works of art that could represent a true integration of disciplines. Montréal's competition for the design of fountains to enhance the reclaimed waterfront, Toronto's art component for its new covered stadium and many similar projects across the country were good examples of this new way of thinking (see PUBLIC ART).
Relatively traditional sculpture continued to have adherents. While not very large, because of the constraints of the medium, the best work of ceramic artists such as Victor Cikansky and Joe FAFARD recalled the tradition of portrait sculpture. Among the younger generation, Evan Penny's haunting nudes and torsos were noteworthy. Ric Gomez's abstract bronzes were elegant, precious objects.
In the 1980s just about anything could be considered sculpture. There was no "official" approach, no single method or medium which guaranteed success or seriousness. The antithesis of the traditional academy had been reached, with its preconceived standards of excellence and measurable levels of achievement. Canadian sculpture had become a history of individuals who spoke an international sculptural language, probably with a Canadian accent. It became difficult to isolate their Canadianness easily. See also NATIVE ART; INUIT ART; NORTHWEST COAST NATIVE ART.
Contemporary Canadian Sculpture
Since the 1980s, the borders for defining contemporary art practices have continued to shift and blur, making it necessary for us to reconfigure our notions of sculpture. The plurality and diversification in media, techniques and form have projected sculpture along divergent tracks, with multiple allegiances and representations.
Emerging trends in contemporary Canadian sculpture reflect a broadening internationalism that melds conceptual practices of the 1970s (General Idea, Michael SNOW, Fastwrms) with a resurgence of figuration (Mark Prent, David Pellettier, Evan Penny, John Hooper) and the autonomy of the object in the 1980s (Robert Bowers, John McKinnon). Liberally imprinted with images of Pop and mass culture, and reinforced with Duchampian references, Canadian sculpture has entered the post-modern era with works that deal with illusion and reality, shifting points of view, and a re-interpretation of objects. The constant fluxes over the interim have created an equalizing effect, eliminating so many previous hierarchies in art. With this has come an awareness of all the possibilities inherent in the medium, each demanding equal status - installation, environment/earthworks, kinetic/sound sculptures, public sculpture, as well as traditional, object-oriented, sculptural forms.
During the last decades of the millennium sculpture became less materially based and increasingly more issue-oriented, as the "new art history" opened the floodgates on methodology and criticism. That Canadian sculptors responded to these intellectual and analytical challenges can be seen in the recent multi-disciplinary approach to sculpture, and the eclectic mixing of universal concerns within very personal, even biographical points of view. The influence of feminism, linguistics, literary and post-structuralist theories on Canadian sculptural production in the 1990s finds its roots in the now fully expanded field of 3-dimensional art. In a post-modernist assemblage of images, objects, structural elements, textual and conceptual components, some contemporary sculptors construct a narrative, others an inquiry, while still others appropriate the past as a commentary on the present, and reflect on the future through myth and technology, the secular and the profane.
Narrative and tableau sculpture, with its resemblance to installation art, presents a theatrical setting in which the viewer becomes an active participant. Gilles Mihalcean, Mark Gomes, Noel Harding and Walter May, among others, juxtapose multiple images that the viewer reads and interprets at various points in the configuration. Like the Happenings or performance art of the 1960s, there is often no logic, climax, or continuous rational discourse or structure. More poetic than didactic, the viewer holds the key to resolution, reconstructing the narrative from an internal/external position. The artist may, or may not, reveal the plot.
Evocative of the work of the Surrealists and the narrative associations set off by the simple presentation of disparate objects, the work of Catherine Widgery extends narrative sculpture into the realm of fantasy and poetry. By creating surreal hybrid images from familiar objects, such as a rusted cast iron sprouting branches instead of steam, the artist sets up a series of paradoxes full of subtle, poetic nuances deriving from the incongruous components in the work. As visual oxymorons, the conceptual dimension of her work is almost surpassed by the seductive tactile qualities of the objects. A similar effect is found in the combination of sensual and intellectual nuances in the sculptures of Martha Townsend, Ed Zelenak and Michael Davey. Where Townsend melds materials, wrapping wooden disks in leather, Zelenak's sculptural tablets juxtapose paper and lead in an ambiguous graphic/sculptural framework. As modern-day ex-votos, Davey's works incorporate iconic, iconographic objects from the contemporary world. Tom Dean combines biomorphic forms with human hair or inanimate objects, while Michel Goulet's chairs without seats and garbage pails incorporating sundry and mundane industrial objects further investigate the absurdity, mutability and discordance of the states of existence.
Assemblage and the notion of bricolage, the fabrication of a new composite object from the recycled, discarded debris of the urban landscape and manufactured, industrial goods, remain part of the vocabulary of contemporary sculpture. Elspeth Pratt fashions fragmented constructions from common building materials, triggering associations with familiar structures or objects, yet defying positive identification. Erwin Regler welds together gathered debris into dense, complex works. Then, in a renewal of the art of carving, he sculpts the forms with his welder's torch. The lure of steel as an evocative material is the focus of many sculptors working in variations of the constructivist mode. Steel sculptors of the 1970s and 1980s (Robert MURRAY, Henry Saxe, Douglas BENTHAM, Alan REYNOLDS, Peter HIDE, André FAUTEUX) continue to exploit a formal vocabulary that is often injected with specific references to a narrative. Others, like Ken MACKLIN, Clay Ellis, Catherine Burgess, Isla Burns, Claude Millette and Liliana Berezowsky, redress the tenets of modernism. Within their primary forms lies a very personal aesthetic and a sense of lyricism that challenges the past. The steel installations of André Fournelle incorporate neon elements or poetic images, while his huge floating plates of metal mounted on steel cables and lit with fire continue his investigation into memory, ritual, and our interdependence on the elements of earth, air, fire and water.
Sculpture's traditional relationship to the built environment has, in contemporary art, manifested itself in work that has overt references to architecture. Spring Hurlbut appropriates Classical entablatures and columns, while the uninhabited houses of Roland BRENER's microcosmic cities and the closed, vernacular structures of Robin COLLYER comment on the social issues of dislocation and displacement associated with urban society. Alain Paiement's life-size constructions suggest the potential for entry, while Susan Schelle's mini-constructions convey notions of home as a shelter offering security and warmth. Photographs combined with architectural elements mark the sculptural installations of Jocelyne Alloucherie, denoting place within a landscape or an interior domestic space. For Martha Fleming and Lyne Lapointe, an entire architectural site becomes a living sculpture as the artist temporarily transforms a derelict building, recapturing the structure's past in a fragmented reconstruction of history. David Robinson inserts life-size plaster figures of a male nude into the structures reminiscent of metal scaffolding found on construction sites, reiterating architecture's function as an inhabited site.
Urban alienation, global population, ecology and consumption issues continue to inform contemporary sculptural practice. Earthworks and land art of the earlier decades have spawned environmental artists who use nature as raw material (Reinhard Reitzenstein, Warren Quigley, Dawn MacNutt, Marlene Creates) or who conceive of nature as a partner in the creative process. Aganetha Dyck coats garments and shoes with wax and inserts them into beehives. The bees transform these vestiges of human life into a complex construction of honeycombs in a symbiotic collaboration between art and nature. Reitzenstein's interventions with nature are as ephemeral and fragile as the environment. Rebecca Belmore makes contemplative installations that both mediate and partake of the land, binding human survival with ecological concerns.
The power of nature and its magical transformations take on spiritual and mystical connotations in the sculpture of Teresa Marshall and Domingo Cisneros, who incorporate shamanistic qualities into their forms to celebrate the mythical power of the land and spirit. Ritual and myth continue to inform the work of Blair Brennan, Don Proch, Liz MAGOR and David Moore, while the primordial markings sandblasted into Bill Vazan's monolithic stones speak of the mysteries of the universe.
Natural environments and cultural milieus create untold ambiguities that contemporary sculptors seek to address. Laurie Walker reflects on nature, science and myth by juxtaposing delicate botanical drawings with urban industrial forms, manhole covers or giant machine-shovels from construction sites. The association of animals with the nature/culture dichotomy is explored by Carl Skelton, Steven Cruise, Michel Saulnier and John McEwen. For McEwen, the dog/wolf image becomes an object-sign that reveals the close inter-connection between nature and culture. Often presented as a mise en scène, the animal silhouettes provoke multiple meanings, and the relationship between objects and the negative space between them reflects the reciprocal gaze of life and art. Gisele Amantea combines plastic artifacts of popular culture with natural forms and fossils to produce labour-intensive, pragmatic commentaries on the consumer ethic and its impact on the environment.
Others seek to transform the physical world, entering into metaphysical spheres to create works that question our assumptions of knowledge and essential truths. Like an alchemist, Richard PRINCE, as sculptor/philosopher, fashions pseudo-scientific apparatuses that are transposed into allegorical and philosophical statements. Bridging spiritual and physical worlds, the skulls and altar-like forms of Tim Whiten suggest sites of transformation for the soul. The metaphorical instruments of Andreas Gehr and the elegant, flame-cut steel cosmological configurations of Judith Schwarz invent rather than transform cultural signs and devices whose mysteries are embedded as much in the juxtaposition of the materials, glass, steel, and wood as in their form. Art, like science, history and nature, has again become an instrument in cultural development and enlightenment.
The influence of linguistics and literary theory enters contemporary sculpture in various forms by focusing on image-text relationships. Expanding on the textual content of conceptual art, Micah Lexier and Yvonne Singer incorporate neon LED signage as an integral part of the image, or imprint texts on glass or fabric, inducing powerful sensations and emotions. Intellect and technology, memory and identity are all recontextualized in word and form. Ian CARR-HARRIS uses literary texts, language and history as complex social constructions in which the object-form becomes the material vehicle for the didactic references he has framed. Brian Groombridge's correspondences between mounted written text in punched-out metal scripts, and objects set up in space, mirror the enigmatic nature of art and language.
Language is a particular focus of Québec artists, not so much as a reflection on the issue of cultural identity but as a means of visually denoting how language produces meaning beyond the mere translation of one sign system to another. Rober RACINE 's obsessive dictionary projects, in which each word is planted in columns in a large constructed ground/field, like stele in a cemetery, become sites of analogy, reference and discovery. In the work of Gilbert Boyer, geographical place names are engraved in plaques set in the landscape, marking language and place as one entity. In the socio-political context of Québec the language of art speaks in silence, but offers a voice for understanding.
Contemporary sculptors deconstruct prevailing social, economic and political orders to create provocative statements that centre on issues of exclusion and marginalization. Through the repetitive image of army boots or helmets as "seedpods," Dominique Blain comments on the injustices and abuses of power inherent in hegemonic systems that exclude voices because of race, colour, gender, or ideological difference. The sculptural installations of ceramic books and photographs in the work of Jamelie Hassan allude to conflicts and the chaos of war as a plea for peace. Faye HeavyShield deconstructs issues of race and memory of colonial domination. Yet imbued in her works are promises of regeneration, rebirth and transformation. Edward POITRAS, with his mini-wire corrals or giant animal-hair cowboy hat, questions the dichotomy of assimilation and acculturation practice within policies of multiculturalism and the need for a self-determined identity. Objects of material culture and artifacts of the past are appropriated by sculptors to question who speaks for whom, and how. Defined by its social/cultural content, this sculptural form of art engagé denounces while at the same time reveals our individual and collective vulnerability and the multiple layers in the great narrative of history.
The politics of gender and issues of the body as a site of identity and difference are addressed by women sculptors as diverse as Irene WHITTOME, Colette WHITEN, Cynthia Short, Lyn Carter and Jana STERBAK. Strategies employed range from incorporating recognizable body forms to creating a repositioning of the embodied self, or an ambivalent presence beyond any symbolic encoding. Sterbak's invisible bodies clothed in a dress made of decaying flank steak or a motorized armature, dress-like form make visible the mental and physical states associated with the gendered body and our apprehension of reality. The psychological well-being of women is addressed in the work of Colleen Wolstenholme. Her massive, body-size, plaster replicas of mood-altering pills, disguised in sleek modernist forms, metaphorically challenge the ominous capabilities of psychopharmacology. In responding to questions of female subjectivity, sexuality and the social construction of gender, women sculptors have also appropriated materials formerly associated with domestic, craft production. The knitted forms of Naomi London, the embroidery interventions on the doll-forms of Catherine Heard, and Kati Campbell's mother/child images all evoke mixed metaphors, the dichotomies of female relationships and the structuring of identity through gender. In a similar comment on feminine labour-intensive activities, Laura Vickerson's pinning of rose petals into vast lengths of fabric constructs metaphors for both vitality and mortality. The body is not, however, the sole domain of the female sex. Sculptors like Stephen Schofield and François Morelli have also incorporated the body, albeit a fragmented one, in their sculpture.
The inherent static nature of sculpture has continually challenged sculptors in their desire to create the illusion of movement. However, once sculpture was removed from its pedestal, real movement became possible. From the hand-manipulated works of Ulysse COMTOIS to the oscillating cones and rods of Katie Ohe's icons, kinetic sculpture remains a very unique form in 3-dimensional art. Alan Storey's sculptures, like the machine-sculptures of Bernie Miller, incorporate movement and sound and resemble giant mechanical toys. Yet their sleek construction and poetic grace often disguise a menacing, ominous aspect. The oscillating motion of the elements in the work of Jolle Morosoli is both seductive and mesmerizing, drawing the viewer into an unstable world of pulleys, cables and motors. Morosoli creates an ephemeral, repetitive environment that echoes psychological states of mind that focus on fear, confinement and a loss of identity. As the elements move through space and time, the viewer's awareness of duration and movement is also heightened.
Contemporary sculptors, like the modernists before them, continue to chart a course towards a new utopia, one in which the belief in the limitless potential of imagination offers a ray of hope. Mediating between the real and the ideal, Kim Adams creates playful, ironic fantasies, representations of miniaturized Lilliputian worlds, out of assemblages of children's toys, electric trains, industrial tools and objects of leisure. Mounted on a child's wagon or floating on an old pick-up truck, his isolated islands rise, phoenix-like, out of the ruins of contemporary culture.
While the traditional commemorative function no longer dominates sculpture, it still provides material form for individual memory and collective remembrance. Personal meaning and social memory are themes that contemporary sculptors address in a multitude of forms that often encompass other complex issues such as gender and politics. They also constitute a cultural exchange with the past in which nostalgia and desire encode objects linking them in time. Both Eva Brandl and Andrew Dutkewych focus on historical myths and religious or literary themes, which, in the work of Dutkewych, are enacted as fragmented bodies or floating figures with multiple appendages. The sculptures of Robert Wiens incorporate fragments from classical monuments, cultural and historical territory of the past, as a reminder of the issues of domination and resistance that confront social/political systems. Barbara Steinman's serene, pristine sculptural installations provoke multiple references to the individual's place in society. Through the integration of video and photographic images, text, and sound with her objects, Steinman activates the viewer's senses of sight, sound and touch, triggering disturbing and complex memories. Like most contemporary sculpture, the works challenge the viewer, offering many levels of interpretation and meaning.
Late 20th-century technology, cyberspace and the virtual reality of computer-generated worlds, rather than displace sculpture, have tended to re-orient the object and the tactile quality so essential to it. From his early work on holograms Jerry Pethick has returned to materials that have translucent optical qualities, such as glass, mirrors and aluminum, to build sculptures that reveal their essence, alter perception, and reclaim the de-materialized object. The mechanical instruments and technological objects referred to by Stacey Spiegel, rather than demonstrate technological or scientific theories, reveal nature's biological phenomena as a natural order. Janet Cardiff diverts technology in her sound, light, object-infused installations to refocus on materiality and on touch, both intrinsic to human interaction and to sculpture.
The affirmation of human subjectivity over technologies, and the re-constitution and re-assertion of concrete images at the turn of the century, clearly indicate that sculpture as object still has a presence and a prominence in 3-dimensional art forms. John Greer, Thierry Delva and Robin Peck revisit and reinvest minimalist ideology through the seductive qualities of material and the texture and purity of each form. Yet these ambiguous objects are contextually loaded with meaning that resonates on many levels. In a similar way, the thousands of coats of gesso that Eric CAMERON systematically paints on mundane objects, often referred to as thick paintings, obscure both the original object's form and meaning. Like the layers of artificial skin on these works, the multiple orientation of contemporary sculpture crosses disciplines and resists rigid classifications or definitions.
The new configurations of contemporary Canadian sculpture, and the reaffirmation of the essential elements of material and process in traditional sculpture, combined with provocative conceptual and intellectual content, place sculpture in the forefront of contemporary art-making at the dawn of the 21st century.
Authors contributing to this article:
JOYCE MILLAR, JEAN BÉLISLE, FRANÇOIS-MARC GAGNON, KAREN WILKIN
Diana Nemiroff, ed., Canadian Biennial of Contemporary Art (1989); Artmagazine, Sculpture Issue (May/June 1978); D. Burnett and M. Schiff, Contemporary Canadian Art (1983); Dalhousie Art Gallery, Sculpture '81 (1981); The Guildhall,Contemporary Outdoor Sculpture at The Guild (1982); N. Karczmar, ed,Canadian Sculpture Expo 67 (1967); Musée d'art contemporain, Panorama de la sculpture au Québec, 1945-1970 (1970); Musée du Québec, Profil de la sculpture québécoise: XVIIe-XIXe siècle (1969); National Gallery of Canada, Pluralities 1980 /Pluralités 1980 (1980); Winnipeg Art Gallery, Sculpture on the Prairies (1977); Jessica Bradley and Lesley Johstone, eds., Sightlines: Reading Contemporary Canadian Art (1994);S/10 Sculpture Today/Sculpture d'aujourd'hui (1978); June Ardiel, Sculpture/Toronto (1984).
Links to Other Sites
National Gallery of Canada
The official website for the National Gallery of Canada. A beautiful online showcase for Canadian art.
Sculptor's Society of Canada
The website for the Sculptor's Society of Canada highlights upcoming events and exhibitions.
Papokan Sculpture Park
The Papokan Sculpture Park website from the University of Lethbridge features images and notes about an eye-catching collection of works by Canadian sculptors.
F. Maurice Lemieux
Check out this virtual gallery of innovative works by Quebec sculpture F. Maurice Lemieux (1931-1994). This website also includes a biography and related references.
A brief profile of the celebrated Canadian artist Edward Poitras from the Canada Council for the Arts.
Governor General's Awards in Visual and Media Arts
Check out the Governor General's Awards in Visual and Media Arts.
The Canadian Crafts Federation
View collections of beautiful craft work from across Canada. The "education" section features a history of Canadian crafts and a glossary of crafts terms.
Telling Stories: Narratives of Nationhood
See what Canadian art reveals about our geographical, historical and cultural make-up. This superb multimedia presentation is accompanied by extensive K – 12 educational resources. From the Confederation Centre Art Gallery in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
The website for Robert Davidson, one of Canada’s most respected and important contemporary artists. This superb online collection of paintings, prints, sculptures and jewellery features many Haida cultural themes.
University of Lethbridge Art Gallery
The website for the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery. Of particular interest are the Extension Exhibitions and the Papokan Sculpture Park.
Glossary: Minimal Art, “Process” Art, and Conceptual Art
A glossary of terms that refer to minimal art, “process” art, and conceptual art. From the CyberMuse website.
Turning trash into treasure
An article about the distinctive sculptures created by artist James Carl. From thestar.com website.
Leo Mol, Winnipeg sculptor, dies at 94
A CBC obituary for internationally renowned sculptor Leo Mol.
Visit an online exhibit devoted to sculptor Joe Fafard. From the CyberMuse website.
Knelman: Oscar Peterson’s piano lives on in Ottawa
A news story about a bronze scuplture of Oscar Peterson and his distinctive piano installed in 2010 outside the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.
Bound for the Venice biennale
A CBC article on Toronto architect Philip Beesley’s visionary exhibit Hylozoic Ground, Canada’s entry at the 12th International Architecture Biennale, an annual forum for new ideas in architecture and design.
Art Dealers Association of Canada
The Art Dealers Association of Canada website features links to member galleries across the country. Also offers information about appraisal services, employment opportunities, their lifetime achievement award, and more.
CURRENTS: Evan Penny
View part 1 of a video that examines the work and ideas of innovative Canadian sculptor Evan Penny. Click on the tab above the video for parts 2 and 3. From the Columbus Museum of Art on YouTube.
View photos of some of the light-infused sculptures created by artist Michael Hayden. From The Art Commission website.
A detailed academic paper about public art landmarks created in Montréal's Italian-Canadian community in the 1920s - 1930s. See page 129 for references to John Cabot, page 142 the Notre-Dame-de-la-Défense church, and page 154 for Guido Nincheri. From Concordia University.