Bertram Charles (B.C.) Binning

Bertram Charles (B.C.) Binning

1909 - 1976

Born in Alberta, B.C. Binning’s family moved to Vancouver, exposing their son to the coastal scenery that would define his work. Binning’s grandfather was an architect, and Bertram had planned to follow his lead, but was drawn to being an artist instead, often exploring aspects of architecture in his work. A devoted student and important teacher, B.C. Binning made a major contribution to modern art and architecture in British Columbia.

Binning studied at the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts under Charles H. Scott, Fred Varley, and Jock MacDonald. He attended the University of Oregon on a Carnegie Scholarship, the Central School of Arts and Crafts in England, the Westminster School of Art, the Ozenfant Academy, and was a member of the Arts Students’ League, working there with Morris Kantor. Primarily draughtsmen in his early career, his scenes depict the coastal life of his home city. In the 1940s he began to use calligraphy-based forms and shapes in his drawings. He became a member of the British Columbia Society of Fine Arts, winning a bronze medal in the 10th B.C. Artist’s Exhibition that year. By 1950 he had developed a semi-abstract style that still relied on his coastal subjects, but was altogether new. Working on an unprimed, coarse linen canvas, his bold line and joyous colour was a strong departure for anything gallery goers in Canada had seen. The National Gallery of Canada purchased Ships in a Classical Calm in 1950, and would show it in the 1954 Venice Biennial.

Binning retained his interest in architecture and public works, designing colour schemes for buildings and creating mosaic murals. He wrote on mosaics and architectural colour for Canadian Art. His flat roofed home, built in 1940/41 in West Vancouver, was considered a radical departure from the norm in a rain-prone region where sloping roofs prevailed.

Binning’s influences include Henry Moore, whom he worked with in England, and the styles of Picasso and Matisse. He was primarily concerned with design and colour, pattern and line, and their potential within a flat picture plane. In the 1960s Binning would produced a three dimensional body of work; the Optional Modules.

In addition to teaching at the Vancouver School of Art, Binning would teach at the University of British Columbia from 1949 - 1974, and in 1955 became the Founding Head of the Fine Arts Department and Director/Curator of the Department’s Gallery. He worked in an advisory role with the Canada Council, winning a Senior Fellowship in 1963. Four solo shows of his work were held at the Vancouver Art Gallery during his lifetime, including a major retrospective in 1974, and he would show at the Art Gallery of Ontario, the University of British Columbia Fine Arts Centre, Montreal’s Dominion Gallery, and Bau-Xi in Vancouver. He was awarded the Order of Canada in 1971, and his work is found in major collections across Canada and in the United States. In 1988 with the assistance of his wife Jesse Binning, Heffel Gallery Limited mounted a major BC Binning retrospective. B.C. Binning passed away in 1976, and Jessie continued to live in the flat roofed West Vancouver home until her passing in 2006 at the age of 101.

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